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Merlin – Christmas finales, lessons from Downton Abbey, and how not to end a rocky season

This Christmas, we were gifted with two finales of British shows that had rocky seasons. And while the 'Merlin' finale was naughty, that doesn't mean it shouldn't take a look at 'Downton Abbey' and figure out how to be nice.

- Season 4, Episode 13 - "The Sword in the Stone, Part II"

DO NOT: Tack on an ending
Okay, so the Merlin finale wasn’t nearly as bad as I’m making it out to be. In fact, up until the last ten minutes, it was pretty solid. Acting-wise, Colin Morgan and Bradley James have really continued to impress the hell out of me this season, and Merlin’s scene with Agravaine was one of the most thought provoking, gut-punches of a scene to ever come out of this series. It was also insanely gay, if you’re watching for that sort of thing, which I’m aware most of my readership is.

My issue with the ending isn’t that it ruined The Gayest Episode Of All Time, it’s that it was just sloppy. If we look at the big final scene in the Downton finale — Mary and Matthew finally getting engaged, hurrah! — it was surprising, sure, but it wasn’t out of left field. They spent the entire episode making Mary and Matthew’s lingering feelings explicitly clear, and layering in the element of the Ouija board to add that element of Lavinia blessing their union from on high. (I should state that in this instance, no other show should ever attempt the Blessing From Beyond The Grave plot device. Downton Abbey is the only show in the universe that can somehow make this not hokey.)

What was weird about the ending of the Merlin finale wasn’t that anyone was exactly surprised that Gwen was going to become queen, but because until about ten minutes before Arthur does the worst re-proposing ever, he’s pretty adamant that he’s totally over Gwen and that she’ll never, ever become queen. It’s not exactly clear why he changed his mind or even if he’s still mad at Gwen for “betraying” him and is marrying her anyway. (Lingering feelings of betrayal magically absolved in the heat of battle are an excellent foundation for marriage, everyone! Those will never pop back up!) Are we supposed to think it’s Isolde’s death? Because it mostly reads as “there were ten minutes left in the finale and we wanted something big to happen so we could put swelling, epic music behind it.”

Arthur, take a lesson from Matthew. If your lady love has had some sexy indiscretions in her past, don’t be a dick about them. Don’t make her apologize or hold her responsible, especially if you’re not willing to admit to having any failings of your own. Don’t make her constantly come to you declaring her love, then not say anything so she walks away with no answer except a look on your face that suggests mild constipation. And show writers, I know that logical progressions of relationships are hard for you, but you should probably put in at least some effort.

And I’m not even going to try and discuss whatever happened with Morgana and the dragon. That would require understanding what the fuck happened in that scene, which I don’t.

DO: Have your big payoff be something your audience actually cares about
All shows have things in them that everyone wants to see happen. Take Downton Abbey and Mary and Matthew getting together — everyone wants it to happen. There are some people who aren’t as wildly enthusiastic as others about it, but I have literally never met a Downton fan who didn’t want those crazy kids to pull through. And in Merlin that thing is Merlin revealing his magic to Arthur. It is an obsession. I almost never read an interview regarding Merlin that does not, in some way, deal with the magic reveal. It’s a big fucking deal.

Now, people have, since the beginning of season 1, been chomping at the bit for the magic reveal. I have plenty of friends whose entire enjoyment on the show hinges on if Merlin reveals his magic or not. I have never been one of those people. But this season, I was. I expected the reveal to happen. There were giant, anvil-sized hints that it was going to happen. I swear to God Colin Morgan told me it was going to happen. I mean, what could he have possibly been talking about, in retrospect? Were we supposed to be surprised and/or care that Arthur and Gwen got married now instead of later? (Surprise! Their relationship is terrible and terribly written but they get together anyway! Also, bear shits in woods, Pope is Catholic, and peanut butter goes super-great with jelly.) Did I miss something exciting in that final Morgana scene because I was too busy being super-confused? Because I want a refund. I do not want things to  be the big surprise. I wasn’t big surprised! I was rolling my eyes, bewildered, or rolling my eyes and bewildered at the same time.

What disappoints me even more is that the entire season was rife with so many giant, heavy-handed hints that the reveal was going to happen that I felt like it was just irresponsible writing not to. At this point, I will take Merlin revealing his magic to anyone — Gwen, one of the knights, I don’t care, but could we just tell someone? Why I am surprised that Merlin is not a well-written show, I don’t know, because I’ve only been watching it for, like, three years now, but I still get surprised. And okay, a little mad that we’re going to have to live through at least one more season alternating between gravitas-laden scenes where Arthur gazes into Merlin’s guilty eyes as he emotes about betrayal, and scenes where Arthur marvels in a dickish manner over Merlin’s incompetence while Colin Morgan (adorably) mugs the camera with an “if only he knew” face. Didn’t this season make me suffer enough!? At least when Downton Abbey made me suffer and shake my computer screen yelling, “WHY CAN’T YOU KIDS GET IT TOGETHER?” they made it up to me at Christmas. You did not, show. Shame on you.

