Merlin Re-Watch: Series 4

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Whilst re-watching this season, I’ve realised that Series 4 was the first time I watched the show as it aired. I watched Series 1 to 3 all in one go whilst waiting for Series 4 to be shown on BBC One, and I remember being so incredibly excited to watch the fourth season live and weekly. This made the episodes and storylines more tense for me and I also remember thinking that Series 4 was raising the bar considerably. There’s more action, more character development, and more of an intense story than the first three seasons for sure. As I have said previously, Series 4 is a start of a new era. From Arthur’s promotion to King of Camelot and Uther’s death, to the appearance of a new dragon, to Morgana’s alliance with Agravaine, to Arthur’s proposal of marriage to Guinevere, to Lancelot’s sacrifice and betrayal, to the beginnings of Morgana’s mortal enemy, Emrys. Everything just becomes more serious and the writer’s seem to go even deeper into the Arthurian legend.

I feel that this season gives Merlin the biggest challenge yet as Arthur becomes King. Personally, I did not expect this to happen in the third episode of the season at all. I honestly thought it was too soon for the characters, and too soon for the show. I always thought that Arthur’s reign as King would be the very last event of the story, as the show was intended as a prequel, and revealing Merlin’s magic to Arthur would come first. I believe that having Prince Arthur in battle with himself on whether to accept Merlin or hand him in to his father for being a sorcerer would have been a much better road for the writers to take. I also loved the idea of Arthur helping Merlin keep his secret from his father. I really felt like the threat of Merlin’s execution was extremely real and serious when the ruthless and heartless Uther was alive and, after his death, I didn’t feel any such threat as I don’t think Arthur could have killed his best friend for sorcery. I feel that revealing Merlin’s magic would have actually made Arthur more tolerant to the use of sorcery as he had only ever seen goodness in his manservant and Merlin would have been an example of all the sorcerers who do not become corrupted by magic or use it for evil. To be honest, we don’t see Arthur execute many sorcerers during his reign and I assumed that he would not follow his father’s rules and would extinguish the law against magic once Uther was dead. As this didn’t happen I got confused as to what Arthur’s feelings were towards magic. I think it would have been better had the show explained that Arthur was personally at war with magic because Morgana was using it against him, and he could not have been seen to condone it.

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The death of Uther was definitely a shock for me so I’ve got to praise the writers for that, but I didn’t like seeing Uther so heart-broken and mentally unstable as it made me uncomfortable to see the strict tyrant so vulnerable. Arthur had obviously taken over most of his father’s roles during the year between Series 3 and 4, and I thought it was a massive unrealistic jump between Prince Arthur to King. There was also always some extent of risk in the first three seasons like whenever Arthur decided to go on quests without his father’s permission, or when Merlin wanted to speak out against the court but now, with Arthur as King, I just feel like there is no threat within Camelot and all of the tension comes from without in the form of Morgana. In short, I didn’t like the move to kill off Uther and felt it wasn’t right for the show at that point. However, once Arthur does become King I did enjoy seeing the character face new challenges and having to make tough decisions as a ruler.

Now onto Morgana and, after re-watching, I’ve realised that she is somewhat helpless in Series 4. After her older sister dies, Morgana has to rely on Arthur’s uncle, Agravaine, to feed her information from within Camelot. She also allies with Helios as she doesn’t have an army of her own, lives completely alone in a hovel with, apparently, only one outfit, no hairbrush and one eyeshadow shade, and utterly cowers at the sight of Merlin, in the form of an old man who she refers to as Emrys, after being warned that he will thwart her plans and kill her. (In some ways, it’s an interesting contrast between Mordred’s destiny to kill Arthur and Merlin’s destiny to kill Morgana.) In my opinion, all of this really stems from Morgause’s death and how Morgana handles it. I don’t like how isolated Morgana’s character is in this season and how little screen time she gets with Merlin, Arthur and Gwen. The majority of her scenes involve interactions with Agravaine which were, for the most part, boring and uncomfortable.

