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Merlin 4x12 and 4x13 The Sword in the Stone
Gwen 1
zahrawithaz
More accurately, an attempt to wrap-up some of the themes of Series 4. Which starts off cranky, but does not end there, and also owes an immense debt to conversations with the always brilliant selenak and meri_contrary.


I have very mixed on this two-part finale. There is a lot of truly wonderful stuff in it, but as a conclusion to the often superbly-constructed Series 4, I felt it fell short—nowhere more so than in conclusion to Arthur's arc.

Arthur the Unready. Arthur's story has been the centerpiece of Series 4, and it has unfolded with an unexpected degree of nuance, as the young king makes mistakes and learns from them. And a central part of his arc has been Arthur's flawed response as a king to his advisors, often (though not always) Agravaine. The latter has been such a competent villain all series long largely because of his ability to play Arthur's flaws, whether in his tangled emotions in the wake of his father's death (giving birth to both a misguided desire to imitate his father, and a suspicion of magic-users Agravaine is able to use to trap Gaius), or his emotional devastation after Guinevere's supposed betrayal. Arthur as king is "unready" in the Old English sense, whereby the word means "badly-counselled."

The problem isn't that Arthur doesn't have competent advisors—he chooses Gwen as queen for her "good counsel" and turns to Merlin at a few key points—but that when given differing opinions, Arthur almost always chooses the wrong ones. Even those who adore Arthur see him as so unreasonable in the face of the obvious that they conclude he won't listen to reason where Agravaine is concerned (Gwen, Gaius), or when the only sane plan to to leave Camelot (Gwaine, Merlin, Gaius).

Not all of this can be blamed on Agravaine; Arthur is capable of overriding his objections, as he does when he decides to marry Guinevere the first time. Likewise, Merlin, Gwen, and Gaius are all fanatically loyal to Arthur, but that didn't stop all of them from being mind-controlled into potentially harming him; nor did it stop Gaius from lying out of divided loyalties, or Merlin from delivering the self-interested and ultimately disastrous advice that Arthur use magic to keep his father alive. Getting competent advice is a real challenge, and Arthur in particularly has tended to trust the untrustworthy and turn against those loyal to him.

So Arthur confronting Agravaine's treachery—as he does in the beautifully acted scenes in which Arthur first sees Agravaine with Morgana, and then tearfully acknowledges that Merlin's suspicions were right all along—is a key part of his arc, as is reckoning which his own mistakes, which we've seen in "His Father's Son," "The Herald of a New Age," and other episodes. When Arthur says, "I trusted the wrong people...I misjudged everyone...I should be more discerning, wise...a statesman," and concludes that he's repeated the same mistake he made with Morgana, he's quite right. All the more important, therefore, that he reckon with it. 

Unfortunately, Arthur never does, either directly by confronting Agravaine or the illusions that have kept him tied to him, or indirectly through his relationships with Guinevere or Merlin. Instead, the narrative tries to wrench Arthur's touching self-revelation—he's failed at one of the vital skills of kingship, discernment about who to trust—into a plotline about the failure of his self-confidence, the belief that he's not "special" enough to be king.

And while this might work for those invested in Arthur's self-esteem problems, it leaves the Arthur's failures to trust wisely, or differentiate between good advice and bad, dangling. Pulling the sword out of the stone symbolically restores Arthur's faith in his right to be king, but it doesn't actually make him a more competent one—which is particularly frustrating given that he's been shown to learn from his previous mistakes. (At the same time, it also re-inscribes the Chosen One trope, which I don't inherently object to, at its most socially conservative.) So the sword in the stone scene, though beautiful and moving, was not as emotionally resonant for me as it should have been.

You might object that Arthur's difficulties with trust and advice are so clearly wound up in his relationship with Merlin that they can't be properly resolved without the magic reveal, which the show obviously didn't want to do yet. (And shouldn't have; neither Arthur nor Merlin is in the right place.) But these same topics were very wound up in the Arthur/Guinevere angst plot, which they did want to conclude, and previously using Guinevere as metaphoric stand-in for Merlin has worked quite effectively to advance Arthur's character. And Series 4 leaned quite heavily on the Guinevere/Merlin parallels once the mindrape/betrayal got underway.

