After several posts on Camelot, which I have to admit is pretty much a flop and I can see why it was cancelled after its first season, it’s time for me to admit that I love Merlin. It is probably my favorite show on television right now, and I suspect it is the best Arthurian television series ever made.
When I first heard about Merlin in 2009 before it began to premiere, I was excited but skeptical, and the first few episodes did not convince me to like the show, but I kept watching.
I had several initial reservations about the program, including:
- A talking dragon: Seriously! I was expecting cheesiness to result, but instead the show slowly built up the relationship between Merlin and the dragon until the dragon came to play a pivotal role and by the end of the second season was intriguing because of its past and its connection to the old religion.
- An African American playing Guinevere: No offense intended, but what is she doing in Camelot? And what is Guinevere doing as a servant? And yet, the actress playing her grows on you until you think she’s quite cute and you root for her and Arthur as they fall in love.
- Merlin himself: Colin Morgan looks like a clutsy boy in the beginning. Where is Merlin’s long beard and robe? Shouldn’t he be older than Arthur? Why do we need a slapstick cheese Merlin instead of a great wizard to awe us? And yet, Colin Morgan is a phenomenal actor–the more I watch him, the more he impresses me.
- Morgana: For the first several episodes I wondered why she was even in the show. Her role seemed to be pointless and she was tossed in just because she was in the legend. But boy was I wrong. She is an integral part of the program and one of the most intriguing characters, and the actress playing her does a better job even than Eva Green does playing her counterpart on Camelot–although better writing has something to do with that.
I was wrong on all of these points. By the sixth episode or so, I knew I would keep watching. By the second season I was a fan, and now having watched the third season, I am hooked and eagerly awaiting the fourth season and thrilled to know that a fifth season is planned. I’ll go so far as to say that Merlin is my favorite show in a decade–since The Lost World was cancelled.
Merlin succeeds by steady and careful pacing and plotting. Yes, there are some borderline cheesy episodes, such as the troll who farts and marries Uther, and slapstick moments where Arthur throws things at Merlin, but overall, this series succeeds by slowly developing the characters, revealing new things about them, and aligning itself closely yet distantly enough to the Arthurian legend to keep the magic alive without having to worry about historical accuracy because of its fantasy kingdom setting. Camelot is the capital of a kingdom named Albion surrounded by several other countries–they are pseudo-historical, but there is no mention of Britain or France or a time period to make us expect the show is actually historical. At the same time, all the great Arthurian characters are here: Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Morgana, Guinevere, Mordred, Lancelot, Gawain, Percival, often with new twists and development.
In future posts, I’ll analyze some of the splendid ways Merlin plays with the Arthurian legend, but for now, it’s sufficient for me to say: Two Thumbs Up!
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com