Robin Hood and stuff vol. 9 (spoilers)
Talk about lack of subtlety. The last three episodes have seen the characters swinging around in all directions, so much so that it’s like watching Heroes in miniature. Still, I can’t say it’s stopped me watching. I suspect this last episode bored the kiddies to tears but I quite liked it. Let’s start with “The King is Dead, Long Live the King,” though, which would have changed history (even more than the show has already) by giving Richard I a premature death. However, someone’s mastered wax figures a lot earlier than Madame Tussaud (that’s being disingenuous; they had wax modelling for hundreds of years) because Robin & co conveniently discover that the effigy of King Richard is just that—and John’s godawful ploy to be invested too early on the English throne.
PJ is not godawful, though, in the entertaining sense because he is being played by Toby Stephens who is costumed like Kit Marlowe. PJ throws a temper tantrum when he and his cronies look at the secretly waxified King: “I think I prefer this one to the real thing.” He’s annoyed that their father preferred Richard, as did their mother. He beats up his waxy brother’s effigy—though I’m not sure why. Meanwhile, a baddie called Sheridan has taken the Sheriff’s place, Isabella and Guy are at each other’s throats, and the Dread Pirate Roberts has come for your soul. (Can you tell my notes have left me a little at a loss here, and I’m trying hard to remember what I was talking about?)
Robin is so convinced that PJ will ruin England (and based on the evidence so far, I’d say he’s right) that he authorizes assassination. The village folk of Locksley aren’t down with that: “This is treason!” “He’s our only leader!” Meanwhile, the Guyliner is making a surprise appearance. Guy thinks Isabella is at his mercy but in fact while being womanly and pretending to clean his wounds, she has actually drugged him with “concentrated valerian root.” Her intention is to deliver him over to PJ. Tuck has found Isabella revolting: “I never did get what you saw in her.” Kate is dressed up as a wench for some reason. The upshot of this episode, anyway, is that Isabella is appointed Sheriff of Nottingham by PJ.
After all the incredibly ridiculous titles, “A Dangerous Deal” has got to be the most vanilla of them all. Nevertheless, I have to say I really liked this episode. Again, subtle it was not, but it has to be one of the more different in the range of Robin Hood episodes. Now, I suppose PJ can do whatever he wants, and if he appoints a noblewoman Sheriff of Nottingham, I guess his word is law. Could a woman really be a Sheriff in the 12th century? My history is decidedly fuzzy; I know women could be merchants, but could they hold public office? From my research into “Yonder Comes a Courteous Knight,” I know things were a bit more fluid in the Outremer—and obviously in Matilda’s time it was considered wise to back a noblewoman—but I suppose I’ll just have to suspend my disbelief. Because, as Sheriff, Isabella is not only a proto-feminist but makes a very convincing character.
She is strutting her stuff as Sheriff when Meg is sentenced before Nottingham for refusing suitors provided by her father. Like Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream she has not been “womanly” for ignoring her father’s commands. Robin, now sensing a potential alliance between his former flame now that she’s in a position of power, offers his help to her. Meg is a spitfire just like Isabella, and though the people in the program are shocked and stunned when Isabella frees Meg and appoints her as an advisor at her side, we really aren’t. Isabella’s hard-lining, man-hating has been waiting for such an outlet, and it probably is a good thing, if a few centuries premature. The pro-feminist Nottingham will be “a fairer, more peaceful and prosperous place” with women in charge. Also, as part of the deal, Isabella vows that her brother, currently in custody in the dungeons, “shall be executed!” She’s definitely out for blood of the male persuasion, and Guy probably deserves it.
I find it very curious indeed that Isabella’s cave-man, sadistic husband is named Thornton, since Richard Armitage’s (arguably) most famous role is that of Mr Thornton in North and South. Coincidence? I think not. Thornton has come after his wayward bride, and it’s his conduct that certainly puts you on Isabella’s side, at least for the time being. He is a monster with no shading whatsoever. He threatens Isabella and chides her for breaking “man’s law and God’s” by abandoning her husband. Meg comes to her rescue, and the dial on the Sapphic meter is turned almost to the limit when Thornton breathily comments, “The ladies are getting a little emotional.”