Study harder, Merlin. I still love you and still believe you can succeed at this whole business of not crapping out on me at the last minute. You have a year to get yourselves together. I suggest you watch a lot of Downton Abbey in the meantime. And think about what you’ve done.

Photo Credit: BBC/ITV

Categories: | Episode Reviews | Features | General | Merlin | News | TV Shows |

23 Responses to “Merlin – Christmas finales, lessons from Downton Abbey, and how not to end a rocky season”

December 31, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Well.. Aithusa healing Morgana was meant to be the big cliff hanger the Merlin crew was boasting about. Aithusa is meant to play a vital role in season five. As for Gwen and Morgana, the writers have always struggled to successfully portray the leading ladies. The writers have proven they are capable of creating strong female characters. Look at Queen Annis ! For some reason, they can not transfer this strength into Gwen and Morgana .

Tristan and Isolde were simply used as plot devices in order to bring Arthur and Gwen back together. Isolde`s death is supposed to show Arthur that life is short and precious so he should forgive Gwen. Yes. I know that is lame.

As for the reveal, the writers had me fooled into believing it was going to happen. That is up until things became derailed after episode seven. Everything was about Arthur and Gwen. Plus I cheated by reading spoilers. However, I thought Merlin would have at least been named Arthur’s official advisor. He must be wearing those fancy new clothes for a reason.

January 9, 2012 at 1:36 PM

The producers have made it pretty clear that they don’t see the magic reveal as an integral part of the Merlin’s story. And it’s true that they get a lot of mileage out of keeping it a secret. In fact, I don’t know where so many fans got the impression that his magic would be revealed in this series.

January 1, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Well, that was it, then. It was… Nice. But it could have been so much more. Still, I loved each and every scene with Arthur and Merlin, consistent writing and great acting. Isolde and Tristan were a breath of fresh air (cool, self-assured female character? Of course she had to die).

When I read that three characters would die I hoped for something of consequence. Instead it was mostly collateral damage, though Isolde’s death could be addressed in series 5, if they decide to bring Tristan back. And yes, apparently her death and Tristan’s loss are supposed to bring on Arthur’s change of heart…sigh. At best, it was poorly written.

I too expected the magic reveal to happen in the finale, but I’m not that much disappointed as long as we have the revelation of Merlin’s magic dealt with in the first couple of episodes of series 5, to see how the story will develop and change from there.
Also, I’m hoping to see them address the fact that Arthur and Guinevere will never have an heir (btw, if the PtB decide to make a slight detour from the legend and give the Pendragons a big happy family, I’m officially done). Uther’s death, so unexpected and so early on in season 4, was a game changer that affected everything and moved – at last! – the story forward. The show needs to pull something like that again. Most of all, it needs to be bold again!

On a broader theme, there are two major issues that I’d love to see addressed before the show reaches its conclusion: The first is the fact that Merlin is becoming more and more the grey eminence behind the throne – and rightfully so, if we stick to the legend. But where does he draw the line? He’s wise, not omniscient, and he’s bound to make the wrong choice (again). Secondly, after 4×13 it is crystal clear that Merlin is, simply put, a force to be reckoned with. And yet, in his need to keep his cover he is in fact allowing more bloodshed that could be avoided: A consistent strategy involving Merlin’s magic and Arthur’s knights could have made a hell of a difference in the battle for Camelot. While he continues to keep his true nature hidden, Merlin is leaving others in harm’s way. He doesn’t mean to, obviously, but the end result doesn’t change. This, I think, is the main issue that Arthur could hold against Merlin once his magic is out, and personally I think it is something that should be a burden for Merlin.

January 1, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Oh Julia across the miles of cold Atlantic ocean you have read my mind. Exactly the same comparisons came to me while I spent Christmas evening with the Crawleys at Downton. They even have, like Pierrefonds, a totally gorgeous building, with turret-ish bits, that is to all intent and purpose another character. Matthew is The Heir to the throne, well Earldom, and he’d been away in terrible battles, being brave, and most of all Lady Mary had her own Dread Secret. A Dread Secret that had been the pivotal dynamic for two series and a special then was resolved with perfect timing and to the audience’s complete satisfaction.

