I always thought that Series 2 of BBC’s Merlin was very similar to the first season and predominantly developed the characters and the plot that had already been set up in Series 1 and, after re-watching, I’ve learned that it does this so extraordinarily. There is no drastic changes, unless you count the events of the last two episodes whereby Morgana is kidnapped and The Great Dragon is set free, and, I have realised, that Series 2 develops on everything Series 1 touched on, with more detail and tension. Morgana’s powers get stronger, Arthur and Guinevere turn from admiring each other to full-on in love, and, and this is something I never realised on the first viewing, Merlin and Arthur’s friendship actually starts becoming respectful and the two of them seem to be equal with one another rather than Arthur being above Merlin. In general, things just get more intense and serious in Series 2, as well as keeping the majority of the comedy and without changing the characters too much. A big contribution to the series’ intensity is the new characters being introduced, some of which play a big part in the following seasons such as Freya and Morgause. I also think the introduction of the two-parter, which I always believe gives any show more depth and detail, enhances Series 2. Although the only two-parter of this series, “The Beauty and the Beast” Part 1 and 2, is primarily a comic storyline, I think it stills adds tension and suspense.
Returning back to the character and plot development, Morgana is a very interesting study in Series 2. The King’s Ward is no longer wondering whether her power to see the future in her dreams is anything magical, but knows for sure she is a witch and is scared of her growing powers, that she can’t even control, and worries if anyone were to find out, including Uther. To protect his secret, Merlin can not comfort Morgana like he so desperately wants to. It’s obvious that Merlin is so eager to ensure Morgana that she is not alone and that her powers are a gift and not to be scared of, but he can’t and it makes the viewer wonder that maybe Merlin could have avoided Morgana from turning evil by just being honest with her from the start. Morgana begins to grow apart from Arthur and Gwen and spend more time alone which must really distress her. I really don’t think she would have been so hateful and vengeful in later seasons had Merlin just been there for her. I never picked up on this when the season first aired because I just assumed that Morgana was turning against the King due to her own hatred, but there is actually a lot of manipulation of Morgana as she is so vulnerable at this point. Mordred reunites with Morgana twice in this season, the second time with bandits who persuade Morgana to steal from Camelot’s vaults. It’s no secret that Morgana begins to despise Uther in Series 2 but I feel that in this instance she was manipulated as she didn’t even know what the bandits were planning. I think Morgana begins to believe, in this season, that she has a duty to help those who are like her, regardless of whether they are good or bad people. Alvarr, the leader of the bandits, actually seduces Morgana so that she can be easily manipulated. Morgause, who I always thought sought out Morgana out of care and love, I feel also uses Morgana for her own means. Morgause is Morgana’s older sister and, even though Morgana doesn’t find this out until Series 3, she is still drawn to her sister in this season and is given comfort and security in a family member which she hasn’t had the pleasure of having since she was a child. I believe that Morgause uses this to her advantage. You could say that Morgause even gives Morgana her healing bracelet to entice her into the magical world, however this was most probably out of care and concern for her younger sister. The main aspect that made me think that Morgause was manipulating Morgana was in “The Fires of Idirsholas” when she enchanted Morgana without explaining herself. Morgana does genuinely seem confused and scared when Camelot comes under attack and everyone around her starts to falls asleep, not realising that she is the source of the enchantment. Morgana isn’t evil in Series 2, she’s just a scared, innocent woman who is taken in by dark sorcerers who have been so oppressed and hunted by Uther that they are filled with hatred and vengeance which rubs off on Morgana so easily that she begins to emotionally connect with Uther’s victims, to the point where she disowns him and wants him dead. She doesn’t hate Arthur or Gwen at this point, although drawing away from them to protect her own secret. She doesn’t want war but just wants to live in peace and be herself. This Morgana is so internally confused about who she is and which path to take and it’s so enticing.
