Merlin thoughts (up to ep 2.11)

I had a long Thanksgiving break and little or nothing on the DVR to watch due to Thanksgiving week hiatuses, so I decided to start in on a new show (new for me) that I had read about on my flist.

One thing I think about now when I watch a show is, “Is this just something to pass the time (Dexter, True Blood), or is this a show I want to share with the Sculptor (Lost, Being Human)? Merlin, so far, has definitely fallen into the latter category.

Part of the reason is there are a lot of whimsical elements I think will appeal to her: dragons, fairies, magic, and battling knights; the gradual revelation of this show’s take on the various elements of the Arthurian legend (Lancelot, Gwen-as-servant girl, Excalibur, Avalon, Mordred, Morgan le Fay, etc, etc); and of course their “young Merlin” himself, who is just adorable.

But there is another reason I’d like her to watch it, which began in season 1, but has emerged as such a strong theme in season 2: the allegory of sorcery and sorcerers as closeted homosexuals (circa the 1950’s). Perhaps others don’t see this allegory, or aren’t particularly interested in it, but to me it’s painfully on the nose. I never had to live a lie as big as Merlin’s, but there was a time, back when I was in college, when I was in the closet and had to endure people I considered my friends sitting around agreeing how “gross” gay people were.

Merlin has a person in his life who at least knows the truth about him, but Gaius isn’t a big help to him in that regard. He’s the one telling Merlin he must hide his true nature, and berating him when he does not. All in the name of protecting him, sure, but in the end, Gaius seems more interested in protecting the status quo and his own position as court physician. He would die to protect Merlin, but he’s also the one slamming the closet door shut on him expressing his true nature. Over and over.

Merlin himself–god, watching his day-to-day life is painful. He is a very powerful sorcerer, and longs to express that part of himself, but he can’t, because he has been placed in the service of the son of his kind’s biggest oppressor. And then he is told he must sacrifice everything to make sure that son, Arthur, becomes king, because Arthur has such an important political destiny, blah, blah, blah, in the slim hope (and getting slimmer) that Arthur will, among his other acts as king, allow sorcerer-kind to live freely in the open.

But because Merlin must hide all the ways he helps Arthur through magic, and thwart other sorcerers–whether they are good or bad–who threaten Arthur, we see him episode after episode betraying himself and his own kind to protect his oppressors. And he does so on the say-so of a dragon, who, it is rapidly becoming evident, is self-serving and very much a Trickster character who may or may not being telling Merlin the truth about Arthur and his destiny.

I am admittedly not well-read on the Arthurian legend, but I know enough about it to realize that characters like Morgana and Mordred ultimately become villains, but right now, they have done very little that’s actually bad. In fact, I quite like the character of Morgana right now. Up to now, Morgana and Mordred have been written as sympathetic freedom fighters battling their oppressor. And to see Merlin essentially take the side of Uther in that fight on the dragon’s say-so is just painful.

I don’t have a lot to bitch about in how this show adopts the Arthurian legend, since I am no expert in it, but I am kind of miffed that their Mordred is not Arthur’s son. *That* would hit my story kinks up one side and down the other–the son betrays the father, yada yada.

Okay, off to watch more episodes.

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2 thoughts on “Merlin thoughts (up to ep 2.11)

  1. Thanks for this. I admit I haven’t given much thought to Merlin. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch it because it was just too twee, but somehow found myself returning, possibly for cranky Tony Head and young cuteness in Arthur & Merlin. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am sort of an expert in the Arthurian legend, so I can only enjoy Merlin if I just forget all that and view it as an entertaining romp with characters who just happen to have familiar names.
    Your take on season one definitely adds some depth. Things start getting a bit more complex in season 2 & 3, but the basic dynamic remains, as far as Merlin’s situation is concerned.

  2. The above is my reaction to watching seasons 1 and 2 both. I have to admit to some disappointment with early season 3 and Darth!Morgana, but I have several intelligent feminist friends who are still enjoying it well into season 4.
    Every time they introduce a familiar-sounding character or familiar place, I Google it to see what actual legend says about this person. There seems to be more than one version, most different from what the show is doing.
    And I still think as of episode 3.5 that Merlin is a bit too Uncle-Tom for my tastes. He has a bit too much faith in Arthur’s future as told to him by an untrustworthy dragon to put up with Uther the way he does.

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