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The BBC's retelling of the King Arthur legend has now come to a close with the end of the fifth series.  Our family thought the story arc of this final series could have been better.


The premise of Merlin was that the great magician arrived in Camelot as a boy, at a time when the practise of magic was outlawed by Uther, father of the future King Arthur.  Merlin's destiny was to protect Arthur, whose rise to the throne was prophecised to bring about a reconciliation between the house of Pendragon and the forces of magic.

The writers had set themselves some challenges for the fifth series.  Arthur was King, so the conflict with his now-deceased father was over.  Guinevere was Queen, so the will-they-won't-they romance had ended and this left a question of how to find a new storyline for Angel Coulby, one of the show's stars.  Morgana had revealed herself as the enemy, so the traitor-in-the-court story had also ended.  Overshadowing all of these was the question of how the writers would fulfill the prophecy that Arthur's reign would lead to a revitalised Albion in which magic was accepted once again, when we know that the original myth ended with Arthur's death.  When would Merlin tell Arthur that he was a magician?

They got there in the end but I feel they lost their way in the early part of the series.  Rather than develop the characters and plot, the shows recycled some earlier ideas, forcing Merlin and Guinevere to act out of character.  In one episode, Arthur was at his wits end and suggested turning to magic as a desperte solution.  Merlin counselled against this, which seemed wrong.  If Merlin wanted to make his new world, surely this was his chance?  Then there were several episodes during which Guinevere was possessed by Morgana and ended up re-enacting earlier stories about the traitor in the court (and reinforcing the never-trust-a-woman trope).

Our family reckon a better story arc would have been if Merlin had revealed his magic to Arthur when he had the chance, and Arthur then refused to accept him as a magician, banishing him from the court.  Guinevere could have had the role of keeping contact with Merlin, in secret, thus giving her an important role, while Merlin still worked to keep Arthur safe.  Then the finale could have seen Merlin and Arthur reconciled, with the promised new Albion clearly coming to pass despite Arthur's death.

I think they also missed a small trick in the last episode.  Merlin was carrying the mortally wounded Arthur to be healed by the Sidhe on Avalon, but couldn't reach them before Arthur died.  If instead, the two of them had passed into the land of the Sidhe, where presumably time runs at a different pace, they could have remained there as Arthur healed, ready to return one day as the Once And Future King.  Instead the OAFK idea was just tagged on to the end, reflecting the traditional tale but not making sense within the realm of the Merlin story itself.

Despite these comments, we did all enjoy the series.  It's been fun and I'm glad that the BBC have brought it to a satisfactory close.

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