Merlin‘s second series is a sort of melting pot of the extremely good and the somewhat bad, a somewhat inconsistent conglomerate. There’s a feeling that -and here I paraphrase Bradley James – the plot is stagnating somewhat. But nonetheless, most of the episodes are enjoyable as usual and at least I can have a snarky word or two about the ones which weren’t so let’s move on.
The most glaringly uncomfortable thing about this series was the romantic subplots, without a doubt. Gwen and Arthur “fall in love” in the second episode, but it’s quite unexpectedly quick, with little indication in previous episodes that this will happen. Arthur is extremely out-of-character and actually doesn’t look like a prat when he kisses her, but then again, maybe that’s just character development. Then in Episode 4, Lancelot shows up and Gwen kisses him and professes her eternal love for him before he disappears again. Then the next thing we know, Arthur and Gwen are in love again and Gwen says some stuff about “always knowing” that he was a great man (despite telling Merlin that he’s a bully in Series 1 Episode 1) and then shit happens and they can’t be together because of Uther and end up shooting pining looks at each other across the set.
Basically, it’s a bit hamfisted and not very well done.
You could just say I’m biased because I ship Arthur and Merlin, but first, we need to think about why I ship them. The reason why is because a) it’s Platonic, b) they have chemistry, c) very clearly care about each other as they hare off to sacrifice themselves in place of the other at the first inkling of danger
and d) because Bradley and Colin are boyfriends. Gwen and Arthur don’t really get the same treatment. Moreover, instead of expanding Gwen’s character to try and accommodate for this, her character becomes largely relational to Arthur’s (and not in a cool destiny way but slightly sexist women-only-care-about-men way) except in the Lancelot episode and her very humorous response to catching Merlin stealing Morgana’s dresses. Honestly, I really did not like that moment in the final episode when Gaius asks her if she misses Morgana and she gives a vague answer and then asks after Arthur; considering the friendship between Morgana and Gwen built up during the first and second series, I think she would care a lot about Morgana too. But besides the A+ Telling Arthur Off for Being a Bit of a Shit scene of Series 2, Gwen’s Arthur-related scenes are just…lacking in character. Come on, BBC! We like awkward-heart-of-gold Gwen! We want more of that! I, at least, am certainly not alone in finding more reason to ship her with Lancelot instead as Bradley also agrees with me on this (he has pretty much said that Gwen only chooses Arthur because Lancelot’s not around – but then he’s biased because he ships himself with Colin).
Having dealt sufficiently with the rocky start to Arthur/Gwen, I must now express my displeasure with Merlin/Freya because what the hell was that about. Manifesting itself in approximately one (1) episode, I think I am yet again not alone in feeling relief that Freya died at the end of it because of how badly done that romantic subplot was. I get that it was meant to be Merlin finding some sort of companionship in being with someone who was also magic, but it was simply way too quick and not developed well. Especially when he wanted to elope with her. It’s totally uncharacteristic for him to give up Camelot (read: Arthur) for a girl he’d only just met, considering all the destiny and bond and sacrificing-himself-to-save-Arthur.
There were a couple of romantic subplots which were done better and solely because they were comedic and the people involved were under enchantments. Really, at this rate I think we only resort to the homoerotic reading because male writers can’t characterise female love interests well enough.
The humour and banter was still on point though, a prime example being the tongue-in-cheek two-parter Beauty and the Beast in which Uther
has sex with marries a troll. My amusement at the fart jokes in that one certainly indicated that my mental age was approximately 7.4 years old.
Also, can we just appreciate the fact that Bradley James can basically become the next Rowan Atkinson? Every single face he makes in Merlin is actual comedic gold.
There were, however, seemingly more moments of tragedy in this series. I am starting to think that Colin has cried more during the filming of Merlin than I have in my entire life. I have good reasons to think this, considering that I’m only 19 and have not cried very much, not even as an infant, whereas he did Merlin for five years, was basically constantly in tears in Series 2, and would probably have done multiple takes of crying. It’s actually very pitiful when Merlin cries (I may or may not start going ‘aww don’t cry’ and stroking my screen). He does it even when he’s happy…which is just sad. At least Colin’s a rather
attractive dignified crier.
Unlike Tobey Maguire.
The other thing was the last episode, The Last Dragonlord. It is a true cinematic (television-atic?) triumph from which I am still reeling. And apparently it’s Colin’s favourite episode which means he has good taste.
The Last Dragonlord has everything we love about Merlin: Merlin and Arthur going off on a quest together
and being besotted, it has Merlin Backstory, it has Colin Morgan crying incessantly (I’m not kidding. He spends the whole episode sporting glittering eyes and not in an Ancient Mariner way), it has Highly Emotional Scenes, and some serious Merlin and Arthur bonding moments. But there’s also happiness and smiles, there’s banter, there’s heartwarming stuff, there’s triumph at the end of a long and painful journey. This range really shows off Colin’s acting in particular, culminating in that epic speech to Kilgarrah.
This is literally one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in my life I am not joking. Colin is fucking incredible, especially when he’s going ‘Go! Leave!… If you ever attack Camelot again, I will kill you,’ and his voice is breaking and it’s like phwoarrrr so many emotions. Also, the roaring-in-ancient-Greek is like, mildly attractive. He makes what is basically gibberish to us sound meaningful, almost poetic when his voice flows into the hissing cadences of the language. And in the dark moonlight, Kilgarrah almost doesn’t look that badly-CGIed to pull off the scene without it looking totally ridiculous. There’s this delicious juxtaposition between Merlin’s verge-of-tears authority and draconic acquiescence delivered in John Hurt’s reedy tones. It is such a good scene. Such a damn good episode.
Thus, having finished Series 2 on this brilliant high, I will ford on to Series 3.
Best things: Charles Dance vomiting a toad, “It is destiny, my love. Destiny and chicken.”
Worst things: Uther Pendragon has sex with a troll, Merlin’s dad dies 2 minutes after meeting him.