I have been watching BBC's Merlin series and figure it's time for a review post.
First season - great!
Second season - intense!
Third season - interesting...
Fourth season - ....not so much.
Basically, it started out strong. The first season was new and exciting and for the most part, tasteful. Some of the "special effects" made me cringe, but the story itself seemed pretty carefully crafted. Morgana's dresses were beautiful and Gwen looked like a servant girl.
The cut of Guinevere's dresses and Arthur's shirtless escapades in the second season made me roll my eyes, but other than that, season two had some interesting character developments. The last few episodes in particular were wham episodes and the story itself was progressing.
It felt like the ball was dropped with Morgana in season three, and the blockheadedness of Arthur (and Uther, but especially Arthur) was starting to get hard to ignore. Gwen's dress was about the same as season two, but Morgana's dresses got (literally) breathtakingly tight. Arthur was parading around topless even more. Still, there was enough new stuff and developments to keep things interesting.
But season four? Despite the supposed changes and new (or promoted) characters, the status quo has remained the same. Unfortunately that status quo doesn't work anymore. The entire first three seasons were full of "When Arthur is king, things will be different and Merlin can reveal his magic to him". Yet Arthur is king and Merlin is still keeping secrets. In fact, he's keeping an awful lot of secrets that really seem pretty counter-productive to keep. It's just dumb.
Morgana is the main antagonist, and she's lost the character complexity that first made her interesting (though I am interested in why she bothers with the green eyeshadow every day). Agravain is boring, mysteriously lacking a motive, and not even handsome. Having supermodel characters seems ridiculous in some contexts (eg. Morgana/Morgause scenes) but if the character has nothing else going for him, at least make him nice to look at. In addition, this season is featuring more identifiably occult magic with which I am not comfortable.
Arthur's knights are interesting (Gwain is my favourite), and the reappearances of old-guy Merlin are as funny as his debut in season three, but it's not enough to redeem the nonsensicality and repetitiveness of the rest of the show.
The writers are clearly pandering to the goofy fanbase that wants Merlin and Arthur to be a couple, as evidenced by the number of "awkward" situations between the two of them. Gwen's dresses are so low and tight she's lost her "wholesome girl-next-door" credibility. If I'm not mistaken, next episode will feature Gwen in something like a crop top. Arthur's shirtless scene repertoire is through the roof (and the knights are joining him) and we actually had one episode where's he's completely naked.
Here's hoping things turn around pretty fast, because if Merlin continues on this trajectory, season five will feature Gwen strutting around cleaning the castle in a bikini top and Arthur will just decide that clothes are for cowards and doff his shirt permanently. Merlin will be functionally mute, despite all the rapport and trust he's earned from Arthur previously. Honestly, I'm losing interest. As of now, I'm hoping season four wraps up the series because I don't want a season five like this one.
Famous Merlin quote from episode one:
Arthur: I should warn you, I've been trained to kill since birth.
Merlin: How long have you been training to be a prat?
Arthur: You can't address me like that!
Merlin: Sorry. How long have you been training to be a prat, my lord?