I remember being very surprised when, back in the US in the fall of last year, I heard that RH had gone into a second season. I’m not sure why I was so amazed, considering I had known the show had been popular in fall 2006, probably because my memories of the show were broken up in to two categories: the hotness of Richard Armitage and the silliness of everything else. In any case, I was only mildly interested in seeing the second season, and now that I have started watching it, I have to say it’s not bad at all. Doctor Who is still vastly, vastly superior, but I honestly have to say I enjoy RH a lot more than I did Merlin. Most of my friends feel the opposite.
Dominic Minghella should know how to write the show, and indeed, I find his episodes to be, in general, the strongest. While “Sisterhood” is not as strong an opener as “Will You Tolerate This?”, it’s a good start. I always marvel that people can start in the middle of a run of Doctor Who and get what’s going on, since I think the program is somewhat the slave of continuity (though not as much as it was in the classic series, IMHO), and to a lesser degree I marvel at what little explanation is given here. I guess because everyone knows the story to an extent, though the new title sequence makes it explicit. By the way, I hate the new title sequence—what was wrong with the old one? The new one’s so cheesy!
I have noticed that summer never seems to end in Sherwood Forest, unless we somehow skipped over autumn and winter 1192 and are suddenly in 1193. Perhaps there is something to someone’s theory that this is all taking place in a parallel universe where women wore trousers in 1192. Then again, I guess it could be taking place in real-time, so if “Will You Tolerate This?” started in May 1192, we could still be in August or September 1192. I seem to remember Robin of Sherwood acceded to the changing of seasons more gracefully (but it could all be allegorical like in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast). The real question is why do I care??
There is something very Scarlet Pimpernel-ish, something very childish and fun about the way the gang disguise themselves in the forest. Unfortunately they aren’t preying on mere doofuses this time: it’s a 1940s dominatrix and her retinue who somehow know kung fu—only in RH! What’s immediately apparent about season 2, and about which little has been made of (yet) is that Djaq looks a lot more feminine. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that her cover’s been blown and there’s no need to dress like a male, but I rather cynically think that Marian wasn’t sufficing for the lads to ogle, so Djaq needed to be sexed up. Anjali Jay can easily morph from tomboy to beauty in purple, low-cut tunic, so I guess it’s all good. “Get the girl.” “A woman, you’ll find,” she announces. Indeed.
In Nottingham, the Sheriff has no doubt been spending the interim between seasons (however long that’s been) making Guy feel miserably inadequate after Marian dumped him. “Tell me you would rather have a woman than this!” The Sheriff loves power, as he announces throughout this episode. His symbol, by the way, is a thunderbird for some reason. The dominatrix was carrying one, by the way, as are a multitude of hooded guests coming at the Sheriff’s behest. Marian and Robin have gone from spats to very touchy-feely, though not utterly so. After prancing around in her Night Watchman uniform, Marian comes home. “And that’s all I’m taking off until you go away.” The cocksure Robin is almost too suave—“Listen,” he says, before kissing her. “That kiss says, Marian wants to join your gang.” Marian is absolutely shrewd when she wonders if the King will ever be home at all.
The true extent of Guy’s feelings over Marian’s betrayal are felt in brutal detail when he roughly handles her and her father and then burns down their house. “You come when I say—you do not tell me what to do!” He makes her beg for clemency and denies her—“still not good enough! You think you can humiliate a man at the altar?!” Seeing the prudent, moral, and compassionate Marian destroyed in such a way is hurtful and yet I’m glad Guy reacted the way he did—it’s very in-character and at the same time, it makes it clear how much she actually hurt him—far more than just wounding his pride. Er . . . so says the shipper.
The Sheriff’s sister—for it was she, the dominatrix—really pulls the wool over Robin’s eyes, which gets him captured and beaten up in front of the “black knights.” All I can think as I see this coalition of anti-Richard forces is “The Daleks’ Master Plan” and the council over which Mavic Chen presided. Claims that Richard is “marching on Jerusalem” are technically true, though in fact he will never see the city (in our universe, anyway). The Sheriff is delightfully anachronistic here: “from rank to skank!” is one of the many imaginative ways he describes Robin! He discounts that his motives are greed— “you don’t know me at all.”
