Monday, November 17, 2008

robin hood and stuff vol. 2 (spoilers)

I’ve continued at breakneck speed through season 1 because I can and because I want to. I have to admit I feel the second wave of episodes are a little weaker than those at the start, but at this point I’m too invested to care very much. Besides, throw in enough Marian/Guy scenes and I’m sold. Yes, I am that shallow. Well, sometimes.

“The Taxman Cometh,” written by Richard Kurth and Kevin Boyle, has really only one plot strand, but I had forgotten the plot sufficiently to be surprised by all the double-crosses and deceptions. For our pre-credits teaser, Robin has a run-in with a Rome-esque butcher and his “economy cuts,” while Much has another Phillipe moment from Ladyhawke in a sewer. Marian’s busy doing t’ai chi in trousers, and Guy loves it. Okay, I don’t know if that’s actually what she was doing, I was too flabbergasted by her weird outfit to completely process it. I must confess the writers/producers are deliberately making Guy as sympathetic as possible despite his murderous tendencies—if there wasn’t something redeeming about him, there wouldn’t be any tension in the “love triangle.” Anyway, he’s decided that material gifts and persistence are the way to Marian’s heart and asserts he will “keep giving” (doesn’t he know that he’s the gift that keeps on giving? LOL!). “You need a husband,” he tells her.

A nun, the Abbess of Ruthfort, has collapsed after being attacked by “outlaws,” and Guy gives her protection, despite the Sheriff’s scorn. “I have some sympathy . . .” “Well, don’t!” We know that in this religious era of history, the Sheriff is a particularly iconoclastic unbeliever, and I had thought, based on Guy’s derision for the Pope, he wasn’t particularly invested in religion either. (Well, in an episode where he gives lots of people bedroom eyes, he does the same to the Abbess!) The Abbess, played winningly by Nikki Amuna-Bird from Torchwood (“Sleeper”), would have been a lovely character to retain as she’s one of the few who can “spar” with the evil, lecherous Sheriff. Their scenes together are a lot of fun. Alas, she’s not a real nun—she’s a con-woman trying to get to the gold.

Robin & co are also trying to get to the gold through a tax inspector and son who they’ve abducted in Sherwood, lured back to Nottingham, and attempted to rob the Sheriff. In an episode teeming with reversals, the tax inspector is on the Sheriff’s side and has delivered Robin & co to his enemy—or is that really the case? When Robin cottons on to the tax inspector and the “Abbess’” game, she tries to seduce him—“it is our duty to cheat [the Sheriff and government].” I’m rather surprised when people say RH is simplistic—certainly the themes are worthwhile if taking second billing to the action. All the talk of taxes keeps bringing the American Revolution to my mind (!) while I expect it’s more to appeal to the average Briton (though certainly not to encourage them to usurp authority!).

The final result of this story lies with Marian. Her father is incensed that she continues as “the Knight Rider or whatever you call yourself,” and she goes to the Abbess to see about becoming a novice. I can’t help but laughing at how bent out of shape this makes Guy—“I thought we were friends”—though there’s no way Marian could have fit her whole wardrobe into the bag she thinks she’s taking to Ruthfort. She’s able to reconcile with her father.

“Brothers in Arms” by Joe Turner is also rather simple, with just two plot strands, by far the more interesting of the two having to do with a necklace and Marian’s loyalty. I’m flabbergasted yet again at the idea of Lucky George, literally styled after a snake oil salesman from the Wild West. In robbing from him, Robin sets in motion both strands of the plot: meeting Allan a Dale’s rather useless brother Tom and getting back for a peasant woman a Lord of the Rings-style necklace. When Robin rescues swindling Tom, he declares “we do not horsewhip thieves.” I was about to wonder how exactly he intended to punish wrongdoers (!), but then he answered that question by making Tom & co thatch the peasant woman’s house for free. Not bad. Robin is reluctant for Tom to join the outlaws—“you rob each other in your family”—and despite the audience knowing no good can come from it, he agrees to Allan’s essays. Tom manages to try to attack Knighton and Marian—as the Night Watchman, she really kicks butt!—and then gets captured. Poor babykins Robin must seek Marian’s counsel on whether he should risk his men to save Tom—“people will think I cannot save my own men.” Despite his best efforts, though, the wily, sadistic Sheriff foregoes public execution and hangs Tom before Robin can get to him. It will become much more important later in the season, but already we are getting hints of Djaq shipperiness with two of the merry men. Allan teases her that she should be wearing a dress—“I will if you will.” Later she comforts him on the loss of her brother, with Will rather conspicuously watching in the background.

