I posted a review for "I, Claudius" not too long ago, which at the time was the finest bit of television I had ever seen. Then the same friend that introduced me to "I, Claudius" also introduced me to "The Black Adder." Although "I, Claudius" is still the best, in my mind, "Blackadder" is right up there with the greatest. Although the first three series are all very funny and very well written, it is with the fourth and final series that it reaches its peak. I'll go through the cast, then the reasons why this series was the best of the four.
First, Rowan Atkinson returns as Edmund Blackadder, who has now fallen to the status of an army captain. He is in this series at his slickest and most scheming, though not quite as evil as he was in the third series. Atkinson is once again hilarious, as is Tony Robinson as the grimy and completely witless S. Baldrick. Hugh Laurie once again rounds out the trio as Lt. George, a much nicer and more pleasant character than the Prince Regent, but just as dim and naive.
Tim McInnery, who was mostly absent from the third season, makes a return as Captain Kevin Darling, a desk jockey at headquarters who is Blackadder's> rival. Darling is quite an interesting character, and certainly a huge change from Lord Percy. Stephen Fry returns as the hilariously inept (and completely insane) General Melchett. World War I, as we know, was one of the most pointless wars in recent memory. It was carnage for the sake of dubious causes, where millions of common men gave their lives for god only knows what, at the command of men scarecely fit to dress themselves let alone cunduct a war.
The series itself is hilarious, the cast is brillaint, and the episodes "Private Plane" (with Rik Mayall giving another hilarious performance as the obnoxious Lord Flasheart) and "Corporal Punishment" are particularly funny.
The best of the season, though, and the best, by far, of the entire series, is the final episode "Goodbyeee". I was struck speechless when I saw this episode. There was an impending sense of doom hanging over the heads of our beloved characters as they waited for the end. George, who had up to this point been champing at the bit to charge the Germans, began to show signs of misgivings...for all of his friends had been killed in the war, and he began to realize that he, too, was afraid to die. Baldrick, who seemed perfectly thick with no mind whatsoever, also began to display pathos. He remembered how wonderful and honorable it seemed to serve in the military. He also wondered why the war had to go on, and why it couldn't just stop and everyone couldn't just go home.
There are two real defining moments in this episode, though:
1.) When General Melchett sends Captain Darling off to the front line as 'a favor.' Darling, is of course, terrified. He's a pencil pusher and a snivelling desk jockey, and now, the very real spectre of death faces him. As he turns to go, the door is opened and a bright shaft of light enters the previously darkened room, outlining the shadow of a soldier who salutes. General Melchett says, in a solemn and somewhat moving manner, "Goodbye, Kevin Darling." In this poignant and moving scene, the up to this point loathsome Captain Darling is suddenly a tragic character, as he goes off into the light to face his almost certain demise.
2.) As Baldrick, Blackadder, George, and Darling prepare for the end, they both say a few last words...Darling wishing that he could just go home and go on with his life and marry his sweetheart, George finally starting to fear death and missing his friends that he lost, Baldrick confused and disenchanted by the pointlessness of the war, and Blackadder resigned, bitter, and hopeless. Blackadder had, earlier in the episode, tried to get out of the war by pretending to be mad, but in the end, realizes that in a war run by madmen, one more loony wouldn't be noticed. The four men then charge over the trenches, and are consumed in the smoke of battle. The next scene shows the ruins of the battlefield, which segues into the field as it is today, covered in poppies, serene and peaceful, a grotesque opposite of what it once was. There are no end credits. Simply the end. This ending was beautiful, fabulous, very moving and well constructed. It must be seen to be believed, it is among best I shall ever see. "Goodbye, Kevin Darling." Indeed.