While poor dear Merlin still has his Dread Secret which is now a terrible burden on character development and nothing but a drag anchor on new plot dynamics. The Powers That Be at “Merlin” should really take note and learn a lesson, and it also occurs to me that as far as fantasy fans go, this year The Mighty Peter Jackson is bringing out the first Hobbit film. So once again we will see that yes, Peter Jackson does makes changes to the original, but he does so with such an all encompassing love and respect for his source material that even a devout Tolkien-ite can’t help but love the films right alongside the books.

With “Merlin” I have begun to feel that they name check the legends and then, as with The Love Triangle – trash it, for the sake of a short term story line while abandoning the long term dramatic potential that lies at it’s heart. This is that The Love Triangle destroys Camelot, as no external enemy could, as the long resisted but inevitable betrayal of Arthur by his Queen and First Knight brings civil war, Camlann and the passing of the Golden Age. And how amazing would it have been to see Gwen and Lancelot struggle to come to terms with their messy, inconvenient , contradictory difficult and overwhelming emotions instead of being just bland innocent victims of The Evil Witch. And they take Morgana to the point where she is a snarling pantomime villain with not a shred of regret or potential for redemption. Well, maybe in her words to Arthur, just a little, but that was so short, just a glimpse before the plot galumphed clumsily into …oh look ! Arthur suddenly can’t fight very well and Excalibur is a pants magic sword cos Helios has just got to get Arthur at his mercy so Isolde can save him… and die cos seeing an almost total stranger die will heal any broken relationship right ?….. All I can say is “Don’t try this at home kids”

Then the “cliff hanger” the aforesaid Evil One has lost her magic, been sliced up with a sword, been thrown at a wall and buried under a ton of castle masonry, yet still manages to stagger all the way through the castle and lower town and outlying farms and finally make it miles into the forest…… to be healed by Aithusa.

The White Dragon who was to bode well “for you (Merlin) and for Arthur and the land that you will build together” And all I got out of that was a sense of bewilderment, then I quickly concluded that either Aithusa has become bad – not at all likely – or he is such an embodiment of Pure Goodness that he healed her despite all she had done, and I shall choose to think the latter unless I’m specifically told otherwise.

And that does not seem to be a particularly well hung cliff.

But despite all the frustration with the scripts for the last half of this series I am still mightily impressed by the cast a really superb bunch of actors, and the cinematography is world class, the action wonderfully choreographed and the whole production way beyond ordinary television

January 1, 2012 at 11:32 AM

I’m living by de Nile and chanting that the reason they so utterly sloppily wrapped up the entire Arthur/Gwen and infidelity storyline this season is so that they can focus on the magic reveal and the Albion uniting next season. How can the latter happen without the former?

The show simply cannot move on without the reveal anymore and I’m hoping it will be part of the two episode starter in season 5 so that they can spend the rest of the season beautifully angsting about it. I used to want ANYONE getting to know about Merlin, too, but at this point the reveal is already going to be nasty and heartbreaking – if Arthur is not the FIRST that will just make it even more painful.

I completely agree with you, that this entire season seemed to be building up for it (all the talks of betrayal, the growing tensions, Arthur slowly opening up to magic) and to have from ZERO TO NONE closure on this “background storyline” makes it feel like it wasn’t a storyline at all when it was the most interesting part of the entire season. I could have even dealt with the lack of reveal if there was at least ONE tiny scene which showed the current status quo between Arthur and Merlin, maybe similarly to the short talk at the end of 3.13, but THIS way it was like they expected us to be happy for Arthur/Gwen and don’t care about anything at all. As you said, that’s a sloppily written storyline already I don’t care even a slight bit for. MERLIN, you know, the MAIN CHARACTER on the other hand, spent the entire season looking more and more tired, broken and in the finale his scene with Agravaine was somewhat terrifying even, and I just wanted to know HOW he feels. Because he didn’t get promoted and they made it look like watching his two friends getting married suddenly makes all the pain of loneliness, lies and pressure just suddenly disappear.

So yeah, the only positive thing I can say is that maybe after this we won’t have to sit through much awfully awkward Arwen courting and Gwen will have more role as a Queen than as a wife and the show will finale resolve Merlin’s problems.

Their cliffhanger doesn’t really excite me much either, only if we are to take the interpretation as a first step for Morgana on the road to good because godness I’d love it if they went there, and I’m feeding on the small subtle hints in the season which showed Morgana still has a heart and is incredibly lost and broken.

