Merlin [2009] (BBC) Season 2. 13 Episodes

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.

Eeeevil wizard?  Bad guy checklist:  Greasy hair?  Check.  Fur or feathered outfit? Check.  Dutch angle? Classic.

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.

The smiling but under-used Morgana returns, still played by Katie McGrath (and her lovely jaw).

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.

Be thrilled to the amusing antics of Prince Arthur – trying to cook a chicken…

Bad Guy checklist: Cage bars? Check. Very strange over-sized collar with fur trim? Check. Animal bones? Check. Even a little dutch angle? You pass!

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.

They also went to bed… We wanted to throw our viewing device out of the Fortress onto the arctic ice to be used as a litter box by passing polar bears.

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.

Are you serious? The “Witchfinder”? Is that outfit even fitting the period? More like something out of the Salem witch trials. So stereotype. Hit us over the head any harder with this tired message and we will be concussed.

Is this a R.O.U.S. (Rodent Of Unusual Size) from Princess Bride? Who was the season-arc antagonist? The Druids? Morgause? Mordred? The dragon? These giant flesh-eating gerbils from episode 4?

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.

“I’m Morgause, this season’s Nimueh. I like necromancy, conjuring death knights, oh, and long walks on the beach. Plus I am Arthur’s equal with a sword. Hmmm, kinda strange that last one.”

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.

How about a castle trek where Merlin falls into a contrived and obviously doomed love affair?  One that leads him so out of character that he is ready to leave everything he has fought for going on 22 episodes (and he was NOT even spelled).

“Okay, everyone stand perfectly still and do absolutely nothing but stare for 30 seconds while she transforms into a hideous beast.”

The season one dragon arc ended on an intense and awesome final note:

“You will not see me… again!”   — (* that is until the first episode of next season…)

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.

“Young wizard, do not forget your promise to free me.”  Translation: “I know I have had little to do in this whole stupid season. Anyway, the viewers likely need a reminder that you did promise to free me once. It will happen sooner or later after we save up our VFX budget.”

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.

Mordred makes a couple inconsequential appearances. He still wonders why he has no friends.

“What about me, Lancelot? My appearance this season was even more inconsequential. But I got to reaffirm my now requited love for Guinevere.  You don’t think that will cause trouble in the future, do you?”

Arthur:  “Huh? Morgana, you’re in this episode? What does that make, like three?”

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.

Who is this mysterious man? What is his connection to Merlin? What are his chances of living though the whole episode?

Hey look, we found the VFX budget!  Definitely not, “How to Train Your Dragon”.

Our Takes on all the Merlin Seasons:

Merlin [2008] Season 1

Merlin [2009] Season 2

Merlin [2010] Season 3

Merlin [2011] Season 4

Merlin [2011] Season 5


25 thoughts on “Merlin [2009] (BBC) Season 2. 13 Episodes

    • Good question. We have started viewing LotS for the first part of our season two take. Merlin has very moving highs and horribly contrasting awful lows. LotS has a few very exciting highs, and more numerous uncomfortable lows – that make us want to shower.

      Merlin vacillates, but more often than not comes down on the uplifting power of the human spirit. LofS started out that way in the beginning of season one, but has since become a dark, dreary and depressing show – especially so far in season two. There is a futility and coldness in LotS lately that is bringing the show down. This aspect is likely from the book source material to which the show is hopelessly tied.

      Merlin season two suffered from a lack of coherent overall story arc. We suspect that will not be the case in LotS (although that does not necessarily mean the arc is enjoyable). Not having read the Terry Goodkind books, the TV show LotS is becoming less fun to watch, which is a shame since the show has been fun and has such potential.

      (We are going to roll out our Facebook announcement in a day or two. We hope you participate.)

  1. I have a few questions pertaining to logic. First, how did they get the Dragon down there? Transport him through the comparative crawl-space that Merlin walks through, I think not. Use Magic to transport him into the caves? Uther(Whom I like to call Uber-Arthur) banned Magic, so that’s not possible. So, how did Ol’ Fire-Breath get down into the caves?

    Second, in season 2 episode 1, Merlin throws a spear at a boar with his Magic. NO ONE SEES IT. There were like fifteen people there and no one saw the spear. Third, that gate guarding the Jule-soul-thing was pretty rickety. Why were there no guards there? The thief dude could have gotten through with much less effort, I think. And one I just thought of, where did the evil wizard find those raven-feather clothes on such short notice?

    Got any answers?(By the way, Mordred was Emo before it was cool)

    • Nice. We enjoy laughing at the Fortress.

      The dragon cave seems to have some distant rays of light shining into it. So we have to assume there is something out there. Maybe Uther blocked off some other entrance. We did wonder more about how he got there before the dragonlord episode.

      We agree, it is mighty convenient that so much of Merlin’s magic seems to escape notice. Oh look, Arthur is conveniently knocked unconscious again. And when he wakes, he keeps falling for the same old, “Wow Arthur, YOU killed the (insert monster of the week).”

      That jewel seemed to dangerous too leave around. Funny Uther dd not charge Gaius or someone with the task of destroying it.

      PS – Where did Segan get that outrageous outfit? Is there a Broadway theatre in Camelot?

  2. I didn’t realize so many gorgeous women were on this show!

    But anyways, I HATE when shows take a promising freshman start – only to show they had no long term vision by following it up with a pointless second season.

    That’s EXACTLY what happened with Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles. The first season was SO hopefuly, but the second season literally went nowhere VERY SLOWLY.

    • Merlin does have its moments, but we agree, its start was more auspicious than its sophomore year. They better get back on the honour role next year or they risk getting expelled.

      We did not think to liken it to Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, but your comparison is apt. That show really lost its way season two. Especially in comparison to a mostly fun and action packed season one. Check out our take on it:

      PS – Good one, “…literally went nowhere VERY SLOWLY.” Funny and true.

      • We never got into Heroes. We did try to watch last season and the first half of this one, but as you say, where is it going? It seems that the “Heroes” are always behind the 8-ball, and make very little arc progress. A lot of over-serious voice-over, stylish filming, and little story substance.

      • I highly recommend the 1st season of Heroes, its spectacular (despite being a ripoff of Xmen and Watchmen). Great writing, great characters, plot that keeps you guessing, I really, really enjoyed it. They have their story-arcs figured out, and they flow together nicely. I recommend quitting after Season 1 though.

  3. Television like Merlin is not usually seen or made for english tv and sold as well too often. This is not meant as an excuse in any way. Merlin is at time witty with a sharp script (so far), and probably keeps some engaged with its cgi despite issues for its universal audience.

    • Perhaps the BBC is hit or miss as you say. We agree with you for the most part that Merlin (especially season one) had witty and sharp scripts. Indeed there was some in season two as well. We are glad a third is coming. But let us have more of that wit and less of that troll two-parter.

      You make a good point too about the show being engaging. It is, despite its faults. We think however, that its pros and cons are more universal and not as local to Britain as you may think.

      With Morgana gone over to the dark side, we think the producers can now move the plot along with more compelling scripts. Thanks for weighing in.

  4. We and MPR2020 discussed Merlin on his site. We have reproduced his interesting comment here:

    mpr2020 said on Merlin
    October 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Thanks for the comment and for the blog of Merlin series 2, which saved me the trouble of watching the show (or any vestige of guilt for missing it)!

    I have some sympathy for your comment that the show can thrive in the set-up following young Merlin finding his wizardly feet in Camelot, but I think your description of the second series chimes with my (albeit overwrought) elaboration of potential for progress along a series-by-series plotline.

    That is, I think we would both appreciate some development of the situation from one series to the next. The end of series 1 where Gaius didn’t die after all and the beginning of series 2 when the dragon hadn’t left after all were two instances where I thought the writers were deliberately avoiding risks. Risks can be very stimulating; avoiding them can lead to bland repetitive fodder.

    It’s almost as if they tried killing off Gaius, or getting rid of the dragon, but couldn’t then work out how they were going to sustain the BBC1-primetime-friendly expositionary functions of those two characters. As if they had lots of time to work out series 1 and implement it; and then series 2 was required and they dallied with the idea of being daring but either time or the powers that B(BC) interfered with their chance to play with the basic situation.

    I’m at risk of rambling on again, but fundamentally, series 1 felt like Merlin was going to be a fun, imaginative show; series 2 revealed it as a ‘safety first’ ratings and international sales vehicle for the Beeb. Disappointing.

  5. As a big fan of the first series, I too was thoroughly disappointed with the second – especially how they turned Gwen into a prettied-up medieval version of Bella Swan. Not only did it irk me that hey felt the need to suddenly dress her -way- above her servant position and put flowers in her hair, but her strong character from the first season was replaced so hardcore in some episodes with ‘woe is me, i love two awesome men and they’re in love with me but I have to choose. Woooooee.’ They completely killed her character, considering the good job she did in S1 (I too thought she was mis-cast, but the character grew on me).

    I’m also so glad someone else noticed the ROUSes. Personally, I don’t believe they exist. 😉

    • Interesting comparison between Bella and Gwen. It is true that Gwen has gone downhill a bit with her divided love shtick. Most of the characters have had a slide in season two (but only one slept with a troll… but we digress).
      “One is hunky, the other deep… I’m so confused!”

      Well Nyuu, we suppose now that they have burned off their season 1 goodwill, they better get it right in season 3 or it is over. With Morgana as the new enemy they have a chance to pull it off.

    • We hope you laughed. We like Merlin, though more so in season 1. We hope they break the downward trend and step it up for season 3. We want them to reach their potential …and perhaps get a slightly larger VFX budget. 😉

      • We do (as you can probably tell) appreciate McGrath’s Morgana (and her lovely jaw). She adds a bit of class to the whole production. It is too bad they let her character linger in season 2, not really doing much.

        McGrath as Morgana (and her lovely jaw)

        They do have options to give her romances with Arthur or Merlin. Perhaps both will occur in the future. Their interpretation of the Arthurian story is rather flexible it seems. The way they have steered the story, Morgana may have copious screen time in season 3 – or disappear for most the season!

      • I go for copious instead haha but i hear she’s going to be full villain now. and also, arthur’s got gwen, so i hope he’d stick with her or we’ll have gossip girl in our hands haha

        and thanks for the screenshot of The Morgana Jaw! 🙂

  6. Офигенный фильм!!! Интереснее чем “Туманы авалона”

    Translated from the Russian:

    Awesome movie! More interesting than the “Mists of Avalon”.

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