Merlin is on Amazon Prime!
A few years back, my family watched every episode of the BBC's Merlin. I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob. It ranks up there at the top, if not at the very top, of my favorite TV shows. Though I have to admit one factor may be that they brought it to a conclusion without ruining it. *glares at Scorpion* When we ended our Netflix subscription, the only thing I was sad about was losing access to Merlin. I even had a hard time listening to the music for awhile, because I'd want to watch this show and I couldn't. Now that it's on Prime, we've started rewatching it, and it's like returning to a very dear old friend I haven't seen in awhile. So today, I'm going to talk about some of the many reasons why I love this show.
Let's face it: this show is hilarious. You've got how Merlin is constantly insulting Arthur, and Arthur's awesome responses. Merlin's crazy excuses when he's trying to hide magic. Gwen's adorable awkwardness. Arthur's always thinking Merlin's in the tavern when he's actually off doing something to save Arthur. You've got that episode where Uther marries a troll and Arthur's face is just priceless (don't watch it while you're eating; trolls are disgusting). You've got that part where Arthur starts turning into a donkey, and when he's a simpleton. There's old man Merlin. You've got that time Merlin made death threats against Arthur and Sir Leon just laughs it off. It's all so brilliant.
All the Feels
Goodness, how can a show be so funny and yet so moving? This one is. The love and friendship and camaraderie between the characters. How long Gwen and Arthur are kept apart. Characters dying. Good characters in such a downward spiral becoming the ultimate villain. All the close calls they have and how much the characters care about each other.
How Gwen doesn't actually have an affair with Lancelot
Everyone knows that in the legends Guinevere and Lancelot have an affair, but the way they handled it in Merlin was the best. SPOILERS While Gwen and Arthur are engaged, Morgana brings back dead Lancelot and enchants Gwen to where Lancelot and Gwen are caught kissing. Gwen's banished for a few episodes, but she and Arthur make it up and get married anyway. The only thing I don't like is that they never discover the enchantment. END SPOILERS
The Character Growth
Arthur grows from a spoiled brat into the best king Camelot has ever known, a man willing to lay down his life for the lowliest person in his kingdom...especially if your name just happens to be Gwen or Merlin. Merlin grows from an idiotic boy who can't stand Arthur and uses magic freely with no thought of consequences to a slightly less idiotic man who regularly risks his life to protect Arthur and uses magic more wisely than before, with saving Arthur in mind. Gwen grows from an awkward and lowly serving girl to a strong and capable queen. Morgana has a downward spiral from a kind and loving voice of reason to a maniac out to destroy Arthur and take the throne for herself, using magic, of course. And we're along for the journey growing and loving and laughing and crying and living along with them.
The friendship between Merlin and Arthur is central to the whole show. At the beginning, they don't get along well, but by the end they're best friends. They're brothers. They rely on each other. They would readily give their lives for each other, and they try on multiple occasions. Merlin, though a manservant, isn't a bit afraid to tell Prince/King Arthur what for. He insults Arthur, tells him when he's being an idiot, encourages him, tells him not to get a big head, and there's no one Arthur would rather have for a manservant. Arthur repeatedly risks everything for Merlin. Uther even threw Arthur in the dungeon once so he wouldn't try to rescue Merlin.
Early on, there's such a camaraderie between Arthur, Merlin, Gwen, and Morgana. They're a foursome. Gwen and Morgana get along well. And of course there's a budding romance between Arthur and Gwen. Gwen tells him off and then apologizes, but it's something Arthur loves about her. Eventually Morgana turns to the dark side and it's sad, but the bonds between Arthur, Merlin, and Gwen only strengthen. I especially love how Arthur is royalty, he has his knights later, who are close to him, but yet his best friend is his manservant, his girlfriend/wife is a serving girl, and his most trusted advisor is the court physician. He is a man of the people.
No, I don't love the magic, but for the most part they treat it like an inherent ability that can be used for good or evil, so it could be worse. That aside, the themes of this show are amazing. Over and over again, you see a king who is willing to give his life for his servants, and a servant who will risk it all to serve his king. Hmm, I wonder where we've seen themes like that before? Of course, it's an imperfect example because Arthur isn't perfect—not by a long shot—but still. It's a great picture.
One of my favorite episodes is called "A Servant of Two Masters." I do love it for how funny it is—Merlin has got to be the worst assassin ever—but more than that, I love its illustration of this concept: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." —Matthew 6:24 Merlin is enchanted to serve Morgana instead of his king. He can't do both. When he's serving Morgana, his only thought is to do what is evil, to kill Arthur. When he is serving Arthur, he cannot comprehend serving Morgana's purposes. He hates the one and loves the other, he is devoted to one and despises the other. I don't know if they intended this parallel or realized what the episode title references, but it's there nonetheless and I think it's amazing.
And there's the theme of using our gifts and talents for good. Time and again sorcerers show up in Camelot using their magic for evil. Time and again Merlin puts a stop to them, admonishing them to use their magic for good. To use it to help others. Whenever Merlin himself uses his gift of magic for wrong or selfish or stupid purposes (even if it's just creating shapes in the smoke of a campfire), it backfires. It gets him in trouble. But when he uses his gift for noble purposes, it doesn't. It ultimately comes to good because he's using the gifts he's been given for their true purpose: to serve his King.
There's so much to this show. Such great characters. Such funny moments. Such moving scenes. Such loyalty. Such bravery. Such friendship. And such love that would give all to serve. It's not a perfect show, certainly, but I will always love it. Because it does so well illustrating this truth:
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." —John 15:13