They say love finds you when you least expect it, and it definitely came true for me in my first year at Warwick. The fateful night happened in Freshers week (early, I know) when one evening my flatmate and I decided to watch Netflix together, and she suggested we watch… the first episode of Merlin. Not your typical “Netflix and Chill,” I suppose! But I fell in love with the show, and I fell in deep.
I would be the first to admit that it was an unlikely match: the target audience of the fantasy-drama BBC series is British families with younger children, and not foreign students starting university in the UK. Merlin is a historically inaccurate version of Arthurian legends, with Merlin and Arthur reimagined as young contemporaries trying to figure out their destiny. The show has it all: magical creatures, knights and kings, and a kingdom worth fighting for. The episodes themselves have a fable-like simplicity, and the now dated special effects (Merlin was first introduced in 2008) are, for me, part of the charm.
The show has it all: magical creatures, knights and kings, and a kingdom worth fighting for
I suppose that Merlin is so addictive precisely because it is radically different from anything else I am usually exposed to as a student. As succeeding at university requires maturity, taking on some adult responsibilities, and reading tons of academic writing, I find relief in occasionally releasing my inner child. It is also something that I genuinely recommend to others. Like a favourite good-night story, each episode of Merlin is action-packed and has a powerfully optimistic, reassuring tone. Watching it leaves me feeling peaceful and relaxed — after a hectic day, what more could one ask for?
Actually, there is one thing I can think of. At the end of the day, no story could truly steal my heart if it is not rich enough for me to spend hours analysing it. I want developed characters, complicated relationships, and things gone tragically wrong. I want to lay in bed at night thinking about how the plot could be changed, events reimagined, and new themes introduced. Fortunately, despite its simplicity on the surface, Merlin provides all that. You just have to be willing to look in deeper, and trust me, there is a lot to discover.
As succeeding at university requires maturity, taking on some adult responsibilities, and reading tons of academic writing, I find relief in occasionally releasing my inner child
For me, the most intriguing theme in Merlin is how easy it is for people, no matter how close, to grow apart and turn against each other. This is portrayed through the gradual alienation of Lady Morgana, who turns from the most beautiful, compassionate, and just character, into the most feared villain. It is a heartbreaking tragedy and watching it unfold — in a quiet way, underneath the goofy adventures, jokes, and heroic fights to protect the kingdom — kept me hooked on the show.
In Season 1, Lady Morgana, who is the ward of King Uther, is primarily a secondary character. She seems to have two main roles: impressing everyone, including Prince Arthur, with her beauty, as well as criticising him and his father through witty and fierce remarks. As Morgana slowly discovers that she is different from the others and yearns to embrace her true self, she also assumes that no-one will accept her for who she really is. It must be a truly distressing conviction to hold, and the saddest and most intriguing part is that, as viewers, we are never quite sure whether she is right. The friendship she has with Prince Arthur, who she grew up with, is never fully confirmed; he fails to show her how much he cares for her. Hence, Morgana does not fully trust him, and cannot risk seeking his support. It is fascinating to consider what could have happened if she did.
Merlin remains our brave protagonist who, despite making mistakes, embodies perseverance, loyalty, and determination
As a counter-balance to the disastrous transformation of Morgana, Merlin remains our brave protagonist who, despite making mistakes, embodies perseverance, loyalty, and determination. He never seeks out credit for all the times he saves the kingdom, and serves Prince Arthur with pride. While Merlin’s own magic remains mostly hidden from other characters on the show, nothing prevents me from disclosing the magic of the show to you!