I do not love it in the way most people love it, I don’t think. I have never channel surfed in my life, since that would eat my writing time like a whale gently inhaling plankton. And I see it as a social activity: if I’m on my own, I’ll read a book. I tend to watch what my friends watch. When I lived in New York, I watched medical dramas with my flatmate and Veronica Mars with my friends. When I lived in England, I watched Japanese dramas with Penelope.
So speaking of Penelope, I was in London last week attending a bookseller dinner, where I met many awesome people and gave them knives (I’ll explain that in another post…) and the next day I went out to lunch with my fair ex-flatmate and we spoke of many things, and she recommended a new show she was watching called Merlin. Previously I had heard about it and decided not to watch it, because I thought that Merlin’s early years would be kind of dull, and also that it would not get Arthurian mythology even slightly right.
I was extremely correct about one of those two things.
Trusting as a little child, on my return to Ireland I settled down to try out Merlin. In which Merlin is younger than Arthur, Guinevere is a blacksmith’s daughter who is in love with Merlin, Morgan le Fay and Arthur seem to be the chief romantic pairing and anyone who has ever known anything about Arthurian legends knows we are living in opposites land.
Our scene opens with a sweet-looking lad with dark hair and beaky good looks. I immediately say ‘Oh bless’ and settle in as baby beaky Merlin wanders into the capital city of Camelot and meets the wise old physician who will clearly become his mentor and father figure. I christen the wise old physician Dr Yoda.
DR YODA: So I can see, because you just showed me, that you can do magic.
MERLIN: Yes! I think I can use it to save Albion and unite the peoples and bring enlightenment to-
DR YODA: King Uther burns magicians. Cut it out, okay?
MERLIN: Right. Okay. Only I have super duper powerful magic, and I am always doing it, which is why my mommy sent me here.
DR YODA: You are always doing magic, so your mama sent you to the capital where the king publically executes magicians every morning?
MERLIN’S MOTHER’S LETTER: Psych! Kid’s all yours.
MERLIN: What a lovely city! You hardly notice the executions.
BLOND BULLY BOY: Hey.
MERLIN: Cease this bullying of a random meek-looking extra! I guess you can carry on being blond.
SARAH: Hi there, series antagonist. I think I like you.
BLOND BULLY BOY: Come and have a go, IF you think you’re hard enough!
MERLIN: Yeah, you and what army?
BLOND BULLY BOY: That’d be my daddy’s army. Because I am PRINCE ARTHUR.
SARAH: … I may have been wrong about that series antagonist thing.
MERLIN: As the series protagonist, I am plucky and despite being raised as a serf in a medieval village, I have no concept of social boundaries or respect for rank!
ARTHUR: Break that one down for me?
MERLIN: LET’S THROW DOWN.
At first I was outraged by the notion of the Once and Future King as an arrogant idiot and a bully, but then I realised that, well, the point of the series would be to develop the characters, and also that I was watching a world where Guinevere was the blacksmith’s daughter and in love with Merlin. And it was all so ridiculous I was dizzy and charmed!
Guinevere, as well as being in love with Merlin, is Morgana’s maidservant. I guess they called her Morgana because Morgan might be a boy’s name. And she is not a boy. She isn’t Arthur’s sister, either. She is a girl, and totally unrelated to Arthur! The show tries to make that very clear.
MORGANA: Hey, baby. Guess what? In this version of events, I’m not your sister.
ARTHUR: Rock me, sexy non-relative!
MORGANA: Say something that isn’t bragging or insulting, and I am YOURS.
ARTHUR: Okay. Okay. I am awesome! And that dress makes you look fat!
ARTHUR: Wait, where are you going? How did this go so wrong?
Also there is a giant dragon chained up under the castle of Camelot (What, what, why are you looking at me like that for? I didn’t make this up!) and he calls Merlin to him psychically (Look, it’s not my fault) and tells him of the Future. Well – sort of.
DRAGON: Merlin! You have a great destiny! You will be an awesome magician and unite Albion!
DRAGON: And you have already met the other side of your soul, the one who will walk the path of destiny with you!