Unfortunately, that plot too was left unresolved, because Arthur's reconciliation with Guinevere sidesteps entirely the problems that caused it, and the thematic elements that made it so critical to Arthur's character arc. The problem of trust—the fundamental truth that by loving someone you make yourself vulnerable to betrayal—is entirely swept away.

Getting Guinevere to the altar. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the conclusion of the Guinevere/Arthur rift, even from those who loved the storyline. For my own part, it bothers me both that Arthur never has to confront his own role in their conflict (the banishment went too far) and that Guinevere never finds out she was under a spell, as sidesteps the more troubling issues raised and leaves both of them unable to develop as characters.

But it particularly rankles that their reconciliation doesn't advance the trust plot, and so feels hollow. While I get that on an emotional level, this is often how people solve problems—people with trust issues find someone they love enough to trust anyway—the show didn't make the thematic connection, and that felt like a terribly inadequate end to the plotline.

This clumsy resolution is accomplished through the of fridging Isolde, which is both terribly cliche and yet another problematic element in a show that already has a checkered history with female characters. What bothers me most is that it deprives us of the potential Guinevere/Isolde friendship. I enjoyed seeing someone else counsel Gwen not to give up hope, and I think this show needs both more female characters and an Enid—a female friendship for Guinevere to counterbalance her antagonism with Morgana. (Can't they further develop the woman Percival was flirting with at the feast?)

I love the character of Gwen, and I have particular enjoyed her character arc from someone who cared about the future of Camelot but saw herself only in a subsidiary role in series 1, to someone who grew in confidence enough to take an active role in creating that future in series 2, to someone who started to actively oppose Morgana as she realized the threat posed by her mistress in series 3.

But not entirely surprisingly, Gwen is one of the characters that suffered most from the show's shift of focus between Merlin and Arthur in series 4, and despite her wonderful scene outmaneuvering Agravaine in "The Darkest Day" and her heroism in "Lamia," "The Hunter's Heart," and even "Lancelot du Lac," this marks the first series in which her evolution toward queenliness was largely taken out of her own hands.

Some of this is perhaps inherent in the queen role, which in this particularly fantasy world is ultimately conferred by Arthur. But previous series have made it very clear that Gwen is growing into the role of queen in her own right, so it felt like a loss to me.

Merlin's mistakes. Another shift in this series is its oscillation between the two male leads. I think series 4 dropped Merlin from his central role partway through and focused on Arthur, then tried to re-focus on Merlin for the finale. But this results in not properly resolving Arthur's arc, and muddying Merlin's to the point that it's almost incoherent.

As is, Merlin's arc consists largely of failing at his endeavors. These include being so intent on sacrificing himself to save Arthur that he lets Lancelot die; causing the spectacular backfire of his plans to save Uther and change Arthur's mind about magic; letting Borden use and manipulate him; failing to convince Arthur not to kill King Caerleon; jeopardizing Arthur's attempts at secret negotiations with Queen Annis by following and getting caught; being turned into a mind-controlled assassin by Morgana; failing to convince Arthur that Agravaine is a danger, twice; failing to defeat Lamia; failing to prevent shade!Lancelot from destroying Arthur and Guinevere's relationship; and failing to save Arthur and Elyan from the druid boy's spirit.

Along the way Merlin's had a few triumphs, but almost all double-edged. So he manages to defeat Morgana in a sorcery duel—but arguably that only motivates her to attack Gaius shortly after. Settling Lancelot's shade free is a paltry accomplishment in the wake of the ruin he caused. His one unadulterated victory, saving Aithusa, is revealed by the final scene of the series to be very far from what Merlin thinks it.

In fact, Merlin has only succeeded when he works with others, as when he and Arthur working together win the duel with Annis's magically-enhanced champion, or when he, Guinevere, and Arthur together bring down the Lamia. Likewise, Merlin owes his survival of Morgana in the iron ore caves entirely to Alator (and arguably Gaius)—and would never have been able to save Gaius without Gwaine's help, which he only grudgingly accepted.

(Meanwhile, Morgana and Agravaine accomplish more than either would on their own by working effectively as a team—and are even more successful once they add Helios. And their downfall begins, quite pointedly, when they divide their forces; Merlin is able to kill Agravaine and bind Morgana's magic only when each is deprived of the other's protection and knowledge.)