Otherwise, what kind of competition does SHE pose against Merlin when it was continuously shown how much more powerful HE is? And he is a dragonlord so IDK how Aithusa’s “misbehaviour” is threat, either…

Still, at the end of the day, Merlin has always been a silly little fantasy tale and even if the first part of the season deluded us into thinking differently, at the end of the day that’s the base on what they write and we should watch, I guess.

January 5, 2012 at 1:54 PM

Zane, I agree 100% with EVERYTHING you said. Now that the wedding is over, maybe we can move past the uninteresting and most definitely boring love story that has no passion, and on to Merlin and his magic. I think TPTB missed a huge opportunity. With the way they wrote the betrayal/trust this season, how amazing would it have been for the fans and characters to have the reveal? I would have been screaming at my computer and angsting for weeks, waiting very impatiently for each episode, and I know I’m not alone. As it is, I’m lukewarm about s5. I’ve been watching ‘Merlin’ since the beginning and gave up on any reveal to Arthur after s2. The first half of s4 was by far the best ever and showed what ‘Merlin’ CAN be.
The “cliffhanger”….WTF was that? I have no idea. I’m more interested in why Merlin has new clothes than why, AGAIN, I should be concerned or care about what Morgana’s going to be doing. The same exact ending from s2 and s3.
I’m in America, so this Friday is our ‘premiere’ of Merlin s4 on SyFy. I will be watching again because I want to see all the beautiful lighting/photography direction on the big screen and in HD. I know it’ll be lovely. Plus, I’ll get to see eps1-7 again and be gleeful for awhile about all the wonderfulness Merlin is.
Here’s hoping s5 will bring us all what we want, whatever that may be.

January 1, 2012 at 12:32 PM

HAPPY NEW YEAR JULIA, AND AGREED. it wasn’t bad. we just had higher expectations!

since horrible 4.09 where I have staunchly been in the “warp it, but don’t change the ESSENCE of each character” stance, i was disappointed that tristan and isolde were ultimately just foils for arthur and gwen (and isolde death (?!?!) confirms this). I loved that the writers subtly showed a/g by showing tristan and isolde in 4.12- i was seriously applauding them because it was very believable and a less IN YOUR FACE approach- and then they KEPT ON DOING IT in 4.13 until tristan/isolde might as well never have existed as independent entities? Yes, the scene where arthur looks at gwen as isolde was dying was sweet and all, but when i stepped back, it was seriously overkill.

and you hit the nail on the head regarding the weird Mood Swings of Arthur Pendragon. The past few episodes have established that Arthur was missing Gwen a lot, and then they had quite a moving reconciliation which wasn’t overly sappy, and I don’t know- I was expecting a tentative gradual get-together. Perfect. Instead with have Arthur telling Gwen to get lost again- and when she later attempts to apologise, Arthur goes “I don’t care” I MEAN JUXTAPOSITION OF THE LINES PLEASE. I confess to crying when Gwen got crowned because Gwen as hell deserves it and is going to be a kick-ass queen- but a/g- really :(. i’ve rewatched season 2 and 3 recently- and I liked a/g then. WHY SEASON 4 WHY.

i really really loved 4.12 though! i thought Merlin got its grove back for the finale, and then the build-up came to naught i guess. BECAUSE REVEAL. I SWEAR. It’s like the fandom is a baby in the cot, and we’re hungry for milk that is necessary for our growth, but TPTB dangles it in front of us for 4 LONG SEASONS and talking as if there was no intention of ever giving us anything to eat. Because really, STORY-TELLING. THERE’S A RISE, THE CLIMAX AND THE DENOUEMENT. and we’re been stuck at climax in this crucial story arc for quite some time now- the main tension of the entire series actually. if they really believe there is no need for a reveal!

but merthur <3333 and bad ass merlin staring down agravaine made everything a lot better. the merlin dealing with agravaine bit was the only part that i constantly re-watched after the episode ended.

January 2, 2012 at 11:37 AM

I agree with so much of this and yes just like you I watched the Downton finale and compared. THAT was how it should have been done, Merlin people. As you say Julia both shows have had shaky seasons (though since there are greater expectations of Downton in terms of adult drama they’ve been called on it by critics and fans, while ‘Merlin’ hasn’t) but the way to use the dramatic open goal of a finale to really grip hold of your audience and leave them gasping for more? Downton knocked Merlin into a cocked hat. *That* is expert screen writing – knowing when its time to move on and let go of the security blanket of The Thing Fans Are Waiting For before it all goes sour. Downton dragged out the Mary/Matthew thing for exactly as long as they should and no further. Merlin have flogged the ‘Merlin is hiding/ Arthur treats him like shit’ thing for four long seasons until its crawling exhausted on its knees and has lost all coherence and sense.

