Merlin: The Complete Second Season Review

I’ve long had an issue with fantasy serials that attempt to create their own worlds of kingdoms, magic and adventure. It’s not because I dislike the fantasy genre, but because I believe that most television programs can’t muster the budget to make a good show of their effort, instead relying on subpar special effects, hackneyed dialog, and hastily created costumes that make the entire endeavor resemble something like a renaissance fair with slightly better cohesion. Merlin isn’t the first show to fall into this trap, as The Legend of the Seeker was plagued by similar faults making it barely tolerable for anyone who can’t stand pages of expository dialog and cheesy rationalizations of magic. The second season of BBC’s fantasy serial doesn’t solve the problems, but lightens the affront by not taking itself quite as seriously.

The basic premise of Merlin strays from the classic “Sword in the Stone” idea that many associate with Arthurian legend. In this version, both Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James), still but a prince, come into their own as a pair, with the former serving as Arthur’s servant while hiding his magical talents from the public eye lest he be persecuted by King Uther (Anthony Head, of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for breaking the kingdom-wide ban on magic. Unfortunately for Uther, his campaign against magic is about as effective as any comparable campaign you’ve seen in US politics, like the “War on Drugs” or the “War on Poverty”. It really doesn’t work. If you’re even remotely familiar with the tales of King Arthur (meaning you know who King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere (Angel Coulby), and Morgana (Katie McGrath) are), it wouldn’t take much for you to jump into the series without any background as to the previous season’s happenings nor to guess where it’s all headed.

The first season ended with no real cliffhanger, though that’s incredibly typical of the series. The story told in Merlin is less an overarching one with lots of character development and more of single-serving episodes which might introduce a character that will recur later on, but otherwise has no long-lasting impact on the series as a whole. When an episode does feature an event that will have long-lasting implications, it’s often in a situation that could have occurred under many different scenarios. If any large events could be said to occur in Merlin’s second season, it would have to be Morgana’s increased awareness of her magical abilities, the return of Mordred (Asa Butterfield), and the freeing of the Great Dragon from his cavernous enclosure as per the promise made by Merlin in the season’s opening (which has a great cameo by Mackenzie Crook).

Considering what we know now of what happens in the third season and reviewing this season as a whole, it’s easy to see how the second season is a slow-burning trail making minor introductions of concepts that will prove to be crucial in later series (i.e. Morgana’s growing awareness of her magic). Unto itself though, the second season has little more to offer than some mediocre adventures mixed with a fair share of levity. As it stands, it makes the series seem like a production with storytelling capability a few levels above those cheesy Saturday adventure serials, like Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess, and The New Adventures of Robin Hood, but a few notches beneath the production values of The Lord of the Rings or even The Legend of the Seeker.

Merlin is at its weakest when it tries to flex its CGI muscles, because frankly it’s just a waste of budget. The Great Dragon and the monsters produced as special effects look dreadful, and by that we mean they’re visually poor and not impressive in their ability to inspire dread. It’s a laughable addition to the show, and you can’t help but feel that the show would have been better off either omitting that aspect of fantasy from its stories or by perhaps just going the old-fashioned BBC route and using puppet monsters.

DVD Bonus Features

The set has the usual suspects in its extras gallery, including behind the scenes footage, audio commentaries, and interviews with the cast and crew to introduce the season. Otherwise, there are some wallpapers and a photo gallery.

"Merlin: The Complete Second Season" is on sale January 18, 2011 and is not rated. Comedy, Drama, Fantasy. Directed by David Moore, Jeremy Webb, Alice Troughton, Metin Huseyin. Written by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Howard Overman, Ben Vanstone, Lucy Watkins. Starring Anthony Head, Angel Coulby, Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Katie McGrath.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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