If you will pardon the pun, season one of the BBC’s Merlin was “magic”. Season two was hard pressed to surpass it. We would have settled for equaling it. Sadly neither was the case. It certainly had its fun and memorable moments, but overall sank to the level of your average TV show.
Season two in a sentence: Merlin has hardly grown since his climatic showdown with Nimueh of the old religion in last season’s finale and rather has increased his slapstick bumbling in the service of the other half of this comedic duo, Prince Arthur who would be dead every other episode if not for Merlin and who will soon have no Camelot to inherit if uber-dufuss King Uther continues his cavalcade of mistakes, hijinx and magic hating shenanigans while the forces of magic line up against him because of it – and oh, by the way there is a chained dragon in the basement who is getting antsy.
It was like that old Folgers Crystals commercial:
“We’ve secretly replaced season one‘s writing staff with those from a sitcom. Will the audience be able to tell the difference?” Ahh, the answer is “yes”. Merlin spent much of season two running endlessly and getting entangled in contrived situations while exchanging goofy slapstick with Arthur. Hey, we are all for a little humor, but as an addition to the serious tenor of the show, not its driving force.
Despite this, Merlin season two still continued to entertain if not impress. However the goodwill built up from season one has now been spent. Much evaporated during a most dreadful mid-season slump with a wretched two-part anchor. It was a plot where Uther marries a troll. Oh, so funny. Ha ha; and wacky hijinx ensue. “Oh Uther, you kissed a troll!” …Ugh.
Season one antagonist Nimueh had her arc build with multiple well written appearances. The final climatic showdown with her felt natural. Season two wandered in this department.
We can tell you who was the last antagonist, but none were a season long driving force. Without that pressure to push against, Merlin himself was adrift fighting tier two plots to various levels of entertainment.
The show has a budget. We understand. Star Trek saved money up by making lower cost “ship treks”. Merlin too seems to have adopted this system. However if the producers of Merlin cannot get 13 episodes in the can without 5+ “castle treks”, they really need to reconsider their funding options. Additionally, make sure you keep the writing quality up -especially in those episodes that do not have new sets and effects to bouy them.
The season one dragon arc ended on an intense and awesome final note:
We believed what was said back then, which is why it had such weight. Season two, after deftly sidestepping that vow went on to trivialize the dragon encounters. They became the deus ex machina; the cheap answer to this week’s plot problem.
For much of season two there is little movement on many of the major arcs: the old religion, Morgana, the dragon. Then in episode eleven the pedal gets put to the metal. Yes, the last three episodes were exciting, but lost some significance due to lack of careful build-up. Sure we liked them, they entertained and left you with a decent season ending note. However they could have - should have been more.
If Merlin was not such a good series and one which we thought had great potential, we would not care if they dropped the ball in season two. But it is, and we do, and they did.
Our Takes on all the Merlin Seasons: