When last we left Merlin (which had a great season one), he had survived a lackluster, slightly misguided season two. Honestly, while we had hopes for a good season three, we were not expecting it. So it is with pleasant surprise that we can say Merlin regained its footing in 2010.
In season one Merlin came to Camelot, found himself, and battled the villain Nimue -one who has yet to be equaled in coolness and drama. In season two Merlin himself became unfocused as the misguided season arc. He battled Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.).
Season three in a sentence: With only a short diversion fighting a goblin and none falling in love, Merlin battles the evil Morgausse, conniving Morgana, brigands, slavers and two undead armies while occasionally calling upon a dragon, acting as a match-maker, and along with his trusty old sidekick Gaius keeping the forces of eeeevil from toppling uber-dork King Uther before it is Arthur’s time to ascend.
Focus. That is what the show had in a year that could also be called, “Morgana: The Evil Looks Season”. She literally must have heard twice every shooting day from the director, “Okay, now look off into the distance evilly.”
The two off-arc comedic episodes did thankfully not derail the overall tenor of the season. Arthur is finally coming into his own, kept his slapstick to a minimum and did not try to cook. Oh, there was plenty of comedic banter between Arthur and Merlin, but it was well paced, sparingly placed and in good taste.
However you may wonder what magic really is this season because the sorcerer’s weapon of choice was incessantly the “force push”. It is cheap to do. A little glowing eyes animation and a wire pull on a stunt man. There, your enemy is flying into a wall. It just does not carry much magical thrill. Very X-Men. There was occasionally slightly more interesting magic on the bad guy’s side. We hope magic can be explored more widely next season.
“Wait, we know how this ends, right? It’s depressing.” Yes, just about every character we are being introduced to meets some sort of sad future. The story of Arthur and his knights, Merlin, Morgana and Guinevere spirals into betrayal and death for most of them. But the show, launched as a sort of “Young Arthur” was originally far from that. However what choice did it ultimately have? Move forward -or stagnate (see last season). At least there are a couple decades of Camelot’s golden years before the fall.
The dragon did little this season, but we are okay with that. Our concern was that free from its chains it was going to be called upon to get Merlin out of every jam. Thankfully it was not.
They stretched their effects budget pretty well. We can only imagine the producer’s looks when the writers pitched the rising army of undead skeletons in the first episode. However that did not stop them from another massive siege at season’s end with an undead (but still affordable human form) army.
They made better choices in season three than in two. The writing was better with only occasional cliches. I mean come on, is there a person on Earth that still believes it is good when a bad guy answers your request for payment with the phrase “You shall get what you deserve“? Puuullease.
Turning a show around after a disappointing season may be harder than launching a good one. Props to the Merlin producers for accomplishing this sadly uncommon feat. Let us hope the good trend continues.
Our Takes on all the Merlin Seasons: