Customer Reviews: Merlin: Season 4
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 13, 2012
This is going to a rather odd review considering that season four of "Merlin" has the very best and worst that the show has to offer. On the one hand, it has some of the most sophisticated storylines, the highest production values and the strongest performances from its young cast that have thus far featured on the show. There is also far less filler (a great improvement on the last season, which seemed to be composed almost entirely of padding) and greater care taken with continuity and overarching plot-threads. On the other hand, it still suffers from the usual problems: a lack of meaningful character development, the irritating marginalization of its two female characters, and its stubborn refusal to let Merlin finally reveal his magical abilities to Arthur.

To recap this review in a nutshell: the first half of this season is the best that "Merlin" has ever been - but the second half falls apart, leading to an entirely lackluster finale. If you're not in the mood to read any further, consider that my conclusive statement on series four.

But last season ended on a high note what with Prince Arthur assembling his most trusted knights and winning back Camelot from his half-sister's control. With Morgana defeated and King Uther in a state of deep depression over his daughter's betrayal, series four opens a year later with Arthur in firm control of the kingdom. In this he's helped by a new arrival: his uncle Agravaine, who establishes himself as the young prince's closest advisor.

Obviously, things are not going to be smooth-sailing for long. Morgana is determined to take her revenge on Camelot, and having grown in magical powers and established a spy in Camelot to feed her information (as well as donning a new all-black wardrobe), she certainly feels like a more dangerous adversary than she did last year. Yet soon she becomes paranoid by a series of warnings about a figure known as Emrys, a powerful sorcerer who is destined to be her doom. As she begins her obsessive search for him, she remains unaware that he is none other than Merlin himself.

In some semblance of order, here are my thoughts on the good and bad aspects of series four: (spoilers will be marked).

ACTING: As always, the cast is top-notch, and manage to infuse some rather dodgy writing with genuine emotion and resonance. Its four young cast members in particular are given some really juicy scenes this time around, and are all exceptional at conveying heartbreak, terror, joy, relief and steely determination on command. The writers of "Merlin" are damn lucky that they've got Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath on board, as their charisma does wonders at plastering over some of the gaping plot-holes that the writers leave in their scripts.

Backing them up are a range of British thespians, not only Anthony Stewart Head, John Hurt, Richard Wilson and Nathanial Parker as series regulars, but a bevy of big-name stars that pop in for guest spots: Gemma Jones, James Callis, Lindsay Duncan, Gary Lewis, Terence Maynard, Ben Daniels, Miranda Raison - granted, these names may not mean much to the average viewer, but once you see their faces on-screen I guarantee that you'll be nodding your head and saying: "oh yeah...I know them..." This season also has plenty of eye-candy on display with the new knights of Camelot, all played by actors who could have quite easily pursued a career in modeling, and who enjoy walking around in various states of undress.

TOP-NOTCH PRODUCTION VALUES: With an upgrade to 35mm film and the acquisition of a huge green-screen, "Merlin" now looks good enough for the movie theatre. The sets are bigger, the camera-work is smoother, the CGI is more convincing, the makeup/costumes are as lovely as ever, and there's an altogether "bigger" feel to the scale of the show.

DARKER THEMES: "Merlin" feels a lot more grown-up this time around. Major characters die and stay dead, forcing those left behind to come to terms with their absence. Likewise, there's mercifully less pushing of the reset button: this season things change, and change for good in Camelot. Having treaded water for so many years, the writers are finally taking some significant steps toward the Golden Age that Arthur is prophesied to usher in.

I also don't recall any fart gags this time around, but though there's still plenty of lame slapstick humor, there are also some of the most dramatic scenes seen yet on the show. Colin is asked to cry practically every episode and manages to do so in a way that will break your heart each time, and Bradley and Angel share a scene that apparently ended with them getting a round of applause from the crew - you'll know it when you see it. Furthermore, Katie now portrays a much more nuanced Morgana, and the smirk that typified her performance last year has been considerably toned down.

