Sunday, November 30, 2008

robin hood and stuff vol. 3

Much like Doctor Who in my opinion, RH follows the same pattern in terms of episode strengths. The weakest are wedged in the middle, and the strongest come at the beginning and the end. That all makes sense, of course, but there is such disparity between episodes 10 and 13, no wonder the show gets slagged off.

“Peace? Off!” understandably tries to throw a bunch of relevant, modern themes into 1192 while co-mingling all the action we’ve come to expect from the show. I have to wonder, though, what drugs Doyle and Kurth were on when they penned it, as it comes out an anachronistic bouillabaisse of well-meaning twaddle. One does admire the show for trying to add the Arab viewpoint to the Crusades, but when it’s done like this, I think it more likely to be laughed off than taken seriously. The Vietnam vet parallel with Harold, a crusader suffering shell-shock, basically hits us in the face, with or without the fact the character is dressed in camouflage fatigues.

I can see the writers trying to tick off their list. Talk of heretics: Harold is branded one for trying to burn down a church, even though he wears a cross and “fights like a crusader.” (“What kind of men burn churches?! Why did you save him?” “I could not fit the church on my horse.”) Tanks: the merry men find Prince Malik’s overturned battle vehicle in the forest. Fast food: when discussing kebabs with Harold (which he had in Cyprus), Much invents restaurantry. Acupuncture?!

It is nice to see that Much can tame the disaffected crusader with listening, but the rest of Harold’s story is a bit iffy. Robin claims “he was forced to go to the Holy Land to fight.” No one was forced to go to the Holy Land to fight, as I recall—knights had to take their vows from clerics to be invested to go, though no doubt non-crusaders fought under the banner of legitimate knights. The show is really, really big on tattoos for some reason: Harold’s torso is pockmarked with malevolent, vaguely Arabic designs given to him as part of a torture. He tells Much he was in Nicaea and Tripoli, but if so, what was he doing there? There wasn’t any action there during the Third Crusade.

I’m being needlessly nitpicky. At a basic level, I quite like the story. Prince Malik, Saladin’s nephew, is lured to Nottingham with an offer of peace by the Sheriff. The Sheriff promises peace talks with King John while secretly ransoming Malik off. Whether this could actually happen I’m not sure. It’s the details that leave the story screwy, like the Sheriff eating goat’s eyeballs, and the “assassination squad.” This is the last episode I saw of the show in 2006, and while it wouldn’t have put me off watching the finale, I certainly didn’t feel I’d missed the show enough to try to finish it (until now), basically because of the ludicrous assassination squad.
Perhaps these kung fu houris are actually from the future, and somehow ended up as Saladin’s personal guard by traveling through time, stopping off first in the 1970s to pick up their aquamarine jumpsuits. To say I rolled my eyes during the final battle scene would be an understatement. Yet, I cannot deny the scene would have been a lot of fun to choreograph. In one thing there is actually a grain of historical truth—when the assassins reveal their target, a drawing of a crusader, it does look a bit like a Muslim illustration of the crusades I saw in a book recently—and Djaq is right, of course, when she says, “Muslims are forbidden to worship human images.”

Much more enjoyable in the episode are Guy’s continued attentions to Marian. The Sheriff teases him about his lovelornity, suggesting that Marian’s affections can be bought with a gift. Marian does react with uncharacteristic excitement to the gift of (what I assume is) a destrier war horse. She also makes it an opportunity to make Robin feel bad: “Some men take pleasure in giving women gifts.”

“Dead Man Walking” by Simon J Ashforth has a similar dose of the silly. Between the deranged Sheriff indulging in his Festival of Pain and the panto exploits of Robin, Marian, and Guy (not to say that I don’t love that scene!), it’s hard to feel any real emotion for Little John, Alice, and little John’s situation. The Sheriff certainly seems to be out of control here—“if the King knew what was being done in his name,” mutters Much. With Luke the bowmaker, Little John, and his son arrested and thrown in the Nottingham dungeon, shortly to be followed by Alice Little (John’s estranged wife), Robin has more than enough to worry about. “We can’t help everyone . . .” as the entire shire seems to be arrested (on trumped up charges, much like the taxes imposed on the American colonists post-French and Indian War, and we all know where that went . . .).
I don’t know very much about torture in medieval England, having only seen an exhibit on it in the Tower of London, but it probably didn’t differ very much from the Spanish Inquisition. So, that the Sheriff would possess such instruments of torture is possible, though why he would choose to use them (as well as hot coals!) inside the castle is a mystery. “We should be very creative!” he announces. Guy for his part is shockingly mum on the whole thing, despite Marian’s heartfelt, “You cannot seriously countenance such cruelty!” (He’s not in Nottingham when it’s going on.) Marian manages to defer suspicion when Little John is captured; “outlaws all look the same to me.” I really love her outfit in this one, anachronistic as it is. At least it’s functional and not totally outlandish.