It seems almost redundant to point out that the finale of S4 was essentially the finale of S3 with a few minor twiddles. The whole of the second half of this season was focussed on the deeply dull relationship of Arthur and Gwen and the attempt to add some artificial tension to it while also killing off the possibility of genuine tension. Matthew and Mary are believable because they’re written as two people who interact as human beings, who have a history of mistakes behind them. Arthur and Gwen when together are written as cyphers of Disneyesque True Love. Hence the reason why there was genuine tension about M and M’s reunion and genuine emotion when they made it through this first hurdle anyway. We know that the future will be complicated. For this shows infuriatingly infantile take on Arthur and Guinevere, there aren’t the complications that real people would have, there are magic bracelets, wicked witches and zombie honeytraps. Basing a whole half season around a tension that didn’t exist and an obviously looming reconciliation (did anyone over the age of possibly 7, *really* think there wasn’t going to be one?) was a huge mistake. Morgana was just there to fill in the remaining minutes.

Again Downton is capable of character complexity – ok Thomas is Morgana but characters like o’Brien actually show the odd third dimension. In Merlin such things no longer seem to matter. Remember the first seasons Bad Guy/ master villain Nimueh? She actually had a reason for her actions whether you agreed with them or not – and she was borderline sympathetic while the bloke in charge of the Good Guys was a maniacal tyrant/ok guy sometimes. Now they dispatch Agravaine before he even has a chance to explain why he betrayed his nephew as if the fact he was a major character for the whole season didn’t matter at all. It was a great scene for Merlin yes – he gets his annual finale release from his box as long as the rules are followed (all witnesses die and Arthur never has the slightest clue) and Colin Morgan played it superbly, but I have to say I really feel for the guy. How does he make any sense at all of the mess of a character Merlin has become? Its a testament to his talent and his talent alone that Merlin remains sympathetic and somehow believable, because the writing is all over the place.

IMO the loss of Uther wasn’t thought through if the show is to continue for further seasons without a reveal. Is Arthur slaughtering magic users and we haven’t been told? I noticed in Colin’s interview with Julia he said (in an intro to S4 for a US audience I assume) that Merlin fears Arthur would execute him. Looking at the characters in screen that is just unbelievable. In Uther they had a character worth hiding from. Arthur? When we see Merlin letting other people die when he could save them (though I assume we’re not meant to notice that) rather than reveal himself, the point of the show and patience with the character and premise start to slip.

I agree to a large extent about the way the show is portraying female characters. There are two main ones – one personifies all that is perfect and good; one personifies evil. That whole three dimensional thing… thats not even in the game. Morgana ‘burn their crops and let their children starve’ Pendragon bears no relation to the character she was in S1 – not even remotely. The Arthur-Morgana scene allowed her to show a second of emotion but thats it. No conversation was permitted because that might have added complication to the Cartoon Villain that she is.

Gwen – well this is where I can’t say I totally agree. The preview clips of the sword fight with Morgana made me cringe because I didn’t believe they’d be able to resist making her a mighty warrior as well as Infinitely Wise, Supernaturally Noble and Without Flaw AND The Most Attractive Woman In Existence Whom No One Can Resist. The idea that she could defeat trained and seasoned fighters was absolutely ludicrous and lets face it Morgana cutting down knights of Camelot without her magic was equally funny. But letting Gwen be defeated easily at least left her some chink of humanity – something she wasn’t perfect at.

Isolde – and Tristan- were pointless plot devices with legendary names shoved onto them, there to enable a reunion that could have come equally ‘believably’ at any time since 4.09 but which was stretched out beyond exhaustion and well into tedium. They bore no relation to the characters of legend beyond the fact they were lovers (meant to echo Guinevere and Lancelot’s story in reality but best not go there). I personally don’t like seeing female strength in characterisation written as unlikely sword fighting skills (though a female knight might have been interesting)- as if females can only be strong if they can beat the boys with their toys. The best female characterisation by a country mile this year IMO was Queen Annis who didn’t raise a sword but was as strong and vengeful and wise as any character there and believably so. But then she was three dimensional – she made genuine errors (no enchanted jewellery) and yet had the strength to rectify them.

So – where to next? Can they really rerun S5 like the end of S4, just to keep it all going without a reveal? Do they really not have the imagination to continue a show where they have to change the initial premise and allow the character of Merlin to grow as well? Stop trying to keep the crucial central relationship between Merlin and Arthur smothered and distorted, and allow that amazing chemistry out to play at last? There is so much potential in this show with the cast they’ve assembled, the technical talent, the goodwill and faith of the commissioning body, but even so …Im not sure I’m hopeful. :(

In any case – Happy New Year Julia – and a million thanks for your wonderful and insightful reviews. Its been so heartening to find a place where the show is actually deconstructed as it is, with a knowledge of character and good dramatic writing rather than counting the sword fights, backlit windows and rare as hens teeth BAMF moments. Its been great to find a reviewer who actually cares. :)

January 2, 2012 at 1:27 PM

“Now they dispatch Agravaine before he even has a chance to explain why he betrayed his nephew as if the fact he was a major character for the whole season didn’t matter at all”.

