For a long while in tonight’s season finale of Camelot, I thought the show might actually produce a sufficiently decent ending, one that would actually have me curious (if not rabidly so) for a second season. And then, as it’s done all year, the show took all the good stuff and threw it under the sappy, melodramatic bus. We’ve still not heard any definitive word if tonight was the season or series finale, but if this wasn’t the last, then it’s possible we still haven’t seen the worst.
“Reckoning” is a odd duck of an episode: it didn’t really start properly until about halfway through, featured all sorts of editing techniques usually reserved for the final film in a Peter Jackson film trilogy, and required several triple jumps of logic in order to get from Point A to Point B. (Really, Morgan? A sword, not a body, convinces you?) And yet, quite a lot of this hour worked anyways. Having Arthur suddenly turn into a mixture of MacGyver and Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone while defending Bardon Pass was fairly ridiculous. That being said, it was still pretty badass to watch him turn into The Great White Ninja, taking down Harwell’s men through a combination of wit and physical skill. Had I preferred the show occasionally pepper in scenes this season of Gawain educating him on the finer points of DIY booby traps? Sure. But beggars can’t be choosers.
“Don’t call me boy!” he screams at one of the would-be assassins, and it seemed early in the episode like a call to arms for his character. While spending nearly one-third of tonight’s running time on his single-handed defense of the Pass wasn’t narratively propulsive, it gave ample sense of this night-into-day being Arthur’s true baptism from childhood into adulthood. In this lengthy sequence, one could see how the show was potentially trying to establish that Arthur’s leadership this season has been earnest yet hollow. For all his declamations to the contrary, he wasn’t completely removed from the cad that used to shag Kay’s lady friends.
That would have been a perfectly fine arc for Arthur in this first season. Too bad what I’m describing isn’t what actually happened. What Camelot tried to posit tonight as a too-slow maturation I’d instead call schizophrenic characterization. Throughout this first season, Arthur has been whatever the particular scene needed him to be. Having a character that exhibits a host of contradictory actions and impulses is fine, and probably desirable. But those contradictions have to inform character, not confuse it. Simply having a huge boner whenever Guinevere is around is not exactly complicating Arthur. It doesn’t deepen him; it just creates dissonance. (Also, erections.)
Still, I could have gone along with the inconsistency had the show stuck the landing. Plenty of programs throw stuff out in the first few episodes that they would gladly take back had they both 1) a time machine and 2) the hindsight with seeing what works after enough time with the story, the cast, and the writer’s room. Arthur’s inability to keep his pants on around Guinevere brought down the first few episodes of the season, cheapening his rise to power and the more mature concerns that came along with it. By midseason, the show seemed to be pushing past all that, allow the pair to exist as adults and not illicit boinking buddies. I felt relief, sensing that the writers were smartly tabling this romance for a later part of the series.
Wrong. It came roaring back in the final few hours, with Morgan turning into a shape-shifting, medieval Gossip Girl to sow dissent among the ranks. Again, even THIS could have been justified, had Leontes’ initial anger and ultimate sacrifice could have augmented Arthur’s revelations at Bardon Pass. Was Leontes’ noble sacrifice manipulative and predictable? Sure. But it seemed to help Arthur more greatly resemble the king of legend, while simultaneously giving the show ample reason NOT to put him back with Guinevere anytime soon. After all, what kind of man would have sex with a grieving widow right after she watches her ex-husband burn on the pyre, right?
Well, now we know. It’s the same man that inspired Leontes and others to risk their lives for him, a risk that looks damn foolish in retrospect. Arthur leaves his former champion an empty seat in an in-progress Round Table, but is happy to usurp his place with Guinevere mere hours later. Well, at least he thinks so. Morgan, acting on the posthumous advice from Sybil (who apparently turned into Obi-Nun Kenobi after Gawain beheaded her), uses magic to turn into Arthur’s Barbie Doll. The two then sleep together, which is somehow less reprehensible for the incest-y vibes of it and more reprehensible for the fact that Arthur apparently hasn’t learned a goddamn thing all year.