In order to try to get the prisoners out of the dungeon, Robin and Allan adopt castle guard disguises—ever since a saw a YouTube video I cannot disassociate the scene of Allan whipping Will, as his “prisoner,” with the adjective kinky. Lord save me. There is a moment of broad physical comedy when Little John cannot scratch his own nose, which is surprisingly funny. Marian is staying at an inn in Nottingham for some reason that was never fully explained to me, but it gives an opportunity for the panto “he’s behind you”-type scene when Robin comes into her room disguised as a guard with Guy completely unaware of his identity. Despite the inherent silliness, the scene is really quite sweet. Guy begs Marian not to send him away and tries to steal a kiss—or possibly more than that? “Be with me.” Her objections are flimsy—stupid cow—but her reasoning understandable. (See how I’ve transformed into a die-hard Guy/Marian shipper in a matter of weeks?) As I read somewhere, he fails “to get his wicked way with her.” Giving Robin a nice opportunity to slip in and be charming.

Guy is off to take the King’s tax money (is this an oblique reference to the Saracen tithe?), Robin to switch it with grain, and a rescue for the Littles and other innocents to be mounted before the Festival of Pain begins. Alice Little is quite harsh to her estranged husband whose son has never known him, but in the end relents (perhaps because she thinks she is about to be tortured to death?). What results is another thrilling rescue, and Little John getting quite close to killing the Sheriff—“the devil!”

The last two episodes of season 1 are by Dominic Minghella, and to me they are quite strong and a fitting ending. “The Return of the King” is the first of two episode titles that channel Tolkien (is someone a fan here or what?!). I love the logic behind the finale. Much has the philosophy square on the head: with the return of “good King Richard,” the Sheriff will be ousted, Robin will regain Locksley, the outlaws will be pardoned, Much will have Bonchurch (and Eve), and those who had trades will go back to them. All of this good fortune made rotten merely by Marian’s marriage to Gisborne? Apparently so—though from a viewer’s point of view, we also don’t want the King to return because it will mean the end of our adventures. (Robin McKinley, I seem to remember, got around this by having Richard send Marian, Robin, et al to the Holy Land after he returned, kind of RH in reverse, but I remember at the time really hating that ending!) Not sure why Richard would land at Hull, though his meandering through Nottingham actually makes more sense than the Sheriff implies, since Richard was such a leisurely traveler.

The Sheriff is so evil. He mocks Guy, deceives him, and witters on about being “absolutely in control.” Nevertheless, the “news” that the King is returning has its desired effect, and Guy goes racing off to tell Marian that she will have to make good on her promise to marry him. His attempt to be romantic—“I just wanted to sweep you off your feet”—backfires when Marian backflips out of his arms! (Surely then he’d have a clue that she was the Night Watchman?!) Robin is dedicated to stopping the wedding, and the only way he can see how is to expose Guy as a traitor. This appears difficult as Thornton, I assume the Locksley steward, tells Robin that a physician came to Locksley every day. However, when confronted the physician confirms the treachery and claims he will testify to this effect. Puh-leaze.

Marian’s father Sir Edward is going to lead a coalition of nobles against the Sheriff in Merton, conveniently not going to be there for the wedding, yet he urges her on to do the prudent thing! “There are worse things in heaven and earth than marrying a man you do not love.” “I think he [the Sheriff] intends to kill the King.” Robin is understandably upset with Marian’s behavior and accuses her of using her father as an excuse. “Without him you would have to make a choice!” Marian is not quite as indifferent to Guy as she has pretended (well, duh)—“he has qualities.” (Black leather, puppy dog pouting, blue-grey eyes . . . I could go on and on!) “Do not tell me what I should be doing!” I read my first RH fan fic the other night (Guy/Marian, of course) but it did elaborate on the pressures Marian faces, and though they are not so different as the ones facing Robin, she’s right that he shouldn’t presume to dictate to her.

Marian does have her imprudent moments, however, and decides to give the Night Watchman “one final fling” so she can feel “more comfortable in my marriage.” That is to steal Guy’s fortune, which she bungles. Guy goes a bit Redrum before Robin & co come to Marian’s rescue. They get away with the gold, Marian gets to kick him down the stairs, and they escape, but he stabs her. (I know he finds out in season 2 that she’s the Night Watchman, but I wonder what would happen if he found out then, that he thought he’d stabbed his mortal enemy but it was also his fiancĂ©e?) “She’s stealing Gisborne’s money.” “Good work.” Allan and Will end up with the money; the rascally Allan suggests they just take it and go.

Even physically wounded by him, Marian’s compassion for Guy is more than Robin can bear. “He’s a human being.” Robin suggests that she is “stirred” by him. I’m afraid, Marian, the evidence for that very notion is mounting! Unfortunately, spending the night in the outlaws’ cave proves to be too much, she has a relapse, Djaq tries her best to keep her alive. This sounds perfunctory, but it’s actually a very moving nail-biter of a sequence. Robin risks bringing the physician Pitts from Nottingham, but the rotten man (who obviously didn’t take a Hippocratic oath!) leads the Sheriff and Guy straight to the outlaws’ cave. The cave atmosphere is rather perfect for this story, and I feel like it must have featured in another Robin Hood story at some point—possibly even Robin of Sherwood. It also evokes Romeo and Juliet, which practically seethes from within Robin as he sits at the dying Marian’s bed side. His deathbed confession of love—“we should be together”—comes too late. (Obviously with the second season ahead I know she isn’t dead. But you wouldn’t have known in 2006, would you?) It’s a great cliffhanger.

