TV In Review: Camelot (Starz)

Fair warning. I’ve referenced Merlin quite a bit here which might get a bit confusing because there is also a Merlin in Camelot and a Camelot in both shows. Italics are really quite lovely, aren’t they?

Spoilers for Camelot’s Episode 1 & 2

It’s certainly intriguing- definitely not Merlin‘s Camelot, that’s for damn sure. Though oddly enough, about the same amount of deaths per episode; for a show that claims not to be dark, Merlin has a significant body count per episode, and its a racist and sexist body count too- and damn it, why do I still watch that show? Oh yeah, they’ve kept Gwen (Guinevere) alive, so far. Can’t be sure they’ll deal with her characterization well when they have to actively address Lancelot.

Where was I? Camelot. There are problems from the outset.

Within the first scene, before the intro credits even roll, Queen Igraine is called a whore, by Morgan. Right after Morgan says that, King Uther hits her hard enough to spill blood. Morgan does not take this well, she kills him that very night. Morgan banishes Igraine and claims the castle (which is not at Camelot, by the way) for her own but not before exchanging a few more words with her step-mum.

Morgan then makes an alliance with a troll of a man (who I think she tried to put a spell on when they were having sex because there was blood and swearing of loyalty and I’m pretty sure sex and bodily fluids are supposed to be pretty damn potent). He ends up mistreating her; he threatens to rape her in front of the court because she calls him on his bad decisions and calls him a “cunt” (and really, Morgan, you have a cunt, so quit using it as a derogative term!). She manages to talk herself out of that situation (with a side of humiliating the troll) and he decides to tie her to a post in the middle of nowhere and leave her there for the rest of the night.

Then at the end of episode two, we get a scene of her acknowledging that the way to the crown isn’t going to be through a man, and this would be good except…it’s hinted (like an anvil on the head hints at things) that she chooses magic. Enter that good old trope, hello Merlin: women who play with power are corruptible and can’t control it. In fact, right before we get the scene with Morgan going into the woods ostensibly to contact the old magic, Merlin warns her not to “go near it”.

*sigh*

I want Morgan to be a character I can get behind. I really, really, do. Especially as this Morgan(a) has buckets more agency credited to her fight for the throne, and hello characterization and established (Merlin writers, introducing random plot points that don’t even connect every season is not character development) backstory to boot! She has her feminist moments: when Queen Igraine makes a comment to the notes of “What queen questions her king?”, Morgan scoffs at the sentiment. There’s also her belief in her legitimacy and right to the throne of Britain. Morgan’s brash, she’s smart, tactical, and she’s got a spine made of adamantium. Unfortunately, I get the sense that the writers really want to go the way of Morgan, the evil witch-woman who played with fire as a contrast to Merlin, the wise sorcerer who tried to warn her.

Onwards to more sexism.

Arthur’s adoptive mother, is killed by the troll (who is an actual human, by the way- this is a magic show, I feel I should make that clear- he’s just a real asshole) in an attempt to break Arthur of his desire for the throne. Her fridging results in the hardening of Arthur’s resolve and provides motivation for Arthur’s adoptive father to prove himself a champion worthy to take down Duke Troll and avenge her death.

Then there’s Guinevere. She’s also introduced as quite badass; she puts a knife to Arthur’s throat when they first meet. It is awesome. Unfortunately we later find out that she’s betrothed to, Leontes who saved Arthur’s life. This triangle is, a bit of a twist from the Lancelot angle you’d expect, is supposed to parallel Uther, Igraine, and…Igraine’s husband, whose name I can’t recall. Uther apparently desired Igraine so much, he had Merlin change his appearance to that of Igraine’s husband so he could bed her (and this is how Arthur was born of magic in this version, etc).

From this point on, it’s clear that Guinevere’s story has somewhat become Arthur’s story; an arc created to prove that he’s not his barbaric father, but a ‘better’ man. Urgh. It will be too bad if that is the only tack they take with Guinevere. We’ve got a great character in her, she’s brave, outspoken, smart, and always one step ahead of Arthur. Seriously, Morgan and Guinevere should just take over the kingdom (just like Morgana and Gwen should take over Camelot in Merlin).

I almost forgot Queen Igraine! She was captured as booty when Uther killed her husband and took over the land. Apparently the wife gets passed to the victor. Then her child, Arthur, was torn from her shortly after his birth and she was ordered to keep silent about it and suffer the guilt. My hope for her is that she gets a chance to demonstrate her own agency now that Uther’s dead. It’s too bad she and Morgan aren’t friendly, I believe they’d be good for each other (with an added bonus of the show finally passing the bechdel test).

Quite frankly, the way women are treated is as you’d expect in a show about very important swords. I’m just disappointed that they went in such a different direction but ended up doing the same exact thing. There’s also a lot of nipple and ass shots. Disproportionately more bare breasts than bare male asses, of course.

Oh, and there’s a black knight; Orpheus, I believe. He spoke once or twice. He’s not dead. Yet.

I’ll probably keep watching the show because I have a weakness for Arthurian adaptations with the hope that the ladies get better treatment and the black knight doesn’t die. I’ll cross my fingers but I won’t be holding my breath. Next on my viewing list, The Borgias; set in the background of Rome and the Catholic Church (so you can just guess where this will go). Unfortunately, I’ll watch nearly anything with Jeremy Irons in it.

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3 Responses to TV In Review: Camelot (Starz)

  1. Pingback: Women’s Friendship: Camelot (Starz) « The Rambling Feminist

  2. Justin says:

    Medieval men were more like “Duke Troll” than Arthur. Early Christianity and women’s rights in the West during the Dark Ages paralleled 3rd world tribal societies of the modern age. Women were but mere property, and land-owning, male aristocrats controlled the power of life and death over virtually everyone, even men of lower classes, not to mention their women. That’s largely why depictions of Medieval and Dark Age European society in today’s media is so inaccurate. Unfortunately, “Duke Troll” is by far the most realistic character in Camelot from an historical perspective. Women in Dark Age societies were generally much tougher and more resolute than many men and women in today’s age, because life was pretty brutal back then, but the social dynamic between the sexes was completely backwards compared to the USA in 2011.

    • Not that the social dynamic around gender is that great today either :)

      I get what you’re saying, and I don’t deny that patriarchal norms were even stronger and harsher ‘back then’, I’m just calling it out because we do seem to be endlessly fascinated with the ‘back then’ (personally, I can’t get enough of historical drama). I contend that their existence is not enough to not call out the sexism. The duke is still a troll, whether or not it’s historically accurate. As for this post, it’s mainly for that reason that I tried to concentrate on the women’s relationships to each other. Since the space tended to work against them, women had to find some solidarity, some peace in each other. I also find Queen Igraine’s and Morgan’s relationship reflective of some stereotypes (at times realities) of women in power even now. There’s something to be explored and examined there. The power of the female space and female relationships is still very relevant.

      ETA: Really sorry I took so long to get to this comment, thanks for taking the time to write yours :)

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