All of Merlin's defeats come down to a failure to work as part an effective team, and can be grouped in two categories: Merlin being so intent on Arthur's protection that he fails to adequately deal with the larger situation (which happens in "The Darkest Day," "His Father's Son," "A Servant of Two Masters," "Lancelot du Lac," and "The Herald of the New Age—and, if you substitute Arthur's good opinion for Arthur's protection, "The Wicked Day"); and Merlin failing to convince Arthur of the proper course of action. Two very big flaws for the future advisor of Camelot.

Merlin making good. So Merlin's challenge this season is to expand his repertoire—to stop being a solitary magical bodyguard, and to be a true advisor, concerned not only with Arthur, but with the larger kingdom. His critical turning point occurs in "The Hunter's Heart," in the conversation with Gaius, in which Merlin says, "It is Arthur's destiny to marry Gwen....But am I supposed to do anything about it?"

Although Gaius doesn't quite understand, Merlin is for the first time questioning the parameters of his destiny, wondering if perhaps he's meant to do something larger and more meaningful than keep Arthur alive. Marrying Gwen is, after all, not about Arthur being king, but the kind of king he would be. An Arthur married to Queen Mithian would likely be a perfectly good king—but not the Once and Future King Arthur is capable of becoming.

And that same episode gives us the best sign of Merlin's growth as a character so far. While he fails to convince Arthur that Agravaine has betrayed him (possibly because he actually needs Gwen's presence to succeed) he does manage to get Arthur to call off the wedding to Mithian—the very thing he failed to do at the beginning of the episode. And he does so by deliberately waiting for Arthur to ask for advice, and letting Arthur's own emotions serve as a guide. While Arthur has learned several lessons by this point, it's the first time Merlin shows that he too can adapt and change.

So in the finale, Merlin (after the inevitable saving Arthur's life sequence) accomplishes a number of things: He kills Agravaine. He restores Arthur's self-confidence with the sword in the stone. He neutralizes Morgana's magic. And he saves Gwen's life.

Each of these is a pointed reversal of Merlin's failures earlier in the series.

Adieu, Agravaine. I was sorry to see Agravaine go—like Morgause before him, he's a thinly written villain infused with unexpected depth and vividness by a truly talented actor—particularly since it meant we'll never get a fuller explanation for his motivations, which remain murky outside his attraction to Morgana. But it's a phenomenal character scene for Merlin.

On a structural level, it suggests that we should reinterpret the central conflicts of the series, and particularly the advisor problem, as being Merlin's instead of Arthur's. Agravaine is after all the main reason Merlin, who had begun to advise Arthur successfully in series 3, failed to gain ground in series 4. Eliminating Agravaine—now an outright enemy—is a clear solution, though one with a very high moral cost.

And while Merlin claims to simply be creating a distraction (which he already did with the flaming hay-cart in Ealdor), that fact that he's already called Kilgarrah to inflict lethal force that shocks even Helios suggests that his decision to kill Agravaine is not entirely made, but solidified, in the moment he finds himself facing a dead end.

We see him steel himself for the decision, warn Agravaine, and strike quickly, but the most interesting moment is Merlin's dismay when he realizes that the first blow hasn't incapacitated Agravaine, and that he will have to not only kill him but confront someone who knows he is magic.There's a hint of defensiveness in his "I was born with it," which suggests that Merlin may be questioning whether magic is the inevitably corrupting force other character believe it to be, even before Agravaine devastates him by complimenting his treachery and suggesting their kinship. Afterwards, Merlin is clearly unnerved and afraid of what he's become. 

Killing Agravaine also builds on the trend of Merlin making a morally questionable decision at the end of each series, but it's treated with a seriousness that his attacks on Nimueh (in the heat of battle), Morgana (ultimately not lethal), and Morgause (both) were not. It's clearly premediated, and made against someone who has no magic, no power to fight back. (Poisoning Morgana is the most analogous, and there the narrative worked very hard to justify Merlin's action and give him the option to ensure her survival.)

Here the camera work, music, and pacing all call our attention to Merlin's moral descent. They are definitely going somewhere with this in series 5.