I suppose it makes sense that Meg should be grateful not only to Isabella for saving her life but also validating her feminist views and putting them into almost immediate and palpable effect. However, the quick and passionate alliance of the ladies is a bit of a belief-stretcher. Thornton is certainly annoyed by it and has Meg thrown into the dungeon while Isabella is off to meet an altogether more painfully drawn-out fate. Meg has saved their lives by asserting where a hidden treasure is, well, hidden, so Thornton drags Isabella off in pursuit of that. I wonder if Michael Chaplin has somehow distilled all the essence of a Richard Armitage fan girl Mary Sue into the character of Meg? Because I think she chimes so well with what a fan girl would write if she’d been given the chance. I never did any Mary Sue for Robin Hood because, as you know, I was Guy/Marian all the way. And yet . . .
The first time I watched “Smith and Jones,” first episode of the third series of Doctor Who, I was annoyed with Martha because she seemed to have the proscribed companion reactions to everything. Now I love that episode and love Martha, but at the time it really rankled. Meg has the proscribed fan girl reactions. She’s plucky, sarcastic, and vulnerable. And hot damn, it WORKS on Guy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. “What are you staring at?” she snaps at him as she settles into her dingy domain. “You always were a bit pleased with yourself . . . the man in black . . .” (not to be confused with Johnny Cash, obviously). She now derides him for being “dirty and miserable and small . . . I hope you go to hell.” His response is fairly predictable—“I’m already there”—yet RA milks it for all its worth.
The whole scene does, really, because in fan fiction one would get Mary Sue in prison with Guy because neither can escape each other’s company. It creates drama, as all our good creative writing tutors taught us. Meg is angry in Isabella’s name that Guy married her off to the loathsome Thornton, while Guy comments, “It was her best chance in life.” That seems very historically likely, but also terribly sad. Next Guy commands Meg to, “Suck it.” I’m being 100% serious. Was Chaplin wriggling with laughter as he wrote that line? Context, of course, is important, considering a whining Meg has complained that she is thirsty, and Guy tells her to suck her necklace in order to make her mouth water. So it all makes perfect sense, right? Yeah right.
Meg is miserable and wants to make Guy as miserable as possible. Dude, he’s been miserable all of series 3. How much more miserable can he get? She gives him “One out of ten for personal appearance” (though, really, is she blind? Even in the dungeon he’s still Richard Armitage!). “No one actually seems sorry that you’re on the way out,” she announces, rubbing the salt more thoroughly in the wound. “I don’t care what people think of me,” he says. Yet, for all his bitter indifference, Chaplin is at pains to show a glimmer of SOUL in Guy. Has it taken this long for compassion to take root? Has he had to suffer this much degradation, annoyance, pain, and probably boredom? I can’t decide whether it’s good writing or bad. He gives her his bread. This is what we are told in anthropology is an altruistic act. At first I was sure it was some ploy. The man in black doesn’t do altruism. And yet . . .
By the way, Kate grabbed Robin earlier in this episode and kissed him. We suspected as much for awhile ‘cause no woman can seem to keep her paws off him, but I was beginning to doubt it in light of his luck with Isabella. Kate doesn’t want Much to come between them, though, and wants Robin to tell Much they’re just friends. Much has noticed this Robin/Kate closeness and allows it to affect his judgement and reflexes. The treasure Meg sent Thornton to look for actually exists; it’s a Viking burial mound (plausible I suppose) that the thoroughly rotten man has gotten it in his head to raid. Robin & co have followed them out on this little adventure, and Tuck tells them it’s a horde for the “long journey to Valhalla.” In another Dread Pirate Roberts moment, Tuck enacts “The Viking curse.” It’s enough to scare off Thornton’s men and get him trussed up. They’re off to deliver him to an “asylum,” which, assuredly, did not exist at the time.
With Thornton out of the way, Isabella is triumphant. She is annoyed when Meg asks to release her brother. “Are you mad? He’s your enemy!” Like a good Mary Sue, Meg has fallen for Guy. When Isabella’s not looking she’s off to release Guy from the dungeon. I thought, what a dupe! Clearly he’s planned it all along like the Machiavelli he is! Meg must remind him of Marian, though, “She saw good where there was none.” Meg is caught by Isabella, who shrieks, “I set you free and this is how you betray me?!” I do say I feel for her when she snaps, “The only person I can trust is myself!” Now both of them are gonna die. Again.