Other characters and relationships also change and develop in Series 2, in particular Arthur and Guinevere. Series 1 merely hinted on their attraction for each other but Series 2 goes all-out as the Prince and maidservant share their first kiss. By the end of the season, almost everyone knows how the two of them feel about each other, except Uther of course. Series 2 interestingly delves into the consequences and problems of their love which wasn’t addressed at all in Series 1 which is why I think it’s so important in this season. Arthur and Gwen wisely understand that, although they love each other, they can’t be together because Arthur is the future King and Gwen is just a servant. This does create tension, especially when Lancelot returns for one episode, flirts with Gwen and stirs up conflict, and also when Arthur is enchanted, once again, to fall in love with another woman. Gwen and Arthur try and deny their love, mostly to Merlin but also to themselves, because they sadly know that their love is not realistic. Series 2 is really romantic and beautiful if you enjoy Arthur and Gwen’s relationship.
Regarding Uther and Arthur’s relationship, I feel that, especially after Arthur turns against his father after learning the truth of his mother’s death in “The Sins of the Father”, their relationship is stronger and more equal. By the end of the season, Uther really respects his son as being an adult who can make his own decisions, and even accepts Arthur defying his father’s orders to follow his own personal opinions. Arthur and Merlin also grow closer and Arthur appears to value Merlin more as a friend than a servant and begins to carry out “lone missions” with only Merlin at his side. Arthur seems to show more humility and nobility and is less of his arrogant, rude Series 1 self.
I feel that Gaius develops very little in Series 2, however I think Merlin appears to become more powerful and takes on bigger challenges. Not only does Merlin’s powers grow, he also gets a love interest. This is very unique as I don’t think it happens again in the show which may be because the writer’s are trying to suggest that Freya is Merlin’s love of his life, or maybe just because they felt that a romantic storyline for Merlin just didn’t fit. Merlin also meets his father, Balinor, which is very exciting. Merlin discovers that his father, and subsequently himself, is a Dragonlord and uses the magic to control The Great Dragon terrorising Camelot. It’s interesting to see Merlin and The Great Dragon against each other because after Series 2 Merlin has the dragon’s allegiance as he can control him. It’s a very unique moment which presents The Great Dragon as a evil character.
Series 2 also gives us more of the Arthurian Legend that was hinted at in Series 1. Although Excalibur is not mentioned, Freya, Merlin’s love interest, is implied to be the Lady of the Lake who, in legend, is the witch who gives Excalibur to Arthur. Lancelot returns and further hints of his and Gwen’s romance and affair is intensified as they appear to really care for one another more so than in Series 1. Mordred’s dark destiny, and his alliance with Morgana, is also an legendary element as his powers are shown to be very strong as he manages to take out multiple attackers. As Merlin strives to stop Mordred before he can meet his destiny of killing Arthur, Mordred states that he will never forgive him which also implies his character becomes vengeful and evil, which, in my opinion, is kind of a let down in later seasons. Mordred is very important in this season as he doesn’t return to the show until Series 5 where he is an adult, and also a different actor, so these appearances are very special.
I also believe, and I didn’t notice this on the first viewing, that Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table are also slightly hinted on in the last episode of Series 2 when Arthur asks for knights who are willing to go up against The Great Dragon and who will most likely not return. A dozen knights step forward and form a circle around Arthur which I personally think was a visual mention of the Round Table and the loyalty and friendship between Arthur and his knights that was such a huge part of the legend and will become a huge element of the show. I would also like to mention Sir Leon who is a new character in Series 2 who nobody thought would become so important in later seasons. The character was only meant to be an extra in one scene from Series 2 but somehow became a recurring knight throughout the season; talking to the King about his wife being a troll, jousting against Arthur in the tournament, and battling The Great Dragon whilst Arthur is away. However, in the last episode of Series 2, it looks as if The Great Dragon actually kills Sir Leon, as well as all the other knights that volunteered for battle. So, as the writer’s probably didn’t expect Sir Leon to become one of the tight-knit group of Knights of the Round Table in following seasons, that is a plot hole.
In conclusion, there are some absolutely incredible episodes and story arcs in Merlin Series 2 that just enhances everything about the show. The season even brings in characters and elements that become so important, continuing on throughout the show until it’s climax.