Setting Merlin Back on the Path to Hero
To restore Merlin on the Path of the Hero, we must first identify what type of hero Merlin might be. Merlin was sent to Camelot at the request of his mother who feared what would become of him due to the influences of those around him. While in Camelot, he answered a call to adventure though reluctant to accept at first. Merlin became the Manservant of a young Prince Arthur because together they would form a land the poets called Albion, where Magic and creatures of Magic were accepted and tolerated, and Arthur would become less of a Prat. By the final episode, Merlin accepted his place as Arthur’s Manservant and Magical Guide for the land of Myth and Time of Magic completing the Stage of Departure of the Hero Archetype. (Season 1 Ep 1-13).
In gaining this perspective of the world, Merlin grew emotionally if not physically. Facing fears and enduring tests, he conquered, with supernatural aid, obstacles and performed duties beyond those of others which served to strengthen him. By the end of the second season, Merlin reached a point of emotional stability that he made selfless sacrifices of his own life (S01E13) and accepted (grudgingly) the death of those close to him because he knew deep down it would be the right thing to do for Albion to be restored one day (S02E09).
Season 3 saw Merlin tested to the limits of his strength and endurance in trying to keep Camelot and Prince Arthur in one piece as the enemies from within and from without, Magical and non, rose to strike at the King. Relying upon his resources including an enchanted vial of water, he was able to prevent the downfall of the kingdom preserving the current ruler while assuring that his successor would one day take the throne allowing that one day there would be an Albion.
Season 4 saw Merlin face another great trial. Not only did he face the guardian of the spirit world, his use of Magic hardened the heart of his Prince against those who would use Magic making Albion seem less likely. In short, Merlin was a failure. Other events that seemed successful had the deleterious effect of reinforcing Merlin’s failure which was internalized by the hero but outwardly resulted in a repetition of earlier behavior (the pants incident in Aithusa for one, the bed scene in Sharer of Secrets, etc.). Because of these incidents and the progressive isolation from those closest to him, Merlin was reborn emotionally and changed to the point that he no longer showed the exuberance he once did in venturing his opinions choosing to pick the time and place when his ideas would be welcome.
Merlin while still on the path of the Hero had adopted many of the characteristics of the Villains. As the final episode noted, Merlin had become a master at deception and manipulation because in the 6-7 Merlin years he’d been at the Court of Camelot, no one suspected that he was a great and powerful sorcerer. As Agravaine noted, he and Merlin were more alike than different (S04E13) because Merlin was becoming the Anti-Hero.
What Kind of Hero is Merlin?
Although the writers can cast Merlin in as many different ways as possible, based on S01 Merlin and Arthur were fated to bring about Albion. In the Hero Archetype, the only difference between a Hero and Anti-Hero was that the Anti-Hero will never be reintegrated into society. In the Merlinverse these means: there will be no Albion. So, either Kilgarrah was wrong or Merlin will not become an Anti-Hero.
It was during this introductory Season that the Hero was defined.
Oddly enough, Merlin most likely would be a ROMANTIC HERO. Though, he underwent quests and demonstrated his bravery and loyalty, he seldom received credit for his self-less deeds. However, Merlin was described as a “Lover” (Mark of Nimueh S01E03) who did what he did without credit because he was altruistic, loyal and brave (The Servant of Two Masters S04E05). However, he was also “shabbily dressed, had appalling table manners, forgetful and seemed to spend” a lot of time in the Tavern (S04E05). Yet, he showed wisdom (S02E13) and was a true friend (S04E13).
Clearly, Merlin was not the Classic Hero who was admired for his physical appearance or prowess or as Gwen remarked in the first episode that Merlin wasn’t the “big muscley, save the world types” that Arthur was. And, Merlin wasn’t. But as the episodes progressed, he would show that he had other characteristics that compensated for his physical deficiencies even as his skill as a warrior improved. Merlin demonstrated endurance, cunning, and resourcefulness in the adventures that followed crossing that threshold of Heroism and facing a new, dangerous world with wonders to be revealed.
By the end of Season 4, Merlin seemed to be headed on the path of the Romantic Hero. While the writers could always introduce events that will lead to an even more emotionally damaged and crippled Hero turning him into an Anti-Hero or Villain, the most likely Hero Types for Merlin thus far were:
The Savior whose noble goal was to rescue others from discomfort and distress. Whether it was a lost child or captured maiden, the savior's promise was of succor and salvation as was the case of Merlin as physician (Lamia).
But, more inclusively, the Romantic hero whose central reference for his moral compass was his own self, who may or may not be eager to participate in a quest, and who rejected established norms and conventions because he had been rejected by society and often was lonely and isolated due to forces beyond his control including his own complicated emotions. He was often astute if not stinging in his observations. The primary focus of this hero was not upon his physical attributes and actions but upon his thoughts and emotional bearing.
Which type of Hero Merlin will become will depend on the direction taken by the writers. That's because there are certain important things about the Hero Archetype that need to be remembered and seen:
1) The Hero gets the prize in the end --- if he loses one, he gains another.
