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.
- Am I the only one who thinks