The BBC’s Merlin, which has been airing in the U.S. on Syfy, is in its fifth and final season. Whether you are a long-term fan of the “Camelot when they were young” series, or a relative newcomer to the show, there is much to enjoy in the recent Blu-ray release, Merlin: The Complete Fourth Season.
Merlin has never shied away from playing with Arthurian legend, but its cast has always had such great rapport that purists should forgive some of the changes in the service of romance and drama. Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) has outlawed magic in Camelot – just in time for the arrival of the young wizard Merlin (Colin Morgan). Luckily the court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson) is sympathetic to both Merlin and the magical arts. After discovering a dragon (voiced by John Hurt) that Uther has concealed in a deep cavern, Merlin learns his true destiny – that he must protect the brash young Prince Arthur (Bradley James), who will lead Camelot to future glory. Merlin becomes Arthur’s servant and dogsbody, and meets Uther’s ward Morgana (Katie McGrath), who has her own ideas about the kingdom, and her servant Gwen (Angel Coulby), short for Guinevere, who has feelings for Arthur.
By the fourth season, events and passions among the characters have escalated, and many of the episodes pit Morgana against Arthur in her quest to rule the kingdom. Arthur has had to step up, and act as King, as his father Uther is sidelined with a mysterious (Morgana-induced) illness. There is also a traitor in the castle, casting doubts on everyone’s motives, including Merlin, Gwen, and Gaius.
Many of the episodes are stand-alone conflicts against a particular menace to Camelot, but also serve the overall arc of Morgana’s quest for power. The series frustratingly keeps Merlin’s magical abilities from Arthur throughout the season, no doubt holding it back for a final season reveal.
Morgana has given herself completely over to dark magic, and viewers will enjoy watching her battle Arthur for the throne, especially in the strong two-part season opener, “The Darkest Hour,” where Morgana has unleashed evil beings that threaten Merlin’s life. Despite their differences, throughout the season Merlin and Arthur’s bickering friendship grows stronger. Other highlights include the episode “Lancelot du Lac,” where Gwen’s love for Arthur is tested by the strong feelings she has for her old friend, Sir Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera). And the two-part season finale, “The Sword in the Stone,” brings the battle between Arthur and Morgana to a head, as they each raise an army to take over Camelot.
Merlin‘s fourth season also includes impressive additions to its cast. Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) is on hand for the entire season as Lord Agravaine. Guest stars include Emilia Fox as Morgause, Tom Hopper as Sir Percival, Gemma Jones as The Cailleach, Phil Davis as The Gleeman, and Lindsay Duncan as Queen Annis.
Season 4’s 13 episodes are on three discs:
- “The Darkest Hour,” Parts 1 and 2
- “The Wicked Day”
- “His Father’s Son”
- “A Servant of Two Masters”
- “The Secret Sharer”
- “Lancelot du Lac”
- “A Herald of the New Age”
- “The Hunter’s Heart”
- “The Sword in the Stone,” Parts 1 and 2
Merlin has never looked better. It relies on CGI for many of its magical effects, which look great in this Blu-ray widescreen edition, especially when viewed on a large-scale, high-definition television screen. The aspect ratio is 1.77:1, with a resolution of 1080p, and the three-disc set has a total running time of approximately 536 minutes. Merlin also sounds great, with dialogue crisp and clear. Language and subtitles are in English, with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
Disc extras include:
- Audio commentaries for episodes “The Darkest Hour, Parts 1 and 2,” “The Wicked Day,” “The Secret Sharer,” and “A Herald of the New Age.”
- A “Making of Merlin Season 4” 19-minute featurette
- 22 minutes of deleted scenes and 7 minutes of outtakes
- A photo gallery featuring Merlin fans.
If fans can put off their disappointment at Merlin having to still keep his magic a secret from Arthur, there is a lot to enjoy in Merlin, The Complete Fourth Season. Colin Morgan is as likable as ever as our wizard hero, and Katie McGrath makes a beautiful, compelling, and powerful adversary. The entire family, whether they like medieval romance and adventure or not, should enjoy this rollicking take on a youthful Camelot.
Images: Colin Morgan as Merlin and Katie McGrath as Morgana