No I in team. Merlin's other three accomplishments are less sullied, and in fact show him becoming a more effective member of a Camelot that relies on teamwork. For the sword in the stone scene, he not only advises Arthur gently, using storytelling to guide him to a his own conclusion (a bit like the end of "The Hunter's Heart"), but orchestrates, with Kilgarrah's help, that the scene unfolds in public, to provide Arthur with witnesses.

His neutralizing of Morgana's magic is undertaken at Arthur's behest, and contains unexpected subtlety. While the Merlin of "The Wicked Day" or "The Servant of Two Masters" might have opted for a full-on direct attack, Merlin here merely does what he can to even the stakes, allowing Arthur and the others to play their roles as well.

There's also some lovely irony in the chosen spell, which combines ones Morgana has used against the previous rulers of Camelot. The placement under the bed recalls the mandrake she used against Uther, of course, but the spell itself involves a cornhusk doll and fire, which is what Morgana used to drain Arthur's strength in "The Eye of the Phoenix." Which suggests—much like Merlin's inability to fight the dorocha—that for Morgana too, magic is tied to her life force.

Finally, Merlin saves Gwen's life during her duel with Morgana, much as he did during "The Hunter's Heart." The significance here is that when Arthur shouts the command "After her!" to Gwen, Merlin chooses to run after the women, rather than stay to protect Arthur as usual. I would argue that it's a critical turning point for Merlin—the moment at which he puts away his Arthur-centric world-view for one that includes other leaders of Camelot. (And in fact, Isolde dies because Merlin isn't there, and she's taken on his usual role of saving Arthur's life.)

This is also why Merlin's rescue of Gwen is positioned as the climactic moment of the entire finale, the last action scene before the falling action. It's not only that rescuing Guinevere makes possible the triumphant coronation that marks the start of a new Camelot; it's that Guinevere motivates Merlin's transition from Arthur's bodyguard to a guardian of the entire kingdom, beginning with the queen.

Multi-series thoughts. To be fair, the emphasis on teamwork—its absence and importance—goes far beyond Merlin's character or even series 4. The overall arc of the show began with series 1 assembling the OT4 (a construction that had a number of fissures within it from the start, but still worked as a team), followed by series 2, which deliberately broke down the established relationships between characters and created new trajectories.

That happened not only Morgana's isolation from the group and the widening gap between Merlin and Arthur, but the rifts between Merlin and Kilgarrah, Merlin and Mordred, Guinevere and Lancelot, Arthur and Uther, and Gaius and Uther. These separations allowed for new constellations: Gwen and Arthur's romance, Gaius shifting his allegiance from Uther to Arthur, Morgana joining Morgause, Merlin and Freya's brief connection. 

Series 3 reversed the trend by bringing characters together in new clusters, with the OT3 opposed to Morgana and her allies, and new characters like Gwaine and Elyan joining Camelot by bonding with the original three heroes. Series 3 is very much about the growth of those connections (and culminates with even outlier characters like Freya and Kilgarrah making common cause) so it makes sense that series 4 would echo series 2 in examining the breakdown of relationships.

Hence the many plotlines involving the isolation of our Camelot characters. In addition to Arthur and Merlin's general inability to function smoothly, we see widening fissures between Merlin and Lancelot ("The Darkest Day"), Merlin and Gwaine ("The Secret Sharer"), Merlin and the knights as a whole ("Aithusa"), and even Merlin and Gaius; Elyan and everyone ("The Herald of a New Age," not to mention the underdevelopment of his relationship with Gwen); the rupture of one of the most intense, if problematic, relationships in the whole show, Morgana and Uther, as well as Arthur and Uther; and Arthur dumping Gwen more than once. Even moments of teamwork and connection ("Lamia") are largely intended to highlight the general dysfunction.

In fact, I suspect one of the reasons Gwen was so thoroughly sidelined in episodes 3-7 is because she's such an intensely connective character, and there was no way to incorporate her without lessening the theme of isolation. As it is, I'd argue that the Merlin/Gwen friendship is the place where the brokenness starts to heal, and yet another reason while Guinevere's coronation makes such an excellent conclusion, heralding what I hope will be a more cohesive Camelot. We'll see.

