After five seasons, “Merlin” came to an end on Christmas Eve in a finale that … well, seemed completely disinterested in satisfying anyone who isn’t a Merthur shipper. Perhaps I should have expected this after hearing Alexander Vlahos call the Merlin finale “a brilliant love story between Arthur and Merlin” in this interview but as it was, I was expecting the show’s finale to encompass more than Merlin and Arthur’s bromance.
Here’s the thing, the relationship between Merlin and Arthur was never what interested me about the show. It was the ban on magic and the resulting dynamic between characters with magic and characters without that kept me invested. It was a premise that had the potential for some truly intriguing moral dilemmas: was Merlin wrong not to tell Morgana about his magic? Were Morgause and Morgana unjustified in trying to overthrow Uther? Did Arthur deserve Merlin’s loyalty if he was going to uphold his father’s intolerant policy on magic? Should Mordred’s self-sacrifice for Arthur have been enough to earn him Merlin’s trust?
While the “Merlin” writers had already demonstrated a complete disinterest in addressing any of these issues with any intelligence or depth, I had clung to the hope that the finale would include some acknowledgment (if not resolution) of these ambiguities. What I got, instead, was 45 minutes, or so, of Merlin and Arthur whispering to each other in the woods and exchanging dialogue straight out of a bad Merthur fanfic (“I’m not going to lose you’ ‘Just hold me.””).
I had felt for a long time that the show had lost sight of what made it good in the first place. Go back and watch Season 1 Episode 1, “The Dragon’s Call,” and it’s hard to believe that Season 5 Episode 13, “The Diamond of the Day part 2” is an episode of the same show. In some respects, of course, this is good. No one wants to watch five seasons of the exact same thing. The show’s tone and art direction darkened and the characters grew up but at the same time the show also lost sight of what the characters once stood for and of the issues that once mattered.
For example, by the finale, can anyone explain what Morgana is fighting for anymore? She used to champion the legalization of magic but seeing as how magical creatures like Kilgarrah and Cathars like Alator and Finna, (though weren’t the Cathars a Christian sect in medieval France? Whatever) oppose her, I guess that’s not it anymore. She started off as a Magneto-esque antagonist fighting for her version of justice and ended up a power hungry tyrant and apparent patron of Hot Topic.
The entire issue of magic has simply been dropped by the time we get to the finale. In fact, Gwaine (*moment of silence*) never learns of Merlin’s magic nor does anyone else, apparently. We are left to assume that Guinevere legalizes magic based on her approval of Emrys’ intervention during the battle but this is never made clear and, quite frankly, should have been one of the major events of the finale.
Arthur’s death is another major point of contention. While I am proud that the writers had the courage to kill off King Arthur in fidelity to the legend, it opens up so many plotholes. For five seasons, Merlin has been willing to sacrifice everyone (except his mother in Season 1 Episode 13,”Le Morte d’Arthur,” an indication of the show’s more reasonable mentality in season 1) to save Arthur because Kilgarrah tells him that he and Arthur’s destinies are intertwined and that Arthur will unite Albion and return magic to Camelot. Anyone “destined” to kill Arthur must be stopped, Kilgarrah says, even if that means Merlin has to betray those who trust him. Yet, in the end, destiny cannot be avoided and Arthur is killed. Is the dragon upset? Oh, no! After five seasons of “you must not let this happen, young warlock,” Kilgarrah if very cool with Arthur’s death because “Arthur is not just a King,” as he says, “He is the once and future king … when Albion’s need is greatest Arthur will rise again.”
So, if Arthur’s death wasn’t that big of a deal then why did Kilgarrah tell Merlin to turn against Morgana and Mordred in the hopes of averting Arthur’s demise? The irony of the whole matter is that if Merlin had helped Morgana and Mordred out in their moments of need, they wouldn’t have turned to the dark side (as the show simplistically characterizes anyone who opposes Arthur). I realize that the paradoxical nature of destiny is supposed to make your mind spin but the fact is that if Merlin hadn’t snitched on Mordred and Kara, Mordred would not have returned to Morgana’s side in Season 5 Episode 11, “The Drawing of the Dark.” Prior to that, if Merlin had told Morgana about his magic during her identity crisis in season 3, she probably wouldn’t have become such a blind follower of Morgause. Hell, if Merlin had confided in Morgause, they might have been able to compromise and strike an alliance seeing as how they both wanted magic returned to Camelot.
Nearly all of the villains on this show started out with valid motivations and ended up as 2-dimensional bad guys cackling on rooftops. Is any of this acknowledged at all in the finale? Nope. Why? Because it’s too jam-packed with Merlin and Arthur blubbering at each other and wastes even more time on a final shot of Merlin, who is now apparently immortal, wandering around in modern times, which raises far more questions than it answers.
“Merlin” could have been an incredibly thought-provoking, emotionally evocative TV show and it wasted its potential on destiny and bromance and concluded with a finale so unfulfilling that it made the ending of “Lost” seem satisfying by comparison.