EPISODES ONE TO SEVEN: For the first time, the "Merlin" writers move away from self-contained episodes in order to tell a story that spans several episodes, with events happening in each that directly affects what happens in the next. In a show in which the villains are responsible for driving most of the action, it was a wise decision to give Morgana a clear, singular goal (the search for Emrys) thus leaving Agravaine to stir up trouble in Camelot. The overarching story begins to rise to a climax as Morgana closes in on Merlin's secret, Agravaine tries to incriminate someone else for his role as the traitor in Camelot, Arthur and Guinevere make significant steps forward in becoming the future King and Queen, and Merlin learns more about his heritage as a Dragonlord, as well as his alter-ego 'Emrys'.


EPISODES EIGHT TO THIRTEEN: It's not that the remaining six episodes are *bad*, it's simply that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the previous seven. It's almost as though the writers abruptly changed their minds about what this season was going to be about and rewrote the ending as a muddle of unrelated stories that deal with the Arthurian Love Triangle (well acted, but badly handled), two filler episodes (concerning yet another evil villainess and a Druid-ghost), a 45-minute prologue to the finale (Agravaine and Morgana plot whilst Arthur fluffs about with a random princess) and the two-part finale itself - which really is a disappointment compared to the excitement and emotional resonance of the show's past season finales: "Le Mort d'Arthur", "The Last Dragonlord" and "The Coming of Arthur."

The ending reflects badly on the season's strong beginning, simply because it highlights all the lost opportunities and leaves so many dangling plot-threads. Morgana's search for Emrys gave her new focus and storylines - it goes nowhere after episode seven. The Arthurian Love Triangle was suitably emotional and heartbreaking - instead of resolving it, it's just sweep under the rug. The "traitor in our midst" story-arc - dropped entirely. Morgana takes over Camelot with ease and Arthur wins it back just as effortlessly - a blatant retreat of last season's finale.

A chance to see the knights as individuals, learning and growing and bonding together - they're just an interchangeable red-cloaked hoard. Guinevere's rise to power - ignored after her first confrontation with Agravaine in favor of shaming and humiliating her, and then not even bothering to exonerate her good name. Agravaine - hogs way too much screen-time and remains a cypher throughout (without relying on guess-work, can anyone explain to me where he came from, what his motivation was, or what kind of power he planned to get from Morgana that he didn't already have with Arthur?) Arthur - still completely oblivious to pretty much everything that goes on around him.

James Callis as an intriguing villain - wasted. Tristan and Isolde - pointless. Merlin and Gwaine's friendship - non-existent. That goes ditto for Guinevere and Elyan - they're meant to be siblings, but you wouldn't know it from watching any of these episodes. Lancelot - an ignoble and disappointing end for such an iconic character. Percival - we still don't know a thing about him beyond the fact that he has nice arms.

And the long-awaited magical reveal...? Not this season.

To put it briefly, this show is great at set-up, but usually disappoints when it's pay-off time. The writers often introduce new plot-points only to lose interest in them; as such it's difficult to really invest in anything when you can't be sure that it'll get resolved in any meaningful way. Furthermore, the show is so plot-heavy (racing from one "big moment" to the next) that there's no breathing room to explore the characters. When there *is* a quiet moment, it's usually repetitive or filled with exposition. Most of the time the characters exist in service to the plot and not the other way around, leading them to change dramatically from episode to episode - they are only as smart, effective and/or observant as the plot requires them to be (and when the plot *doesn't* require them to be these things, they end up looking immensely stupid).

So despite the welcome shaking up of the status-quo this year, season four of "Merlin" is a mixed bag, and there's still a long way to go in bringing the main characters to a satisfying conclusion in what is rumored to be the fifth and final season. Were I able to, I would rank this season three-and-half-stars; I went with four rather than three simply because I still enjoy this show as fluffy, relatively mindless entertainment. It's just that I'm constantly aware of just how much better it could be with sharper, braver writing that isn't afraid to explore the characters and let their stories grow organically.
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on April 24, 2012
Attention U.S. television producers; The BBC proves once again that Yes, it is possible to make a show that doesn't include tons of sex innuendo, bleeped or un-bleeped profanity, graphic, criminal violence, degrading and obnoxious humor and yet remain utterly appealing to adults. What Merlin does have is heroes and villains, magic and monsters, epic battles, exciting adventures... in other words just a great fantasy show set in an Arthurian milieu (kinda like Harry Potter meets Excalibur).