“A Clue: No” belies its flippant title to be almost as strong a conclusion as “Will You Tolerate This?” was a beginning. We pick up immediately where we left off, with Robin and the remaining outlaws—Little John, Djaq, and Much—on a suicide mission to make one last stand. Their vehemence startles the Sheriff—“what is this? Is this suicide?”—and indeed it would be laughable were the production levels not up to snuff. The forest of arrows coming from Robin’s bow is both deadly and comic, indicative of his mental state. With the timely return of Allan and Will, the outlaws are able to drive off their adversaries.

In the cave, everyone says their “goodbyes” to Marian. Despite myself, despite knowing she’s not dead, I find myself welling up! As I said before, when RH channels the classics it does well; Marian’s miraculous recovery brings to mind Athelstane in Ivanhoe as well as Juliet waking from her timed sleep—that probably even involved hemlock as this does, and to be honest as soon as I saw the physician give her a draught in the last episode I had a feeling something like this would happen. Marian lives—but how to get her back in one piece to Knighton and prevent the wedding . . .?

“I’ve arranged an impostor,” the Sheriff confesses to Guy. “None of them have ever seen the King.” For what it’s worth, Guy is certainly troubled by this news—but not troubled enough. “You get to marry the girl . . . a marriage based on a lie . . . how will you cope?” In fact, Guy does go to Marian with the intention of telling her the truth. Finding Sir Edward reticent, he immediately infers that she ran away, “I knew she would break her promise.” When he sees her ill in bed, he might still be willing to tell the truth—until Edward says that “perhaps the excitement of the wedding” made Marian ill. Unable to cope with the fact Marian might actually want to marry him, he keeps quiet about the deceit. “Send for a physician?!” Much scoffs. “He just killed one!” Indeed, with Pitts dead, Robin has no way to stop the wedding. Edward begs him not to interfere. “You will raise her hopes . . .”

In his sulkiness and jealousy, Robin is “sick of doing the right thing” and even turns on Much. “You speak every banal comment that comes into your head!” (Indeed, like Frodo accusing Sam of wanting to keep the Ring for himself.) Miraculously better, Marian point-blank asks Guy if he went to the Holy Land to kill Richard. He doesn’t say no, but he certainly evades her question. Marian is sure that his feelings for her are genuine, and she is also willing to believe him on this point. Which is why the conclusion is somewhat sad. I have to confess I love this scene. He does kiss her, even if she is too confused (or horrified?) to respond—“You must see what you do to me . . . I have never felt like this before.” Marian suggests to Robin that Guy has been deprived of love, which makes it very difficult for this Phantom fan to resist him!

Robin decides to sit this one out, leaving Much to save the day. Much, having “served with the King in Antioch” (Siege of Antioch was not led by Richard, so Much must have been in the Holy Land a long time before Robin!) recognizes right away that Richard has not returned, and runs all the way to the wedding in Locksley to warn Marian. I could hug him. Meanwhile, Guy has walked into The Matrix (not the most flattering style, I must say) and Marian has borrowed Elizabeth’s wedding dress from Pirates of the Caribbean. (The color and print are beautiful, and were it not for the stupid veil, it wouldn’t be terribly anachronistic.) Guy makes an uncharacteristic confession to Thornton, “ I have no family . . . that is the thing, to be understood. . . . I have committed crimes—heinous crimes . . .” Having never been to a wedding before (!), he meets Marian before she goes into the church. “I hope the decorations please you.” “They do.” “I hope I please you.” “You should not be here.” “Who should be here?” She of course means it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding . . . I realized as she was walking into the church that she has never had any female servants, which seems extremely surprising for a woman of her station. Is Knighton just too poor to incur the expense? Or is Marian’s need of secrecy too great to trust anyone? I feel a story coming on.

In Nottingham, the barons are required by “King Richard” to give French evidence. I’m sure this must have historical meaning, otherwise why go to the trouble to include it in the story? Anyway, it allows the Sheriff to get away with stabbing all the men who would oppose him, except Sir Edward who gets saved at the last minute by Robin & co, whom Much has alerted—right after breaking up the wedding! Much is so brave to do what he does. His objections are threefold, one, that Richard has not actually arrived, two, that Guy is a traitor, and three, “she loves another!” It’s enough for Marian to punch her fiancĂ© in the eye and run off with Robin, roused into action at the last minute. (Good thing Guy didn’t give her brass knuckles as an engagement present!) There’s one semi-decent kiss between Robin and Marian, and instead of pursuing Marian like he would had she just been property to him, Guy decides to “let her go.” (Only for there to be more shippery moments between them in the next season, but that’s another story.)

It is very amusing to me that a show so oriented around action, archery, torture, fighting, etc., should have as its major finale the break up of a wedding!

I will, of course, be riding headlong into season 2 now. Huzzah!

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