Further thoughts. There are so many wonderful scenes contained in these final two episodes that in the interest of posting this in time to actually watch the Series 5 premiere, I'm going to be reduce to just listing them:
  • Although the plot similarities between the series 3 and series 4 finales don't always work to the show's credit, the contrast points out just how far the show has come with cinematography. The opening scenes of 4x12 are genuinely chilling and ominous, and the narrative moves between them with great skill to build the effect. Filmically—including the use of lighting and music (the latter not always the show's strength), it's dazzling, and makes me glad they opted for not showing the invasion last year when they couldn't have done it as well.
  • I find it suggestive that Elyan is both the first to realize that Agravaine has betrayed them (did Gwen share Merlin's suspicions during "The Secret Sharer"?) and the one whom Morgana tortures worst. Admittedly she has plot reasons, but I wonder if it's partly her animus toward Guinevere leaking through.
  • It would be a fool's effort to list every great acting moment in this two episodes, but putting aside the many comic moments during the mind-control spell I'd like to make special mention of Arthur seeing Agravaine at Morgana's side, and his indescribable but subtle expression when he pulls the sword out of the stone.
  • And the way Merlin begins utterly unnerved by the effect of his spell on Arthur and then begins to enjoy it, with the two reactions often warring or one chasing the other off his face.
  • And Guinevere's terror and determination when she fights Morgana hand-to-hand.
  • Agravaine's line when he finds Arthur's abandoned clothes—"What kind of coward would deny who he is?"—works so well, on so many levels of irony—both because Agravaine has denied his true colors for so long, and because the idea for the disguise belongs to Merlin, who perpetually denies who he is. Very nice foreshadowing for the maybe-we-have-more-in-common-than-you-think comment later.
  • I've talked before about how the show has used medieval legends to reposition Arthur as Guinevere's one true love, but the use of Tristan and Isolde is another example. Arthur and Guinevere are explicitly paralleled with them, by the show and by the characters themselves. Yet in terms of legend, Tristan and Isolde have a long, long history of be equated with Lancelot and Guinevere, with Arthur and Mark being obvious equivalent roles. The fact that Arthur is yet again in the Lancelot-equivalent role and that Tristan and Isolde are presented with no love triangle drive home yet again how far Arthur is presented as having no serious rival.
  • The fact that Arthur effectively seeks shelter by traveling with them is a neat reversal of the idea that Tristan seeks shelter at Arthur's court when his uncle is persecuting him for his affair with Isolde.
  • Among many beautifully shot scenes, I have to mention the fabulous parallel ones in which Arthur and then Morgana fight fiercely with only a sword and mystical powers of slow-motion, only to both be wounded in the side (right for Arthur, left for Morgana) and fell their attacker with a blow. In both cases, their cause and Camelot is effectively already lost, but they truly are Uther's children, and you feel it in those moments.
  • Relatedly, Arthur and Morgana's long-awaited confrontation was truly dazzling, and a sad and more adult version of their childish banter from years before. Even now, neither lets the other get the upper hand. I love that Arthur begins by showing her Excalibur—his right to rule—and then sheathing it, and that Arthur's relationship with Uther has evolved to the point where he can squarely face the ugly parallels between him and Morgana. And the acting on both parts is amazing. 
  • I also loved the fact that Merlin had arranged for Gwen to find shelter with Hunith in Ealdor, which suggests that even during his frantic flight from Camelot with a mind-controlled Arthur he was scheming about reuniting his favorite couple. Moreover, the idea of Guinevere and Hunith, both heartbroken by a combination of magic and Pendragons' emotional excess over heartbreak, is a lovely one. Hunith's line, "It takes time to heal a broken heart," is a lovely call-back to her relationship with Balinor, and I like the thought of her using her hard-won wisdom to help Gwen. The fact that Merlin still has a mom worrying over him is quite cute. 
  • Also, I am very interest in the idea that Lot has taken over from Cenred and rules Ealdor now.
  • The triumphant coronation felt like such a good ending for many reasons, but I liked that it was so similar and yet subtly different (no necklace for Gwen, the kiss, etc.) from Morgana's original vision. These changes no doubt came from filming practicalities, but I like the idea that Morgana's effects managed to subtly affect the future without undoing what was destined.
  • The final scene, in which Aithusa heals a dying Morgana, was one of the brilliant things I have ever seen. I had originally panicked when I saw that the baby dragon was white at the end of "Aithusa," but let the cuteness of that happy ending soothe me; this is a such a clever way to play on the legends. I love the visual echo of Morgana collapsing alone in the woods after the serkets attacked in "The Nightmare Begins," and the look of utter wonder on her face. I think the creators are already on record somewhere about Aithusa being evil, but I love the idea of a dragon being a wild card character, on no side. Either way, I am dying to see what happens next!