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I feel that Agravaine most definitely had a little crush on Morgana as he somehow was willing to do anything and everything for her with almost no explanation for his hatred of Arthur. The only motive that is mentioned is the fact that Arthur’s father used magic to conceive Arthur which unintentionally killed Ygraine, Arthur’s mother and Agravaine’s sister. However, if this is true, why did Agravaine wait until now to show up? Maybe because he didn’t want to challenge Uther, waiting until he was dead to manipulate and betray, the more gullible, Arthur. In thanks, Morgana treats Agravaine like poo (for lack of a better word) and this was reminiscent of Morgause’s flirting and manipulation of Cenred in Series 3. Although it’s interesting and unique that the male character is being used by the strong female villain, it still sparks the question as to why Agravaine is helping this woman who is horrible to him, and why he watches her torture and kill innocent people which obviously makes him uncomfortable?

It’s also hilarious that Arthur never catches on to Agravaine’s betrayal despite his uncle being so sneaky and judgemental towards him and knowing that there is a traitor close to him. Again, it’s strange that Agravaine suddenly sprang up out of no where, not even being mentioned in the first three seasons. Ygraine’s other brother even comes back from the dead in Series 1 but still no mention of another brother who is alive. Where has Agravaine been all this time? Also, Arthur seems to know the true nature of his birth and how it killed his mother which is a plot hole. In Series 2, Arthur finds out that Uther traded his mother’s life for a son using sorcery but was convinced and persuaded by Merlin that it wasn’t true. Had he believed the truth he would have murdered his father (which wouldn’t have been a bad thing) for his guilt-ridden war on innocent sorcerers and for lying to him all his life. This was the reason why Arthur’s birth was still kept secret from him for the rest of the show. That is, until Series 4 when he openly mentions that his mother was killed by magic and seems completely fine with it and is still on good terms with his father. We missed a big chunk of the story here. If Arthur was told the truth about his mother’s death once again, how did he react? What did he do? When was he told again? We missed all of this and it’s quite confusing and annoying.

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Furthermore, Morgana’s villainous nature and personality seems very sudden in this season, even though it’s been a year since the last season. Also, unless Morgause passed on all her knowledge before she died, it seems unusual that Morgana knows so many dark spells and secrets that were only known to the high priestesses before The Great Purge and would have surely died out by now. In one episode, she summons a Fomorroh from the spirit world to enchant Merlin using a unique medallion and dark magic. In the finale, Morgana uses a Nathair, a snake-like creature from the mountains of Asgaard, to torture Elyan. Where did she obtain these one-of-a-kind magical instruments and creatures from? Morgana is alone and, after living in luxury for most of her life, she must fend for herself in the forest. Unless Morgause aided her in getting all these objects and knowledge on the dark arts, how does she have the strength and initiative to discover these secrets when she is all alone? In Series 3, she hardly knew anything about magic, let alone dark magic that was even frowned upon by sorcerers before The Great Purge, and needed Morgause to think up plans to take over the kingdom and was given instruments of magic by her older sister. The Series 3 Morgana would have been more than useless at living in the forest and performing incredible acts of magic so what could have possibly happened in the year between the seasons to turn Morgana into a down-right villain? I did also very much miss Morgause in this season and pretty much hated her boring, useless replacement; Agravaine.

Emrys, Merlin’s alter ego, becomes a massive part of the show in this season as Merlin uses his old man disguise to carry out dangerous tasks and to appear to Arthur and Morgana as a sorcerer without revealing his true identity. Morgana is also told in the premiere that Emrys will be her doom and, after she foresees her downfall at the hands of the old man by dreaming of dying in battle with Emrys standing over her, she becomes incredibly nervous at the idea. Also, as always, along with Emrys comes hilarious scenes, and not just with Arthur in this season as Merlin also taunts the knights which make for some great comedy. However, it is the old man and Arthur who present the funniest moments with legendary quotes such as “I take it you didn’t come all this way just to smash my favourite pot?”. These scenes are honestly the diamonds of the series for me. My personal highlights are when Emrys insists Arthur gives him a piggy back, and when Merlin uses the excuse that he was peeing whilst Arthur was talking to “the sorcerer”.

