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I had intended to write one blog post about the last four episodes of Starz’ Camelot, but so much happened to comment in the final episode that I’ll leave that for one final post.

Camelot on Starz

Through the first six episodes, I wasn’t yet completely won over into even thinking Camelot was a good show, but episodes 7-9 did not drag as much for me and they actually seemed like there was a forward moving plot beginning with episode 7. I did enjoy watching them, but I can’t say, other than there being a plot, that the show got any better since the plot bordered on being ridiculous as times.

Episode 7 doesn’t start off that well. Morgan’s having another dinner party like she had earlier, only this time more than Arthur and Merlin are invited. At least this time Merlin has enough brains to be accompanied by half the court and some knights. Of course, Morgan has ulterior motives, such as making people believe the castle is attacked, that people are turning against Arthur, and that her own men have defeated the enemy. I love Eva Green so I think whatever faults she portrays as an actress in this show are due to bad scripts–Morgan is given some truly over the top lines, and in this episode I found myself actually becoming irritated by her. The delivery of her lines is so over the top that she sounds like Norma Desmond trying to impersonate Katherine Hepburn. The problem is Morgan’s behavior and dialogue is so corny that it’s unbelievable often when she’s trying to deceive people; Green can only do what she can with the strained and unbelievable plotting and dialogue. One gets the sense from watching her that even she knows how ridiculous her lines are and she’s doing all she can not to laugh.

In this episode, a knight named Harwel confesses his love for Morgan, resulting in his lying about the supposed attack and turning against the king for her sake. She’s attractive, so I don’t completely blame him, but why make up a character named Harwel? Where’s Accolon, her usual lover whom she seeks to control and who she charges to kill Arthur? There are so many intriguing characters in the legend that there’s no need to make up new characters.

In this episode, Merlin continues to be his stupid self. It’s like he is completely incapable of acting or taking control of the situation–he’s the most incompetent wizard imaginable. He makes a point of telling Igraine in this episode that Morgan poisoned Uther but that no good can come of Arthur’s knowing. What good can come of keeping it a secret and letting Arthur think his sister might really loves him? Of all the criticism I have seen about Camelot, most people think Merlin is the redeeming grace of the show, but I cannot see that at all. Joseph Fiennes may be a fine actor, like Eva Green, stuck in a bad role, but that’s the most good I can say about Merlin.

Meanwhile Morgan comes to realize that she can destroy Arthur by bringing out the secret of the Arthur-Guinevere affair. She does so by disguising herself as Igraine and returning with the others to Camelot while Igraine is kidnapped and imprisoned in Castle Pendragon.

In Episode 8, Morgan keeps causing trouble in her disguise as Igraine. There are a few moments when one thinks perhaps Morgan has a heart, such as when a small boy, who is friends with Igraine, accidentally dies, but the moments are few. She couples with Merlin, but the reason for her doing so is lacking. And again, how stupid is Merlin if the great sorcerer can’t figure out Igraine isn’t who she claims to be. Finally, we get to the point of the episode when Igraine/Morgan gets Guinevere to confess she’s slept with Arthur and then Igraine/Morgan blabs it to Leontes to make him angry at Arthur, something she hopes will turn Arthur’s knights against him.

Meanwhile, Vivian has a moment of sense when Igraine manages to kill the guard and escape and Vivian does nothing to stop her. Vivian isn’t much good for anything. She’s not a good villainess obviously. Why is she even in the program? She’s been subplanted by Sybil early on. The episode ends with Igraine arriving at Camelot to be confronted by her own image–Morgan in disguise.

In episode 9, Igraine tells Merlin what has been truly going on. He thinks she’s mad at first to claim she was imprisoned by Morgan, but he finally believes her. Then this brilliant wizard decides he and Igraine will go to Castle Pendragon to confront Morgan. Of course, they go with no other warriors to accompany them. This move would be okay if Merlin could shoot balls of fire from his hand or something to protect them, but instead, he and Igraine get captured and hauled back to Camelot in chains, while Arthur is away fighting at Bardon Pass. Seriously, Merlin is the most incompetent wizard ever–have I made that clear yet? I want to think Merlin allows himself to be arrested so Morgan will go to Camelot and show her true colors to the people, but I have a hard time thinking Merlin is really smart enough to manipulate things that way.