MERLIN: Cool. Would this be the beautiful and inexplicably Irish princess Morgana?
DRAGON: Um – no.
MERLIN: Guinevere the hot blacksmith’s daughter? I could get behind-
DRAGON: It’s Arthur.
MERLIN: … Which Arthur? Perhaps you’re thinking of a different Arthur? Maybe a different Merlin!
MERLIN: MERLIN IS A COMMON ENOUGH NAME, SURELY?
KING UTHER: Hello, you may know me from such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
SARAH: Hey it’s Giles! Hey, King Giles!
MERLIN: *saves Arthur from an old witch disguised as a beautiful opera singer throwing a ninja dagger with deadly precision look I am just reporting the facts here*
KING GILES: Well done, my boy! I shall give you a reward!
MERLIN: Oh no, no, won’t be necessary.
KING GILES: No, I insist, I must do you honour!
MERLIN: Oh well okay if you feel you really must.
KING GILES: You shall be Arthur’s manservant!
KING GILES: I see you are both overcome!
After the first episode I thought the series might be about Merlin overcoming his prejudices and slowly bonding with the Once and Future Prat. This show does not like it when I think.
ARTHUR: C’mon, manservant, dress me in my armour so I may go out to battle.
MERLIN: I hate you beyond the telling of it.
ARTHUR: You are the worst manservant ever, ever, in all the history of time! And Arthurian mythology! Well, off I go to fight.
MERLIN: I guess I’ll watch and see if he dents his stupid armour in his stupid tournament. Stupid.
MERLIN: HE IS A GOLDEN FIGHTING MACHINE!
MERLIN: Dude, okay, I think this one knight is an evil sorcerer knight, will you believe me even though I am a servant? We have feelings too!
ARTHUR: Are you totally sure all servants have feelings? Maybe it’s just you.
ARTHUR: I am not entirely convinced, but I definitely believe you about the evil sorcerer knight.
MERLIN: Why must you fight an evil sorcerer knight?
ARTHUR: It is my duty! And maybe if I am the best knight in Camelot, daddy will love me.
MERLIN: D’awww. Not only are you a golden fighting machine, but you are totally deep as well.
ARTHUR: Yeah… I have… deeps.
DRAGON: Are you still moaning about your destiny? Look, you’ll come to like Arthur, I’m sure-
MERLIN: No, got it covered, he’s a golden fighting machine, I live only to serve him!
DRAGON: … I see it’s your destiny to be shallow.
MERLIN: How do I make him like me back?
DRAGON: THE HALF CANNOT HATE THAT WHICH MAKES IT WHOLE.
MERLIN: Um. Thanks.
The hinjinx continue as Merlin fancies an evil sorceress chick and completely fails to notice Guinevere’s love for him despite her a) telling him about it, b) kissing him on the mouth and c) telling him about it every episode. Meanwhile Arthur and Morgana totally fail to have chemistry with each other, though they make me laugh every time they are in a scene together. I thought maybe Morgana wouldn’t have chemistry with anyone ever for a bit, and THEN…
MERLIN: I may be dark and pale and have magical powers.
MORGANA: I may… also be all those things.
MERLIN: I see.
MORGANA: Are you finding me weirdly compelling?
MERLIN: … Yes.
MORGANA: Good! Let’s save it for another episode. Right now I have to tend to another dark, pale, magical boy. He’s six years old.
MERLIN: That’s nasty!
MORGANA: Apparently his name’s Mordred.
MERLIN: Oh, right. Nice name.
Various other romantic adventures take place along these lines.
EVIL FAIRY PRINCESS: Come to me, Arthur.
KING GILES: Don’t marry the evil fairy princess, Arthur.
MORGANA: Don’t marry the evil fairy princess, Arthur.
ARTHUR: I think I like this evil fairy princess, Merlin.
MERLIN: THAT IS SO ROMANTIC.
ARTHUR: Cover for me while we go on a picnic that may or may not be a cover for her to sacrifice me to the fairy gods, okay?
MERLIN: Have a good time!
