Saturday, August 07, 2010

Merlin - Season 2 Review

UK Airdate: 19th September - 19th December 2009

The magical adventures for the fated magician continue to grow as Merlin grapples with his increasing powers, loyalties to his friends, the return of a bad seed, a witchfinder and his own past.

Flight Of The Dragon: Merlin as a series debuted to reasonable critical acclaim and garnered the kind of ratings that ensured that the BBC wouldn’t take it off the air as well. It’s also managed to wow American viewers alike with the first two seasons airing on both NBC and SyFy in the last year alone but is second helpings just as good as the first serving?

Well, that’s the thing really. Season Two of the show in a lot of ways sticks to the tried and tested format of the first season while in some parts attempting to develop a little more of the characters at the same time. There are some noticeable changes with the likes of Arthur and Morgana in this season and both Merlin and Gwen themselves have their moments as well but for the most part, things do tend to be rather formulaic each week.

The opening episode, “The Curse Of Cornelius Sigan” gave Mackenzie Crook a chance to bewitch his way into the kingdom in order to steal a diamond despite Merlin’s attempts of warning people that he was a bad one and even the two parter “Beauty And The Beast” tackled the same thing when an ugly troll managed to get her way with Uther for the best part of two weeks.

Sarah Parish delightfully played up to that role incredibly well but its things like that can be entertaining and frustrating in equal measures. I know Merlin’s caught between a rock and a hard place with keeping his magic a secret (something which he’s increasingly getting bad at, may I add) but it’s high time that both Arthur and Uther actually took him seriously instead of treating him like a bumbling idiot or believing every villain of the week who tries to put him in the frame.

That being said, the Merlin/Arthur dynamic is still arguably the biggest draw to the series. Both Colin Morgan and Bradley James play to each other’s strengths nicely and there are times throughout the season that I found myself wishing that Merlin would confide in his mate about his magic. Even Arthur can see that magic isn’t strictly bad himself and it was him that wanted to stop Charles Dance’s witchfinder from nearly burning poor Gaius on the stake halfway through this season when Uther made no effort to stop his oldest friend from nearly being killed.

Uther to me is one of the few characters who doesn’t really improve this season but unlike Gaius, at least he’s utilised more, if not in a positive way. He’s still blinded by his intolerance to magic (more so after the stunt that Catrina pulled on him) and it’s even gotten to the point where both him and Morgana are increasingly coming to blows over the nature of good and bad with magic. As much as I like Anthony Head, I’m beginning to wonder if we’re edging towards a point where Uther really will die at the hands of magic. It certainly seems like its being set up that way.

The arrival of Emilia Fox’s Morgause gives the show a needed punch. She could easily be dismissed as this season’s Nimueh in that she’s not 100% evil but her bond towards sister Morgana and the fact that she enlightened Arthur on the death of his mother are things that I found rather endearing with the character. I certainly cannot wait to see what she and Morgana get up to next season.

As for the Arthur and Gwen romance, this is something I found rather tiring throughout the season. Arthur seems to learn about equality in one episode (where he’s getting involved in local jousting) and totally forgets it in the next few episodes and the ‘will-they, wont-they?’ back and forth banter between him and Gwen got annoying after a while. It’s not also helped when varying love interests such as Lancelot and Vivian are drafted in, only to be dispatched with just as quickly, although I imagine that the writers aren’t done with Lancelot just yet.

The season’s strongest points however are the destinies of both Merlin and Morgana though. Morgana finally embraced her bad dreams, her magic after spending too much time trying to suppress it and nearly fell into the dark side. Merlin loved and lost Freya in the space of 45 minutes and then learned his calling as a Dragon Lord before seeing his own father die in the process and while the finale is interesting, it also could done with some extra padding for the amount of storylines it was trying to tell and set up for the next series. That being said, it was nicely to see the dragon released from his bonds and wrecking havoc. I hope the big guy is also back for more next season.

In terms of memorable characters, the season did boast a fair amount of them. Emilia Fox wins out as Morgause but hats off to the return of Mordred, Sarah Parish clearly relishing the role as Lady Catrina, Charles Dance’s nasty witchfinder and Georgia Moffett’s bratty but funny, Vivian. While the first season was somewhat more cohesive in parts than this one, this is still a worthy series to watch again.

DVD EXTRAS: Blimey, this show is impressive with the extras this time around. The full DVD set has seven commentaries with cast and crew members, introductory scenes for the six episodes, a Making Of Merlin feature as well as snippets from the cast and crew in relation to Jousting, Mystical Creatures, The Legend and Talking Spelling.


2x01: The Curse Of Cornelius Sigan = 8/10, 2x02: The Once And Future Queen = 6/10,
2x03: The Nightmare Begins = 9/10, 2x04: Lancelot And Guinevere = 8/10,
2x05: Beauty And The Beast Part 1 = 7/10, 2x06: Beauty And The Beast Part 2 = 7/10,
2x07: The Witchfinder = 8/10, 2x08: The Sins Of The Father = 9/10,
2x09: The Lady Of The Lake = 8/10, 2x10: Sweet Dreams = 8/10,
2x11: The Witch’s Quickening = 9/10, 2x12: The Fires Of Idirsholas = 9/10,
2x13: The Last Dragonlord = 7/10.

Season 2 is currently available on DVD now.

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