Currently in its fourth season, this series isn't losing an ounce of momentum, on the contrary it has even greater potential for future seasons, particularly when you realize that the setting thus far has been limited to a relatively small geographical sphere. Not to mention that these characters have the potential to become more interesting as they continue to age which is the exact opposite of most series that attempt to keep their main stars perpetually young. Oh and ya, this show actually has main characters that are over the age of forty (gasp). Speaking of the characters, there's chemistry here, which is absolutely fundamental to a great TV show and made evident as the relationships continue to develop and/or change.

Wasn't sure how the writers would handle the continuing themes of: "Merlin-in-the-box", Arthur & Gwen secret romance, Camelot power shift or Morgana as the arch-villain (doing a fabulous job of being beautifully creepy by the way) but so far it continues to be creatively believable while maintaining continuity with previous seasons. Additionally, we see Colin Morgan given the opportunity to really demonstrate his acting ability every time he dons the older Merlin persona (which is usually hillarious), as well as a decidedly more mature Arthur, which is kind of a welcome relief. There's also more emphasis on the newer recurring roles; especially Sir Gwaine, my personal favorite, as well as Guinevere's brother Elyan, another good supporting actor, and then there's the deviously annoying Sir Agravaine (who I call "sir aggravate") as well as a couple of new characters introduced towards the end of this season which I think I'll let you find out about for yourself.

Basically, a more mature season regarding characters and individual stories as well as a larger scope to the overall story-arc; my only complaint... I want more trolls!!!

WARNING: Region one DVD's haven't been released yet at the writing of this review; I'm giving my opinion on the content not the container. Region two is already out because this is a UK series but please note that it will not play on US DVD players (look up "DVD region code" on wikipedia if you're not familiar with this concept).
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on January 1, 2012
Merlin Season 4 is the darkest one yet, & some of the characters we know will not live to see Season 5!

In the first 2 episodes of the season Morgana takes revenge on Merlin, Arthur & Camelot for killing Morgause by summoning the Callieach to tear open the veil between the worlds, the Dorocha, hellish creatures pour forth killing anyone whom they touch. With Uther a shadow of his former self, it falls to Arthur & his Knights to protect the Kingdom. It will take more than swords to vanquish their enemy this time & when Merlin finds out that it will entail someone making the Ultimate Sacrifice he is determined that this will be him fulfilling his destiny, but who will actually make the Ultimate Sacrifice? Arthur celebrates his birthday with Uther who is now in stronger spirits & they have a travelling circus that visits the castle but someone has come with them who wishes to do harm to Arthur, Uther comes to his son's rescue when tragedy strikes, can Merlin save Uther in time? Julius Borden arrives in Camelot looking for the 3rd part of the Triskellion key which lays in the vault under the castle which will lead him to the tomb of Ashkanar & the last Dragon's egg, will Merlin be able to use his powers as the Last Dragon Lord to protect Aithusa from harm. Arthur kills a rival King, Caerleon, in cold blood after the battle they have just fought but was it Arthur who wanted to do it or was it the pressure exerted on him by his uncle Lord Agravaine & what will Caerleon's widow Queen Annis do now.

