What no one realized about Merlin was just how popular it would become. BBC’s take on the legend is different than most while it takes it back further than any of its counterparts – before Arthur is king and Merlin is still a young man learning how to use his magic as a wizard for the good of Camelot. Re-airing in the states on SyFy, the series has really taken off in the U.S., garnering a following the cast and crew did not expect. This is definitely the darkest we’ve ever seen Merlin but snippets of silliness still peek through its dark journeys.
Camelot and its people are in turmoil. There is a war being fought only it has nothing to do with two kingdoms at odds with one another. Instead it is the result of the guilt of the tyrannical King Uther (Anthony Head). He is not about to call a halt to the search to see his beloved Morgana safely back under his protection – should he know her true purpose, he might not be as quick to return her to Camelot’s walls. From his perspective, she was snatched from the safety of Camelot’s walls and he will stop at nothing to see her safe return. His impetuous son Arthur (Bradley James) has led countless search parties and this day he comes across a group of renegades who seem to want to do the Prince harm – and in the shadows, he finds a dazed Morgana (Katie McGrath) wondering aimlessly in the surrounding woods. What Uther and Arthur don’t know is that Morgana hasn’t been missing… she holds a terrible secret and has in fact been living in hiding with her bewitching half-sister Morgause (Emilia Fox). Merlin (Colin Morgan) knows the deepest secret that Morgana is actually from an ancient line of witches who possess the potential to practice evil magic, the one thing that Uther cannot abide in his kingdom. As a young wizard himself, Merlin’s position relies on his ability to use his magic for the good and protection of Arthur – and all without being discovered. He must tread very carefully around Morgana as she could likewise ruin his life…
Uther sees nothing as amiss. His world is right again with Morgana back under his protection but when Uther’s mind leaves him senseless, and Gaius (Richard Wilson) is confounded as to his state other than it being magic. In his weakened state, the king is in no position to rule, which is why when they are attacked, Arthur must become the leader everyone needs – the leader that everyone knows he can be or Camelot will fall.
I was actually really impressed with the two-part season premiere of Merlin. It was dark and dangerous without the usual dose of frivolity that the series is known for. It has a reputation as a “cute” family series, and it still engages in such fun but I think that it has finally found a happy medium between the lines of a sappy, fantasy teen saga and a solid, mysterious saga of a well-known legend. In the second season I was more than happy at the changes the series underwent but I think it is justifiable and safe to report that the show is still no historical genius. What is so interesting about this season is the emphasis it places on Arthur’s coming-of-age under the thumb of his normally unreasonable father. So much has changed in each of the characters and the focus is more on Arthur’s future reign than it is on the four young protagonists easy-going friendship from days long past; everything that is done seems to only reinforce the future of the legend. Gwen (Angel Coulby) is rarely in it like she once was but she learns the truth of Morgana’s evil. In a bit of a fun twist we are introduced to a new recurring character named Gwaine (Eoin Macken) who is a rebel and eventual knight, and we are re-introduced to Lacelot.
The special effects are almost… pitiable. They could use a much bigger budget and instead somehow seem to be something that filmmakers skimp on. Nonetheless it does not detract from the fun that this series is. I think most of the time, the costuming is lovely albeit insanely modern but some of the time, it is downright ugly. Fortunately, those are more rare instances than not. Overall, the finale is excellent and I was glad at the revealing of Morgana’s true character (it was about time!). Writers can only go so long with the redundant subplots involving Morgana trying to murder those she hates and sees as her enemy. Being a fan of this show, I am not just looking forward to the fourth set but also where writers take the show – will it go through to Arthur’s reign and the symbolic Knights of the Round Table? Or will its run come to a close long before that? Only time will tell but I for one, am anxiously awaiting its return.
(Be aware: Rated TVPG primarily for the use of magic. Merlin saves Arthur a number of times using some form of magic [as always he only uses it for good]. Many attempts are made on Arthur or Uther’s lives – a number of people die in the finale. Elsewhere there are magician’s who harness a magic from the “old” religion who use it for evil purposes – one woman has been “forced” into it. Creatures terrify citizens and murder people. Swords are plunged into people with little to no blood.)