Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Merlin - Season 4 Review

UK Airdate: October 1st –December 24th 2011

As the show enters it’s fourth season, we lose one King and gain another as Arthur’s first year in power still sees him fighting against Morgana’s various antics, coming into his own as a ruler while Merlin also sees himself dealing with more enemies closer to the castle as per usual.

Long Live The King: Something happened to this show during this particular season because while Merlin has always been a popular series, for some reason it seemed to have blown up even bigger than before.

Perhaps pushing the show into direct competition with The X Factor was the right thing to do on BBC’s part, maybe it was the writing (which has become stronger with each passing year) or maybe it was the simple fact that this is the only fantasy programme that airs in the UK that is an actual direct threat to Doctor Who but either way, this show’s continued success is definitely something to be chuffed with nonetheless.

Almost gone are the days of modest little adventures (though there are a few here and there still in this series) and here are the days of powerful opening episodes. Losing two prominent characters in the two-part opening story was one thing but the overdue exit of Uther in the season’s third episode still managed to make an impact and give the show the boot up the backside it desperately needed.

As a ruler, Arthur is definitely not perfect, sometimes listening to bad counsel, courtesy of his uncle Agravaine as well as his inability to directly deal with the ongoing threat of Morgana but unlike his father, he’s definitely learning to be a more open minded leader and while his exiling Gwen in one of the season’s strongest episodes is definitely a shocker, at least he’s man enough to eventually reverse the horrible decision by marrying her in the season finale, another two-parter.

Arthur’s growth is definitely more gradual but at least it’s happening and while there can be a certain repetitiveness to some of his banter with Merlin, it’s still a joy to watch most of the time. As for Merlin himself, it’s definitely been an interesting year for him too but once again, with the new dynamics and stuff going on, it’s almost a shame that he didn’t finally get to out himself magically though. Hopefully the upcoming fifth season will definitely put that to order though.

Of course, while there are definitely stronger episodes and a slew of impressive guest stars (Phil Davis as an assassin, James Callis as a man trying to get to a dragon and Lindsay Duncan as a Queen), the stuff with the dragons are definitely some of the best things we had this season. I wasn’t surprised that our new dragon Aithusa defected to a particular character in the finale but it was a nice twist nonetheless.

However, even though this is easily the series strongest season yet, it’s not entirely perfect. The Knights for example are pretty nice to look but apart from one episode where they fight over a demon lady (the season’s weakest episode), they often seem to be relegated to eye candy, which is a shame considering that I wanted to learn a bit more about Leon, Gwaine, Elyan and Perceival individually but at least Lancelot got some memorable moments before he departed the show and maybe Tristan and Isolde should’ve been held off until next season, given that they were sorely underused in the finale.

As for the villains of the piece – Morgana needs to change the record already. I love her to bits as a character but apart from one or two sly moments, she’s not as well served this season as she was in the previous one and her antics in the finale pretty much repeat what she did in the previous year’s finale too.

Similarly, we lose the excellent Morgause and we’re stuck with Agravaine, a character so annoyingly transparent, it’s actually rather insulting that it takes practically forever for most of main players to deduce what his true motives really are (which seem to consist of being Morgana’s lackey and little else). It’s a shame because Nathaniel Parker is a solid actor but he’s rather wasted here so by the time Agravaine is killed, it’s hard to really care. Even Helios, who only appears in the last three episodes is a far more convincing threat than Agravaine.

That being said, these niggles aside, there’s no denying that the show has definitely shown a lot of improvement since it started back in September 2008. I can only hope that the show will continue to cast its charming spell over me, because four years on, I’m still rather enchanted with this wonderful show.

DVD Extras: It’s the usual scenario with this show, whether you’ve bought the complete series or the split season variety. There’s a smattering of commentaries from the cast and crew, behind the scenes filming, deleted scenes, outtakes and some storyboards too to keep you all entertained.

Episode Ratings:

4x01: The Darkest Hour Part 1 = 8/10, 4x02: The Darkest Hour Part 2 = 8/10,
4x03: The Wicked Day = 9/10, 4x04: Aithusa = 7/10,
4x05: His Father’s Son = 7/10, 4x06: A Servant Of Two Masters = 9/10,
4x07: The Secret Sharer = 8/10, 4x08: Lamia = 5/10,
4x09: Lancelot Du Lac = 9/10, 4x10: A Herald Of The New Age = 7/10,
4x11: The Hunter’s Heart = 7/10, 4x12: The Sword In The Stone Part 1 = 8/10,
4x13: The Sword In The Stone Part 2 = 9/10.

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