After a madcap attempt to catch up with series 1 and 2, I am back to Robin Hood in real time. Series 3 will be Jonas Armstrong’s last, and speculation abounds as to how the show will continue without its hero. My money is still on the concept that Guy of Gisborne will somehow switch sides and take over the mantle (a spin on the Robin of Sherwood idea where Jason Connery replaced Michael Praed) but that could just be wishful thinking.
This first episode is almost paint-by-numbers. There are the patriotic speeches, torture, escape, recapture, execution, running around Sherwood Forest, etc. What it’s missing is highly significant: Djaq, Will, and Marian. Because of this, a ton of rapid-fire exposition is required almost as soon as we hit the ground running. (I vaguely wondered in the interval how Robin et al—not to mention the Sheriff and Gisborne—were going to get back from the Holy Land—such a loveably ludicrous storyline! Fan fic once again rushes forward in my brain to fill the gap, as Robin & co. have “just arrived” after having “travelled for months.”)
While no one seems to have come back from the Holy Land with a tan, Robin has gained a middle-aged haircut and Kevin Costner’s costume. He is filled with vengeful rage that neither John, Much (“you leech, you’re pathetic”) nor Allan (“once a traitor, always a traitor”) can restrain. “I don’t need you anymore! Robin Hood is dead!” The Armstrong Robin has always been cocky, righteous, self-absorbed but he was always the one cautioning shell-shocked Crusaders toward moderation. On the warpath for Gisborne’s blood without Marian’s conscience and caution to hold him back. Damn, I miss Marian already.
I wondered why Gisborne was spending his first scene taking a daytime nap, but all becomes clear later. Guy has just come from a Renaissance Faire and, in contrast to Robin’s haircut, his hair is really long. The new look is marginally more historically accurate (just as I wrote a fan fic about how he gained his pleather coat, I shall have to write one about where it went). Despite the fact he later seems very happy to die, Guy picks a novel approach to halting Robin’s sure intent to kill by hoisting a little girl over his shoulder and threatening to drop her off a cliff (!). The dramatic crux of this story has always been the love triangle—both men wanted the same thing, and neither get the girl. So they are essentially still at loggerheads. “You forced me to kill her—she should have been mine!” “She was my wife!” The little girl is saved but Guy throws Robin off the cliff (and the subtext careens out of control as the male/male touchy feely aspect of this show defies belief).
“I reckon he’s gone for good,” says Allan matter-of-factly. Guy seems to believe utterly in his triumph, and as usual it’s Much who suffers the most. “We’ve got to think about the living now.” So Allan and John are off to rescue Much. Even the Sheriff appears a bit subdued in this episode, going through the motions (he’s lost his best sparring partners, Edward and Marian). Prince John (o.s.) is going to be “passing on the hurt” after the Sheriff’s ignominious bungling of Richard’s assassination. If the Sheriff doesn’t shape up, “he’ll be obliged to let you go” (one of several present-day references that elicit a chuckle).
Fortunately the showrunners have thought a good deal about who and what should fill the gaps left over from last season and come up with Friar Tuck (at last). He’s molded like a Brother Cadfael, a wily old fox with fighting ability and Crusader experience, a deep belief in justice for the poor of England, and passion to do whatever it takes. He sees Robin not only as a figurehead but a bringer of real social change and an illustration of the Gospel. The show’s depiction of Christianity has been dubious at best, so a good character with genuine belief (right at home with the Shepherd Book) is a genius touch.
Tuck also seems to have a strange power over the tormented Gisborne that I don’t quite get. “Lost something, my friend?” he asks, turning up out of nowhere. “WHAT?!” screams Gisborne. Marian’s death has certainly not left him any more humane, telling his soldiers to “rip [the gold] from their filthy mouths.” What kind of fabulous dentistry do the peasants of Locksley have?! It’s Richard Armitage shouty-acting at its best. Tuck uses this as example to Robin of why he is still needed, why he should put his petty need for vengeance to one side and continued to fight injustice. “Their backs [are] broken, their hope shattered.” “I’ve got nothing else to give.” It is Tuck’s prerogative to prevent Robin from killing.
Poor Much suffers torture and execution; John has a “talent for stating the obvious,” while Allan’s “blaggin’” skills are primarily useless. Guy is still trying to get some beauty sleep. He’s an insomniac extraordinaire, lashed into fever “demons.” “How can I find peace?” Why he trusts Tuck I don’t know—his last experience with the faux Abbess should have taught him a little more caution. Knowing Robin will risk his life to rescue his friends, Tuck isn’t above some top-level manipulation to achieving his ends (with the help of some advanced astronomy courtesy of Ladyhawke). “God’s gift from the stars.”
I’m glad to see that the people’s adulation of Robin extends to giant fire hazards in the middle of Sherwood Forest and voodoo dolls. :-P At least Robin has the humility to say, “I don’t deserve it.” I don’t know any medieval folklore traditions that would have it that good God-fearing folk became stars when they die, as Robin alleges his father said; perhaps his father was watching Last of the Mohicans when he gave this adage to his son.
As Much, John, and Allan are about to be killed by firing squad (catapult-sized arrows) Tuck intervenes with a firecracker and some hocus pocus. If the Doctor won’t save you, Robin surely will. The Sheriff shrieks “You incompetent fool!” at Guy who has obviously not killed Robin by throwing him over a cliff. Robin seems prepared to do vengeance, with a knife against Guy’s throat. “Do it, end it!” “You want this?” “I live in hell.” “Then stay there!” He escapes with a slash on his cheek and the certainty to appear on our screens next week. (I confess I spend most of Robin Hood waiting for scenes in which Guy shows up.)
“You pathetic, misery-ridden mess,” the Sheriff taunts Guy. “I’ve discovered that I don’t like you,” he replies. The Sheriff is pleased that he’s developed some “spine,” and as usual they go on to plot and plunder. Robin is back to his cheerful self and Tuck is in the gang that now numbers 5 again. Next week we’re gaining another female gang member. Give me more Sir Guy, I say!