This Friday, SyFy will begin airing the second season of the BBC fantasy-dramedy Merlin. NBC showed the first season last summer, but if you missed it back then, and didn’t have a chance to DVR SyFy’s Sunday-long season one marathon last weekend, don’t worry; I can catch you up to speed in no time.
Here are eight things you need to know before galloping into Merlin’s second season.
1) If you’re an Arthurian legend purist, Merlin will blow up your brain. It’s better to just rip this band-aid off right now: Merlin isn’t a canonical exploration of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. It’s not even as close as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. No, Merlin is sort of Smallville meets Medieval Times, with better accents. And actors.
The first season is mostly about the relationship between Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James) [more on that in a second], and the way that Merlin has to hide his mad magic skills because every other sentence out of Uther Pendragon’s mouth is, “Evil sorcery is evil and magicians must die a dead death of deadness!”
2) Every line Arthur and Merlin speak to (or about) one another is riddled with subtext. In this incarnation of Arthurian legend, Merlin and Arthur are the same age, and Merlin actually “gains” the “honor” of becoming Arthur’s servant in the first episode. You can watch Merlin for sword fights, fantasy and comedy. You can watch Merlin for the blossoming affection between Arthur and Guinevere. Or you can watch Merlin because of the subtextually epic love between Arthur and Merlin. It’s there. The writers know it’s there. The actors know it’s there. And heavens to Excalibur, do the fans ever know it’s there.
3) If you can get inside the castle on one of Merlin’s vacation days, the entire kingdom of Camelot can be yours by lunch. Arthur’s dad, ol’ Uther, is the most gullible ruler in the history of fictional kingdoms; an even easier mark than that emperor with his naked new clothes. In every single episode, he falls for the same shenanigans by the same kinds of shady characters, while sending Merlin to the stocks for daring to disagree with him. And in every single episode, Merlin has to quietly save the day (because of secret magic!) and then do Arthur’s laundry and polish Arthur’s armor and clean out Arthur’s stables.
4) It’s always sorcery. Merlin is like Clark Kent, if Clark Kent never got to transform into Superman and had to fight every supervillain as a mild-mannered reporter, while pretending to everyone around him that superpowers don’t exist. There are no normal threats to the kingdom: no wars, no plagues, no natural disaster — just sorcerers and the stuff they can conjure. Merlin is seriously Camelot’s only line of defense.
5) If Gaius isn’t mansplaining, he’s probably not talking. Gaius is the court physician who takes Merlin under his wing and helps keep his magic powers hidden. You might be tempted to call Gaius’ dialogue “exposition,” but while Gaius is always convinced that he’s right, he is almost always wrong. I mean, he’s good with medicine, but every time Merlin faces a moral quandary about using magic or letting people get killed, Gaius prefers the death option.
6) Guinevere is not what you’re expecting. Far from the mysterious, ethereal beauty with which we’re familiar, Guinevere is Gwen: an adorable, plucky maidservant to the Lady Morgana. She kind of loathes Arthur, actually, in the beginning. When a farm boy named Lancelot tries out for Team Knights and is rejected because he’s not of noble birth, Gwen finds herself falling for him. Merlin sees her staring at Lance and Arthur and asks: “So, if you had to choose … ?” Lance doesn’t stick around in season one, but he’ll be back. Oh, he’ll be back.
7) You didn’t accidentally flip over to your Harry Potter DVD; it’s the Dragon. John Hurt is the voice of the Dragon, the magical beast that Uther keeps tied up in the basement of the castle. He’s the one who beckons Merlin to the castle in the first place, and he hands out cryptic advice like Halloween candy. It’s kind of distracting, actually, because John Hurt’s voice is legend. But the CGI isn’t bad for a BBC One show. It’s certainly better than the first two seasons of Torchwood.
8 ) If ears or Adam’s apples are your thing, you’re going to fall in love with Merlin or Arthur. You literally will not be able to help yourself.
I think that’s everything you need to know. If you really want a treat, seek out some Merlin/Arthur or Lance/Gwen/Arthur or Merlin/Arthur/Gwen, or Lance/Merlin/Arthur/Gwen/Dragon fan videos on YouTube. A shipper’s musical montage is worth a a hundred thousand words.
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- Preview: MERLIN Conjures Up Second Season This April on the Syfy Channel
- Episode Review: With “Excalibur,” MERLIN Finally Gets Its Edge Back
- MERLIN Finale and Series Review: Destiny More or Less Achieved
- MERLIN Episode Review: “A Remedy to Cure All Ills” Kinda Made Me Sick
- Episode Review: Last Night’s MERLIN Episodes Kicked Some Serious Ass!