My original intention was to rate episode 4:1 tonight, but as it turns out, the fourth season of Merlin opens with a two-parter -- and I can't really assess the story in progress until I see its conclusion. Thus, instead of posting the scheduled review, I've decided to share my overall reaction to seasons one through three, which I have just mainlined over the course of the past two weeks.
On the whole, I think this is a refreshingly nice series, and I'm glad SABR Matt recommended it to me:
- First of all, you can find things to admire in just about every heroic character -- even Arthur, who, despite being a bit of a noble prat, still has his heart in the right place.
- Secondly, I approve of the balance this series strikes between the serious and the comic. When the writers decide to have a little fun - like with the whole "Uther accidentally marries a troll!" storyline - hilarity generally ensues. I also think the ongoing banter between Merlin and Arthur is very cute; their relationship frequently livens up what are otherwise very grim episodes.
- Third, the messages are usually sound. There's a strong Burkean subtext, for example, that argues in favor of evolutionary change and moderation and against revolutionary change and extremism. There are a lot of people out there who (understandably) want to visit their vengeance upon Camelot and Uther right this very second, but the narrative quite clearly insists that nature should be allowed to take its course.
And is nature starting to come through? Yes. As we see at the end of the third season (and the start of the fourth), Uther's reign can be ended without Uther's blood being spilled. Uther, you see, is still human. Whatever atrocities he may have committed (and the hints provided in the story are quite tantalizing in that regard), he still loves Camelot -- and, even more crucially, he still loves his children. Force Uther to confront the reality that his fanaticism on the subject of magic has threatened his kingdom and utterly destroyed his relationship with his daughter and he will be broken. And do I think this is good characterization? You bet! I hate to say it, but I think Uther might be one of my favorites.
I've heard this show described as "the SG1 of Arthurian legend interpretations," and I think that's basically accurate. Merlin is light and riddled with anachronisms -- but that certainly doesn't mean it lacks depth. As I noted above, Uther is definitely a well-written "villain" -- and beyond that, Merlin - our hero - often must grapple with impossible moral dilemmas. Is it right to poison Morgana if it means ending a dangerous curse on Camelot? Is it a good idea to make deals with the Great Dragon given that said creature has his own agenda? Really, I think Merlin proves that you can create something fun and "family friendly" without jettisoning the rules of compelling storytelling. If only Hollywood would follow the BBC's lead!