TV Review: Merlin Series 4

As Morgana more fully embraces the dark side, Series 4 of Merlin follows suit as it goes from strength to strength

“I haven’t seen you since you condemned my sister to a slow and painful death, thwarted my plans to take over Camelot and forced me to live in a hovel”

From the first couple of seasons, you would have never expected Merlin to end up here but Series 4 is dark as hell and pretty damn good with it. Within the first three episodes, it has killed off Lancelot (via self-sacrifice) and Uther (via saving his son from an assassin) and with a vengeful Morgana still on the loose, it is more dramatic than it has ever been.

And the show carries it well. As a tea-time family show it is of course allowed to be silly with burping goblins and whatnot, but there’s something rather affecting about the graduation to something more serious here. Sacrifice, grief, betrayal, there’s a maturity to the writing here that hits the mark and Bradley James’ performance as Arthur, now thrust into the role of king, grows along with it.

The adventure-of-the-week format is mostly jettisoned here, for the better, the series-long storyline suiting the more serious tone (although there’s still thankfully plenty of gratuitous shirtlessness). And a strong level of guest stars add to the general feel of improved quality here too: Gemma Jones’ malevolent Cailleach, Lindsay Duncan’s formidable Queen Annis, Ben Daniels and Miranda Raison as a cute Tristan and Isolde. Merlin really wasn’t that bad, was it?!

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