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Am I the only one who thinks
Gwen 1
zahrawithaz
that the theory that Morgana would never have turned evil if Merlin had only told her about her magic is deeply insulting, not only to Merlin, but to Morgana?

I've already discussed at length the important issues of privilege and power this theory glosses over. But it also completely flattens the complexities of Morgana's character, and completely deprives her of agency.

I've always been more troubled by the show's tendency to put Morgana in comas (1x06, 3x04) and otherwise emphasize her passivity and reactiveness than their characterization of her as a villain. From the beginning, Morgana tended to personalize conflicts, manipulate others, believe what she wanted without regard for evidence, and let her emotions blind her to the effects of her actions on others.

These flaws all point to a selfish disregard for others—something we're all capable of on occasion—and her arc shows them opening up, bit by bit, into outright cruelty. For me, the fact that Morgana's bad points aren't hard to identify with makes her interesting, and while I would have appreciated her retaining more nuances than she currently displays, I'm not eager to see the complications she already has downplayed.

I also find it disheartening, given how infuriatingly often Morgana's arc emphasized the actions of others, that some parts of fandom want to deny the agency she has shown. Morgana has made deliberate decisions along her path—from turning on Tauren, to sacrificing the lives of many low-born suspected magic-users for her personal happiness, to choosing as allies Mordred and Morgause and Alvarr.

I don't like many of her choices, but I wouldn't deny that she had reasons for them and that they suited her psychology. She has mystical connections with Mordred and Morgause, and is attracted to Alvarr—and she bonds with all three through opposition to Uther. Her few interactions with Merlin had none of this intensity (and in fact quite a bit of class tension and obligation). She's just not that into him.

I realize Merlin is the show's main character, but I find the idea that his honesty alone would have had the power to heal Morgana's many wounds absurd. Yes, it might have lessened her isolation, but I don't think it would have slaked her desire for revenge or the many problems linked to her insecurity and her difficult family situation. The argument that with his friendship she would have been a happy asset to Camelot is uncomfortable close to the idea that all a woman needs to solve her problem is the right man by her side. It makes my skin crawl.

Moreover, Morgana has never shown any signs that she would have been on board with Merlin's wait-watch-and-work-with-destiny approach to the Uther problem. She's always opted for more direct and often violent approaches—in part because she (unlike Merlin) has an intense personal relationship with Uther, but also because her class privilege gives her a stronger sense that she has a right to make radical changes in the governing structure and in fact to rule. (The peasant Merlin, by contrast, never conceives of toppling the system directly, and correctly understands that he can't change the system without help from within it.)

All of which is not to deny that it would have been a more honorable moral choice for Merlin to tell her about himself and try to create an alliance. It would also have been terminally stupid, but would have required breaching the class barrier between them, which is appreciable. (It would also probably have required Morgana's non-dreaming powers to have manifested early in season one, before Merlin's own evolution and knowledge of Morgana had progressed to the point where such a choice would have been out of character.)

I post this not because I care deeply in the rights and wrongs of two flawed fictional characters, but because I'm interested in the politics of coalition, and heavily invested in seeing the real-life equivalents of Morgana and Merlin work together effectively to create social change. And as long as we in fandom are recreating the blame game that too often derails such alliances, we can't work together in real life.

In order to fight the injustices of our own societies, we need to recognize the fractures that privilege creates within oppressed groups, and that all of the players have the agency and ability to make choices based on their own personal preferences and aims. The show gives us an opportunity to practice that.


On a Watsonian level, I agree with your opinion.
On a Doylist level, it would have helped if the writers had used last season to actually show Morgana's descend to the Dark Side, instead of letting it happen offscreen (both during the season and during the year she was gone). Of course that still doesn't give the idea merit that Merlin caused Morgana to slip, but it would help people seeing her agency.

(Coming from a purely literary science point of view here, since for me, the show doesn't have as many social aspects as it has for you [although I always read your analysis with interest].)

Well, yes--I completely agree that Morgana's arc could have been better dramatized and more evenly spaced throughout last season--and that we could have seen a lot more inner turmoil from her when she returned, which also would have helped. I wish she had spent more time onscreen and also awake. (I frankly wish being unconscious wasn't one of her character's key traits, but then she's related Arthur, who's practically narcoleptic.)

