Depending on where you are I’m either a long way behind reviewing this season of Merlin because it finished a couple of months ago in the UK, or a long way ahead, because it’s only just started in the US. Most of the TV blogs I follow are American (because most of the shows I watch are also American) so I’m revelling in the unusual situation at being able to laugh as the Americans jump on any hints and spoilers for where the series might go. Not least because a lot of them are grossly understating just how much is going to change this season.
Merlin is a complicated show to review. There’s so much going on and it’s set itself the difficult task of trying to be both a light hearted Saturday evening family show while dealing with a complex and grown-up mythology. Both the show and the eponymous hero have to walk the same narrow line, trapped between being an entertaining buffoon and being all serious and talking about destiny . The character has generally managed this contrast pretty well and this season has produced some satisfying moments where Arthur has finally begun to see and acknowledge Merlin as not just a loyal servant, but as a good friend and wise advisor.
The show meanwhile has historically dealt with the issue with less grace, often jarringly flip flopping from episodes about trolls with poor hygiene to seeing people struggling with deep questions of morality. This season has thankfully seen somewhat less of the bodily function jokes, but in exchange there has been an awful lot of angst and wallowing.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters, Arthur in particular, certainly had a lot to be miserable about and a little bit of sulking is only to be expected, but my abiding memory of this season is of Arthur moping about like an emo teenager. Many stories felt repetitive, endlessly finding new ways to challenge Gwen and Arthur’s relationship or having Arthur show his devotion to his people by sacrificing his own safety and happiness. And don’t get me started on the endless cycle of Morgana hatching an evil plan only to be thwarted over and over again. It felt like this season went on forever (hence the delay in posting this review, I got bored of watching and fell a few weeks behind in the middle), but it was only actually 13 episodes!
I enjoy watching the show each week, but when it comes to writing a review the things that spring to mind are all the little flaws and irritations. I have to force myself to remember that the dialogue is really very funny and the young actors are all extremely fun to watch (to be honest, it’s the adults in the cast that rather let the side down). I think maybe Doctor Who has rather spoilt my idea of what a Saturday evening show should be able to do.