This is where it gets completely Indiana Jones and, despite myself, I feel entertained regardless. The Sheriff’s sister likes carrying around lots of venomous snakes and it’s Robin’s punishment to be thrown into the pit! “I almost regret tricking you now. A clue: no.” Marian risks all to come to Robin’s aid as the Night Watchman—the last thing Guy wants to know of Robin is the identity of the Night Watchman—“he’s creating a distraction.” Robin, in a super-duper feat of wits and luck, manages to free himself from the pit of snakes, while causing the sister to be thrown into it. There’s some twaddle about the sister’s lot in life being an attempt to get her older brother to love her—“it’s better than needing reptiles to love you”—and then she just dies! What a cop-out! Why create such a great character and kill her off right then? Robin does find out one interesting fact, that Prince John will “obliterate the county of Nottingham” should Robin kill the Sheriff. Yeah, right.
The Sheriff decides that in order to avenge his sister’s death, he wants Robin to die. Robin gets away, of course, Djaq makes Guy cry (with pepper), and everything goes back to normal. Or does it? Allan a Dale has been disenchanted with his outlaw way of life since, we presume, the end of the last season. He thinks eventually their work will “demoralize” them. Spending most of the episode being tortured (I think in the way Isaac of York was in Front de Boeuf’s castle in Ivanhoe) he finally comes to a deal with Guy. The plot thickens! Allan won’t give up the identity of the Night Watchman, phew, but he will accede to a “conversation.” He won’t kill Robin, to which Guy’s surprising response is, “Yeah, I respect you for that.” The arrangement is basically, “I am not robbed, Robin is not killed.” Guy refutes the notion that he’s just an android who follows the Sheriff’s orders—“we’re the ones who make our supposed betters look good.” I love this plot twist. It brings shading to both their characters. The programme gets increasingly nationalistic as Robin declares “we are the spirit of England.”
“The Booby and the Beast” seems to strike a similar chord for me as The 10th Kingdom does, and for that reason I can forgive its utter ridiculousness. It also has a strong-room, fantastically protected in a way that evokes Indiana Jones, Phantom of the Opera, and “The Five Doctors,” (“as easy as pi!”) which can’t hurt either. I was strongly tempted to shout “Otto of Swabia gave you that tattoo!!” at Guy when the Sheriff asked, “How’s your German?” until I remembered I made that bit up. The Sheriff has decided to “take my bath six months early” in order to prepare for a visit from Count Friedrich of Bavaria. I won’t say anything of the absurdity of a German count coming all the way to Nottingham for gambling (heck, why not go to the casinos in Kissing Town?!). I won’t even comment on the fact that casinos didn’t exist, nor did can-can girls to roll the dice! It’s a useful excuse to get the plot rolling, so here we go.
The Sheriff wants Marian to fulfil the Count’s “every desire.” “Deception comes easily enough to you,” says an embittered, deliberately cruel Gisborne. The Sheriff suggests Marian go buy some revealing clothes—“the cheaper, the better.” Personally, I think the gown she’s wearing when approached—mint green, with a corset-like bodice—is fairly sexy while being completely anachronistic. Everyone is impressed with the red, plunging-neckline thing she comes up with, though. Marian is disgusted when she meets Count Friedrich—she thinks him an empty-headed aristocrat and has real difficulty snuggling up to him like she’s supposed to. “She says no when she means yes,” Gisborne tells Friedrich to encourage his attentions.
The rather impressive thing about this episode is Friedrich’s character. No double-crosses, perversions, or stupidities, proving that Marian and her father aren’t the only good aristocrats in the entirety of Europe. When Marian is threatened by some soldiers, he “rescues” her—“you are an impressive fighter.” While her pleading a headache is to get away from him, he insists “this is the way trysts are made all over the world.” His arrogance feels very real. When they overhear the Sheriff’s plot to win away all his money, Marian confesses her reluctance and, sensing an ally, she tells him about Robin’s plan.
Robin’s plan, by the way, is to get to the strong-room by consulting its architect, a blind engineer who “worked in the Orient” somehow. This inscrutable character reminds me of the book Erik who created the torture chamber of mirrors for the Sultana in Phantom of the Opera. Under pretense of a tryst, Marian manages to get Friedrich to meet Robin. It is highly amusing to see that both Robin and Guy seem a bit jealous of Friedrich. Marian is impressed that the Count’s vapid exterior disguises a decent person steeped in “tradition, etiquette.” Purely to make people squirm, they kiss demonstratively in front of Guy and the Sheriff—“he succeeded where you failed.”
