[19 February 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The third season of the BBC and SyFy show, Merlin begins a little more than a year after the events that ended the second season. King Uther is still mourning the disappearance of the Lady Morgana, and he continues to send Prince Arthur and the Knights of Camelot on increasingly futile patrols of the kingdom in search of her.
Though few are willing to say it out loud, everyone around the king feels they’re chasing a ghost. So when Morgana actually appears, like a spectre stumbling out of the forest mists, everyone is too amazed and overjoyed to question her story of being kidnapped.
Only Merlin (Colin Morgan) suspects that something is not right, and his suspicions prove true as the season progresses. The Adventures of Merlin: The Complete Third Season has the core cast returning, and, for the most part, reprising their characters—at least initially—in much the same manner as in the previous two seasons.
Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) is still the tyrannical king obstinately opposed to magic (unless, of course, he’s desperate and it can serve his own selfish needs) and blind to the faults of Morgana. Prince Arthur (Bradley James) is still a work-in-progress, sometimes the very model of fairness and decency, other times a hard-headed prat. Gwen (Angel Coulby) is still kind, if meek, and totally besotted with Arthur. Morgana (Katie McGrath) is just as stunningly beautiful and cunningly manipulative as she was at the end of season two, but now, having learned a great deal about her magical abilities, she is also vengeful and dangerous, if not downright evil. Gaius (Richard Wilson) is still the guardian and guiding voice for Merlin. John Hurt is still the voice of the Dragon, who is counsel to the young dragon-lord, Merlin. Merlin himself is still the clever, awkward, good-hearted young man trying to come to terms with his destiny while hiding his own magical powers and enduring the indignities of being Arthur’s servant.
In other words, not much has changed in Camelot. All of the things that made this re-imagining of the Arthurian legends a success in the first place are still there in season three. The high concept and sometimes low-brow humor; the emotional interactions and individual characterizations; the visual effects and the action sequences; and the monsters, the magic, and, mainly, Merlin, all combine to create a television experience that—though originally aimed at a younger audience—can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their age, tastes or familiarity with tales of King Arthur. That’s not to say that season three doesn’t have its share of shifts and surprises.
In the series arc, Morgana is becoming the greatest threat to Camelot and to Albion’s future, but there are many secrets as to the whys and hows of that development. Gwen and Arthur are falling in love, but there are many inventive obstacles to their love besides her status as a servant and his as the future king. Morgause (Emilia Fox) returns to guide Morgana in a bid for the throne, Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera) reprises his role as Arthur’s rival for Gwen’s affections and Merlin’s friendship.
New characters come to Camelot as well, most notably Gawaine (Eoin Macken ), whose loyalty is matched only by his love of drinking and carousing, and his prowess in a fight. Later in the season, we also meet Percival (Tom Hopper), who along with Sir Leon (Rupert Young), Gawaine, Lancelot, and Gwen’s brother Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun), will make up Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table in the season-ending battles against Morgana.
Merlin: The Complete Third Season contains five discs, with the 13 episodes on the first four discs and the bonus materials on the fifth. Those include “The Making of Merlin: Season 3” featurette, a photo gallery, wallpapers, deleted scenes and an hilarious series of outtakes. Several of the episodes also feature audio commentary from the cast and crew, the best of which may be Katie McGrath and Bradley James commenting on season opener, “The Tears of Uther Pendragon – Part One”. The two actors are clearly having fun, both on the show and in the commentary studio, and its very entertaining to hear them do so.
Because that’s really the whole point of a show like Merlin. Sure, some of it is predictable and some of it is juvenile, but it is always fun and entertaining.