Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Merlin: Season 4 Review

 With the complete exposure of Morgana as a villain and the early loss of Uther and Morgause, the game changes very quickly. Arthur is now king and Morgana is even more driven and furious, determined to bring him down with the help of new dropped-out-of-nowhere-to-annoy-me character, Agravaine. Arthur’s uncle and most trusted advisor (for some reason) who joins Morgana in trying to bring the kingdom down no matter what. Arthur’s relationship with Gwen develops to its conclusion and we have lots of fun with the Knights of the Round Table. And yes, with Gwaine around, sometimes Camelot is a silly place.

I think this season was Arthur’s season. We’ve seen him grow a lot in the previous 3 seasons and this was seeing what he has become as he gains the throne. He’s not perfect and he can be easily lead astray by Agravaine-who-shouldn’t-even-be-there, but he has come a long way. His willingness to sacrifice himself several times, from the very first episode, is palpable. His refusal to give into fear (which is wonderfully contrasted with Merlin’s obvious terror upon meeting something his magic won’t work on), his loyalty to Merlin and his knights, his nobility in episode 5 when admitting his mistakes, his determination to be fair in episode 11 to ensure peace with a neighbouring kingdom. He’s the same Arthur, but he has grown a lot.

I really liked Morgana’s prophecy about Emrys and her subsequent fear - it showed Merlin’s power and potential far more than any flashy acts on his part. Here is Morgana, with all the power we’ve seen her use, openly fearful of the power she knows Emrys/Merlin has. This is doubly and wonderfully revealed in episode 7 when Gaius gives up Merlin’s identity to his interrogator, working for Morgana who then turns on her because of the life Merlin is prophesied to lead. This may have been Arthur’s season but we’ve also had some hefty hints about Merlin’s power and part in Arthur’s story.

I also really liked episode 4 with the Dragon egg and find myself in the rare position of disagreeing with Gaius. I can’t see what else Merlin could have done, as a Dragonlord and as a friend of the Dragon after the Dragon has done so much for him - Merlin owed it to him to find that egg.

As before, the season finale? Epic. Merlin puts Agravaine down with magic, calls the Dragon against Morgana’s army and generally kicks arse most awesomely. He picks up Arthur through all his doubts, sets up an awesome Sword in the Stone moment and general crowns the season. I think season has mainly been about Arthur, but the finale was Merlin shining through (also, enchanted Arthur was hilarious).

The main thing I disliked among all the awesome this season? Agravaine. Agravaine, a character who has never even been referred to before, a character who completely came out of nowhere but suddenly was launched to the very top of Arthur’s councils and earned his complete and unquestioning trust. Even when considering whether there is a traitor among his court, Arthur doesn’t for a second consider his suddenly appearing uncle. Yet he does consider Gaius and Merlin. And why does Agravaine have such loyalty to Morgana? It’s not like he’s going to be granted a more prominent role - he already stands higher than anyone but Arthur! And it’s not like Morgana treats him with anything resembling respect. The character feels shoehorned into the story because they haven’t finished using all of the “enemy on the inside” plotlines from when Morgana was the big bad.

I love the inclusion of the Knights of the Round table and I think they all bounce off each other really well. I was worried how this would work since Arthur and Merlin have a close friendship and Arthur has done well with Lancelot and Gwaine and Elyan but I didn’t see how they’d all work together but they really have formed an excellent group. They’re a fun team.

The problem? Well Morgana is now an enemy and not even an undercover enemy so she's well away from the main group. Morgause is dead which leaves Gwen.... and a whole load of men. And part way through Gwen is banished because of Morgana’s plotting and Arthur's cluelessness. She still has awesome moments - staring down Agravaine when he tried to advocate abandoning the peasants in episode 1, Gwen fighting the Lamia in episode 8 but she was generally a much smaller role this season. Which is poor for both gender and racial inclusion since Elyan, like all the knights, doesn’t play a huge role (I also think Helios may have added too many to the “exotic Black enemies” especially since he put Gwen in a belly-dancer outfit - aside from anything else this is 6th century England, she’s going to freeze).  And I wish Isolde had lived. One thing I do find interesting is in episode 9, when Gwen has betrayed Arthur with Lancelot, Arthur advances on Gwen and takes her arm - but when he sees he scared her he backs off and apologises. Even when angry, even when hurt, even when betrayed, there’s that acknowledgment that he was wrong to touch her and wrong to scare her. Still, the whole banishment of Gwen was frustrating, it took her out of the story, it devalued her word and her reputation and, after so many many many many examples of magical seduction we've seen, it's bemusing that Arthur didn't see this as a possibility. His not looking for that possibility did huge damage to the chemistry they had been building

We also have 2 more episodes of evil female seduction - this time with the Lamia seducing the Knights and a spell on Gwen to fall in love with the zombie Lancelot. Seriously, between the lack of women in their world and the fact that half the women they meet are trying to seduce them for nefarious or lethal means, it’d be far far safer for Arthur to fill the round table with gay knights. But, alas, still no GBLT characters.

Arthur and Gwen finally got married! Finaaaaaallllyyyy!!! It’s been a long trek down that aisle. Now I just need more people to be in on Merlin’s secret and I’ll be extremely happy. My requests for season 5 is a greater role for Gwen and someone to learn Merlin’s secret. Maybe not Arthur - but Gwen would be an ideal candidate.