How true. I have to conclude that the writers didn’t know what his reasons were, or if he even had one. They painted themselves into a corner with Agravaine, and took the cheap way out.

“It was a great scene for Merlin and Colin Morgan played it superbly – CUT – How does he make any sense at all of the mess of a character Merlin has become? Its a testament to his talent and his talent alone that Merlin remains sympathetic and somehow believable, because the writing is all over the place.”

Again, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s hope for series 5, maybe with Arthur and Gwen big love story now solved they’ll actually pay attention to the fact that there is no logic reason for Merlin to keep hiding. Will see how it goes.
On a side note, let me thank you MaxHeadroom: your comments are always insightful and thought-provoking, it’s been a joy to read them together with Julia’s reviews. :)

Happy new year to everyone, and mostly to you Julia, with many, many thanks! I stumbled upon this website by chance, searching for good Merlin reviews and found complelling writing, sense of humor and knowledge of tv writing. Definitely more than I hoped.

January 5, 2012 at 6:44 PM

Thanks Chiara. Thats really kind of you. :)

January 2, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Sorry, just forgot something: Julia, I hope you decided to write about Sherlock (BBC). It’s the best thing I’ve seen on tv since the first series aired.

January 2, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Happy New Year to everyone! I’ve enjoyed discussing the highs and lows of Merlin with all of you over the last few weeks.
I was very happy to read Chiara’s comments that without the reveal, more people die around Merlin. I rewatched s1 recently. In ep10 (Ealdor), Merlin is very specific with Hunith, saying that if it will save lives, revealing his magic to Arthur is worth it.
I believe Merlin is on the precipice of becoming an unsympathetic character. Isn’t the real goal of the character Merlin to ‘bring magic back’ and not just “unite Albion”? Isn’t that the entire point of the Slash Dragon’s riddles and why Slash Dragon sought out Merlin in the first place? Without the reveal, there is no magic return. It must happen. I understand that in s1, TPTB were not to know the show would continue for so long, so it was easy for Merlin to say this without the writers having to follow through on the statement. However, it’s been four years our time and six years Camelot time. If Merlin does not reveal to Arthur, essentially he has failed. Even if Albion is united, without the magic, Merlin has failed. Failed his epic, often discussed world changing destiny. Since TPTB keep touting this as a ‘family show’, is that the message they want to send….that Merlin is a failure….because THEY don’t feel the need for a reveal? That seems like character assasination and show suicide to me.
Since we’ve been witness to the lack of imagination on the part of the writers, I don’t know how the show and the character Merlin can grow and move forward without the reveal. Are the die-hard fans to suffer through another season like the end of s4? I don’t think I can stomach it. After seeing the first half of s4 and realizing how utterly awesome this show could be, the disappointment I feel over the finale is big. After s2, I gave up on the reveal, but the first half of s4 gave me hope. Those hopes were put on high, only to be dashed in a BIG way. I now tread very lightly over the beginning of s5.
IMO, ‘Merlin’ could be another ‘LOST’. A show that is mourned when it ends. Yes, LOST had flaws. Yes, it had ridiculous storylines at times, but in the end, extremely satisfying. People still talk about ‘LOST’ and use it as an example of a little show that went all the way. I want that for ‘Merlin’.
I am aware of, and flabbergasted by, the very strong reviews ‘Merlin’ is receiving. Apparently, for some, the show in it’s current format is working. One part of me is very happy for the cast and crew. The other part sits in wonder at this. It also reminds me of the huge chasm in the wants and desires of the viewers.
Julia, thank you so much for your reviews. Have a wonderful 2012 and here’s hoping ‘Merlin’ can deliver a happy ending to us all.

January 9, 2012 at 1:32 PM

In “Lancelot Du Lac” it’s revealed that Morgana will bring “the old religion” back to Albion. It’s her destiny, not Merlin’s.

January 3, 2012 at 7:39 AM

Thanks Julia! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I too watched the Downton Abbey special and was so happy that Mary and Matthew finally, finally got together! Hurrah!!!