Disney's Merlin from The Sword and the Stone - now here's a smart Merlin

Meanwhile, at Bardon Pass in the middle of fighting off invaders whom Arthur and his knights don’t realize are really Morgan’s men, hostility between Arthur and Leontes makes Kay realize something is wrong, and eventually, Arthur confesses that he slept with Guinevere on the same day she wed Leontes. The men are disappointed in him and Kay tells Arthur what any television viewer with half a brain has already figured out, “You’re not a worthy king.”

As I watch these episodes, waiting for the climactic final episode and watching how the plot thickens toward it, there are moments where I find myself curious about what is going to happen, but in summarizing the plot, I can’t help realizing how silly the whole storyline is and the characters’ motivations and actions.

I will admit there is a lot of interesting stuff that happens in the final episode, so stay tuned for my next post–but don’t be surprised that there are some more stupid things that happen as well.

In the end, what has been the best part of Camelot? I’m intrigued by the nun, Sybil, and as over the top as Morgan is, I still like a good villainess. But the true kudos go to the castle of Camelot–it’s beautiful, and perhaps because it doesn’t have any badly written lines, it escapes criticism as part of the supporting cast.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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In my last post I pointed out everything that I thought was wrong with Starz’ Camelot, based solely on watching the first three episodes. Of course, that was a first impression based on only seeing part of the series, and as I suspected, once I got all my preconceived notions out of the way of what the King Arthur story should be, I was ready to focus on and better understand what the series actually was doing right.

Arthur and Morgan in Starz' Camelot

Arthur and Morgan in Starz' Camelot

I remain unimpressed with Merlin, who doesn’t strike me as being very bright for a great wizard. While in episode 4, I do somewhat like that he becomes tormented by Excalibur’s death (he accidentally kills the swordmaker Caliburn and Caliburn’s daughter, Excalibur, then takes the sword and tries to flee, resulting in her drowning by accident and Merlin naming Arthur’s sword for her out of a sense of guilt). Even the program’s explanation for the naming of the sword works for me, but I still don’t think Merlin seems to be very wise (Colin Morgan’s Merlin has more brains in his head I think). Merlin especially doesn’t win any IQ points when in episode 7 he’s dumb enough to let Arthur make another trip to Castle Pendragon to visit Morgan, considering what happened last time, although this time at least they are smart enough to be accompanied by their knights, but not smart enough to leave the women behind.

But what has started to redeem the series for me is episodes 5 & 6, both of which depict justice being given to people by Arthur and Morgan. Here we finally have a hint that Arthur may be capable of becoming a good and wise king–despite his obsession with Guinevere. This Arthur has not yet developed his ideas to the degree that King Arthur does in the musical Camelot of creating a court of justice and understanding that it is not “might is right but might for right,” but there is a start here. In episode 5, Arthur comes upon a man about to be hanged for killing another man. Rather than letting the local villagers carry out their own form of justice, Arthur holds a trial and gets to the heart of the matter, eventually understanding why the man about to be hanged tried to kill another man, and Arthur dispenses justice accordingly. The episode is a bit slow, but it works for depicting Arthur’s slow maturing as a king.

Episode 6 somewhat parallels 5 by showing Morgan dispensing justice. Through manipulation, she has convinced several of the people that she cares about them, more so even than Arthur, and soon she has the people coming to her with their problems and to give them justice. In the first case, she takes on a female King Solomon role. In the Bible, two women come to King Solomon, both claiming the same child is their own, and Solomon solves the dispute by suggesting the child be cut in half. The true mother then agrees to give up the child to the other woman rather than have it killed, a sure sign she loves the child, and consequently, Solomon gives the child to the true mother. In similar fashion, Morgan is presented with a woman who wants to keep her bastard son, but his father is demanding the child go to work with him. In determining who should have “custody,” Morgan offers to buy the child. The man is willing to sell him while the woman is not, resulting in Morgan giving the child to his mother. That Morgan is wise enough to dispense such justice shows that she is shrewd, and she gets to the heart of matter faster than Arthur–the viewer can’t help thinking she’s smarter than Arthur and feeling somewhat sorry for her not to have the throne, instead having to see her untried younger half-brother receive it. But her thirst for power, for reasons that do not exist other than power, make her remain unlikable.

Morgan outdoes herself later when Sybil, a nun from the monastery where Morgan studied, is accused of burning down the monastery and killing another woman’s child. Although Sybil has become Morgan’s ally and right hand, Morgan is forced to dispense justice by burning Sybil’s hand as punishment. This scene is highly effective, both by making Morgan look just to her people, as well as showing how wisely she averts killing Sybil, whom she apparently needs.