But I did find the Morgana episodes we did get--her deciding to run to the druids, then refusing to return at the expense of others' lives, then lying about the kidnapping; her deliberately giving evidence against Gaius to the Witchfinder; her agreeing to help Morgause against Uther without finding out it was entailed; and everything she did during 2x11, when she made her most active choices--compelling. There was enough about her arc from fear to betrayal to anger to connect the dots, though I still wish we'd gotten an oil painting instead of a sketch.

(I frankly wish being unconscious wasn't one of her character's key traits, but then she's related Arthur, who's practically narcoleptic.)

*g* Makes sense.

[Edited: lots of blah]

Sorry, I was kind of rambling here. Basically, I get your interpretation, but think the room that the writers left to get to it has been very narrow, and people have a tendency to see their beloved characters in the best light possible. Morgana has been primely set up to be seen as a victim of circumstances, and thus she is perceived that way. I think that's largely due to the way she's written, but it's unfortunate that some fans seem to embrace that character trait as something positive.

lol psychic hand clasp

heather

2010-11-21 05:07 pm (UTC)

Leaving to go watch potter again, but I will be back. You already know I agree on most of this; I was gonna put my position on merls and morgana out there in my review for 3x11 (mostly because I'm not sure what else I can say about that episode but I digress, lol). So yeah, I'll be back! I mean I think on a meta level there's some genderfail at work but it doesn't have much to do with merlin and whether he's responsible for her, so there's a problematic conflation of issues in fandom.

Edited at 2010-11-21 05:10 pm (UTC)

Re: lol psychic hand clasp

zahrawithaz

2010-11-21 06:34 pm (UTC)

Lucky you! (I tried and failed to get into the film last night.)

And yes, on the meta level there's tremendous genderfail, in that we lack any models for female power that aren't evil (although the more recent emphasis on Gwen's queenliness is starting to undercut that, for me). It's a Doylist problem, as someone says above--and I would point to issues like disempowering Freya, who otherwise could have been a powerful and positive magical woman out of tradition, as key parts of the trend.

It's not so much the writing of Morgana as of her context that I fault there. It's one thing to have a female villain, and another to givie her moral descent shorter shrift than the hero's and provide no other powerful and positive female figures for contrast. (I have another rant about how many of these problems are connected to the fact that Morgana's main purpose on the show is still to look hot at all times, but I'll restrain myself.)

But the claim that "a man could have saved her" just makes me see red. Way to completely destroy the agency and power that Morgana actually does have within the show!

Re: lol psychic hand clasp

heather

2010-11-21 08:31 pm (UTC)

Aw man, sorry you couldn't get into it! I know you said my enthusiasm might convince you to give it a try. :/ But I know you didn't much like the book, and I think the movies would be hard to sink into without that attachment; they don't really stand well enough on their own tbh. :(

WORD on the Doylist gender issues with the show and well said. It's frustrating to think of the relatively SMALL changes they could've made that would have made a world of difference in that regard but as it is, it's hard to ignore the context of Morgana's descent.

As you say, it's what that has to do with Merlin on a Watsonian level that I don't get. Morgana made her choices and they're ALL pretty well supported in the text, even though sometimes it takes a little bit of a mental stretch when you consider HOW far she's gone and how underwritten she is compared to Merls. I mean, I guess it's nice to see fandom woobify a female character for once, but it has that side effect of making her even MORE passive and out of her own control than the text already does.

Re: lol psychic hand clasp

zahrawithaz

2010-11-21 08:52 pm (UTC)

I guess it's nice to see fandom woobify a female character for once, but it has that side effect of making her even MORE passive and out of her own control than the text already does.

This is a good point, though I think Gwen is the canon woobie of the show. As in, the character most likely to be tortured because the audience will react. There's more than enough angst on this show to spread around, but in any given episode she's the most likely to be given the angst plot to balance out the boys' comic relief. (And who can resist her brave stoic looks?)

Re: lol psychic hand clasp

heather

2010-11-21 09:09 pm (UTC)

Mmm, good point. Gwen's suffering does make me react the most as a viewer, with Merlin a close second though I wouldn't call him a woobie. I think it might be because the show has a way of capitalizing on the powerfulness or powerlessness of each character for maximum emotional effect.