As the majority of the gang help Robin break the strong room code, Djaq suits up in one of the
extraordinary can-can outfits, giving shippery moments to both Will fans and Allan fans. She’s also further proof of Guy’s blindness, as he doesn’t recognize her! Surely there can’t be that many short-haired Saracen women running around! Marian’s second outfit to please Friedrich makes her total Goth girl, and it’s actually kind of sweet to see the genuine friendly affection she lavishes on the Count. The plan goes, er, to plan, with the fortune rescued from the strong-room and Friedrich smuggled out of the country—he even insists the outlaws take his share of the money. He is Marian’s “servant, your booby, and your friend.“ There is definitely a lightheartedness to this episode that really reverses the violence of the previous story.
There is something very archetypal about the children in “Childhood” make-believe playing that they are Robin Hood and the gang in Sherwood Forest. Unfortunately, while playing they see something they shouldn’t—Guy testing some new armor and then killing (as he does) the witnesses (with that little stiletto knife he seems to love so much). He’s not beyond tying the defenseless little kids up, though one named Daniel escapes. He is against killing them, however, and declares “we can use them” and takes them away. Daniel falls in with the real Robin Hood, makes a joke at Much’s expense (poor Much!), and makes Little John feel . . . little. Unfortunately all four of the kids are really rotten actors.
The armor being worked for the Sheriff is “Damascus steel” (?!) that is virtually impenetrable. The
blacksmith, however, is the only one with the secret ingredient and the necessary formula (shades of last season and the Greek fire, no?) and is willing to sell it to the King of France (who is actually in the Holy Land, but no matter . . .). The Sheriff is distracted by the children brought in from the forest—“Gisborne, you started a family without telling me?” He is annoyed that they are not dead. Of course children are a pressure point—I learned that from writing all those Joker fics. If they are in danger, the audience is imperilled. Now, RH being a family show, not even the Sheriff is allowed to kill children, so certainly Guy—who despite it all has compassion, as Marian observes—is not going to. In an attempt to rescue the three remaining children, Robin has “a big nasty fight” with Gisborne (at least I think that’s what my notes imply). He also reveals he likes his feet rubbed (!). Robin rescues three children and the secret ingredient for the steel, but the Sheriff will only exchange the ingredient for the remaining child. Since the Damascus steel will make the Sheriff invincible, it’s a quandary.
How convenient for season 2 that Marian’s father has gotten so frail. To be honest, I never thought the actor looked anything but healthy, but we are being set up to say goodbye to Sir Edward. Marian doesn’t want her father—now that they are under house arrest in the castle—to suffer undue strain. However, she has to risk his safety in another scheme to get out of the castle (which, so far, despite the Sheriff’s decree, she has managed amazingly well) in order to get the children out of Locksley where Guy is keeping them. In order to get out of the castle, however, Marian has to tell the Sheriff she is visiting Guy to reconcile. “In your finest silks,” the Sheriff observes. “If it were me, I would slap your fickle face . . . both of them.” At first I thought the Sheriff was talking about her arse (!) before I realized it was an allusion to her two-facedness.
Episode three is notable, of course, for the almost entirely gratuitous topless Richard Armitage scene! Having heard raptures about this scene long before I saw the episode, I wondered what possible explanation there could be for Marian visiting Guy in the middle of the night as he tries on armor. There is, actually, some justification as he is being fitted for a suit of armor of this Damascus steel, but no self-respecting knight is going to try on armor bare-chested. Buuuut it gives Marian a chance to have the wind knocked out of her, for them to have a revealing conversation that suggests, despite what he says and what she doesn’t say, that there could still be something between them, and for us to ogle in titillated wonder. (Or is that just me?) Robin meanwhile is a very naughty voyeur!
Speaking of naughty, am I the only one who fears a bit of slash is being hinted at between Allan and Guy?! I’m not at all a proponent of slash, but when Allan says stuff like “He’ll be putty in my hands,” I have to wonder! Of course it is all in service to Allan’s greed as he passes on vital information to Guy in return for riches. Then Guy brutally punches him to enhance the “believability” factor. Daniel is to be exchanged for the rocks in a box lined with pitch so Robin can set it on fire once the Sheriff has it, but thanks to Allan’s interference, the Sheriff is prepared. In a moment reminiscent of Excalibur Guy bursts out in a full suit of armor and nearly kills Robin. (Probic vent! I want to scream.) In the end, Robin throws pitch on Guy who catches fire (!) and has to jump in the well to avoid dying.