In the battle for who is wiser, as evidenced by these two episodes, it is clearly Morgan who is stronger and more qualified to rule, even if she isn’t nicer. Arthur’s chasing after his friend’s wife isn’t all that noble anyway. Nor is the Arthur/Leontes/Guinevere love triangle plot very interesting. Morgan’s evil is far more captivating to watch.

Morgan le Fay studied the Black Arts in a nunnery; painted by Anthony Sandys in 1864

Finally, I’d like to add that I find Sybil a fascinating character. She quickly pushes Vivian to the sidelines so that for several episodes you wonder why Vivian is even in the program as Morgan’s assistant–although she’s integral to the plot in episode 8. I love that Morgan, who is frequently depicted in Arthurian legend, including in Malory, as having been raised in a nunnery where she learned the “black arts,” has her past in that nunnery treated in this series by having a nun of questionable past in the program. In fact, Sybil admits that she did begin the fire, explaining that in the nunnery they still followed some of the old ways, and when church officials were coming to investigate pagan rituals in which girls were “chosen,” she had to burn the nunnery to hide the evidence. (The program hints that Morgan’s witch-like powers have something to do with her participating in such a ceremony.) Evil and pagan doings in nunneries–it’s so very nineteenth century Gothic that I can’t help but love it. I look forward to finding out more about Sybil and Morgan’s nunnery past in future episodes.

So, my opinion of Camelot slowly improved by the time I reached episode 6. I’ve now watched through episode 8 and I like the show more the farther into the series I go. I’ll discuss the last four episodes of Camelot in my next post.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Since I don’t have Starz, I’ve been anxiously awaiting a chance to watch Camelot and finally found it online at http://www.watchseriesonlinehere.com/camelot-s01e01-episode-1/ thanks to a member of the Facebook King Arthur group. It’s an annoying website full of pop-ups, so if you’d rather wait to watch the show on TV, it will be airing on CBC this fall.

Camelot StarzThere is a lot to say about Camelot, so I’ll only discuss the first three episodes here. Of course, I’m eager to watch any program about the Arthurian legend, but I think this program has more marks against it than positive points, and I’m not surprised that it was announced recently that it would be cancelled, based not just on the cost to make a historical production piece but also for the flaws in the story and characters and that the episodes drag a bit. I’m not saying I dislike the show. I don’t think there’s much on TV worth watching anymore so it’s one of the better shows out there, but for lovers of the Arthurian legend, there’s much to complain about it. It’s too bad because nothing would make my TV viewing more pleasurable than a long-running Arthurian series.

Here are my issues with Camelot:

  • The actor playing King Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower, just doesn’t do it for me, and that’s a big problem since he has the lead role. He may be a good actor, and yes, Arthur was young and naive when he became king, but Bower’s Arthur looks more like a rock star wannabe bad boy than a young man capable of becoming king. Nor is he in any way an imposing or kingly figure–his bio on IMDB says he’s six feet tall, but Guinevere looks taller. And seriously, how can we believe Guinevere would pick this Arthur over Leontes, a trained warrior, better looking, better built. I don’t mean to be offensive to Bower, but King Arthur he just is not. As I watch the show, I keep wishing Peter Mooney, who is playing Kay, were playing Arthur; he much more looks the part.
  • Arthur’s sword – why is the Sword of Mars or Sword of the Gods, or whatever they are calling it being called anything but Excalibur? I suspect because in legend, there are two sword stories–the sword pulled out of the stone which Arthur loses, and then the sword the Lady of the Lake gives him. In the second episode of Camelot, Arthur manages to release the sword, but since it’s sticking out of the middle of a waterfall, when he pulls it out he loses his balance, and consequently loses the sword when he falls and goes underwater. The whole waterfall scene is rather stupid in my opinion, but I do like that the show makes a point that Merlin planted the sword there and planned out the entire thing, much like in Malory. But a smarter Merlin wouldn’t have put the sword where Arthur was likely to lose it.
  • King Lot – he dies in episode 2. That’s a big difference from the legends since he gives Morgan le Fay (or more commonly Morgause her sister; they are often confused and one or two people depending on the version) four children, namely Gawain, Gareth, Agrivaine, and Gaheris. Not to mention being a pseudo-father for Mordred once Morgause/Morgan gets pregnant by Arthur.
  • Gawaine – obviously, he’s not Lot and Morgan’s son in this version.
  • Vivian – why is she black? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not prejudiced, and in the Merlin series, while I was surprised that Guinevere was black, at least that series is far more like fantasy. Vivian is traditionally the Lady of the Lake; instead, here she’s acting like a servant to Morgan. What’s the reason? Perhaps there will later be a Nimue as Lady of the Lake since Nimue was the original Lady of the Lake while Tennyson renamed her Viviane.
  • Merlin – I know Joseph Fiennes is a fine actor, but I like my Merlin’s to have at least a little bit of beard–just a little gray to make me believe he’s old and wise–pretty please? Never mind, obviously this Merlin isn’t very smart. As if putting the sword where Arthur will lose it isn’t enough, he makes a totally idiotic decision when he and Arthur go to visit Morgan at her castle without bringing along any guards, or even that they go at all. And of course, Morgan uses her spells on them–they couldn’t see that coming? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Did what happened at the castle make good television viewing–sure, but not at the expense of logic and characters with common sense. If this Merlin were in a slasher film, he’d play the dumb blonde girl who goes back into the house with the ax murderer.
  • The Nudity – right off we have a nude scene in the first episode – Arthur fooling around with a girl whom Kay is apparently interested in. And what’s the point? Gratuitous nudity from the start. Merlin shows up to say Arthur is the true king of Britain, and Arthur rides off, taking Kay along–poor girl got naked for no reason. She’s not spoken of again. Taking your clothes off just isn’t enough for a long-term role in Camelot apparently. Later we get a wild sex scene between Morgan and Lot, and of course, sex between Arthur and Guinevere. I’m not going to complain though when Eva Green as Morgan drops her clothes to have sex with a wolf. She’s stunning–but seriously, a wolf–I know a metaphor for some dark spirit, but still–bestiality?
  • Leontes – the number one thing people have been Googling to lead them to my blog is Leontes. Everyone wants to know who he is–is he from the legend. NO. He’s completely fictional. Why is he in the story? I don’t know. He seems to be some sort of juxtaposed Lancelot figure. Traditionally in the legend, Arthur and Guinevere are married but Guinevere is in love with Lancelot. Camelot‘s creators apparently decided to twist the storyline and have Guinevere engaged to the made-up Leontes, and then have her in love with Arthur. By episode three, Guinevere and Leontes are married, after Guinevere had sex with Arthur. I can’t wait to see how this triangle is going to work out. I’ll bet Leontes ends up dead–or worse, it won’t be resolved because the program’s already been cancelled and it was planned to be on for five seasons. I will say that Philip Winchester, who plays Leontes, is a great actor and I used to enjoy watching him in the cancelled TV series Robinson Crusoe (2008-2009) on NBC. I hope a series picks him up that will make him a success.

Okay. That’s enough of ripping on the show. There are a few things I like about it. Here they are:

  • Camelot itself – the set of the castle is stunning. I love that it’s an old ruin that Arthur will revitalize. It’s beautiful. In fact, all the scenery and sets are very well done. It’s filmed on the Guinness estate outside Dublin according to an interview with Joseph Fiennes.
  • Eva Green as Morgan – as far as I’m concerned Eva Green is the reason to watch this show. Ever since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), one of my all time favorite movies, I’ve thought she was one of the most distinctively beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She’s incredibly sensual–who doesn’t want to watch her suck food off her fingers like Orlando Bloom enjoys doing in the film? She’s equally beautiful, if not quite as exotic, in Camelot. She’s a wonderful actress but I feel like the script may be holding her back. Her character is a bit cliched, but still it’s an interesting role, and Morgan le Fay is perhaps my favorite Arthurian character anyway.
  • It’s a TV series about King Arthur – yes, there are some bad King Arthur films, but for the most part, Camelot is a good show. It’s entertaining. The episodes may drag a little. It’s not perfect, but similarly, I now really like the Merlin series, but it took half-a-dozen episodes to win me over and go from disgust actually to appreciate the talking dragon. Will Camelot have the power to win me over as I watch the rest of the episodes? I’m a bit more skeptical if it’s been cancelled already, but I’ll keep watching. I’m sure I’ll watch it several times over.

As I watch the rest of the episodes, I’ll be posting more of my impressions and where Camelot coincides or strays from the various versions of Arthurian legend. I don’t suppose I’ll be lucky enough to see the program create a child for Arthur, so I can add another chapter to King Arthur’s Children.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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