That’s kind of a problem, because the imminent arrival of Mordred (again, assuming there’s a Season 2 and assuming Camelot doesn’t try and have Eve give birth to a reincarnated, super pissed-off Leontes) reeks of “we need a cliffhanger” rather than “the story organically calls for this to happen now.” I understand that Leontes said, “Treasure her,” as his final words, but Jesus, Arthur, he didn't say, "Plunder her treasure." You’ve already spent one night just cuddling with her this season. Would a second KILL you?
The fact that I have to focus so much of my review on this soapy bullshit annoys me. After all, once again, everything involving Arthur’s brotherhood with his knights and the Morgan/Merlin machinations ranged from solid to fantastic. There’s a smart, adult tale here that’s romantic not in the shipper sense, but the chivalric sense. As I mentioned last week, Camelot tries to be a four-quadrant show in terms of drawing in viewers. If the show did all its disparate parts well, then you’d simply have a show that tonally shifts in jarring ways. But since the Arthur/Guinevere/Leontes triangle has been so sub-par for so long, it just creates a situation where every scene focused on it produces active frustration for those that come for everything else the show has to offer.
By killing Leontes, I had hoped that Camelot had cut off the part of the show that ailed it most. Instead, it simply reconfigured the remaining players to ensure the continuation of its weakest link. Sadly, it’s now bringing Morgan even more directly into the fray. Instead of being an outside instigator, she’s now going to be the baby mama in the middle. It’s another chance wasted: by revealing Igraine sent her to the nunnery as a child to spare her life, I thought that confusion and guilt could have spun Morgan off into a new direction. Instead, aside from an immediate reaction that wasn’t so much “shock” as “I shouldn’t have eaten that third burrito”, little changed in her overall mindset. She still wants the crown, and will seek to obtain it via a bastard child that may or may not look like a wolf upon birth.
That of course assumes we’ll even see how this plays out. With Sybil and Igraine dead, and Merlin having bought a Eurail pass to mourn Igraine’s death, we have two half-siblings stripped of their remaining parental figures. Figuring out how to do things without the guidance that led them throughout this season would have been a fine way to structure that second season, without the need for demon spawn to ramp up tension. Assuming Mordred doesn’t gestate in three weeks time, it’ll be a long time before he could even pose a threat to Arthur as he does in so many versions of the mythology. That means the pregnancy in and of itself will be paramount to the season’s tension, which means Camelot will continue to emphasize its soapy roots as long as it will stay on the air. That might delight some, but just makes me sigh and wonder about what could have been.
- Favorite anachronism all season: Hands down, it’s Arthur’s slow clap walking into Camelot as Morgan attempts to be crowned. I laughed my ass off at that. Why is 1980’s James Spader in my Camelot? Don’t know. Don’t care. That was epic.
- From the moment Harwell realized only Arthur was inside Bardon Pass, all credibility to him hanging back was lost. I get that he’s a huge wimp, but come on. Talk about episode padding.
- When hiding in the sheet-strewn maze, picking off people one by one, I was actively praying that at least once Arthur would growl, “I am the Goddamn Batman!”
- Before she died, Sybil calls Merlin, “our very own Prometheus brought low by his love of man.” Metaphor, or deeper knowledge of who/what he really is?
- Not nearly as much Joseph Fiennes overacting as I had hoped in this finale. Still, him chanting to save Igraine while bleeding from the eyes was pretty fun. Sadly, we never got a full-on Dark Willow-esque transformation, which I thought the show would deploy as a way to make him a wild card in Season 2.
- The construction of The Round Table was pretty awesome, I must admit. There are certain things not even this show can sully. This is one of those things.
- No idea what the plan is for coverage if/when the show comes back. Those decisions will have to wait for another time, and are pretty much out of my hands. I'll say this, though: I only get upset at shows that have potential. And even after all of the missteps this season, I still think it does. I’m either an optimist or an idiot.
- “Let me go, Arthur.” Aaaad let the Arthur/Merlin slashfic commence.
- “You were…fascinating.”
- “You’re the birth of all this.”
- “Is this it? Have I really done it?”
- “A king could get offended.”
- “What did you expect: pomp and glory?” “I thought that she would come.”
- “After all this, you want to thank me?”