There’s drama and derring-do as Robin & co save Meg and Guy (amazement) from execution. Thornton happens to reappear at this moment, chasing after Isabella. Kate, all hot and bothered by Robin, takes him aside and claims, “She doesn’t deserve your help.” In the confusion Meg is hurt, and rather Phantom-in-“Music of the Night”-like, Guy picks her up and carries her! How swoon-worthy! While we’re squeeing over here, Isabella flings morality aside and stabs her truly dreadful husband. “He got what he deserved” (and I’m inclined to agree). “I only kill when there’s no other way!” cries Robin, who went after her to help because I guess deep down he is a bleedin’ heart as well.
Tears gush as Guy drags Meg to a pond, and she dies in his arms. “I always quite liked you, you know,” she murmurs, before pleading with him to kiss her! Frankly I couldn’t believe how swoony this was all getting, but I can see it’s another rung in the latter to turn our notion of Guy of Gisborne on its head. And based on what happened next, I was right.
I liked Lisa Holdsworth’s earlier story, and I’d been looking forward to “Bad Blood” for ages, ever since RA divulged in an interview that there was going to be an episode consisting of flashbacks where a child actor would play a young him. When you’re guilty of writing fan fiction, you do wonder about character origins, and everything I’d written is now AU because of this. Oh well. The whole story reminds me a bit of those rumors we’d heard about the Master and the Doctor turning out to be secret brothers all along. Nevertheless, I can almost hear the cogs turning at the Tone Meetings as everyone prepares to find the most outlandish ways they can think of to lessen the divide between Good (Robin) and Bad (Guy). I’m being facetious; I half believe this and half honestly do enjoy the plot machinations. It does ooze with Shakespeare and soap opera in equal measure, I believe, and speaking of Shakespeare, Dean Lennox Kelly plays Robin’s dad.
Having just kissed vestal Meg goodbye, Guy is tramping through the forest when Robin appears. (Their costumes this season are very similar, undoubtedly for a reason.) Thoroughly annoyed that this punk Robin keeps following him, Guy decides it’s time for one of their famous all-out fights. “You’re really sure you want to do this now?” Robin asks. Before they can lop each other’s heads off, someone in a cloak has managed to get a hold of Amazonian poison dart frogs and knocks them both out. “I find it hard to understand when I’m tied,” a grumpy Guy grumbles. The mysterious person wants them to reconcile or at least acknowledge their past. Goody gumdrops, it’s flashback time.
Some years back, Guy’s mother Ghislaine has been having an affair with Robin’s father Malcolm. A fire killed them both, which is enough for us to realize why Guy and Robin have been at odds since the beginning. Ghislaine was just about to be appointed Lady of the Gisborne manor (her husband having been believed dead in the Crusades) when a nosy, annoying Steward sought to usurp her power because she was a woman and French at that. Malcolm was going to give her his protection officially, but before that Gisborne Snr returned.
This was all during a fireworks session at Locksley Manor (WTF?) in which Robin’s foolishness caused a visiting priest to be injured. Gisborne Snr’s hand is sliced by a sword at which he feels no pain (apparently because he is a leper). It isn’t a case of your typical cuckholded husband—because he is a leper and wishing to keep it secret, he is glad that Ghislaine has found happiness with Malcolm. However, Gisborne’s secret is found out, and he’s cast out, much to Guy’s prepubescent duress. He lives in a leper colony, and Guy can’t forgive his mother the fact she went out to see him while “she taught me to forget him. . . . Denying me my father!”
In the end, it’s odd to imagine that Robin Hood has the dynastic complexities of Wuthering Heights, but the same sort of tragedies seem to be visited on both generations: both Locksley and Gisborne are after the same woman, accidentally killing her in the process. The fire that results isn’t how Ghislaine was killed, however, as Robin’s father reveals (for it was he in the mysterious habit . . . with a Phantom-y burn as it happens). “How could I be your father after all I’d done?” (This feels a bit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which is appropriate as that’s the way the costumes have been tending.)
The reason Malcolm Locksley brought the two together is to save their half-brother Archer (?!) from some fate we’ll find out next episode. The main thing is, I think I was right when I said Guy is going to become the next Robin Hood. We’ve got three episodes left to transform him, since he already seems well on his way to joining the gang in the next one. I hope I can get to the end of this and say “I told you so!” Still, that begs the question—will the Jonas Armstrong Robin be killed at the end of the series? Time will tell!