As for the “affair of the necklace.” When the peasant woman’s daughter wears it, seeking permission from her lord Guy to marry, he takes a shine to it and takes it from her (for one frightened moment I thought he was going to invoke prima noctes!). Of course his intention is to give it to Marian. His attentions to her are impossibly sweet, so he is quite unable to see her for the spy she really is. He is disappointed to see her not wearing the necklace later, at the same moment he is torturing his sergeant for betraying him. When Guy sees the peasant girl wearing the necklace (because Marian gave it to Robin who gave it to the girl) he is ripe to be twisted around the Sheriff’s finger. “My sergeant died an innocent man.” “Oh, I’m sure he was guilty of something.” The Sheriff certainly knows how to poke holes in Guy’s self-esteem—“she [Marian] was laughing at you.” When Guy confronts Marian, it looks bleak (though having seen the episode before I wasn’t worried!). “The only reason you paid me any attention was to feed information to my enemies.” When she is able to produce the necklace, we are of course relieved that she is in the clear for moment—but she’s creating bigger and bigger lies. There’s an all-out Heathcliff moment: Robin listening as Marian agrees to marry Guy and declares she “despises” Robin Hood. Marian manages to avoid kisses from both of them! And then Much eats some muffins.

Again, there isn’t much to “Tattoo? What Tattoo?” by Foz and Dominic, but I have to admit it a guilty pleasure! Now, I had to have a long think about tattoos and if it would really be possible for Guy to have such a tattoo. Of course, it would be—but how likely? The word “tattoo” is actually from the eighteenth century, but etymology means nothing in context to this show! According to the lovely Wikipedia, Sunni Muslims are not allowed tattoos but Shi’ites are (in which case Djaq must be Shi’ite, unless her tattoo is henna). It’s just a guess that Guy got the tattoo in the Holy Land, but since tattoos don’t seem to have been reintroduced to Europe until the 16th century, it’s a reasonable guess. What is it of, exactly? I thought it was a black widow, but I’m not sure. (Maybe I’d better watch it again to make sure! :-P) Whatever it is, it’s a good device for creating this whole subplot.

This is, of course, where Guy takes on more Brian du Bois-Guilbert’s qualities, for he, too, in the Holy Land committed treason by attempting murder against the King. A flashback at the beginning is a necessary evil—to Acre in 1191, where Robin defends the King and is left for dead. Just, er, like Ivanhoe. In the present, Much is disgusted that Guy is celebrating the King’s birthday (8 September), though when Robin decides to do something about it, he declares, “There is something wrong with you!” The plot is, as I say, quite simple: Djaq being captured and Robin trying to execute Guy for treason—both good strands, which makes this quite fun (if full of Hugo-esque coincidences).

At Knighton, Guy announces his engagement to Marian. He’s in a different outfit, with very tight trousers (oodalolly) and she is actually in something approaching period. It’s nice to see that there are some other noblewomen in the land—for the last seven episodes I wondered if they’d all been killed off! He presents her with a ring—how very Phantom-y!—and is so earnest. “This means so much to you, doesn’t it?” “You mean everything to me.” When Robin & co arrive to break up the party, Robin (who quite recently declared “trial by combat is not big and it’s not clever”) seems incensed by jealousy and rips up Guy’s pretty outfit, revealing THE TATTOO! We have a flashback to the first episode, where, as I said, the Important Plot Point established Guy knew of Robin’s fighting abilities but wouldn’t say from where. That’s convenient!

When Guy goes after Robin to get the ring back (Marian bears comparison to Scarlett O’Hara and her pawned wedding ring for the Confederate cause!), he doesn’t realize he’s going to spend the rest of the episode getting beaten up. Actually, the two beat the crap out of each other, which is what the Crusades were all about anyway, weren’t they? (Taking all the bloodthirsty violent men from England and getting them to kill each other off in Palestine.) Guy admits to trying to kill Richard, and his reasons aren’t as flimsy as profit or power. He claims that Richard is a pawn of the Pope’s rather than an independent force for his country. (He also says, “He would make peace with the Turk,” though I don’t think that was Richard’s game at all!) It’s the legend of Robin Hood, really, that has given us the myth of “good King Richard” whereas he actually only spent six months of his reign in England, and according to chronicler William Stubbs, “He was a bad king: his great exploits, his military skill, his splendor and extravagance, his poetical tastes, his adventurous spirit, do not serve to cloak his entire want of sympathy, or even consideration, for his people.”

