Early on in “Camelot”, I would often state that my biggest problem with the show was the casting of Jamie Campbell Bower in the Arthur role. But having now seen the whole first season, I’ve had to re-think that opinion. Bower still looks… weird. But then again, his slightly odd appearance seems to suit the character, who is clearly intended to be an awkward young man thrust into a position of authority. I assumed from the start that Arthur would need to undergo a major transformation to become the Arthur of legend. But with the choice of actor, I never expected it to come across as believable. And yet, strangely, it worked. Arthur’s development has been one of this season’s strongest points.
Tying that previous thought in with the season finale, last week left Arthur in a position in which he must finally rise to the occasion and prove to us, and to his men, his worth. The scenes in which the lone Arthur defends Bardon Pass against Morgan’s soldiers, using Rambo-style tactics, were probably the highlight of the episode for me. All that intense training really paid off for Arthur. And the thing is, it didn’t seem all that surprising to see Arthur doing so well. Arthur’s increasing fighting prowess has been well-demonstrated over the course of the season.
Surprisingly, the one character whose development I was most interested in ended up being the most poorly handled of the season. After “Lady of the Lake”, Merlin’s importance to the overall plot began to decline, dramatically. He was integral in pushing Arthur into becoming the man that he is now, but after a certain point, it was as if the writers no longer knew what do do with him. His relationship with Igraine helped to humanize him a bit, but he still barely factored into the plot. The biggest thing that happened to him after “Lady of the Lake” was his getting duped by Morgan and eventually captured, after which he played almost no part in the finale. I suppose this may have been necessary, so that Arthur would have a chance to stand on his own. But it’s still a disappointment. One does get the sense, however, that more important events lie ahead for Merlin.
I was a bit disappointed that Arthur’s fight with Morgan’s soldiers turned out almost exactly as I’d predicted, with Leontes returning and sacrificing himself to save Arthur. I hadn’t predicted that the rest of his men would return as well, but it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Perhaps this was the only way it could have ended on a satisfying note. It certainly feels as though the whole season has been leading up to this. Morgan’s plan to tear the brotherhood apart, in spite of some tragic losses, only resulted in it becoming stronger than ever. The ending feels earned, at least. But again, it feels a bit too formulaic.
NOTE: At this point I begin discussing how following seasons of “Camelot” might tie in with Arthurian lore, so one could consider these to be potential spoilers.
I quite liked that final twist with Morgan tricking Arthur into sleeping with her. One can pretty safely assume that Morgan’s son is going to end up being Mordred. As with other more recent Arthurian re-tellings, the Morgause character has essentially been merged with Morgan. In earlier sources, Morgause was Arthur’s half-sister who he slept with and fathered Mordred. As with most legends, the Arthurian tales have been told and re-told numerous times over the centuries, being further refined and modified in the process. For that reason, I don’t really mind when a re-telling of a legend or myth makes its own refinements or changes to improve the story. However, in spite of whatever changes “Camelot” has and is instituting, it seems to be one of, if not the most faithful adaptation of the Arthur legend thus far, which is rather impressive. But back on topic, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with Mordred. It seems possible that they’ll have to do some sort of accelerated aging thing in order for Mordred to play a part in upcoming seasons.
The season finale also seemed to mark the formation of the famed “round table”. A place is left empty in honor of Leontes, only to be filled when a new champion, one as pure and honorable as Leontes, is found. To this, the rest of the men confidently state that such a thing will never, ever happen. Of course, anyone with even a meager familiarity with Arthurian lore knows of Sir Galahad the Pure. And considering the relative faithfulness of this re-telling, we can expect Galahad to have an affair with Guinevere at some point.
The quest for the Holy Grail is another important, well-known fixture of the legend. So I’m very curious to see whether “Camelot” will include it at some point, and how they handle it. Christianity is a fairly important part of this world, but the existence of God in “Camelot” has been left rather ambiguous so far. Merlin is an atheist, while nearly everyone else is Christian (probably Catholic), which seems very realistic for the time. But the only supernatural elements that the show actively purports to be true are the magical, elemental forces from which Merlin and Morgan seem to draw their power. The show is, of course, highly sympathetic to Leontes’ firm faith in his God, as much as it is with Merlin’s lack of belief. So it’s not really clear, yet, whether the Holy Grail would fit in the show or not.
“Camelot’s” finale fulfills the necessary requirements of a season finale. It’s a relatively satisfying finish to a flawed, but intriguing first season. And it serves as a reminder that the show, despite often being quite good in its own right, contains a lot of unfulfilled potential. And for that reason, I do look forward to another season.