2) The Hero always gets his one true love--- if he seemingly loses one, he’ll find another. For instance, Merlin's lost one love, he should by rights have (re)gained another (this could be done quite simply by having scenes such as Freya being mentioned sometime during the water scene or in the Lancelot talk in Ep2). As occurred in Smallville, Clark lost Lana but gained Lois; while Chloe lost her chances with Clark but gained the love of Oliver.
3) The Hero gains stature among his companions or it is restored if lost. In Lamia, it would not have taken much or harmed the script if after Arthur's teasing, Merlin visited the ailing Knights and Gaius praised Merlin for being a fine physician shaming Leon into an apology allowing Merlin to regain the status Gaius had built up for him earlier.
4) The audience must be reminded of events--- so in The Herald of a New Age, we saw the consequences of Morgana's rescue from the Druids from the Nightmare Begins, Arthur's attack on that camp. There would have been a greater impact upon Merlin if Arthur had made this clear saying: "Gaius had everything right but it was I who lead the attack. It happened after Morgana was taken…" Because, it would have evoked greater emotion from Merlin who had the idea for Morgana to seek out the Druids in the first place, it would have emphasized, the Merlin motif: even the best motives have unintended consequences, and it would have allowed Merlin to grow emotionally and spiritually.
5) The repetition of themes is needed BUT differences must be made clear. In an earlier episode of S02, The Lady of the Lake, we met Freya a girl of Magic captured by a slaver who had no intent to cause injury to the innocent, showed remorse, showed her contrition, and showed her self-less concern for Merlin by not burdening him with her life. While in a similar story of S04, we met Lamia. A girl of Magic captured by Slavers who showed no remorse, no contrition, and a cruel and selfish Magic. Yet, the writers failed to mention that difference unlike the way they handled a similar difference between Merlin and Morgana in the Nightmare Begins. In that episode, Merlin tells Gaius that he was lost like her and would still be if not for Gaius who taught him all that's good in magic.
6) The audience hopes for the best outcome for the Hero… give it to him or at least the promise of it! This needs no explanation.
7) The development of the Hero occurs by developing the background players. It wouldn't hurt things to show or at least mention more interaction between the KORT and Merlin or Arthur. In Herald of a New Age, there was a mention of Arm Wrestling in the Tavern but no mention of Merlin and worse yet, no other episodes mentioned the off-duty antics of the KORT. We know from prior episodes that the great gambling games of Antiquity (stones-n-bones) were played in Camelot: DICE, CHESS, CARDS. It would have been nice to at least hear that Merlin participated in those.
8) The Hero is defined by the Villain and the greatest Villain is the one the Hero fears most: the Nemesis, a Villain who can neutralize the very essence of what defined the HERO. Sadly, it is not Morgana but an Alliance of Morgana and Mordred united in Evil.
In any event, if (some of) these things are done and Albion will be, then Merlin will become a ROMANTIC HERO. Which form Merlin becomes will depend on the writers but broadly speaking there are these distinct forms:
1) A British version created by Lord Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. The Byronic hero was intelligent, cunning, sophisticated, mysterious, and dangerous. A rebel who did not fit into the standards of contemporary society and whose emotional defenses and complicated personality hid a moody, arrogant self-confidence, by concealing inner demons and a secret past. Most often, this Hero was cynical and a seducer of women using them to his own end. (Sounds a little like Gwaine…)
2) A variant of this was the American Romantic Hero idealized in literature by Natty Bumppo and more recently by graphic novels like Batman. This Hero had all or most of the qualities of, but was coarser than, his British cousin because this Romantic Hero was drawn to nature, to the wilderness, or to beasts and relied upon intuition more so than reason often substituting his own code of morality and justice for those of society. (Sounds a little like Merlin?)
3) And everything else in between…
Depending on the direction that the writers take, Merlin's sojourn on the path of the Anti-Hero has transformed him into a Romantic Hero, as Arthur was transformed after the revelation at the Druid shrine in S04E10 and by the end of S04E13.
Merlin was "transformed" as his prior beliefs were affirmed and re-affirmed throughout S4. Likewise, Arthur underwent a transformation in the Hero's Journey. He had gone from being a Medieval Hero who believed:
1) A hero could be of common birth.
2) Battle was an ongoing test of manhood and loyalty to the liege lord.
3) A man has to be seen as having a good moral character including. chastity and obedience (doesn’t actually need to be of such a character, perception more important than actuality).
4) Must demonstrate obedience to hierarchy Must follow elaborate rules of chivalry, dress, courtesy, and codes of conduct.
5) Wages war on behalf of liege lord’s principles–war is no longer a land grab or to avenge honor.
To a Romantic Hero who believed:
1) Birth and class were unimportant: the individual transcends society
2) Their true battle was internal: it was a psychological war won by the “courage to be my own man”. And, moral codes were eccentric because heroes made their own rules.
4) Passions were outside of individual control
5) Self knowledge was valued more than physical strength or endurance while physical courage was de-valued
6)The hero was moody, isolated, and introspective
7)Loyalty was to a particular project and to a community of like-minded others
So, by the end of S4, on this stage of the Hero's Journey, a psychic bargain had been struck Arthur had matured and become more like Merlin; while Merlin became a more mature Merlin. Thus affirming what Kilgarrah noted in S01--- Merlin and Arthur were two sides of the same coin: the Romantic Hero.