Merlin is incredibly addicting. But it’s not the type of show that you would recommend to friends in the pub. It’s a secretive hoard, I would like to think. It has none of the dark and stylish eloquence of other shows such as Boardwalk Empire, but it is outrageously watchable and benefits from a closely knitted chemistry between the cast. The cast of Merlin seem like old friends and that translates into the friendships on the show.
“Why are you putting another hole in this belt?”
“I was… enhancing it, for comfort and ease of use.”
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
“No. I’m saying the belt is one hold shy of perfection.”
The BBC series’ simplistic retake on the lore of King Arthur and Merlin has a lot of fable-like qualities. There’s nothing more British than this show because it’s enriched with British history, even if Bradley James, who plays Arthur, can seem more like a boy band member than a hero of the 12th century tales. Although, Merlin has been criticized for its modern appearance, by which I can only assume was pin-pointed to the lack of black actors in the cast. Angel Coulby, Guinevere, is the only black actress that has an appearance throughout the entire series, and she does play her character well, at times showing Arthur what it’s like not being privileged and royal.
Although, as a history lover I can see that this show is not without its historic faults. For one, if Merlin did in fact exist he would have probably lived in a hut and not a castle, and jousts weren’t introduced to Britain until the Normans arrived in 1066. Instead, we get a fantasy series based on a flowery medieval rendering of the Dark Ages hero. But every show does not stay perfectly loyal to history and there is always room for creative genius instead of pre-written terms and conditions.
One thing that I do love is the take on magic. Merlin is the most powerful magical being that is known to exist and we see a lot as he learns more about the logistics of magic and his place in the world. However, what we don’t see is the magical world at large; we see the enemies that oppose Arthur and Merlin who protects him, we see the creatures that are possible, and the spells that are used. But we see a feared and severely repressed society, whose bounds are mainly confined to Camelot. I would have liked to see more of the magical world, its rules and ultimate goals.
“Are you threatening me… with a spoon?”
That downfall is mainly down to the writing. The worst thing to ever happen to the show was if Colin Morgan’s Merlin were to reveal his magic and Arthur would know that his sock mending servant was in fact the most powerful being ever known, one which has the destiny of protecting him. I imagine that what the writers were going for was that that betrayal would break up the witting, wonderful bond between Merlin and Arthur. After that dynamic’s gone, Arthur would elapse into boy arrogance, which I frankly hate, Merlin would be sad, which I just wouldn’t want, and there’s really nowhere else to go.
It’s worth remembering that the story is essentially a tragedy. It ends with the King betrayed by Guinevere and Lancelot, and destroyed by his own blood relative, his own son in some versions. Merlin’s optimistic tone could barely survive the shift into the torrid tale of death and destruction that the lore told. But this is where the fifth season went to. The last season opened with Arthur and his knights finally being able to rule in a role of stability; however, the storyline moved far too quickly in an attempt to do the lore justice. In fact, the show was cancelled, so I would think that if it wasn’t we would have at least another season, which would be dedicated to the slow descent into tragedy.
To be fair, I loved every minute of it up to the series five, which a letdown in comparison. The bond between Arthur and Merlin is a friendship one may die for, something funny and witty and sarcastic. Something entertaining, yet sad at the same time. It’s a friendship I don’t want to give up but I am forced to when the story comes to a startling end.
I could pick any of the fantastic quotes to end this but I will go with the aptly put:
“What happened to the young boy who came to my chambers just a few years ago?”
“He grew up.”
And… because I couldn’t resist.
“You’re such a clotpole.”