Oh how I love you for asking this question when I am attempting to procrastinate over my queer lit essay. IMMA ANSWER THIS LIKE A BOSS.
To be honest, though, it’s a really difficult question for me to answer because I would have had to have been show runner since about mid-S2 to be able to write the kind of S5 that I think this show needs. There is a hell of a lot that has gone down since then that I think is just downright bad story telling, and that’s before we even get into how problematic it is on an ethical/political level. It’s left S5 in a place that I would never, ever have let it go had I been in charge.
THAT SAID, here is what i would do in S5, if was unable to go back and basically re-write three years worth of bad narrative:
1. NO TIME JUMPS THAT DO NOT SERVE NARRATIVE PURPOSE. Which means NO TIME JUMPS. We will be cutting that shit out immediately.
2. NO EPISODES WITHOUT WOMEN. It’s fucking appalling that those are allowed to happen on this show just from an ethical stand point but it is also just really shitty story-telling to chronically underuse two of the main cast so NO EPISODES WITHOUT WOMEN.
3. NO EPISODES THAT DO NOT PASS THE BECHDEL TEST (for women AND poc). Thus Gwen and Elyan will get their relationship significantly expanded. We will also be introducing a few extra female characters to give Gwen and Morgan people to interact with who aren’t each other since having them interact in every single episode would take a lot of repetative-type hoop jumping given the
mess situation left to us by S3-4. At least one female knight and/or bodyguard for Gwen, an older, magical advisor for Morgana (or we could just bring back Morgause). At least one, preferably more, of the new ladies should be POC.
4. NO GAY JOKES. NONE. Arthur and Merlin will have an honest, affectionate friendship with as much homoeroticism as anyone wishes to see in it, with not a single ‘LOL NO HOMO’ moment in sight.
5. BULLYING MERLIN WILL STOP. IMMEDIATELY. That’s very much in the above vein - Arthur and Merlin will have an honest, affectionate relationship. No chucking things at Merlin, no mocking him. They’ve known each other for (by my count) SIX YEARS in-canon. Time for their relationship to mature to one of mutual respect.
6. ALSO IN THAT VEIN obviously a MAGIC REVEAL. Which would be dealt with mid-series 5 to allow proper build up with Merlin psyching himself up and then proper emotional fall out and resolution from the revelation. Gwen will find out first, probably in the premiere of the series and we will see a tight emotional arc between Gwen, Merlin and Arthur as Gwen feels torn between wanting to tell her husband, wanting Merlin to do it himself, feeling angry with Merlin for making her complicit in keeping things for Arthur and feeling bad and scared for Merlin knowing what he now runs the risk of. After the reveal we also get emotional fall out between Arthur and Gwen but Arthur IS NOT A DICK TO HER because he is a mature and responsible person
and not the five year old the current show runners like to portray him as.
7. FULL DISCLOSURE of what went down between Gwen and dead!Lancelot including a GROVELLING apology from Arthur and an acknowledgement that what he did to her was far, far worse than what he ‘suffered’ from her ‘betrayal’.
8. FULL DISCLOSURE of what Merlin did to Morgana in the S2 finale going to some quite dark places - Merlin feeling deeply guilt, having nightmares about it, possibly confessing to Gwen, possibly also getting into a confrontation with Morgana in which he apologises to her in the heat of the moment. (Kind of screaming ‘I’M SORRY, OKAY, I FUCKING HATE WHAT I DID TO YOU BUT I WAS SCARED AND ALONE AND OUT OF OPTIONS AND I THOUGHT EVERYONE WAS GOING TO DIE’ with appropriate emotions everywhere and Morgana spitting it back in his face and pointing out - because he still doesn’t know - that she had had NO IDEA that Morgause had made her the source of the sleeping spell and no idea even beyond that that Morgause was planning an invasion. And then more drama and screaming and final, proper pathos and resolution between these two as opposed to Merlin abruptly become an absolutely out of character little shit around her).
9. REDEMPTION ARC FOR MORGANA. Tbh the writers have screwed up her characterisation so badly at this point that I’m not sure HOW I would do this. She’s been reduced to such a pantomime villain - we’d need several episodes dedicated solely to fleshing her out again in order to get her to a point where the audience would BELIEVE in her redemption, and there just wouldn’t be time to do that with a 12 ep arc. So maybe less complete redemption so much as a steady development into a PROPER 3D character again who would be properly morally grey by the end of the show. It would start with more interaction with Gwen - for the longest time I’ve had in my head an idea for an episode where Gwen and Morgana get trapped in an old religion labyrinth, long-since abandoned, designed to test young priestesses. Morgana would have kidnapped Gwen and tried to trap her in the labyrinth but Morgana would accidentally get stuck in there too - the labyrinth can only be escaped from via the designated exit point, Morgana can’t just magic herself out again, and the place is filled with magical creatures, all also resistent to Morgana’s magic, who have to be fought and have been trapped down there since the place was sealed up twenty odd years ago so are very, VERY hungry. Gwen and Morgana are forced to work together to survive and we get lots of insight into their relationship. Elsewhere obviously the guys are rushing to rescue Gwen (had Morgause not been killed off I would have had this also forcing Morgause and Arthur to work together to rescue Morgana and Gwen - INTERESTING DYNAMICS ALL ROUND. The fact that we didn’t get more Arthur/Morgause interaction still pisses me off…)
Probably we would also get Mordred back - now around sixteen years old - and we would see Morgana’s bond with him start to stabilise her but also make her realise how corruption and greed in the dodgier magical communities have preyed on this once-innocent little boy and are steadily turning him into a monster. She’d be driven by a wish to rescue him (since no one was ever there to rescue her), although I think in the end she’d fail, and that would lead to her ultimate disillusionment with magic/power games (which is really what needs to happen to redeem her: she needs to lose her desperation for power and the thought process that tells her that power and magic go hand in hand). Disgusted with Camelot AND large chunks of the magical community she’d then turn to rebuilding the Old Religion, gathering followers in that way by acting as a healer and advisor and maturing into a much savvier, mature leader of a real and subversive social force in Albion.
(MORGANA AS ALBION’S FIRST SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE FTW)
Also I suppose Aithusa would be in there somewhere.
10. Come the S5 finale there would be some invading force that would need Morgana and Arthur to unite against a common enemy. Morgana would be camped out with her own forces of the Old Religion in Camelot’s courtyard where there’s a temporary barracks, the Knights would be resentful and suspiscious, Morgana would be like ‘whatever, bitches, look at all the fucks I give’, Arthur and she would have an actual, proper conversation about the state of everything, Merlin would be wary, Gwen would be cautiously welcoming and there would be some big final battle where Morgana is helpful and Merlin is all EPIC MAGIC FIRE STORM (…yeah at this point Morgana has known about Merlin being Emrys or whatever) and then there’s a final scene where Morgana departs with an eye roll all ‘I have sick people to nurse and protests to organise
and women to have sex with ‘ and Merlin and Gwen and Arthur are left standing on Camelot’s battlements looking out over the sun setting on Albion and ALL IS WELL.
so yeah that is roughly what I would do. Now I will go back to my essays.