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I agree that the conclusion of s4 was weak, leaving a lot of things hanging, especially the resolution of Arthur's arc.

Interestingly, I just listened to bits of an interview with Julien Jones who spoke of the sword in the stone scene. He said that when he visualised and wrote the script, it was supposed to be a much shorter scene but when it went to filming, the director made it such a great and longer scene that they felt they couldn't cut it. As a result several things were cut from the script instead to fit the episode length. He mentioned he regrets he didn't realise this earlier so he could have shifted things around to accommodate the longer sword scene. Which makes me wonder what was left out and if what was left our would have given the series a much better conclusion.

Yes. At first I thought, Oh, this is a result of S4 & S5 being written as one long arc, but after thinking about it I concluded that it's more about the show having problems deciding whether Merlin or Arthur should be the focal point at any given time.

Wow, that is fascinatining! I would love to know what was cut. The sword in the stone scene was indeed beautiful, but it didn't make as much sense, resolution-wise, to me at least; I wonder if it was shorter if that would be less of an issue--as a viewer I wouldn't feel like it had to carry quite so much weight.

He was very coy about what was cut so I guess we'll never know.

I think there probably was this expectation that the scene would be this grand, pivotal moment that the producers probably felt they shouldn't cut it. Even though, tbh, the episode or even the series didn't need it because I think it didn't fit so much thematically. I guess because it is such a key moment of Arthurian legends and you can see that they really want to hit all the key Arthurian moments.

I have to say, I thought "The Sword in the Stone" was the weakest finale the show has ever done. The story was all over the place, there were about thirty plots that were never resolved, and the writer spectacularly misses the point of several key scenes.

I'll try not to turn this into a whine-fest but the three most grating issues:

1) I felt genuinely embarrassed for Arthur when he pulled the sword out of the stone with such awe and reverence when the whole thing was just a scam orchestrated by Merlin.

2) No one figuring out that Gwen/Lancelot were the victims of an enchantment is the most bizarre oversights of the entire show. Without that, I have no idea what the point of that entire subplot was. Nothing was learnt, nobody grew from it, it didn't advance the story in any way, and everyone is left believing a lie about two of the noblest people on the show. It also leaves behind the baffling question of what on earth Gwen is going to do/feel when people tell her that Lancelot killed himself.

(And I have a sinking feeling that the complete lack of resolution is foreshadowing on how they're going to handle Merlin's magical reveal: with no interest whatsoever in the emotional fallout).

3) Merlin the "yes-man". Arthur is betrayed by a close family member and does his usual sulking under a tree (last season it was in a cave). Instead of taking Arthur to task on his perpetual bone-headedness, Merlin just does another round of "you're a great king, honest!" Actually Merlin...no, he's not. But he'll have a much better chance of actually becoming that great king if you actually BE HONEST with him instead of trying to cheer him up with yet ANOTHER deception. I can't fathom why Merlin has faith in Arthur as "the once and future king" at this point.

There were some lovely scenes throughout the two-parter, but I just can't shake the feeling that the writers either ran out of steam, or simply lost interest in the story that they were telling.

I'm looking forward to series 5, but I really, really hope it's the last. This finale proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that they just CAN'T keep treading water on these character's arcs.

Hmm; that's an interesting question, comparing the finales. To be honest, I think "The Last Dragonlord" is weaker in some ways--it's much less of a finale than a character study for Merlin--but it doesn't matter so much, because there aren't the heightened expectations that this one had as the conclusion of a series-long arc. I know part of my problem, personally, was that I had very high expectations based on the S3 finale, which is still one of my favorite Merlin episodes ever.

