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Nov. 25th, 2009

So tired already. I wish Christmas would just go away.

Finally managed to watch last weekend's Merlin, and while as an episode it maybe wasn't perfect, as a follow up from Sins of the Father it was rather brilliant, because it made clear that while what Merlin did there in the end may or may not have been a sort of 'reset' for Arthur, and may have been the best decision as far as he was concerned, it does have consequences for Merlin, even if he's probably only half acknowledging this on a conscious level, because so much self-denial comes with a price, and even while everyone was pleased with him in the end, I think something within Merlin did snap there.

It's pretty clear from almost the the first words Merlin and Freya exchange ('Why did you do that?' — 'What?' — 'Help me.' — 'I saw you. And... it could have been me. In that cage.') that this isn't so much about love (except in a very literally narcissistic way) as it's about loneliness and isolation and how emotionally starved, how painfully desperate Merlin is at this point for the company of someone like himself, whom he can be completely honest with ('With you I can just be who I am. We don't have to hide anything, we don't have to worry.'), and how tired of always having to hide such a central part of who he is: 'I'm fed up with being careful. I'm fed up with all of this.'

This has been building almost since the beginning of S2, certainly since ep.3, where Merlin was trying to save people in danger of being arrested and executed while Arthur mocked him about the flowers and having a crush on Morgana; maybe earlier, because as far as I remember Merlin has been complaining about Arthur's treatment of him since ep.1. For all the obvious reasons Merlin can't confront Arthur about what he'd do if he found out about Merlin's magic, even if it looks a bit like he's almost inviting discovery, doing highly unnecessary magic more or less under Arthur's eyes; so there are these petty ersatz battles over breakfast (because it's not as if Merlin couldn't have stolen food from the kitchen or somewhere else than Arthur's plate, or bought it, assuming someone's actually paying him) and bathwater and Arthur making Merlin polish his armour. Despite of what Freya says, Merlin doesn't actually have such a good life at Camelot where he'd be dead if Uther ever found out about him. It's an enormous strain to live under for so long, and no wonder he jumps at a real chance of escaping from all that.

And Arthur does realise there's something wrong, that Merlin is hiding something (ep.6 'It's your own fault, you had a suspicious look about you. Shifty. Like you've got something to hide.'), maybe even misses the relationship they used to have, but he can't figure out what exactly it is, or has a bit of a wilful blindness that stops him from drawing the right conclusions, so he makes it about Merlin's alleged feelings for Morgana, or the water Arthur threw at him, but unlike in S1 now there's increasingly the sense that things will never be really right between them until Arthur finds out and/or Merlin tells him, and they work this out. No friendship can forever survive this level of secrecy and dishonesty, and, if it comes right down to it, fear, because if Merlin wern't afraid of what might happen to him, he would tell Arthur. It's a bit like SV, really, except there you always knew you were watching a train wreck and Lex never stood a chance, and should have had more sense than hang so much of his life on the sixteen year old kid he drove off a bridge and who pulled him out of the water. But in a rather similar way Merlin and Arthur's relationship has lost much of the innocence it had in S1.

Merlin's isolation and the constant need to hide and lie also started to somewhat compromise his ethics; faced with the decision whether to help the people of his village or protect himself he didn't have to think twice in S1. In 2.03 he never stopped to consider the consequences when he told Morgana how to get to the druids, and judging from this episode, he's learned nothing from that, or the disaster with the witch-finder, either. And in the end it's suddenly Gaius who's become the voice not just of reason, but of morality, and Merlin, who wasn't tempted by power or revenge when offered that, prepared to endanger the life of the man he denied himself for in the last episode in order to save someone who doesn't require him to do that, even if she's also cursed to turn into a dangerous mythical beast at the stroke of midnight.

And while it's certainly true that Arthur hasn't been treating Merlin very well recently, it's ironic that the one time Arthur actually sort of genuinely apologises for that, it's after Merlin abused Arthur's trust in him without even thinking twice about it, and just then is probably very aware that he hasn't really earned Arthur's concern and affection after almost killing him. And of course it once again comes down to the fact that there can be no real understanding between them as long as Arthur has no idea that Merlin's hurt goes a lot deeper than Arthur throwing water at him. Although on the other hand there's also the unspoken implication of the kind of loyalty Arthur will get, when he can give Merlin the acceptance he craves....



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2009 12:24 pm (UTC)
Love this!

Usually I have stuff to say - in addition to or slight disagreement with - but I think you pretty much said it all for me, and said it so much better than I could :)

I saw elsewhere this notion that the thing with Freya was love at first sight and as I don't tend to read meta for Merlin don't know how widespread a notion that is, but I am so glad you were able to put it into the context that I (obviously) think it needs.

What I find wrt the writing on Merlin is that it is definitely layered and is never actually as shallow as it may at first appear, so surface readings never suffice. Since I like the way you read the text (I read some of your season one meta) obviously I'm going to think that you're spot on with this, but hey you are spot on. What can I say? ;)

I know you've changed your mind re Arthur knowing Merlin has Magic, but I dunno, I think he does know - on an unconscious level - and he's being protected (by his subconscious)from that knowledge so that he doesn't have to deal. It's gonna be hard to shake me from that stance since er no-one can prove that I'm wrong, right? :D ;) I think there's a lot going on with Arthur, which is somewhat masked by the stuff we SEE. The Sins of the Father was a pretty good indication of that IMO (excellent episode which shows that these guys really know what they're doing)
Nov. 27th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :) With Merlin I'm never really sure where I'm starting to over-interpret, but with this episode I think it was fairly obvious on a more than subtextual level that this was not just a random love story.

I know you've changed your mind re Arthur knowing Merlin has Magic, but I dunno, I think he does know - on an unconscious level - and he's being protected (by his subconscious)from that knowledge so that he doesn't have to deal.

Actually I was still more or less convinced Arthur at least strongly suspected in The Witchfinder, the way he physically shoved Merlin out of the hall before he could say anything (self-incriminating?); or at least wasn't prepared to take any risks. Obviously no one and nothing else would have stopped Merlin in time, and the witchfinder had suspected him before, so Arthur would have realised it wouldn't have taken much for Merlin to also end up on the pyre, but the way it was done it still seemed, I don't know, a bit of an extreme reaction for the crown prince, and somewhat at odds with Arthur's ostensible disbelief when the witchfinder first accused Merlin...

But it makes a lot of sense thinking about this in terms of conscious/subconscious. After The Moment of Truth I thought unless he was completely, wilfully blind, Arthur had to know, and I'd still argue the episode was deliberately ambiguous in this respect. But I could see how he might be blocking on a conscious level something that would lead to a permanent major conflict of loyalties, especially in view of the complicated relationship he has with his father.

And come to think of it, it's about more than loyalty. I think deep down Arthur did want a reason not to kill his father in TSotF, just like Merlin said, but because he'd put the pieces together and so completely understood the situation, the psychological motivation behind Uther's obsessive crusade against magic, it had already become about more than just losing his mother, it also was about the suffering and pain of the innocent people Uther had executed, so Merlin had to give him a reason he could accept as objective. And in hindsight this might also be why Arthur can't let himself know on a conscious level about Merlin's magic, because Merlin has proven again and again that he's not evil, which would mean that Uther is wrong and is having innocent people killed, and Arthur's honour would force him to do something about that...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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