Be The Serpent: Drastically Redefining Protocol

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Podcast Episode
Be The Serpent
First Episode · Episode #23 · Last Episode
Episode Title: Episode 23: Drastically Redefining Protocol
Length: 58:17
Featured: Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske, and Jennifer Mace
Date: December 5, 2018
Focus: fanfiction
Fandom: Merlin
External Links: Episode 23: Drastically Redefining Protocol; Transcript

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Episode 23: Drastically Redefining Protocol is an episode of the podcast Be The Serpent that focuses on Drastically Redefining Protocol, a Merlin story by rageprufrock. The episode breaks from the podcast's general format by focusing only on a single work, rather than picking three works and discussing a general trope.


A: No, you’re not wrong. Damnit. Freya, what are your stories about this trash show?

F: Let’s see, I only ever watched the first, er, season and a half, maybe even the first season of Merlin, because I was really active in the fandom during that first season coming out, whenever I was—you know, the show was really not taking itself seriously. Everyone felt kind of fond about how terrible the CGI was.

F: So I was probably upside down on the couch in this youth hostel in Sicily and Merlin came on dubbed in Italian on the TV at the hostel, and we were watching it trying to work out how much of the episode we could remember to try and work out what they were saying. And this was about the time, actually, that “Drastically Redefining Protocol” was being posted. We were in these youth hostels in Europe, trying to frantically refresh our emails, in Italian—in a Czech keyboard at some point in Prague, trying to say, “Is the next chapter up yet?” Because it was one of those few things that we were—that the entire fandom was following along with.

A & M: Mmmm.

F: So I have very clear, sort of place-and-time memories associated to this fic.

M: So, that’s the other thing, is that this fic was kind of—some fandoms are—there’s a moment and the fics that define a fandom, right? And, like, for...for Stargate: Atlantis, it’s frequently “Written by the Victors” or, like, “Lady’s Night at the Boom Boom Room” which nobody but me remembers.

F: Hey, that is relevant. It was written by Pru.

M: I—that’s the problem with it, it’s always Pru.

A: It’s always Pru.

F: I love that story.

M: So many of the fandom-defining ones in my head are Pru. It’s like Astolat comes in and, like, creates a fandom for like half an hour, by herself, and it’s amazing and wonderful, and then she just kind of wanders off again. But Pru comes in and, like, sits down in the middle of a big, blossoming of other people in a fandom and is like, “I’m just going to summarize and, like, epitomize this entire experience for all of you. Here is the Yuri-has-anxiety-giant-Yuri!! On Ice fic![1]

F: Yeah. She did it for Inception as well.

M: Yes, and it’s fascinating, but—

A: I—I was just gonna say, like, I have been sort of peripherally aware of Pru as a fanfic author for probably over ten years now, ‘cause I first became aware of her when I was in the Prince of Tennis fandom in, like, 2007.

M: [laughs] so, “Drastically Redefining Protocol” is a Merlin/Arthur modern day AU in which Merlin is a fumbling disaster of a medical student, or I guess a… resident? Right?

F: He’s a doctor. He’s a junior doctor. It’s what they call foundation year, I think, in the UK. It’s probably the equivalent of what you would call internship.. Or first year of… I don’t know, US is weird.

A: In the US we would call it a resident.

M: So, he’s graduated and is actually working in hospitals actually being a doctor but still learning things. Merlin is a medical doctor and Arthur is the Prince of England. With his father, King Giles.

A: Right.

F: Slash Uther.


A: It is an experience. So the first thing that we sort of wanted to talk about was “Drastically Redefining Protocol” as a romance novel. There are so many romance novels that involve that sort of commoner-falls-in-love-with-a-royal plot thing [M cackles]. I… Why are there so many of them and why do we love them so much? Like why do we want to fuck royals so bad? Like what is it about a prince’s dick that you just wanna get on it?

M: You do not want to see the face I am making right now, listeners, because NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!

M: [...]— oh! And a thing we forgot to mention! Merlin, in this fic, does have magic. Because I guess Pru was just like, “I like that bit! I’m going to keep it.”

F: I thought that was an interesting choice.


F: Because you don’t need it for what this story is.

M: You don’t need it.

F: But having it there made for a couple of really good plot points.

M: I think that one of the things this entire story hinges around, is really well done, is there’s a moment in the middle of it where Merlin, the young doctor, has just finished a round on the pediatrics’ oncology ward and one of his little patients is dying and he manages to hook his magic up to her heart and get it going again. But every time he falls asleep, she dies. And basically this ends with Arthur having to come back around and go, you know you can’t do this forever. You need to let her go. And I don’t know how that would have worked in quite the same way if there wasn’t magic. I could see it being him being the one to physically resuscitate her every time, but then any doctor could do that.

A: Right.

M: It didn’t need to be him. I’m not sure how you would have structured that.

F: Thinking about when I say it didn’t need it, I think that moment in particular and Merlin’s magic in general play and interesting part in terms of rectifying the difference in power. Cause that is a plot point.

A: I was just about to say the same thing.

F: Cause it’s a plot point about knowing the limits of your power and when to stop.

M: Right.

F: And knowing what you can do and what you should do. Which, when it comes to political power, or celebrity power which is what Arthur has, there’s an undercurrent of that through the story in his narrative. And so giving that magic power to Merlin means he gets brought up not quite to the same level but he has a similar inner conflict around power and its use and that makes them mirrors. And it makes the romance more interesting.

M: Right.

A: Yes. Yeah.

M: Right. Because they are peers.

A: And it means that Merlin can do something for Arthur in terms of shielding him occasionally from the parts of his life he doesn’t find all that pleasant. He can put a disguise charm or a camouflage charm on Arthur and then they can just go out in public and be normal people for a day.

M: Right. Which is another common trope in celebrity romance,

F: Yeah. Where you can be a normal person. And Royalty romances. I haven’t read very many of them but in terms of the tropes, very commonly they will rely on external conflicts predominantly. And if you think of DRP as a romance novel, and you think of romance novel tropes as having not only external conflict but also internal conflict, the internal conflict in DRP is fairly non-existent. If you look at the trajectory of the romance they meet! They have their meetcute in the hospital cupboard or room or whatever it is. Where Merlin has been shut away to chainsmoke in case he jumps Arthur while Arthur is touring the hospital. They have flirty emails and texts, they meet up in person, they kiss very quickly, they have sex fairly quickly. And almost as soon as they’ve had sex both of them realize that their feelings are very strong and it just kind of goes from there. There are a lot of external complications.

A: Right.

F: But in terms of their feelings towards one another, it doesn’t have the romance beats of constantly doubting your feelings or having the relationship hit on some wounds or having a dark moment and break up over a misunderstanding. That doesn’t happen. Everything that happens to them is external. But the love itself, the romance itself, the way they feel about each other starts in one place, goes to another. It’s very very simple.

M: Well, one thing that I did somewhat wonder, when I was re-reading this just now, was whether Pru, kind of, rushed the later half? Cause they kind of skim through an entire year in about 4000 words. And it did end in like 46,000 words. So I kind of wondered if maybe this was like, if there was going to be some more stuff, but she was like, “No, let’s just be done.”

A: That’s a possibility.

F: Like a lot of fanfic, the joy is in the getting together. Like a lot of fanfic is about getting together romance stories. And because there was that lack of internal conflict in the romance, once they were together and committed, and they were in love, there wasn’t that much of the character story to tell? There was a bit, and that’s when you get into the things about, it’s a story about the royalty structure...