With the premiere of ‘Merlin’ season 4 on U.S. television this Friday (10 pm Eastern on Syfy), we thought it worthwhile to take a look back at seasons one through three for the viewer who either doesn’t recall what happened to our favorite wizard and his friends, or one who’s just joining the series already in progress.
[Warning: Plot Spoilers Ahead]
‘Merlin’ Season One Review:
Merlin is sent to Camelot by his mother, who wants her talented son to learn how best to control his powers. Upon arrival he witnesses a man getting executed for using sorcery, which forces our young wizard to tread carefully. Within his first few days in Camelot, he saves a manservant from heir-to-the-throne Prince Arthur Pendragon, meets the Great Dragon and is informed of a great destiny facing him. All in a day’s work, right?
The primary antagonist through this season is an exiled sorceress known as Nimueh. However various other foes flit in and out of Camelot, including Knight Valiant with his magical shield, the raider Kanan, and a Questing Beast born of a long-dead king’s nightmares.
This season concerns itself primarily with the themes of life and death, as well as taking the time to introduce new versions of characters from Arthurian legend. The character relationships make for some fascinating interplay, despite the fact I can’t watch Anthony Stewart Head (who plays King Uther Pendragon) without picturing him as Rupert Giles from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.
Some differences are stark from the legends and this show well, besides seeing Merlin as a young man and Arthur not being a stable boy needing to pull a sword from a stone. Guinevere is a servant girl in Camelot for one, and her attraction to Arthur is kind of a no-no because of their differences in class. Morgana begins the series as a good character troubled by terrible dreams, and in fact warns Arthur a few times because of these. Lastly, Mordred is introduced as the apprentice of a druid. For the non-Arthuriana fans, Mordred was traditionally the son of Arthur and his sister Morgana. He also ended up killing King Arthur. And lastly Lancelot, who is typically Arthur’s closest friend on the Knights of the Round Table, is a commoner himself in this series.
Merlin also begins to come to terms with his powers in the first season, while up against challenges from the Old Religion and the other powers that want to destroy both he and Arthur. In the season finale, Merlin saves his mother, Gaius, and Arthur while also vanquishing the sorceress Nimueh and making an enemy of the Great Dragon chained beneath Camelot. Again, all in a day’s work, huh?
‘Merlin’ Season Two Review:
The second season opens with a thief stealing a gem that contains the soul of a wicked sorcerer. In order to save the kingdom, Merlin makes a deal with the Great Dragon that he’ll one day release the beast. Camelot is saved in the short term as a result of this deal, but this is a devil’s bargain that will come due soon enough.
Also through the course of this season, we get to see relationships deepen between the major characters. Specifically, Arthur and Gwen become closer as a couple despite their disparity in social station. Oh yeah, Gwen’s a servant in this version of the story. As a result of this change in standing, Gwen is at one point left at the mercy of an outlaw because Uther refuses to mount a rescue or pay a ransom for a “mere servant.”
This particular episode showcases the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, as Gwen is held captive because she’s mistaken for Morgana. Arthur and Merlin come to rescue Gwen, but in the course of this series of events we witness Lancelot and Gwen growing closer romantically. Arthur of course admits his feelings for Gwen (to Merlin, not to her) and when Lancelot realizes this he skidoos out of there and leaves Gwen hurt by his sudden departure.
Morgana meanwhile is increasingly troubled by her dreams through this season. She tries to go live with the druids and learn more about her powers, but poor misguided Arthur ends up killing all the druids because he believed they kidnapped Morgana. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over very well. Mordred swears revenge for the death of his village, and another piece of the story is set into motion.
Camelot is repeatedly threatened yet again, but the new terrors include an overzealous witchfinder, a woman who turns into a beast at midnight and Morgana’s half-sister Morgause. Morgause goes so far as to create an illusion of Arthur’s mother, Igraine, in a bid to convince Arthur to kill Uther and thus destroy Camelot from the inside. This doesn’t work, but Morgause is set up as another big bad for the team to deal with.
The final three episodes of this season showcase Morgana’s descent into evil. In “The Witch’s Quickening”, Morgana helps Mordred and an evil sorcerer named Alvarr steal a powerful crystal from the vaults beneath Camelot. This is of course part of a plot to destroy Camelot, and in fact, Morgana exhibits visible hatred toward Uther for basically the first time in the series. The Great Dragon also tells Merlin of a prophecy that has Morgana and Mordred united in evil, and says that future must not come to pass.
