Merlin: The End of a Story of Camelot

Here's something that everyone might not know about me: the Arthurian legend is one of my favorite things in the world. Seriously. The Once and Future King by T.H. White is my all-time favorite book. I devour pretty much anything related to King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table that I can find. In fact, one of the biggest regrets I have in life is that the semester after I had to leave college the first time, my favorite professor, Br. Edward Wesley, taught an honors seminar on Arthurian literature, and that was the only time in all the myriad occasions I was in St. Francis College that that course was offered. I even tried to bribe the man to do it again at one point, but I got nowhere. So, knowing all that, you can imagine I must have been fairly excited when the BBC premiered a new show based on Arthurian legend in 2008, a show simply titled Merlin.

A promo pic from the second season. From left to right: Guinevere, then-Prince Arthur, Merlin, King Uther Pendragon, Lady Morgana, and Merlin's mentor, Gaius... with the Great Dragon soaring above them all.

Right off the bat, Merlin played fast and loose with some of Arthurian legend, and I have to be honest, a good portion of that annoyed me. In the set-up of the show, gone was the sword in the stone aspect. Arthur was a prince in Camelot, the kingdom of his father, Uther Pendragon (and yes, that's totally Rupert Giles playing Uther; that's half the reason I stuck with the show despite what initially annoyed me), a kingdom in which magic was totally outlawed because of the role it played in the death of the king's wife. Merlin is a teenager sent by his mother to apprentice to the Royal Physician, Gaius... himself a former magic practitioner who was also to train Merlin in the use of his magic. Morgana Le Fay lived in Camelot as the King's ward and as such, Arthur's adopted sister. And Guinevere? Well, she was Morgana's servant, a role that mirrored the role Merlin fell into as Arthur's manservant.

I'm not going to point out all the different ways this set-up is wrong, choosing instead to assume that you've been done at least some reading in your life or, hell, seen a movie or two and know just how wrong it is. I almost gave up on the show with the first episode, but made myself give it a few episodes, if only for Giles' sake.

And I was glad I did, because once you look past the set-up, it becomes a quality show that sticks pretty closely to the intent of Arthurian literature, if not the letter of it. Throughout the course of the show, there are two types of episodes: fun, creature-of-the-week sort of episodes that Merlin tries to protect Arthur and Camelot from as he learns that his destiny is exactly that; and episodes of true Arthurian plots, as knights like Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, and Percival are introduced, as Mordred enters the picture, as Excalibur is created, as Arthur becomes king and marries Guenevere as Morgana turns to the dark side... all the events you'd expect to see as well as one or two surprises, such as the appearance of Tristan and Isolde, as the show's five seasons build toward what happened in this weekend's two-part finale: in the French, Le Morte D'Arthur.

Yes, the show hits all the major beats, but in unexpected ways, ways that make it a fresh retelling that is always fun to watch. The cast is talented, and they have a great chemistry together, which is good because, in the end, the show is all about the bonds of friendship and brotherhood. It's a fun show that is left with an ending that is true enough to Arthurian legend and befitting what the show is about, while leaving it just open-ended enough for there to be more if they ever decide to revisit it.

Merlin rose above the NBC mini-series of the same name from over a decade ago to become my second-favorite filmed adaption of the legend of Camelot (the first being the brilliant BBC film Excalibur, of course), and I'd highly recommend it for any fans of the story of Arthur or, really, for anyone who is a fan of the swords-and-sorcery genre.