Anyway, my mon and I have been reviewing Season 4 of Merlin and we stopped at the Secret Sharer. I don’t think I need to explain why. We don’t even have the patience to rewatch the season finale two-parter. My mon randomly asked me today why can’t Merlin just be about Merlin? That’s my mom for you. She hates the Arthur and Gwen storyline too! LOL

So, Merlin was not exactly what I expected after waiting and brainwashing lots of people at home and at the office to watch the show (and did it successfully). It was a terrible disappointment except for the brilliant actors. The scenes that really stayed with me are all of Merlin’s scenes and the dragons. Scenes between Merlin and Gauis are great too. Some of the really touching scenes between Arthur and Merlin also, but really, that’s all. The rest of the things that happened this season, I don’t really care about. After Secret Sharer and starting with Lamia, everything went downhill for me and we (my family) don’t feel like we need to review to agonize over bad writing. I greatly enjoyed Doctor Who and missed it so much! Glad Sherlock is back to fill the void and wash off the trauma from some Merlin’s writing. It is really sad that the writers are not making a lot of effort to remove itself from Smallville reference. I did watch Smallville for Lois and Clark but admittedly the plot, characterization, and story lines really stunk. Not to mention the Lana era. Gwen is like the Lana of Smallville for me. Anyway, back to my point, just because Merlin was an inspiration from Smallville does not mean it has to be just as bad. Even Anthony Head said in one random interview that Buffy had better writing. Come to think of it, I was suspicious about his sudden departure from Merlin. Could it ALSO be because he mentioned the bad writing? LOL

January 3, 2012 at 7:50 AM

Oh yeah, it was a terrible disappointment that whilst he had Excalibur, Arthur was almost killed my Helios to be saved my plot-device-Isolde at the last minute. Noooo, I was not expecting that. *rolls eyes* What a shame! Excalibur, I feel for you!! I really do!!

January 3, 2012 at 11:17 PM

THIS. I can’t agree with you ANY more. The first battle Arthur fought with Exalibur (THE EXALIBUR), he LOST it and was saved by Isodle which was a pavement for the later sloppy romance plot. OMG. I would like to ask the TPTB to stop their romance story. If I want to like that romance, these moments and plots RUINED it all. IT MUST BE A HUGE JOKE. Arthur with Exalibur. I am surprised by this show. In order to push their so-called romance, they need to make Gwen less than human (and mean at the same time), Lancelot (the most noble and brave) a mind controlled zombie, humiliate Arthur (the once and future king), Merlin a manipulative brat. NOW, EVEN Exalibur is humiliated. I can confirm that I now despise the romance in this show to an imaginable level. Anyway, the romance is the “gay beard” of this show, that’s the only reason they DESPERATELY want the audience to know Arthur is straight (so Merlin is automatically straight too).

January 3, 2012 at 11:25 PM

I am kind of joking on the gay beard thing, but the romance in this show CHEAPENED the orginal legend to an unimaginable level. That’s really pathetic. I kind of have no idea that how can the producers allow themselves to cheapen one of the most famous heritage of their own country like this. It must be a joke.

January 4, 2012 at 3:46 AM

LOL. I actually get the joke about the gay beard, marvelpku. hahaha. It may be true since, in my observation, since Merlin and its two male leads have become viral and the slash fans have grown tremendously, the show has started building up defenses to counteract the unexpected event with snotty and bratty Arthur and more heterosexual romance while giving more slash baits. While they don’t want to alienate the massive bromance following, they also want to maintain a straight (pun intended) and conservative (albeit boring, artificial, and brainless)side relationship? Haha I could not possibly call Arthur and Gwen the main relationship, unless I missed the memo that this show is really about Arthur. Okay so this is the only relationship that’s “really” acceptable to the traditional folks. I should just shut up already. LOL Well, the show has been slash bait heavy this season and I think we all know why, because the bromance fans were going to be massively turned off by the amount of Arthur/Gwen, they have to have some recompense, right? Ugh. The was way low of them to do. They’re like playing around with the fans.

January 4, 2012 at 4:15 AM

Personally, I did not really care for Tristan and Isolde. Please. Have you seen what they have done to Lancelot? Really? I was not expecting anything astounding with anymore so-called legendary characters (except for my Merlin). And what’s with Isolde’s outfit? While she was hurt and cold, somebody should have had the decency to increase the amount of clothing she had on. As if we were not bombarded enough of Gwen’s cleavage to make us puke. I really don’t understand why they have outfitted their female characters this way. If the guys want to watch more of those, they could always watch The Game of Thrones or relive Camelot. Seriously WTF!!!! My whole family watches this show, we don’t really need to see the cleavage. Okay so I maybe bias in saying that shirtless guys parading around is okay. Arthur having no trousers was way overkill, though, and a useless slash bait with the overdosage of Arthur/Gwen going on.