Merlin is wounded in an ambush while travelling with Arthur to a secret meeting, Lord Agravaine takes him to Morgana who decides to implant a Formorroh serpent in his neck, which makes the victim have only one thing on their mind which is all consuming & in Merlin's case that thing is to kill Arthur at any cost, with some hilarious results, Merlin's alter ego Emrys has to come to the rescue. Following her defeat by Emrys, Morgana joins forces with the wizard Alator & kidnaps Gaius in an effort to find out more about her arch enemy Emrys. Merlin is sent to an outlying village to treat 3 men who are just shells of themselves after meeting someone or something that's lurking around their village, Lamia has a strange effect on Sir Leon, Sir Gwaine, Sir Percival & Sir Elyan, but what does she really want with them? Sir Lancelot suddenly reappears in the life of Guinevere on the day of a tournament to celebrate her betrothal to Arthur, but why has he returned now & what part does Morgana play in it? Will it cost Guinevere her marriage to Arthur or much more. (Be prepared with tissues for this episode). Arthur & his Knights are out on patrol when they find a shrine but don't know why it's been left there, Merlin has the distinct impression that something terrible happened & wants everyone to leave immediately, but Elyan is thirsty & takes a drink from the well, as a result he sees a spectral boy who demands that he kill Arthur in revenge for Uther ordering the murder of the Druids living there. When Arthur & Merlin pursue Elyan back to the shrine Arthur makes a shocking admission to Merlin. Arthur gets engaged to a neighbouring Princess as part of a treaty to unite their two Kingdoms, Princess Mithian is beautiful & Arthur finds himself falling in love with her, much to Merlin's annoyance. While out hunting Merlin is shocked at a reflection he sees running in a pool of water & is even more concerned when Mithian shoots a deer, but why & who did Merlin see in the water. Everything changes for Arthur when he finds a ring discarded on the forest floor & he calls off his engagement to Princess Mithian.

The season finale is great. Arthur finds out that Agravaine has been in league with Morgana & has given her the plans to get into Camelot with Helios & his Southron army. Arthur won't leave Camelot, so Merlin has to put a spell on him to make him leave, Arthur then follows every command Merlin gives with some comical results. Gaius, Gwaine & Elyan are left to try & hold back the invading army for as long as possible. Elyan is tortured with a Nathair serpent which will cause "pain beyond all imagining" & Gwaine has to fight for Morgana's pleasure to provide food for himself, Elyan & Gaius. Merlin & Arthur run into smugglers Tristan & Isolde, when the spell on Arthur wears off he & Merlin tell them who they really are & why they are on the run, Isolde is hurt in a fight & Merlin decides that the safest place for them to hide is Ealdor his home village where Arthur meets an old friend. When Agravaine finds them Merlin has to call Kilgharrah the Great Dragon to protect them while they flee for their lives. Agravaine chases them into the tunnels & Merlin tells Arthur to carry on without him while he creates a diversion, when Agravaine catches up with Merlin he finds out that he has the power of magic & that he is Emrys, but what price will he pay for his knowledge? Arthur has lost all his self confidence & is doubting his ability to be a great King for Camelot & indeed being able to bring peace to the five Kingdoms, Merlin has to persuade him that he is a great King & he will bring peace to all five Kingdoms, Merlin summons the Great Dragon Kilgharrah to ask his advise & afterwards he sees that the only way is for Arthur to remove the Sword from the Stone hidden deep in the forest of Ascetir, when Sir Leon, Sir Percival, other Knights & members of Camelot appear from their hiding places in the forest Arthur finds the strength of character to remove the Sword in the Stone to prove his destiny that he will a great King. Sir Leon & Sir Percival pledge that they would "Ride into the Mouth of Hell" for Arthur to retake Camelot. Arthur & his Knights with the help of Tristan & Isolde take back Camelot. What of Morgana? well we can only wait & see, finally what part will the Little White Dragon Aithusa play in the life of Morgana......
Merlin: Series Four (Original Television Soundtrack)

Merlin Season 4 Episode List.

1. The Darkest Hour - Part 1
2. The Darkest Hour - Part 2
3. The Wicked Day
4. Aithusa
5. His Father's Son
6. A Servant of Two Masters
7. The Secret Sharer
8. Lamia
9. Lancelot du Lac
10. A Herald of the New Age
11. The Hunter's Heart
12. The Sword in the Stone - Part 1
13. The Sword in the Stone - Part 2