Poor Richard Armitage is making a career out of being water boarded. Robin wants the rocks in exchange for Gisborne’s life, but the slimy Sheriff is prepared to let him die (even as Guy pitifully begs for help). Marian thinks quickly and threatens the blacksmith’s life unless the Sheriff saves Guy. “Not even you would let him die—he must be worth more than a sack of rocks!” The Sheriff finally accedes, the rocks are destroyed, the blacksmith leaves for more hospitable climes, and the Sheriff announces Marian will be punished for defying him. Guy recognizes that in saving him, Marian also saved Robin and begins to wonder whether she still might be seeing Robin. Nevertheless he thanks her for his life. You have to wonder if it was Guy’s compassion in not harming the children—or seeing his pecs—that made her risk so much for him. I have to think of Lizzy Bennet and the fact she was swayed by Pemberley (and Darcy in the pond) before she came round. (Robin’s pecs just don’t compare, I’m afraid.) It’s delicious speculation for a Guy/Marian shipper, which makes this a good episode, despite the profusion of kiddies.
New boy Julian Unthank contributes “Angel of Death” which sees more addle-witted newcomers visiting Nottingham and a tying up of some loose ends. Robin and the gang are in super-camouflage mode in Sherwood, with Djaq sitting on Little John’s shoulders SCREAMING as they chase would-be trespassers, looking for all the world like Herne the Hunter! They’ve picked up Dan and Luke Scarlett, Will’s father and brother who fled to Scarborough back in season 1. I really do like the conflict of this—they want Will to return with them instead of living in the forest as an outlaw. “We’re your family.” They want Will, a carpenter and engineer, to earn a decent living. Meanwhile Robin is getting a bit suspicious of Allan—“how many questions have you got?”
An impostor, meant to be the Night Watchman, delivers food and primes himself for “scientific analysis” (WTF). The Sheriff has thrown Sir Edward into the dungeon to hurt Marian. “Stop making those big eyes at him [Guy], he doesn’t want you anymore,” snaps the Sheriff as Marian’s pleas fall on deaf ears. Marian pleads for some other way to be punished, so the Sheriff makes her read out a proclamation announcing a “pestilence” (why can’t they just call it a plague?) and the unjust quarantine to take place because of it. Fearing he’s failed in the eyes of his son, Dan stands up to the Sheriff and is killed (how convenient). Pitt Street, site of the pestilence, is quarantined, with the outlaws trapped inside. In order to get out, Little John has to be seen to vomit à la one possessed by plague to create a distraction so Will can take Luke back to Scarborough. But Will’s not going to Scarborough, he’s taking his revenge, dammit!
Marian suddenly has maidservants! When one of them is quarantined, she has to get out of the castle—this time dressed in peasant clothes. Before she’s ready, though, Guy comes to the door with an urgency that belies what he has to say. “I cannot talk to you through the door!” He wants to apologize for the way the Sheriff humiliated her (!), though surely her saving his life must have prompted some empathy. He really epitomizes their whole relationship when he pleads, “Marian . . . please . . . let me in.” I really love this scene; it’s sexily shot, and I for one wonder what would have happened had she let him in.
Marian makes it into the quarantine, where Robin et al are beginning to realize that the Night Watchman has been impersonated. Joseph, the crackpot “angel of death” scientist, is altogether too obnoxious, and Robin figures out that he’s poisoned the Pitt Streeters with “deadly devil’s cap” in order to experiment on them. They’re only appalling Hungarian “supporting artists” after all!
Will is particularly hot as he single-mindedly pursues his revenge in the castle. It’s a sad side effect of having such a large cast of regulars that most characters don’t get much shading unless they have an episode devoted to them, so while we learn a little about Djaq here—“I don’t fall in love easily”—it’s mostly Will’s show. Allan continues to do his deals with the devil, getting closer and closer to being caught. In Pitt Street, Marian sports an accent and Much plays dead to get out—it’s amazing how easily duped the soldiers are even now! Acting on a hunch—“I know some things”—Little John cures the poisoned with belladonna. With this cure, the team rush to the castle to pursue Will and Joseph. Will tells the Sheriff exactly who he is, though the Sheriff has killed so many he doesn’t realize that “dearly departed dead dad Dan” is Will Scarlett’s. Will has succeeded in poisoning the Sheriff and Joseph—hammy death time for Keith Allen—and Allan is aghast to hear Robin suggest they “kill one of our own” if Will won’t listen to reason. In order to get his point across, Robin drinks the poison so that Will will have to cure him and the Sheriff. (Actually, Robin didn’t actually drink the poison, all of which must be throwing Allan for a loop.) In what is supposed to be an exciting sequence, Robin falls down a CGI balcony with Joseph clinging to his foot, ultimately falling to his death. What a waste of a good boot. The story ends with Will inventing the motion picture a bit early. Anyway.
Onward and upward! Gimme more Guy/Marian!