I love Arthurian tales and the many ways these have been told, my favorite of which is the feminist Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This TV series, brought to us by BBC, is analogous to what Smallville is to Superman. Meaning, we get to see what the famous sorcerer Merlin was like when he was young and Camelot was fresh.
As far as I can tell, King Arthur is a mythical figure and as we know from how folklore were handed down — through word of mouth, songs and poetry — there wouldn’t be any definitive canon to follow. Hence, I wouldn’t be very particular about whether this account is accurate or not, although one might notice the huge departure of the characters’ origins from common interpretations. Like for instance, Morgana (Morgan Le Fay, played by Katie McGrath) is King Uther Pendragon’s (Anthony Head) ward instead of Prince Arthur’s (Bradley James) half-sister. Guinevere (Angel Coulby) is Morgana’s maidservant, which makes her far from the lady we’ve been familiar with. Nimueh is the evil sorceress that Merlin (Colin Morgan) must defeat even though many of her versions portrayed her as an inherently kind-hearted magical being. These are but few of the deviations from the norm, which make me think that this is yet another complete retelling of the Arthurian legends.
There are two things most noticeable — at least to me — in this series:
- I was thinking, “Ah! So this is where the best parts of Legend of the Seeker went.” I know that what I had just mentioned is a totally unrelated title but King Uther reminds me so much of Jagang the Just, the Seeker’s most formidable enemy in the books. (Too bad Legend of the Seeker ends with Season 2 and viewers will never get to know Jagang the Just. I would have liked to see the Rahl brothers combine forces against him.) What I mean by this is that Uther has deluded himself into thinking that magic is the root of all the world’s evil and thus must be purged. He executes innocent people in the name of Justice. This is the series’ theme all throughout, which sometimes frustrates me. Uther’s bigotry causes Merlin and Arthur to kill the persecuted and many times the persecuted are branded “evil” just because they don’t side with Uther.
Common scenario: Uther executes someone whom he believes is a sorcerer. An angry relative/loved then wreaks havoc on Camelot out of despair and vengeance. Merlin and Arthur then kill the grieving fellow to end the conflict, thus cleaning up the mess caused by Uther’s brutality. This happens in every episode, which is why I sometimes want to hit Merlin repeatedly with a broom stick. Don’t you ever learn, boy??
- Despite my complaints about the main characters’ lack of remorse, I still found myself addicted to the series. Perhaps this is caused by how the characters relate with one another. Merlin and Arthur have a unique masochistic friendship, while Morgana and Guinevere are the unlikely best friends.
I also realized that I would always anticipate Arthur and Guinevere’s scenes. This is amusing because I have hated all versions of Guinevere and now that she plays a servant, I’ve finally found a Guinevere I actually like. Thing is, I get distracted with how this Gwen’s visage reminds me of LL Cool J or Seth of The Beastmaster. Don’t get me wrong, the actress Coulby has a totally sweet face…when she’s not Gwen (like I said, LL Cool J comes to mind). I do, however, forget all that when I see how Arthur trains his blue-eyed gaze upon her. Butterflies-in-the-stomach moments, definitely! (Darn that Gwen. Both Arthur and Lancelot, who fight for her affections, are hotties!)
Like many TV series, Merlin also suffers from quite a few plot holes. I didn’t let that deter me from my enjoyment, though. I am absolutely looking forward to Season 3.