The Starz original series Camelot started over two months ago. I was very excited about this show when I first heard about it.* I was first introduced to the entirety of the Arthurian legend in the 1981 film Excalibur. I still believe that film is splendid in every way. Young as I was when I first saw this movie (though I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching it — it was on cable at night and there were naked breasts!), it left an indelible mark on my memory. Since then, I have loved the Camelot story and have enjoyed the retelling of this tale over time.**
So, hearing that Starz was launching a new series about the Arthurian legend made me happy. Especially since I enjoyed some of the channel’s previous original programming (see *). The costumes, sets and locations looked lush in the previews. And the cast was (and is) impressive. The first episode unfolded as one might expect…the death of Uther Pendragon, the unveiling of a rightful male heir, etc. At the same time, the seminal episode unfolded in ways one would not expect. Uther’s death was murder, orchestrated by Morgan (who is Uther’s biological daughter in this telling). At first, it didn’t bother me that Morgan murdered her father. He was an ass and treated her horribly and got his up-and-comings.
But as the show progressed, the portrayal or Morgan did start to bother me. It wasn’t that singular event in the first episode, it was the development of Morgan’s character that had me sneering. I had really hoped Morgan would be a strong woman and rightful contender for the throne, a champion of her own cause and political strategist. To the writers’ credit, arguably she is all those things. To the writers’ discredit, Morgan almost immediately abandons any moral compass and becomes the big bad in the series, an “evil witch,” and an architect of social destruction for her own personal gain. And she uses dark magic to accomplish her goals. To me this felt so…expected. To be fair, she also uses non-magical methods, such a lying and murder, as well.
I am not at all opposed to magic in the portrayal of paganism. As far as I know, all forms of paganism include some element of magic. For example, Wiccans can cast spells, Heathens may study runes, Druids might meditate. Pagans do not have to practice magic to be pagan or to call themselves Wiccan, Heathan or Druid (etc.), but they can practice magic.
The issue is that Morgan only uses magic, dark magic, to be bad. Granted she is a bad ass at being bad (Eva Green is rockin’ this role). Much I as I love the Morgana character in Excalibur (I *heart* Helen Mirren!), I was really hoping the Morgan character in Camelot would be more…enlightened. Granted, I am biased because I thoroughly enjoyed The Mists of Avalon, and I am also a fan of Gregory Maguire. Basically, I really dig stories that revisit “evil witch” archetypes and reframe them in political, social or personal experience contexts. Not just because such stories provide a new twist on an old tale, but because they offer strong female characters that are more realistic, more tangible, more relevant.
So, yeah, I’m disappointed the writers didn’t revamp the Morgan character and give her more political and social than magical relevance in the story. I think they are trying to make Morgan material in the narrative, but she is only relevant politically and socially because of her nefarious practices. I mean, I’m not asking for Morgan to be all Eddard Stark (all honor and no political savvy),*** just not so White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia (the end justifies all means). I was expecting more from this Morgan, especially since the actors have described the magic in Camelot as elemental and connected to nature in various interviews.
And the part that really confuses me is that, according the the narrative (which isn’t all that clear all the time), she really doesn’t need to be the “evil witch.” She could take the throne through legitimate, political means using strategy, not dark magic or any magic at all. Argh!
The other women in the story leave me nonplussed. Guinevere is okay, but I am suspect of anyone who furrows their brow constantly. Is she upset? Is she confused? What, Guinevere, what?! Igraine is possibly the most beautiful woman in Camelot. And I have great hope for her character. But in the first episode she said this:
Morgan: You did nothing when my father banished me.
Igraine: No queen questions her king.
WTF? Morgan’s response is apropos, “And I thought my opinion of you couldn’t get any lower.”
So, we get Morgan — a bad ass — but unequivocally bad, Guinevere — a victim? a harlot? a role model? (what, Guinevere, what?!), and Igraine — a tow-the-line wife and mother. Sigh. I really want to like this show. I’m hoping the characters will improve over time. I would happily eat my words if they do.
Wow. I didn’t mean to go all feminist on you today. And you know what? Had the writers given more thought to these female characters, I wouldn’t have had to. What do you think readers? Are you watching the show? Do you examine female characters using a pagan lens?
* I didn’t buy Starz for this program, though. I was already subscribed to this channel because I was an avid fan of the Spartacus series, Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena. Also shows with strong pagan elements (given the time time and setting). I heard Lucy Lawless was in a new series, so I and picked up the phone and dialed my cable company!
** Including the Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy, The Mists of Avalon (the book and the miniseries), the musical, the Bing Crosby movie, and the new BBC show Merlin. Literary fail — I have never read The Once and Future King or Le Morte d’Arthur. Now that I think about it, I am not sure I have ever watched The Sword in the Stone, either.
*** Yeah, I’m totally watching (and loving) Game of Thrones, too. And I am on the second book in the series.