Camelot season one is over. A second season appears to be in production, but there is not a great deal of information around about that. Anyway, it looks like it’s coming back. It’s the best thing on current TV to my mind, and I think has been a bit underrated. One problem with the reception is that there have been some unfavourable comparisons with Game of Thrones. That is a very good series I would recommend to anyone. Nevertheless to my mind the only real advantage it has over Camelot is in the budget. It looks much more expensive, with much more in the way of spectacular sets, CGI, costumes and scenes which require large numbers of extras. The camera sometimes dwells a bit too much on these aspects, as if to remind the audience to be impressed. There are some problems which I presume come from trying to compress material originating in George R.R. Martin’s series of lengthy novels A Song of Fire and Ice. I cannot claim to have read this unfinished sequence, I prefer to do so after the televised version ends, though that could be some time from now. In any case, there are too many examples in the television series of characters appearing in one or two brief sequences only, presumably to be picked up in the next season. This might work better on DVD later, watching several episodes in one day, or maybe it will still seem fragmented and frustrating. Characters can change to quickly for little or no reason. Some of the sex and violence is gratuitous. The problem is not the explicitness, which is no more than in Spartacus, which simply handles this kind of content better. The issue is that in Game of Thrones, the sex and violence scenes go on to long, are hyped up, and sometimes look more designed to shock or titillate than reinforce the narrative. Game of Thrones deserves at least one post of its own and I will return to this topic. For now, the point is that it does not set a superior standard to Camelot, though it is very good.
Back to the Camelot, season one finale. The doubts about Arthur’s (Jamie Campbell Bower) readiness to be king are apparently resolved. Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) and Igraine (Claire Forlani) are taken back to Camelot after their arrest by Arthur’s half-sister Morgan (Eva Green). Morgan is aiming to be crowned queen while her undercover troops kill off Arthur and his knights in a distant place. She presents Merlin as a dangerous wizard to be executed, and Igraine as a victim to be pitied. She plans to publicly execute Merlin after her coronation. She presents Igraine with a dress for the coronation and then stabs her in such as way that she will slowly bleed to death. That scene is particularly emotional and disturbing. Igraine explains that she had sent Morgan (her step-daughter) away to Ireşand in order to protect her from her father (Uther). Morgan claims not to believe her, but is obviously troubled by this revelation. The stabbing is preceded by a creepy presentation of the dress and expressions of Morgan’s admiration for Igraine. The overall picture of Morgan is of a troubled person whose inner turmoil is increased by revelations that she has made some great error, in a way which only leads her to become more egomaniac and cruel rather than step back from her destructive and self-destructive path. She şs certainly is an interesting character who attracts a mixture of sympathy and hatred, she is certainly not a more villain.
Uther’s discovery of the the dying Igraine, leads him to an usually direct expression of emotion and wish to use his magic powers against Morgan, even at danger to his own life. He has lost the one person whom he could relate to emotionally. Igraine persuades him not to use his powers and Merlin returns to his normal reserved and controlled state. It may be that a disturbed love storywith Morgan will come later, which has precedents in various versions of the legends of Arthur and Merlin. In an earlier episode of Camelot, Morgan spends the night with Merlin magically disguised as Igraine. Merlin knows about this and must have a level of inner confusion to match that of Morgan. For now the secretive magician has lost his one hope of a happy love story and as connection with the people round him which is not determined by power, politics, and strategy.
Merlin’s fear of his own magical powers is reinforced in his strategy for defeating Morgan, while tied up waiting for her coronation and his execution. His strategy is to do nothing and have faith in Arthur’s return. This is maybe also Merlin’s faith in his confrontation with Arthur after it is revealed that Arthur spent a night with Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) directly before her wedding to Arthur’s champion Leontes (Philip Winchester). Merlin it appears has faith, that Arthur understanding the negative consequences of an act which threatens the solidarity between the leaders of Camelot, Arthur’s confrontation with everyone’s own anger and his own guilt, will lead him to find the best within himself. This proves to be justified as Arthur and his knights arrive just in time to prevent Morgan’s coronation. Arthur had earlier proved himself by fighting Morgan’s men who had lured Arthur and knights into a village distant from Camelot. The other knights join him at the last stage of that fight, and the battle is won but with the loss of Leontes. He tells Arthur to treasure Guinevere, showing that he forgives Arthur and Guinevere and understands that Arthur was acting from love rather than basic lust or a desire to humiliate Leontes. In the fighting Morgan’s knight who had hoped to earn her love, is killed, marking an implicit contrast between the confused but real emotions of Arthur, Leontes and Guinevere on one side, and Morgan and her associates on the other side. Evidently Morgan never cared for this knight who was only fantasising that he could find love with her. That kind of masochistic love has precedents in the idealised courtly love with Medieval Arthur stories invoked, so this episode also reveals a darkness in the heart of the Camelot court.
The victory over Morgan is followed by her banishment and loss of royal rank, losing the royal castle of Pendragon, which is partly based on the lack of a woman’s right top inherit. So we can see that Morgan is in some ways a victim of men, even if her own actions guarantee that she will be hated and rejected by all anyway. The mysterious Nun (Sinéad Cusack) and sorceress who was Morgan’s mentor in Ireland and her main adviser at Castle Pendragon is executed. She appears to be waiting for Morgan to save her, reinforcing the idea that Morgan is evil enough to betray anyone and everyone. However, Morgan comes to the Nun’s grave and appears to commune with her spirit putting a different angle on that apparent display of Morgan’s treachery. We then see Guinevere entering Arthur’s chamber, and making love with him, despite what appears to be a resolution to stay apart from each other so soon after Leontes’ death. They are both overwhelmed by desire and emotional neediness. Though this creates some sympathy, it also suggests they are both irresponsible and have failed to learn earlier lessons about the dangers of lack of restraint. The big twist is that Morgan has assumed Guinevere’s shape and has tricked Arthur into the creation of an incestuous male heir. This will presumably be Mordred who features in some versions of the Arthur tales.
We are now left with the coming revelation of a male heir, allowing Morgan to get round the prohibition on female inheritance, always presuming that she can control her son. We are also left with the suspicion that Arthur has not yet become a responsible ruler and man. Merlin has left Camelot, to disappear into his own melancholy presumably, and to give Arthur the chance to gain responsibility and experience on his own. We now have reasons why Merlin will need to return. We are also left with the feeling that Guinevere may give way to desire and emotional neediness later. Even if it was Morgan who had disguised herself as Guinevere to seduce Arthur, it was Guinevere we saw and an expectation has been created, particularly given the famous earlier stories of Guinevere’s love for the knight Lancelot, while married to Arthur. For season two we can expect to meet Mordred and Lancelot, for Camelot to be strained to the limit and for Merlin to return to at least some of these problems.
Arthur and Merlin have triumphed but are faced with various shadows for the next season. The shadow king Mordred. The inner shadow of Arthur’s weakness in relation to desire. Guinevere’s inner shadow of uncertainty about who she loves most. Her external shadow of the king’s incestuous lover of one night, Morgan, who was Guinevere in form, so suggesting we don’t know who Guinevere is. Morgan clearly does not know what she is. The magical shadows in Merlin that he tries to avoid as the wrong way for humans to be ruled, led and influenced. The shadow of Igraine in Merlin’s emotions combined with the erotic tension with Morgan, his deepest and greatest enemy. This greatest external enemy is also the inner enemy of magic powers. Morgan is left with two shadow mother figures, the Nun and Igraine, along with her own long dead mother.