I find it amazing that Robin’s men are not convinced by his sheer passion and certainty—since they don’t seem to have any evidence, unlike us viewers, who have just seen the flashback and are bound by conventions of TV to consider that the truth. “Killing, we do not do” is Little John’s Doctor-ish stance, and Much is much distressed to “follow you [Robin] into this torture.” They have more important things to do, though, like rescuing Djaq—and Will is right to worry about what will happen to her once the Sheriff finds out she’s a woman. Though this episode is supposed to make Robin look culpable, fallible, and a little “modern,” it makes me think he would definitely make a better king than Richard—his compassion and worldliness are more considered than his King’s, who was an anti-Semite though Robin’s is a mission of tolerance—“It was their [the Jews’ and the Saracens’] Holy Land, too.”

When Djaq tries to escape with her gunpowder and acid mixture, the Sheriff tries to make her produce explosives for him. A clue: no. The ships set sail when both Allan and Will declare their feelings for Djaq: “I like her” / “I think I love her.” Everyone finally resolves to exchange Guy for Djaq, not a minute too soon since the Sheriff has discovered her identity—“no wonder they want you back in the forest!” When Robin shows his hand, you have to admire the Sheriff’s quick-thinking—he takes Djaq’s acid and erases the offending tattoo (again convenient, but had he not had the acid I imagine he would have just ripped it off Guy’s flesh with a dagger!).

While the debate has been about loyalty and treason, there is no doubt in our minds that’s also the same conflict that’s been brewing since episode 1. Guy is very happy to lord over Robin that he’s got Marian now as well as his estate. Robin maintains that Marian will find out what a villain he is, “she is astute.” Guy agrees, but adds, “She’s also stirred by me.” So far she’s given no evidence that she feels that way, but if she had eyes in her head she, ahem, would. Well, she was blind enough not to realize Djaq was female so I guess all bets are off!

“A Thing or Two About Loyalty” boasts the formidable team of Paul Cornell and Graeme Harper, but it’s rather a partnership wasted. This is Much’s episode, and because he is a Hobbit I love him. But the fact that the Sheriff makes him a nobleman is a whim that really stretches credulity (but gives Guy a chance to roll his eyes for the nine-thousandth time). An engineer named Lambert has created “Greek fire,” which the Sheriff is desperate to have, even though it’s Guy’s “project.” Lambert refuses to give up the formula because he is convinced the Sheriff will use it as a weapon as opposed to some kind of mining tool. The Muslim education afforded Djaq calls her to scorn the name Greek fire—“never Saracen, Greek!”

Much is invested as “Earl of Bonchurch” (the Sheriff claims that hanging him would make him “an instant martyr”) and given an estate and a simpering maidservant named Eve. He gets to wear a kaftan, be humiliated at the Council of Nobles, and have a bath. “You are surely a spy and this is a trap,” he muses, before falling head-over-heels for Eve (it’s very amusing to have him insist “wear a bath shirt and pour yourself a bath!” when she tries to climb into the bath with him). When Much trusts Eve despite Marian’s advice, and Eve feeds the Sheriff rotten information for love of Much, the affection invested in a character such as he is well-earned—“you are the bravest, loveliest girl I’ve ever met.”

Both Guy and Robin want to save Lambert, for different reasons, of course. When Robin finds the secret formula, he must decide whether to destroy it or use it, and how to rescue the tortured Lambert. Is Robin allowed to decide “what should or shouldn’t exist as knowledge?” as Marian wonders. Marian delights Guy by taking an interest in his predicament—“the Sheriff undermines me as much as ever.” When he disappoints her (‘cause Lambert cops it!), she flouts not wearing his ring. “I felt dishonorable wearing it!” Again, the Phantom-ness when he asks her to wear it again. Robin is meanwhile heartily jealous—“what on earth did you do to him to make him do this?” The Sheriff, we see, is prepared to play everyone against each other for his own motives (and paints his toenails again! wtf?). There’s a major slash creepy moment as he paws all over Guy and announces they make “a fine team.” Ewww. And surely nothing good can come of Djaq saving Lambert’s ledger from the fire.

Oh, and the special feature on this disc was, as fate would have it, the character profile for Guy. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, though of course as I said of the first episode, “he wants to have everything Robin has,” including his “girlfriend.”

I’m going to have to catch up on the end of the season, and probably season 2, elsewhere because the library doesn’t have those DVDs. :-P

No comments: