I said before that Merlin had hit the ideal combination to make the series a success and it continued to do so this season. Excellent acting, a plot that maintained it’s meta nearly every episode, well developed characters and solid relationships continue to make this an excellent watch.
Morgana, returned from her “kidnapping” is welcomed back into the fold by Uther as a long lost child - as she should be since we learn she actually is his illegitimate daughter. The fact he kept this from her further enrages Morgana and is fanned by Morgause into her believing she should be the true monarch of Camelot rather than Arthur.
She still carries a grudge against Merlin for the poisoning but this spreads to an ambition to bring down Camelot and put herself on the throne. She repeatedly makes attacks against Arthur and Uther to try and bring them down. Alongside this we have Uther’s ongoing hatred of magic, Merlin conflicted about his actions being so underappreciated, as well as supporting a ruler who would kill him if he could and the difficulty of defending Camelot from an enemy within
We had some real highlights which stood out to me. I liked episode 11 with Gili using magic to cheat in the tournament and the questions that raised for Merlin - should he, as the Dragon has said repeatedly, just let Uther die? His sympathy with Gili for not being able to be who he is and use his greatest talent and his own frustrations - and even guilt over collaborating with Uther are all wonderfully developed here.
In episode 7 we had more of the excellent development of class with Uther completely indifferent about Gwen being captured - let alone Gwen’s brother. Servants and peasants are not worth the lives and time of knights. This is also developed throughout the season with the simple knowledge that any accusation against Morgana will fail because she is noble and Merlin, Gwen and Gaius are not.
I think Merlin has a definite flare for season finales. This ending, with Morgana’s great conquest and Arthur on the run was epic and excellent. The founding of the knights of the round table, the finding of the table, Gaius using magic, Excalibur rising from the lake - so much epic, so much classic Arthurian epic, it was another perfect, dramatic, epic ending.
I also liked the introduction of the knights throughout so when they all came together we knew these people - including Gwaine. There’s also no pettiness and jealousies between the knights which could have been so easily done.
While I’m glad that Merlin discovered Morgana in this series, I also felt that the repeated plot of Morgana being the weekly villain became a little frustrating. There Morgana was, every day, walking through the halls being the main villain, striking again and again without being caught and being accepted and loved by the rest of the castle - including Uther and Arthur. It just felt like so many of the episodes involved “Morgana is plotting again!” by the end of the season I was more than convinced the dragon was right and it was about time she had an accident of some kind. C’mon Gaius, you’ve got to know some good poisons!
I think part of that frustration is, like in season 2, I thought Morgana’s development was fast tracked. She seemed to leap from “I hate Uther” (for very very very good reasons) to “I will take over all Camelot and rule with an iron fist, MUAHAHAHAHA!” which seems a bit of a leap and can only be put down to Morgause’s influence (but, again, this closeness that developed between them was rather off camera so I’m still unsure as to why Morgause is such a big friend of Morgana’s). Even in terms of personal enmity - the hatred Morgana shows for Arthur and Gwen (less so Merlin) is bemusing, aside from her tyrannical ambitions.
The greater involvement of Elyan increased the number of recurring POC, but they’re lesser roles than the others - including a more minor role for Gwen. I do think this series maybe took a step back for the female characters including Gwen. With Morgana on the side of evil, along with Morgause (and, if we go back further, Nimue) we’ve had a lot of dangerous female villains on this show (often working through or with male villains, but the women are often the leaders and prime force). with Morgause being the main antagonist and Merlin and Arthur being the main protagonists, Gwen seems more overshadowed by the other three. Not that she’s not still involved - she definitely is including the rescue of her brother, being one of those who sports Morgana’s magic and continuing as Arthur’s love interest. It’s less her taking a step back as Morgana taking a step forward and her not moving up as well.
I also have to question yet another storyline where a woman is being used to magically seduce Arthur. It’s no wonder Uther was so quick to suspect Arthur of being enchanted by Gwen - it’s rare for a woman to come near Camelot without throwing a love spell around.
Class is still represented well as I’ve said above, but we’re 3 seasons in and we still have no GBLT characters.
This season has continued the series excellently - one or two issues but still maintaining the same standard and still being a show I love.