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Now, onto the Knights of Camelot who I always love watching. I am disappointed that the guys don’t really get their own individual storylines in Series 4 but their group scenes with Arthur and Merlin are adorable, funny and entertaining. With Sir Gwaine being my favourite Knight, I would have liked to have seen a back story for his character being developed or an episode that was predominantly Gwaine-driven. As I have said before, I think Gwaine has a very in-depth character and is more unique than the other knights so this would have been cool but I also understand why the writer’s kept the knights to a minimum in a bid to not overshadow the main story of Merlin and Arthur. I love the scenes between Gwaine and Morgana as I felt that there was a little bit of chemistry between them and it would have been an interesting concept to have the two of them even more romantically linked. I’ve also said that I never really liked Lancelot but that doesn’t make his death any less emotional. For the first time in the show, I can see some characterisation in Lancelot other than pure romantic devotion (and willingness to do absolutely anything for Gwen) when he sacrifices himself to save Arthur, Merlin and Camelot. Then again, he does do this because Gwen told him to, as she tells Lancelot to keep Arthur safe no matter what it takes. It’s also a very interesting plot twist when Morgana raises Lancelot from the dead in order to control him to seduce and enchant Gwen before she marries Arthur. This leads to some heart-breaking and incredible scenes forcing Arthur to banish the love of his life for treason and adultery. However, I don’t like how the truth that Gwen’s affair was the result of an enchantment is kept unknown by all of the characters besides Morgana and Agravaine because it would have been nice to see Arthur, and the other characters, completely at peace with Gwen for what she had done.

Gwen and Arthur’s relationship begins very stable and relaxed for the first half of the season as they openly admit their feelings publicly and are not afraid to let their love become too strong in fear of it never coming to anything. Then, when Morgana enchants Guinevere, we get to see something we’ve never seen before between Arthur and Gwen; a breakup. Until now, their relationship was always barricaded by external factors like their different classes, the fact that Gwen was a servant and Arthur was a Prince, and Uther being a complete kn*b and keeping them apart because it wasn’t “conventional” or was a sign of “weakness”. Now, we are confronted with something completely different in that Gwen actually betrays Arthur, causing a rift between them. Before now, Gwen and Arthur’s love grew stronger for one another the more that people tried to keep them apart but in Series 4 Arthur is riddled with sorrow, anger and even hatred for his fiancée after she has an affair with his most loyal and noble knight, Lancelot. Additionally, I always thought that Arthur was the one who messed things up as he kept having to reject Gwen’s comfort in fear that he was becoming weak, particularly when he first becomes King, so it is interesting when Gwen is the one to have screwed up and has to answer for it (despite it not being her fault at all). By the finale of Series 4, Arthur manages to forgive Guinevere and makes her his Queen which is so exciting and the scenes between the two of them are so great, emotional and tense to watch.

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Let’s not forget Percival who I always feel sorry for. His character had such amazing potential but I guess the writer’s fell short on that one. Obviously Sir Leon’s appearances will never get boring (“Sire, your presence is required in the council chambers”). Finally, we have Sir Elyan, who surprisingly had his own episode in this season. Although I never thought that Elyan was a very interesting character, it makes sense to give him some limelight seeing as he is Gwen’s brother. After his sister is banished from the kingdom, everyone assumes Elyan is taking revenge after trying to take Arthur’s life, when, in actual fact, he is possessed by a vengeful spirit after disrupting a shrine. This episode has the spooky elements of ghosts and jump scares that were first created in “The Tears of Uther Pendragon” in Series 3 and it’s so exciting to see it again. After first believing that Elyan was bland and regular like Leon and Percival, this episode did show me that Elyan is definitely the quiet and shy knight who is also probably the most sensitive, which is character development I would have liked from all the knights.

Aside from the adorable white dragon who disappears, doesn’t get taught how to talk or fend for itself, and is never mentioned again until he randomly saves Morgana’s life in the final episode, that is pretty much everything. Like every season, it has it’s ups and downs. The ups being, without doubt, the characters and their progression to King, Queen, villain, knight, sorcerer, traitor. The downs being the futile and exhausting over-use of slow motion during action sequences, (not to mention the hilarious beginnings of Arthur’s repetitive battle cry “ON ME!”). Series 4 was definitely a diverse and interesting one.

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