In its third season, Merlin really hits its stride. This reimagining of the Arthurian legends builds upon the earlier seasons while fleshing out the characters and introducing some of the iconic symbols that are associated with Camelot. The season starts off with a bang, and while there are some filler episodes, it builds to a great climax that will leave viewers counting the days until the next season is released.
The show centers around a young lad named Merlin (Colin Morgan), the person who would grow to be King Arthur's most trusted advisor. The teen travels to Camelot to be trained by the royal physician, Gaius (Richard Wilson) a man who secretly knows something about magic. Gaius soon discovers that Merlin's a very special person indeed. While all magicians have to spend years studying and must chant spells to perform the most basic incantations, Merlin can do amazing things silently, and without any training. He can slow down time with just a gesture and move objects with but a thought.
The only problem is magic is outlawed in Camelot. The King, Uther Pendragon (wonderfully portrayed by Anthony Head, best known as Giles on Buffy), fought long and hard in his youth to rid the land of black magic, as well as dragons, and now has forbidden any use of magic on pain of death. So Merlin has to hide his abilities.
Added into the mix is the King's son, the arrogant Prince Arthur (Bradley James), Uther's ward who also has secret magical abilities, Morgana (Katie McGrath), and Morgana's serving girl Guinevere (Angel Coulby). After saving Arthur's life, Merlin is awarded the position of being the Prince's manservant and the two slowly start to become friends.
Though magic is outlawed, that doesn't mean that it isn't practiced, and Uther has made many enemies when he cleansed the land of evil. These foes turn up on a regular basis to take their revenge on either the king or his heir, and it's up to Merlin, added by Gaius and with the cryptic advice of an ancient dragon, to keep them, and the kingdom, safe.
As the season opens, Morgana has been missing for a year, but Arthur has not given up looking for her. He continues to send out patrols and after one of the defeats a band of bandits, they discover the king's long missing ward. Not all is as it seems however. Though Morgana claims she was the prisoner of bandits, that's not the case. She has spent the past year with her sister, Morgause, learning the ways of magic. She's now returning to Camelot to kill Uther and sieze the throne.
Merlin soon realizes that Morgana is wicked, but dares not say anything. There is no way that Uther would listen to a mere servant, especially when it comes to his ward. So he's left to thwart her plans without the help of Arthur, or just about anyone else for that matter. Any Morgana is very devious and has some wily tricks up her sleeve. Morgana hates Uther because of his persecution of magic users, but she also learns a secret early in the season that makes her despise him even more.
This season saw the love between Arthur and Guinevere grown and blossom. They had to keep their feelings for each other a secret, she's only a severing wench after all and he's a prince, and Mogana used that fact to her advantage quite well in one of the better episodes in this season. She subtly convinced Arthur to spend some time in the forest alone with Guinevere and then innocently took King Uther out for a ride so that he would see them kissing. And Morgana wasn't willing to just cause a fight between the Uther and Arthur. She takes things a step or two further and really makes the situation dire.
The final two-part episode, where Morgause obtains the Cup of Life and uses it to create an army of immortal soldiers, is the best that this show has created. It's stirring, exciting, and touching, and it see the return of several people that had been introduced in earlier episodes. The main reason that it's so thrilling is that the plot finally moves forward and we see some of the parts of the legend of Arthur start to be revealed. It's a great ending to the season and sets things up well for the next year.
I really enjoyed this set of shows, though they all aren't perfect. There were a too few many filler episodes... magician-of-the-week programs that didn't advance the overall plot and while entertaining were largely forgettable. The main gripe I have it that Morgana turned into a stereotype. In earlier seasons she was conflicted. She loved Uther who raised her after her parents died, but she was also afraid of him since she had magical powers. That internal conflict was much more interesting than any evil knight that showed up. Unfortunately in this season they drop all that. Morgana is evil, and willing to kill innocent people to get what she wants. There's little resemblance to the woman from earlier seasons, and that's too bad.
The show arrives on five discs that are housed in a fold out folder with two overlapping discs per page.
This show comes with a stereo soundtrack that's pretty dynamic. While a 5.1 track would have been preferred, the show makes good use of the front soundstage and is forceful during some of the more intense battle sequences. I just wish there was a LFE channel when the dragon is around.
Like the first two seasons, the 1.78:1 image looks pretty good, but it could be better. The picture is a soft throughout and there's some aliasing in the background that's noticeable. The colors are solid and the contrast is fine.
This set has a good amount of bonus features, most of which are found on the fifth disc. In addition to several commentary tracks on various episodes by members of the cast and crew, there are a couple of nice featurettes. First is an Making of Merlin Season Three, a nice behind the scenes look at the creation of the show that runs for nearly a half an hour. Next up is the Merlin panel from the 2010 SD Comic Con. This last nearly 40 minutes and features co-creators Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy along with actors Anthony Head (Uther) and Colin Morgan (Merlin) talking about the show and answering (mostly lame) questions from the audience. The bonuses are rounded off with a series of deleted scenes, outages, a photo gallery and a selection of eight wallpapers for your computer.
My main complaint with the first seasons of the show was that the characters, with the exception of Morgana, were two dimensional. This season they fleshed out many of the people populating the show, but turned Morgana into a typical evil villainess. That's fine. The rest of the show is so entertaining that I'm willing to overlook that one misstep. Recommended.