This Season, Everyone Dies! ~or~ “By the way, Arthur, I’m a Sorcerer!”
Five seasons of BBC Merlin comes to an end. The Smallville inspired adventures of young Arthur and his occasionally-magic footman reach their inevitable, tragic Arthurian conclusion. Oh, don’t get us wrong. We like this series, but it’s weighed down by the Arthurian legend itself, and a lack of series-arc momentum. It all comes flooding to an end before fully cooked. How many seasons did they think they were going to get? More arc progression doled out along the way, or perhaps some years passing between seasons, might have brought this series to a level of maturity that would’ve left the ending more resonant.
Remember the Star Wars prequels? We knew the whole tragic future. A once proud Republic rots from the inside to become the Empire. A young boy with promise becomes the galaxy’s worst villain. All the Jedi but Obi-Wan will die. Yoda retreats into hiding. Senator Palpatine seizes power to become an Emperor. Luke Skywalker’s mother dies. None of these things could be altered, and we could only watch it play out.
This version of the Arthurian tale never has its golden age. Camelot never flourishes under Arthur, though he is often purported in the show to be so great. His time as king is short, his marriage to Guenevere shorter, and not until the very last episode does he even find out Merlin has magic, right before he dies. Arthur did not even become king until halfway through the series. It would have helped had the golden age been at least alluded to. Set the final season later, and open with, “For ten years, Camelot has experienced an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.”
But enough about pacing and inevitability. Let’s do the classic Fortress season in the sentence: Arthur’s king, and married, but we hope he enjoyed his honeymoon because Camelot will be besieged for the rest of the season by hordes of computer-generated armies brought down by the crazed Morgana (why someone would want to be one of her short-lived henchmen is beyond us), while Merlin still goofs around using a little magic in the background to help Arthur while the cast encounters punk faeries, more ginormous monoliths, Stonehenge, Obi-Wan Kenobi (sort of), an alien(!), and a couple more run-ins with the evil twin plot.
Evil twin plot reprisals:
- Arthur’s father Uther returns, but to do evil!
- Princess Mithian returns (remember how well she and Arthur got along last season?), but is being forced to do evil!
- Gwen is broken and spelled by Morgana, to secretly do evil!
Okay, so a lot of people stand around and let themselves be stabbed by swords. Is that so wrong? It’s only Arthur, Mordred, and Morgana, and all in one episode! It seems for this epic confrontation we all knew had to come someday, there were so many episodes in the past that did not help set it up and can now be seen as ‘fancified,’ sometimes entertaining, often interesting, but ultimately extraneous.
Did this season rely too much on the “force push” as the major expression of magic? Yes. Is it a budget saving measure? Probably. But we did get to see a number of computer-generated monoliths, and at the very, very end, Merlin calls down a little lightning. But don’t forget the alien. That was worth it… *sigh*
We liked this show. It took some initial adjustment, but it’s been a good ride for five years. Too bad the ending was such a rushed downer.