It's hard to watch but I'm glad Gwen's suffering is no longer used primarily for other characters' plots, at least, the way it was in S1. I also think when Gwen suffers on the show it only tends to highlight her inner queenliness rather than take away from it. You ever get that impression? Maybe because she's so powerless to start with, idk.

As you know, we're of one mind on this subject. I find it especially frustrating when "Morgana would never have turned evil IF..." arguments ignore 1.12 and 2.03, specifically the fates of Tauren and the various Camelotian executed because of Morgana's supposed abduction.

Yes! The argument ignores those choices, each of which got dramatic weight within the show. And it mirrors Morgana's disregard for others--which is frankly much more disturbing in fans than in fictional characters.

I also find the "Morgana is evil because she has magic, therefore magic is evil" (popular recently) argument bizarre. The main magic-user on the show is always Merlin, and evil magic-users always exist as foils to him. And the show couldn't drop any more anvils about using magic for good without punching holes in the lovely castle floor.

(Deleted comment)
Thanks! I don't know Smallville at all (beyond the fact that Merlin owes it a heavy debt), but the issues sound similar--depriving characters of agency in order to "rehabilitate" them. On a basic level, I don't buy that Merlin is that powerful, or Morgana that weak and easily influenced, and I think she would be a much less compelling character and antagonist if she were.

Glad to know others are thinking what I am.

Fascinating post! I shall think on it :-)

Thanks! I'll always be interested in your thoughts in the future, if you care to share.

You're not alone. The lack of nuance in how Morgana plays villain does complicate the issue, but what with the class divide, Merlin getting dodgy advice from both Gaius and the Dragon (both of whom knew more than they let on about Morgana's potential and parentage), and Morgana's own clear bent to self-serving behaviour, I have to say enough has been provided to make me hesitant to blame Merlin's silence for Morgana's choices.

The lack of nuance in how Morgana plays villain does complicate the issue

Well, hell to the yes. Both the actress and director seem heavily invested in Morgana as a broad, almost vaudevillian, villain--a delightfully hissable one at times. That in itself sadly undercuts the other aspects of the character that give her a more realistic psychology, and implies that her motivations don't matter as much as the purpose she serves in the plot.

But nevertheless on a Watsonian level Morgana did get development that foreshadowed her arc. (I am less inclined than you to credit the advice Merlin gets from Gaius and the Dragon--he has a clear tendency to ignore both of them, particularly when it comes to Morgana. I think the decision not to tell her is his, given that he's apparently come close to it 3 times now.) And she does have reasons for why she does (most of) what she does; I really can't imagine Merlin would have been able to persuade her not to strike back at Uther.

I think differently on this issue than you, but I appreciate you articulating the class points in particular, that's not something I always think about as much as I should.

My fundamental thing, for better for or worse, is that I am hopelessly invested in these characters and want there to be ways for things to end well, in fic if not in canon. So I find myself going over all the turning points in canon and thinking about how things could have been different. I just want my OT4 to be happy because I am a horrible, horrible sap. (See also my sadness re. Gwen/Morgana despite objectively appreciating the meaty developments in their relationship.)

I totally agree that Morgana knowing Merlin had magic is not enough in itself to change anything. However, what bothered me so much about S2 was the paternalism, this portrayal of Morgana as weak and scared and powerless and not in control while Gaius and Merlin held information from her.

Merlin and Morgana are very different people, and Morgana's flaws are pretty big ones. I like to believe there are ways she can overcome them, though, rather than become consumed by them. And I have, er, 8000 words and counting on that subject, so apologies if I sound rambly and/or defensive! I have a lot of feelings about this stupid show. /o\

Ooh thoughts on Morgana - my favourite.

rubberglue

2010-11-22 01:36 am (UTC)

I've not liked the argument that Merlin should have told her about his magic ever since I first saw it discussed. I know lots of people are angry that he kept it from her and many feel that with his support and friendship, she might not have turned to the dark side.

I don't like this argument because (a) it ignores what Morgana has done purposefully in previous episodes (b) it suggests that Morgana needs a man to "save" her, like she couldn't choose the right thing to do on her own and (c) it ignores how Morgana has been characterised. I am also of the opinion that it would have been a huge risk for Merlin to come out to her about his magic and in the end, he decided against it.

The argument that with his friendship she would have been a happy asset to Camelot is uncomfortable close to the idea that all a woman needs to solve her problem is the right man by her side. It makes my skin crawl.

