The final season of Merlin is a bit of a mixed bag. The majority of the season was a bit of a slog and despite it having been a staple for dinner time entertainment over the last five years in our household, we all got sufficiently bored and frustrated with it that the delay before watching each episode got longer and longer until I eventually just sat and marathoned my way through the last four episodes over a month after they aired. (This review is a little bit spoilery in places)
The problem stemmed almost exclusively from poor writing. Plots became increasingly contrived and full of holes, anachronisms and mcguffins which meant that episodes gradually became completely overwhelmed by the sounds of sighing, grumbling and sarcastic commentary from my housemates and I.
The only saving grace of the season, was ironically the fact that it was the final one. I have a great deal of respect for the producers of Merlin and the BBC for calling time on the series before it slumped too far. Too many series drag on and on, getting less creative and more repetitive until they fade out in a damp squib, leaving any number of dangling plots and characters. For a show that endlessly waffles on about destiny, it was really important for the audience to be given a satisfying ending, to show how everything really played out.
The final few episodes of the series stopped pussy footing around and finally gave some solid content. Over 5 seasons of Merlin there are maybe a dozen episodes with real plot and character developments, as opposed to just little diversions and meanderings that didn’t go anywhere and were almost instantly forgotten by characters and audience alike. But those few episodes really were very good and made up for the diversions along the way. With the last three episodes, finally secrets are revealed, confrontations are had and destinies are achieved. Each of the characters got a satisfying and suitable resolution to their stories.
The frustration however is that as satisfying as those moments were, many of them didn’t really feel as if they were given enough time. I’ve spent five seasons waiting for Arthur to find out about Merlin’s magic and while the quality of the writing and acting for the revelation was very nicely done, I would have like a bit more quantity to it. I had also been hoping for some kind of showdown between Morgana and Arthur; her vendetta against him always felt rather too churlish and I wanted them both to have the opportunity to actually talk to each other. But Morgana was dispatched with relative ease after yet another dastardly plot stuttered to an ignoble end.
Overall I’d give Merlin a tentative thumbs up, I enjoyed the character growth and I was satisfied with the ending, but it is the very definition of “uneven”. It tried to be too many things, and while it did each with relative competence it always felt too much like the parts were fighting each other instead of complementing each other (as they do in Doctor Who for example). Much of the credit for the fact the show was watchable at all goes to its extremely charismatic and versatile young cast, ably supported by the veteran talents of Anthony Stewart Head (much missed this season) and Richard Wilson. It made for pretty entertaining Saturday evening entertainment, but while Doctor Who raises that to an art form, Merlin merely just got the job done.