The penultimate episode sees Morgana spirited from Camelot by Morgause after the latter attempts to destroy the city by using the evil Knights of Medhir. Morgana is instrumental in a sleeping sickness that wracks the city, and Merlin ends up giving her hemlock in order to kill her and end the spell. He tells Gaius, his tutor, that he feels terrible about this, but the older man basically says Morgana made his choice. It’s the end of the this episode that Merlin releases the Great Dragon at last.
In the season finale, the Great Dragon is on the attack. Merlin and Arthur leave to find the last Dragonlord, Balinor, who is the only one able to stop the dragon’s attack against Camelot. However Balinor dies on the way back to Camelot, but not before imparting words of wisdom to his son — Merlin. Back at Camelot, Merlin gets the dragon to stop attacking and tells him to run away and never return. The dragon thanks him for the clemency, and flies away. A wounded Arthur is comforted by Gwen, and all is well for now.
‘Merlin’ Season Three Review:
The third season opens with a two-parter and Morgana reappearing in Camelot. Ostensibly she makes nice with everyone, but Merlin’s not convinced. Good thing too because she really wants to drive Uther insane and help a rival king — Cenred — take over Camelot. Only with the help of the Great Dragon is Merlin able to save the kingdom and boot Morgana and Morgause back out. Oh and there’s also an army of the dead to contend with in addition to Cenred’s invaders of Camelot. Fun times, huh?
Through the course of this series there are a number of new and old threats to Camelot, with Cenred making multiple appearances and the team of Morgana and Morgause trying a number of times to overthrow Camelot. Gaius at one point gets possessed by a goblin, Gwen is reunited with her brother Elyan, and the Sidhe faeries try to marry Arthur off to changeling so they can take over Camelot among other things.
Arthur and Merlin grow closer and depend on each other more, despite the fact Merlin has to constantly prove to his master that he’s telling the truth. This is all done while Merlin also keeps his magical heritage a secret from basically everyone.
Morgana is revealed as Uther’s daughter, despite everyone thinking she was just a ward for the previous two seasons. The two-parter that ends season three sees Morgana crowned Queen of Camelot and Uther imprisoned. Morgana institutes a reign of terror over the innocent citizens of Camelot, aided by an army turned immortal after placing their blood in the fabled Cup of Life.
Arthur and Merlin meanwhile lead a resistance against the newly crowned Queen Morgana. This takes the form of a number of their friends from the previous seasons banding together, and in one scene they gather around a giant round table in an ancient castle. Hmm … a round table, huh?
Arthur knights his friends Gwaine, Lancelot, Elyan, and Percival in appreciation for them helping him, and these few you’ll recognize as some of the Knights of the Round Table. Merlin consults the water from the Lake of Avalon given to him by the Fisher King, and discovers that only the sword Excalibur can kill the immortal soldiers. So he heads off to the Lake of Avalon and is given the sword by Freya, the cursed druid girl from season two, who decided to repay Merlin’s kindness to her.
Arthur leads a group into the dungeons to save Uther, while Merlin and Lancelot go off to spill the blood from the Cup of Life and thus destroy the immortal army. Lancelot wields Excalibur handily against the immortal army, but they’re stymied by Morgause once they reach the Cup of Life.
It’s only with the interference of Gaius, who uses his own magic to injure Morgause, that the Cup of Life is finally spilled and all the immortals disappear immediately. Morgana shows up and freaks out at her half-sister’s injuries. Her scream shakes the room and brings the ceiling down, forcing Gaius, Merlin, and Lancelot to flee.
In the aftermath of the battle, Arthur reveals that Uther might not recover from his daughter’s betrayal. Merlin suggests his master might have to rule as Regent king in his father’s stead. Gwaine, Lancelot, Percival, and Elyan arrive in the armor of Camelot’s knights, and Gwen accompanies them. It’s here that Arthur kisses Gwen in public for the very first time.
The season ends with Merlin shoving Excalibur into a stone in the middle of a forest, thus disposing of it (until it’s of course needed again). Oh, and the bodies of Morgana and Morgause were of course not found in the rubble. So they’re still out there … waiting. And this is where season 4 picks up.
Make sure you check out Season 4 of Merlin on Friday, January 6 at 10 pm Eastern for the exciting continuing adventures of Merlin and his friends.