ARTHUR: WE ARE BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE.
LANCELOT: Hi, Guinevere. So I read this book by Malory, and I see that we’re in love, and I think you’re awfully pretty, and I was wondering if maybe-
GUINEVERE: Haven’t read the book. You know who likes reading? Merlin!
LANCELOT: Okay. Well, I was thinking maybe a stroll on the battlements in the moonlight-
LANCELOT: Yes, my dove?
GUINEVERE: Your big hunky manly knightly shoulders are kind of blocking my view of adorable Merlin. Do you mind?
MERLIN: So, Guinevere. Arthur or Lancelot?
GUINEVERE: Why on earth would I ever have to answer that question? Besides they’re not my type.
MERLIN: Oh Guinevere, you wouldn’t know your type if it was standing right next to you, blithering about other men, wearing a ridiculous neckerchief and being beakily and unconventionally good-looking!
GUINEVERE: Bet you one million dollars?
I was initially charmed by Merlin and Guinevere, but I have to say, the Once and Future Prat is really growing on me. He tries so hard!
MERLIN: I am a magician, arrest me!
ARTHUR: DADDY NO. He is drunk! Or he is crazy! Or he is in love!
KING GILES: Who’s he in love with?
MERLIN: I am so not!
ARTHUR: YES YOU ARE SHUT UP DO NOT CONTRADICT ME I AM THE PRINCE!
ARTHUR: Here is the ceremonial costume of Camelot's servants. It comes with a floppy feathery hat.
MERLIN: ARTHUR WHY ARE ALL THE OTHER SERVANTS DRESSED NORMALLY?
ARTHUR: Hee! Arthur rules!
MERLIN: EVENTUALLY, GOD HELP US ALL.
MERLIN: Hey that foreign dignitary poisoned your goblet!
ARTHUR: Sorry Daddy! He’s drunk again! I will drink your delicious drink.
MERLIN: No you will not.
KING GILES: Okay, if it’s poison, let us test it on the servant.
MERLIN: Fine by me!
ARTHUR: DADDY NO. DADDY WHY WILL YOU NEVER LET ME HAVE NICE THINGS?
KING GILES: Bottoms up, servitor.
MERLIN: Yes, all right.
ARTHUR: Give it here I am drinking it!
MERLIN: NO I AM NOBLY SACRIFICING MYSELF. STEP OFF, PRINCE GRABBY HANDS.
MERLIN: … Yep, tastes like poison.
KING GILES: Arthur, please stop carrying on. We’ll get you a new servant. Less fond of the drink.
ARTHUR: Daddy, will you give my manservant this flower?
KING GILES: Certainly not!
ARTHUR: Only I rode through a forest of doom and faced down a monster and got lost in a dark cave with an evil sorceress and an army of giant spiders to get it for him so I could save his life.
KING GILES: I do not care, it is beneath my kingly dignity. Anyway, how’d you get out of the cave?
ARTHUR: A big shiny ball of light came to me and told me to leave and save myself but I got the flower anyway.
KING GILES: Whoa, do you think it was your manservant, communicating with you in his delirium because of his magic and your psychic bond of destiny?
ARTHUR (stares): Prince Arthur likes shiny things!
KING GILES: Well I’m still not doing it.
ARTHUR: DADDY PLEASE, I NEED A MANSERVANT TO DRESS ME, LOOK AT ME, I AM BARELY WEARING A SHIRT AT ALL.
I have also grown very fond of the dragon, who seems to know he is annoying everyone being so vague about fate and to enjoy it hugely.
DR YODA: Dragon, how can I save King Giles?
DRAGON: Arthur and Merlin have a great destiny!
DR YODA: I didn’t mention Arthur.
DRAGON: Huh. Is that so?
DR YODA: I didn’t mention Merlin!
DRAGON: Fancy that. Well, it’s time for my scheduled flight around the cave, laughing cryptically. Catch you later!
So… Merlin. It’s bizarre, and charming, and interesting, and I have no idea where it’s going! Which, considering Arthurian legends, is quite something.
What new TV thing are you trying out?