If you want to see Colin Morgan in a role that is poles apart from Merlin watch him in Parked, where he plays a homeless junkie alongside the excellent Colm Meaney. It shows what a talented actor he is.
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This video is taken from the last episode of the season when Merlin tells Arthur he needs to have belief in himself to remove the Sword in the Stone.
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on February 17, 2013
This is one of the best series so far. The Sword in the Stone parts 1 & 2 are terrrfic.. The Blu-ray is magnificant. The picture and audio are great. Wish all the previous series had Blu-ray at the time I purchased them I saw the final series on line from England. As of this review it's showing on SyFy. This final series comes out on Blu-ray in April thru Amizon. You must get it The acting of these three young actors is truly great. Colin will make you cry in the last episode. It is very very touching. Nice to see Colin Morgan win the NTA award for best dramtic actor. I met Colin last July at Comic-con. Was lucky to talk to him one on one. What a great young man he is. Told him he is a teriffic actor and he thanked me. This series is very good and the next final series is exceptional. It's great entertainment for the whole family. Not many TV shows today are. Merlin is the best entertainment a family can have. Buy it! You won't regreat it.
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on March 9, 2012
This series is perhaps the first in years that has held my interest. I am a huge fan of the Arthurian Legends. Even though it's very different than the original piece (as it should be), the writers/directors/actors have done a fantastic job in the retelling of an old and loved legend. I highly recommend it.
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on August 4, 2015
As the series continues, Morgan tries (and succeeds) in taking the throne for a short time. Arthur and his men rally together to take Camelot back and Merlin is at his most instrumental. You can almost see what is going to happen but it is still riveting and a joy to watch.

I enjoy how at each attempt Morgan tries to take the throne, she is thwarted and banished over and over again from Camelot. Love this show and am looking forward to watching the 5th and final season.
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on November 29, 2013
One of the best shows I've ever seen. The characters are classic and the show stays true to the legendary characters while the actors make each of them into their own unique personalities. They evolve and grow from episode to episode, season to season, increasing their depth and complexity, and it's amazing to me how the writers and actors accomplish this. Another essential ingredient contributing to my enjoyment is the humor. I believe it is the most important component to the show's longevity. It balances the darkness inherent to the legendary magic and warfare while also deepening interest and audience investment in the individual characters. I'm looking forward to the sixth season and wondering what will happen to the dragons. As ancient and superintelligent as they are, even they evolve, grow and age. The scenery and effects are amazing and appropriate to the story - not phony or over-the-top. The entire production is top notch because it draws you into the world to experience the whole epic story.
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on March 26, 2013
In Season 4 of a projected 5-Season story-arc much of what we have heard about the legend of Arthur is touched upon. (It has already been announced that the show ends with Season 5.) Uther dies, Arthur is crowned king, Lancelot has a tryst with Gweneviere betraying Arthur, Arthur marrys her anyway, and the season ends with the Sword in the Stone. It is one thing to know that TV and Movies are rarely shot in sequence but it is quite another to know that Camelot is located in a backlot at Cardiff Studios in Wales and Arthur's Castle is located in Brittany, France where scenes for an entire Season of programs is shot in one session lasting weeks. As often happens as the popularity of a show increases so does its budget and the complexity of the CGI effects used to create it. The backbone of the program remains the by-play between Merlin and Arthur both now in their mid-twenties. The fact that they are made peers allows us to see them grow and mature together in their relationship with one another and in their mastery of the duties allotted them. The show retains the light-hearted banter that has characterized it from the beginning and touches on the more serious aspects of the story without getting heavy. It remains a family oriented program.
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on April 10, 2013
Say what you will about the creators of this series rewriting the legend to fit in with a 21st Century audience. I have been looking for a heart-felt, gut wrenching Bromance since Starsky and Hutch went off the air in 1979. I've loved Bromances since I was a child, don't ask me why, but men caring for each other is an attraction I cannot pass up. Though Arthur treats Merlin like the 'fool' he pretends to be in order to keep suspicion away from his use of magic, in the end of series 4, their bond is growing stronger and stronger. Merlin is finally seeing a way to step through the door and become Arthur's 'advisor' and... Arthur finally sees the truth in Merlin's words,as showcased in the final two parter "The Sword In The Stone" arc. There is hope here, lots of it, especially in regards to their trusting each other and being positively protective of each other. The other stories in this series are supplemental and used to drive this central relationship to its heartbreaking conclusion. Colin and Bradley's performances shine and they are an incredible team. A most satisfied veiwer, here. Bring on the Bromance and you've got a fan for the duration!
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