I wrote about the first season of this series several years ago, but we've recently watched the fifth and final season so I thought it might be time to take a look at the whole thing. I've always enjoyed Arthurian fiction, movies, and TV shows, and this is a pretty good one.
There are so many versions of the King Arthur story that it's difficult to consider any of them "canon", but the first couple of seasons of MERLIN seem to have discarded some of the traditional elements of the legend and played it more as an updated, politically correct version. The series picks up with Uther Pendragon still the king of Camelot. His son Arthur is the handsome young prince, and Merlin (who the viewer knows from the first is really a powerful sorcerer) pretends to be Arthur's hapless servent while actually looking out for him. Morgana is Uther's ward, Guinevere a serving girl. With so many young, pretty people in the cast, MERLIN almost comes off like CAMELOT 90210. (Yes, I used that line in the earlier post, but it's still true.)
These early episodes are perfectly serviceable lightweight sword-and-sorcery adventures and I found them enjoyable enough to keep watching. But as the series goes on it begins to take on a darker tone and a more epic scale, and I realized that the writers were going for the classic version of the King Arthur legend after all, just in a roundabout way. The whole thing builds to a dramatic climax and generates a considerable amount of tension and suspense in the final season.
Colin Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Arthur play off each other very well, creating a real sense of camaraderie. Veteran British actor Richard Morgan does a good job as Gaius, Merlin's friend and mentor. Anthony Head (Giles from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) plays Uther in the early seasons and is by turn admirable and despicable. The most impressive performance, however, comes from Katie McGrath, who over the course of the series does a remarkable job of transforming from a cute, innocent ingénue to a totally evil sorceress.
I can't say that I was totally pleased with the ending—too many plot holes—but I really did like the very last scene. MERLIN is a good series, well worth watching, and it's whetted my appetite for more Arthurian tales. I probably won't get around to watching or reading any of them before the urge goes away, but you never know.