1) I've seen this complaint, and I get it intellectually, but I was pretty sure that Merlin having put the sword in would be the source of the magic that got it out; that he would be the agent of destiny, so to speak, rather than a spell on the sword itself. And I actually liked the storytelling-trickster aspects of Merlin orchestrating the event, which have cropped up in other versions before. My complaint is more that if the point was going to be Arthur's self-confidence issues, I needed more of that throughout S4 and less of his trust issues.

2) I sympathize. I believe the point was a) to give the actors a chance to show their chops, and b) to justify the existence of the Guinevere/Lancelot legend in a version in which Arthur really is Guinevere's only true love. Also, c) to exploit themes about trust and betrayal, but that one was most damaged by the resolution.

And--not an original idea here--it bothers me less that Arthur and Merlin et al never find out the truth (the fact that the entire kingdom gets over it without realizing it's a lie suggests a more positive attitude toward female sexuality than exists the world we live in) than that Guinevere never does. That's a hell of a lot of pointless guilt to live with.

Although I personally think Uther's death is a better analog for the magic reveal; I think the show is much more intensely interested in the internal workings of Merlin and Arthur than it is in Arthur and Guinevere, which is part of the problem.

3) Well, yeah. I don't really think it had to be Merlin to wake Arthur up on this one, because he's so implicated; he's been taking advantage of Arthur's trust and misapprehensions himself for longer than the villainous family members in question. But given that we saw Arthur screw up, realize it, and take steps to correct it for all of S4, I was really disappointed not to see it here in the finale. Especially because Arthur's flaw isn't so much being too trusting, and having poor judgment about who and where to trust. And frankly that's the kind of thing that you get better at with practice.

As for whether and what they would do with a series 6 and/or a film trilogy, I don't know--I'm going to try to reserve judgment. But I'm really interested to see where things go in S5.

I guess my problem is that the whole thing just felt unresolved. Not just the Lancelot/Guinevere thing, but also Agravaine's death and the plot-thread with Excalibur (which still hasn't actually been identified as Excalibur on-screen) and Tristan and Isolde (the former dead and the latter disappeared), not to mention the plot with Morgana searching for Emrys disappearing after episode 7...it all just sort of fell flat.

I've seen the first episode of S5 and I enjoyed it well enough - though I'm not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that they're clearly not going to follow up on the likes of Lancelot/Agravaine/Tristan/Excalibur/etc.

Thought provoking comments again.
Everytime I watch this show (more than any other) I am reminded of a Germaine Greer article (of which I cannot find a link! it a was in an Australian newspaper) where she talked about the Brits attitude towards women - there is fear, aggression - both passive and direct and I often wonder if that is what is showing up here, also that they are relying on material which was written when women were looked at as something evil or to be feared as well.
I also wonder why Merlin can never have a 100% success (unlike his legend self - the writers and producers seem intent on bringing him down, the tall poppy syndrome if ever I've seen it). I realise the producers want their "own twist on the story" but we are further way from the legends than ever. If its the last season than there is a lot of work for Merlin to do. I'm not sure if he's supposed to be part of a team, as it seems to me he should be - on his own, in the shadows a Dr who/Gandolf character (supposedly based on Merlin of legends) but here in this show he has more success when he is. I'm not sure what that means for the future for him. Sometimes I feel like they (the writers/producers are focussing to heavily on "Merther moments" for the fans (they surely must read the fanfic/twitter etc out there) and go for what's popular rather than character development. I'm not hanging out for a reveal either - neither are ready. A lot has, and is been made of their friendship, but I'm not so sure. There is friendship, but only to a degree. Merlin uses his friendship with Arthur to get him to listen and to try and manipulate him in certain situations, with varying degrees of success. For Arthur that class divide is there, and while he sees Merlin as loyal, he can't be a friend or have a relationship they same way he can with the knights. There are certainly parts in S4, where Merin dislikes Arthur, his character, his class and all it stands for, but is willing to put up with it for the future he longs for and is working towards ( abeit with a one step forward, two steps back approach)
While there were some beautifully written, acted and filmed scenes in the latter episodes, there were never quite followed through. The 3 year time gap we are getting means that they probably won't be either.
I read a while ago that you said that the absence of the Lady of the Lake was papable - or perhaps that was the way Colin Morgan may be playing it, and you are right. She should have played a part here and her absence is telling. She is his equal in magic - the female to his male, and the water to his earth and fire.
The writers also seem to be playing on our knowledge of the Tristan and Isolde characters as well, if not, they could have been anybody, but there were parallels between them, and Arthur and Gwen, although he does tell her that moment in Ealdor was a mistake thus breaking her heart all over again. (like you I loved the fact that Merlin obviously sent her to his mother in 4.10, would have been a lovely scene to see, but like the others cut out, they can't show us everything)
Anyway it's late and I've rambled. I'm certainly looking forward to the new series, but like everybody i"ve got reservations about the way the writers and producers can handle the challenge.

