“In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name: Merlin.”Kilgharrah
After all the horrible works I’ve reviewed recently, I decided it was finally time to talk about something that’s really good. I had a few candidates in mind, but eventually I settled on one of my favourite television shows: BBC’s fantasy epic Merlin.
Merlin is a truly great series that, similarly to Avatar, spans a continuous story arc (five seasons in this case). It’s a retelling of the Arthurian legends that focuses on Merlin and his relationship to Prince Arthur, and begins during the reign of Arthur’s father, King Uthur Pendragon. The story unfolds over the course of the show, getting gradually darker as it builds up to its epic conclusion at the end of Season Five, and whereas the changing tone in Harry Potter came across as jarring, in Merlin the shift works because it never changes its target audience. The ending is, although I won’t spoil anything here, glorious; it’s how Harry Potter really should have ended.
The Dragon’s Call
When the show begins, Camelot is ruled by the insane tyrant Uther, played by Anthony Head, who has outlawed all magic. Enter Merlin, a young warlock from the town of Ealdor, whose mother has sent him to live with her friend Gaius, Uther’s physician. There, Merlin meets an entitled, arrogant, stupid knight named Arthur, whom he realizes too late is Uther’s son the prince, landing Merlin in the dungeon. After being released, Merlin hears a voice in his head that leads him to a cave beneath the castle. There he meets Uther’s greatest prisoner, the dragon Kilgharrah, played by John Hurt. This, I think, is a good time to mention that the special effects are truly awesome—far, far better than anything you’ll find in any American show. Kilgharrah tells Merlin that he is destined to be Arthur’s protector, to which Merlin replies,
“There must be another Arthur because this one’s an idiot.”
Later at a feast, the mother of a man whom Uther executed tries to take revenge by killing Arthur. Merlin, despite not wanting anything to do with the idiot, saves his life. As a “reward,” Uther declares Merlin to be Arthur’s new manservant, much to both their dismay. At first, the two can’t stand each other, but over the course of their adventures they gradually become best friends.
Of course the first thing you’ll notice while watching the show is the fantastic title sequence, complete with its unforgettable music! Indeed, the rest of the show’s orchestral score too (composed by Rob Lane, Rohan Stevenson, and James Gosling) is nothing short of amazing! It’s one of the best television scores of all time, and its many leitmotifs fit the tone of the show perfectly.
Another thing to mention is the pacing, which I would compare to Avatar: The Last Airbender, my favourite show of all time. Be warned that, as with Avatar, this isn’t a show where you can just start with any episode; it must be watched from the beginning onward. Merlin never stagnates the way Robin Hood does; rather, the plot is always moving forward until it reaches its conclusion at the end of Season Five. I’m obviously not about to tell you how the show actually ends, but I’ll just say that the conclusion is satisfying—more than satisfying; in fact, it’s how Harry Potter really should have ended.
What really make the show great, however, are the characters. Not only is the show’s main cast entirely composed of great British actors (as is usual with BBC), but the characters they portray are also complex and compelling. The always-evolving heroes are all flawed, and the villains all have understandable motives for what they do.
Each of the main characters changes with their experiences. BBC’s Merlin does a great job of showing loads of moral grey areas throughout the series.
To conclude, you should watch Merlin. The actors are great. The story—based on the Arthurian legends—is, of course, great. The Characters are great. The production values are better than anything American television could ever hope to produce. The dialogue is top-notch. Even by the high standards of BBC, Merlin is bloody amazing, and anyone with even a passing interest in fantasy and/or mythology should watch it at the earliest opportunity.