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Sunday, March 05, 2006

1.59 --- The Last Defender of Camelot

Reviewer's note : as yours truly is watching this without subtitles, there is a distinct possibility that some of the dialogue in this episode got "lost in translation" while crossing the short distance from my speakers to my ears. If anyone of you thinks I botched the synopsis, go ahead and correct me.


Directed by : Jeannot Szwarc
Written by : George R. R. Martin (story by Roger Zelazny)
Starring : Richard Kiley, Jenny Agutter, Norman Lloyd
First aired : 11th of April, 1986.

London, 1986. As an older gentleman (late, great stage actor Richard Kiley), rushingly makes final preparations to leave for Cornwall, he is jumped by three punks who want to take him with them. Surprisingly, he effortlessly repels their attacks and captures the third one, asking him to take him to their leader. They arrive at a seedy room where a mystic-looking female with her face shadowed resides. Moments later, we find out the surprising truth - the older fellow is none else but Lancelot, knight of the round table, and the woman is his arch-old nemesis, Morgan LeFay (Jenny Agutter, Logan's Run, An American Werewolf in London). Both of them were damned to live forever.

Morgan reveals Lancelot why was he in such a hurry to reach Cornwall - he is being summoned by Merlin (Norman Lloyd, Dead Poets Society), who has hibernated all these years. While Lancelot is eager to find out what's Merlin's fancy, Morgan is rather cautious - in her opinion, Merlin was a vile old fool who manipulated everyone in Camelot to his own liking. To ease his quest, Morgan teleports Lancelot, along with the punk who brought him along, Tom, to the cave in Cornwall where Merlin is sleeping.

After exploring the cave, Lancelot finds Merlin and revives him with a magic elixir stored nearby. Merlin, fresh for centuries of sleep, turns out indeed to be a vile old manipulator - he wants to bring back the king to the throne of England, and alter the future of humanity to his liking. He takes Lancelot and Tom outside, right to the ancient druids gathering place of Stonehenge. There, he plans to sacrifice Tom in order to fully restore his power.

Lancelot won't have any of it though, and realising he might be the mankind's only hope, challenges Merlin to a duel. He is to fight the ghostly armor which watched over Merlin while he was asleep. Not intending to miss this spectacle, Morgan herself appears out of nowhere, an event which only firmly irates Merlin who dubs Lancelot "the traitor of Camelot". He creates a black armour for Lancelot and gives him the sword, but something's not right - Lancelot does not move like an old man anymore. It seems that Lancelot had a trick of his own up his sleeve ; while Merlin was not watching, he took some of his revitalizing elixir himself, and so is placed on even footing with the shadowy knight.

A fight ensues, in which Lancelot seems to be winning. Merlin decides to play dirty and cheat a bit, but Morgan enters the fray and delays him in his intentions. She eventually succumbs to his magic power, but her sacrifice was not in vain - Lancelot wins his battle and corners Merlin, breaking his magic wand in two by his sword. He, however, refuses to kill him, citing again how he gave up warfare long time ago, and Merlin simply disintegrates himself - suddenly much older than he looked like.

Before dying, Morgan informs Lancelot and Tom that they will be back in London if they take the right road at the forking. As they walk back, Tom takes the right road, but Lancelot spots a shiny castle to the left and wanders off there - and after a brief hesitation, Tom decides to join him, and spend the rest of life as his squire.


First season is brought to an end with this original, inventive episode, which works effectively on both levels. You can, of course, observe it as a pure fantasy with a twist, as the good wizard Merlin is a far cry from what you might remember from Disney's A Sword in the Stone. But, it is probably more interesting as another liberally-slanted metaphor of the differences between the "old" and the "new", the warmongering conservative Merlin failing to adapt to the new, more open society and times. And this time, I won't begrudge the writers - it was done rather tastefully, without too obvious jabs (which plagued, say, Red Snow).

Acting in The Last Defender of Camelot is just sublime. I was nothing short of amazed when I found out that the only actual Briton in this cast was Jenny Agutter - Kiley and Lloyd don't just act out their roles magnificently, they both look the part, Lloyd donning a rather exquisite wizard costume, Kiley somewhat reminiscent of Sean Connery in his prime. My compliments to the casting director here.

Finally, the script, well, what could you expect when you have one fantasy heavyweight (George R. R. Martin, best known for his A Song of Ice and Fire series) adapting a story from another fantasy heavyweight (Roger Zelazny, The Chronicles of Amber and many more) ? I'll just say you get your money's worth here.

Serling trivia : neither Kiley nor Lloyd are TZ veterans, but both of them have a Night Gallery credit to their name - Kiley appearing in the original three-episode pilot, and Lloyd in an episode called A Feast of Blood.

Trivia : spotter's badge to everyone who recognized Anthony LaPaglia as one of the punks who gets it on (har har) with Lancelot.


Well folks, that was the first season. The next entry will be a retrospective one, with some polls thrown in for good measure, and the one after will contain some fun trivia I was made aware of during my email conversations with mr. Alan Brennert. Tune in soon (I promise, it'll be posted in two-three days tops).


PS. Jenny Agutter is smokin'. Sorry, couldn't end the entry without joyously exclaiming this. Now, forgive me while I find my copy of that werewolf movie...

Comments on "1.59 --- The Last Defender of Camelot"


Anonymous Jason said ... (3:08 PM) : 

This is one of my favorite episodes and I agree that the casting was great. I really enjoyed all your reviews for season 1 and look forward to all future reviews.


Anonymous John said ... (7:07 PM) : 

Not only "An American Werewolf", but check out an old 1970's flick called "Equus". Jenny was awesome in that as well.

She was also great in "Voices In The Earth", but I guess I'm getting ahead of the game, huh?

Again, keep up the good work!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (8:47 AM) : 

Tom is played by John Cameron Mitchell, the lead actor in the Spinal Tap like Hedwig and The Angry Inch.


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