This so much.

Of course, I would have loved to see her arc played out more on the screen and a little more nuance in her evilness this season

In order to fight the injustices of our own societies, we need to recognize the fractures that privilege creates within oppressed groups, and that all of the players have the agency and ability to make choices based on their own personal preferences and aims.

TBH, because of the society I was brought up in (I think), things like privilege and oppression were not something I've thought about a lot prior to discovering LJ fandoms. So I really enjoy reading entries about this especially in reference to fandom because it gives me something concrete to relate to. I'm not American for one thing so references to American society often flies over my head. So thanks!

Thanks for this post! You make a lot of points that I hadn't thought about before.

Thank you - this is a great post. I've never been comfortable with the "if only Merlin had told her" idea either although I've never teased out the reasons as you have here.

The class difference is particularly important to the Merlin-Morgana dynamic, I think, and often overlooked (possibly because Merlin and Arthur's relationship appears, at least superficially, to defy class in many respects).

Haha, I was going to say "no, you're not alone," and then I saw the chorus of people who agree and now I'm tempted to be contrary. Because that's the way I roll. Expect I really can't because I think your class meta around Morgana and Merlin has always been spot on and as the show progresses, continues to be spot on.

Merlin fandom in the largest sense often wants to rob Morgana of the little agency she's been given in the show and make her a bland BAMF (how can this exist?! I wouldn't have thought it possible before I joined this fandom) or uber bitch in the background at the same time it wants to silence Gwen completely. So I'm not surprised that even when defending her they do the same thing.

I realize Merlin is the show's main character, but I find the idea that his honesty alone would have had the power to heal Morgana's many wounds absurd.
And
She's always opted for more direct and often violent approaches—in part because she (unlike Merlin) has an intense personal relationship with Uther, but also because her class privilege gives her a stronger sense that she has a right to make radical changes in the governing structure and in fact to rule. (The peasant Merlin, by contrast, never conceives of toppling the system directly, and correctly understands that he can't change the system without help from within it.)

This. This. This.

All that being said, I think there could be a ton of good fics that stem from 3.2, 2.3, 1.13, and all the other times the text almost had Merlin tell Morgana about his magic. I don't always think they would change Morgana's ultimate destiny, but it would certainly change the interactions of the characters and how we got there. I also think that there are many ways of doing the reveal (in fic) that do not rob Morgana of the agency she has. I just don't often see fandom doing this.

I think it's highly simplified to say that people believe that if Merlin had told Morgana about his magic she wouldn't have turned evil. However, it is clear to me that her arc in season 2 was all about her isolation and fear, culminating in Merlin poisoning her and Morgause's rescue.

If, before that point, he'd opened up to her, tried to help her and understand that someone knew she was magic and she wasn't completely alone, the way she acts now might be different. I find it completely abhorrent that Merlin and Gaius decided what was best for her - that she shouldn't know that she had magic - and lied to her. That it has backfired in the faces so dramatically is a nice karma to me!

Having an ally in Camelot who truly knew and accepted her wouldn't have changed her desire to see Uther's reign end, but it could have affected how she went about it. As it is, I believe that she has totally convinced herself that no one there would care about her if they knew what she really was (I mean, one of the people she trusted poisoned her...) and so why should she care about them?

I also think she'll be absolutely furious when she finds out that Merlin and he kept it from her when he knew how alone and frightened she'd been.

Sorry to poke my head in at this random juncture, because you don't know me and all... reading fic and I stumbled across your commentary. I - like every person of thought in this fandom, I think - wrote a post on my own LJ about Morgana as a character and her loss of agency in the first season of the show.

The whole 'if only Merlin had stepped in' is pretty miserable, especially since there are some scenes where I feel that the writers were attempting to say so. However, I feel Morgana and Merlin might have been able to save *each other* by being supportive to one another as people who were on the outside, looking in. Instead, Morgana went mad (offscreen...) and Merlin subsumed himself behind the mask of a bumbling fool. There were episodes where he was a character I no longer liked or even sympathized with, because I felt he was betraying his own identity so thoroughly.

I believe Morgana could have helped him hold on to that identity, and Merlin could have helped Morgana hold on to hers. There is definitely that Shakespearean they-just-missed-each-other, tragic feel to their relationship. They would have been stronger, together.

-K

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