Edited at 2012-10-06 12:04 pm (UTC)

I completely agree with your point about the ending of Arthur's arc. While on the first watch I was mildly interested in the scene when he pulls the sword out of the stone, I realized later on it really didn't make any sense.

Part of Arthur's arc entails that just because he's crowned, just because a dragon has told us he'll be a great king, that doesn't mean he'll transform upon ending "The Wicked Day". Like Gwen, we're supposed to see moments when the Arthur reveals growth that contributes to his ultimate destiny - and we do. So it only makes sense that Arthur would continue to fumble while actually being king.

Part of me felt like sword in the stone scene was put in such a way BECAUSE it was 'The Sword in the Stone' - if you get what I'm saying? It didn't resonate as deeply with me as the setup, where Merlin places the sword in the stone in the S3 finale. This act ignored the very real flaws of Arthur's reign, going hand in hand with brushing over the unanswered storyline of Guinevere's banishment. It doesn't matter whether people believe in Arthur, they always have. But now it's up to Arthur to fix his mistakes and live up to that great destiny. I genuinely just did not like this scene.

At the same time, it does fit with - like you pointed out - the thematic element of working together. I'm not really complaining about Merlin using magic to help Arthur pull the sword out, I mean that just further enforces this theme. (Honestly, I don't know how else they could have done it.) However, it didn't fit as ending an arc that started from the end of the S3 finale. I was excited when Merlin put the sword in, and I was disappointed when Arthur pulled the sword out.

I actually have to disagree in regards to Merlin's enchantment over Arthur. Honestly, it hit very close to home with similarities to Guinevere's enchantment in "Lancelot Du Lac" (And Vivian's in "Sweet Dreams"). I know it was supposed to be played for laughs, but I think we need to realize that both characters lost complete control of any sort of personal will, and that's very scary. And by not comparing it to 4x09, we forget how scary it is. I was disappointed Merlin took relish in completely controlling Arthur - yes, it was a type of revenge after being abused and insulted for 6 years, but it was an isolated incident, meaning we don't touch on the fact that Arthur has not been a good person to Merlin. (Once again, something played for laughs.) Not to mention I would have expected Merlin to discomfort and having complete control over another person, given both Lancelot and Guinevere's examples in 4x09.

But all in all, I'm glad you're back to reviewing episodes just in time for the next season! (Although, I might side eye everything that happens in the show from now on.)

This is great, as always.

I like your deductions about the Gwen/Morgana relationship, Merlin's character, Arthur's mistakes and the non-resolution of the plot about some of them. However, I want to believe that making events unfold this way between Arthur and Gwen was a way to highlight how much she matters to him. The idea that deep down, he knows what kind of person she is and disregards the events of 4x09 makes me hope that having a more self-confident Arthur may also mean having a less guilible and more insightful Arthur.

Interestingly, I think Gwen's arc about morality will be one of the most important themes of the next season, so we may have something about Merlin and Gwen, who were our paragons, confronting their flaws (something I am not eager to watch, despite the obivious interest for character developement). I love your ideas about Gwen and Hunith. This would be a good idea for a fanfiction. I cannot wait to read your thoughts about Merlin's series premiere. I don't want to spoil you if you haven't watched. Thank you for your review !

I also watch almost everything in streaming, but because English and American TV series are rarely dubbed in french, and sometimes only broadcasted on channels belonging to an expensive channel pack at 2 in the morning (our cultural protectionism is messy in its expression and the laws are perhaps a bit too harsh, despite their efficience).

Edited at 2012-10-10 04:09 pm (UTC)

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