January 3, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you for these very insightful, entertaining reviews – they’ve helped me gain quite a bit of perspective!

This was just too similar to The Coming of Arthur, and I wasn’t too impressed by some things. Arthur, for example, seems to be swinging between forgiving Gwen and not forgiving Gwen too much and too fast. First ‘I’ll never trust her again’, then ‘My kingdom is worth nothing without her’, then ‘Everything I cherished between us is gone’, then ‘Will you marry me?’ Really?

Tristan and Isolde. Legendary characters, with so much potential. Isolde, quite possibly the first strong female character since Annis. And here I can only quote you: ‘Naturally, she does not survive the episode.’

Helios, too, was quite a waste of potential, all he did was stand around looking evil, and fight Arthur. Agravaine’s death was a good scene, well played by both actors, but… that’s it? Agravaine’s been hanging around being evil for a whole season and we don’t get an explanation why he wants his nephew to die (other than his lust for Morgana)?

And Morgana. Oh, Morgana. She had one precious moment of actually looking human – her confrontation with Arthur, again a wonderful scene brilliantly portrayed by Bradley James and Katie McGrath, but then back she goes to being a cardboard villain. The sad thing is that she could have been such a phenomenal villain, a human villain, complex and tragic and real. But no, all she does is smirk and Plot Her Own Brother’s Death Even Though They Kind Of Used To Like Each Other, Remember? No regret, no true motivation, no explanation, just ‘oh, now I’m evil, because the show needs a bad person.’

I’m being critical here, of course, there were good things about it too. I enjoyed the sword in the stone scene, nice videography and good staging of such a monumental moment. I must say I did like Aithusa saving Morgana, though – but then again, that’s only because I’ve heard of the red/white dragon legend, and I’m sure it was confusing for many people, which isn’t a very good way to have a cliffhanger. And what happened to Aithusa boding well for Albion?

All in all, this was… okay. I mean, not terribly, awfully bad, but not very impressive either. Which is rather sad, really, considering what I’m sure it could have been.

January 9, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Meh. The only bits that I enjoyed: the Merlin/Uncle Aggy confrontation, Gwen’s coronation, and seeing Morgana and Arthur come face to face. The rest of the finale was a boring retread of the S3 finale. Morgana taking Camelot in less than 10 minutes? Boring. Arthur behaving like a petulant child? Boring. Merlin playing life coach to Arthur? Boring. I don’t really care if Merlin ever reveals his true identity to Arthur and tbqh I don’t think the writers do either, but I hope S5 will explore Merlin’s development as a master sorcerer. I really think Merlin needs his own trajectory (one that parallels Arthur) because I’m not liking how manipulative he’s become WRT Arthur’s. That entire scene with the sword in the stone is a good example. It’s quite funny that Merlin had to restore Arthur’s faith and remind him that he’s “special” since apparently the only thing special about the so-called once and future king is his manservant.

January 10, 2012 at 7:35 AM

At last! I find someone who felt the same way about the finale! It’s been driving me crazy. I totally read Colin Morgan’s remarks the same way you did — he said that the cliffhanger was exceptional, but what was delivered was the exact same conclusion as S3. I strongly suspect that they shot a completely different ending to the series, but most of it was removed in editing. I suspect that Morgana’s scene with the little dragon was shot much later when the writers decided to change gears. The whole of series 4 screamed that we were headed toward a reveal. From Merlin telling Arthur in S4 E1 “You never fathomed me out,” to Merlin saying in S4 E12 “Oh, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s keeping secrets”. If those and all of the other little hints were just teases, then my respect for the writers has plummeted. A purported crewmwmber leaked the finale storyline, and it contained a clever last-minute reveal. I’m inclined to believe that the reveal was indeed shot, but then decisions were made and it was removed.

I am so glad to have found your reviews. I’ll watch for them in future!

January 26, 2012 at 4:21 AM

Well…..Merlin and Downton Abby were both nominated for the UK National Television Awards, and Downton won. Of course I wanted and voted for Merlin to win, but was not surprised when it went to Downton. They delivered on “The Big Payoff” The Dread And Terrible Secret that Lady Mary could never reveal to Matthew for fear that he would despise her was dealt with to the audience’s satisfaction.

If TPTB at Merlin had actually given the audience a real cliff hanger – a Magic Reveal Cliff Hanger something that all the fans (whatever ship they sail) wanted sooo much and that the rest of the wider not so devoted but interested audience could have sat up and taken notice of…then the voting might have gone more Merlin’s way.

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