Monday, September 21, 2009

Robin Hood and stuff vol 9 x 2 (How It Was Lost)

Plenty of people were telling me Robin Hood had jumped the shark in episodes 9 and 10. I didn’t really agree, but I did notice that there didn’t seem to be the fanfare associated with the program originally, which I attributed to viewer figures falling off. The show was cancelled due to its lack of audience and its cost to produce, but even though it ended up killing almost all of its original characters, it might have come back. Would it have been worth watching? I don’t know, but I expect not.

Timothy Praeger had the unenviable task of introducing us to Archer, Guy and Robin’s half-brother, who I quickly realized as the episode wore on, was being touted as the next Robin. This annoyed me because it invalidated my theory (which is still a cool theory) but also because I disliked Archer from the moment he was introduced (even if physically he did manage to look like he shared genes with Jonas Armstrong and Richard Armitage!). Sent on a mystical mission by Robin and Archer’s father, Guy and Robin quickly remind the audience of what happened last episode and prepare them for fights and exposition. Despite their common goal the two end up fighting as usual, observed by a passing Allan (who, if I read my notes rightly, spends his free time gathering wood). “You killed my wife and you expect me to forgive you!” “I loved her as you loved her,” says Guy. “I cannot forgive myself.”

Once Allan has brought all the outlaws down upon them, Robin quickly has to explain that Gisborne is on their side. “He killed my brother!” an incensed Kate screams. When Robin explains that they share a brother, Kate rages, “Who’ll bring my brother back to me?” Still united by their goal to “destroy Isabella,” the outlaws reluctantly agree—“he’s pure evil”—to let Robin and Guy go to York to get Archer. (Personally if I went to York I’d get a nice cup of tea but that’s just me.) Robin rides a black horse and Guy a white; I thought this was symbolism at the time but now I think it’s laziness.

In York Archer (who has a manky rat’s tail) is in prison but enjoys freebies outside his cell with Tracy-Ann Oberman. This mildly amusing side-plot establishes quickly that Archer is a con-man with compassion for his fellow prisoners who enjoys alchemy and adultery on the side. Isabella is meanwhile fuming. Heavy is the head that wears the crown (or holds the keys to Nottingham). “Do you think they’re plotting against me? . . . I want them alive.” John takes the moral high ground as is his wont; Allan tries to convince him not to leave the group. “There are many roads to the same place, John.”

The banter between Guy and Robin in York is rather amusing, and I enjoyed the fact that Robin caused Guy to be arrested and thrown into the dungeon so he could find Archer. Archer, despite the fact that he believes “there’s no honor in being poor,” still tries to get all his cell mates out when he, Guy, and Robin have a jail break. I’ve written “let’s grope Gisborne” which I think must have to do with being arrested, as he later says when his life is threatened, “Put me out of my misery.” There’s some passable fighting as the three half-brothers put off the forces of York. Robin tells Archer about Isabella, his half-sister: “she’s rich, she’s powerful.” This causes Archer to help them get out of the tight squeeze, but he “has his own plans.” Undeterred, Robin and Guy get back to Sherwood, and Guy wants to know, “where do you want me to sleep then?” I can tell you where to sleep—no, you see, my salacious comments just aren’t fun anymore. Hmm.

“Something Worth Fighting For” parts one and two by Simon J Ashford started, like the last three stories, with some promise. Everyone’s uppity because Richard returns within the month. “England will never be a slave to King Richard,” is declared, then a good fight is had. I’ve written a huge FAILURE but I can’t remember why or whom. Archer makes his way to Isabella’s side, declaring “Robin Hood’s a nut.” Isabella’s costume has slowly gone from the passable historical to the outlandish (à la Marian)—here it’s a skirt with red ruffles. She is obsessed with Robin, and I think absolute power coupled with a desire for revenge has turned her into a villain. Whether or not it’s a valid transformation is difficult to say. “He still loves me,” she says angrily. And to whom does she say it? Kate’s mother of all people. Her machinations have reached new lows when she forces Kate’s mother to plant a locket on Robin to make Kate believe he’s still having dealings with Isabella. As I wrote at the time, “This is the dumbest, most circulocutious plot ever.”

Kate’s mother takes the bait, Kate takes the bait. To further divide the outlaws, Isabella issues Allan with a pardon, so the dunderheads immediately think he’s done something spy-like to warrant it. “I haven’t done anything!” I find it strange and significant that Allan adds, “You believe me, Guy?” And Guy is noncommittal! The group shuns him, even as he rejects his earlier complicity. “Every day I wish I could take that back.”

Isabella and Archer’s dealings seem rather incestuous, which is not a nice image. Isabella is annoyed to work with, much less be related to, “some nasty little hustler like you.” Robin is captured, and with only a few men, the outlaws stand little chance of breaching Nottingham’s gates to get him back. Tuck’s advice is novel—a sit-in, of sorts—with Rohan’s decrepit army defending Helm’s Deep at his side. “We are going to turn the other cheek.” Tuck encourages the first archer to “be a man, start [the killing] with me.” Eventually it descends into chaos as Isabella is abandoned by her captain-at-arms. “Goodbye, Sheriff, and good luck.” There’s a surprisingly satisfying bitch fight between Isabella and Kate, interrupted only by the corpse of Allan—who’d previously been seen looking up at someone going, “you!”—and the return of Vasey the Sheriff of Nottingham!

As cliffhangers go, it’s rather inferior to the last two. We knew he wasn’t dead even if Guy and everyone else thought he’d been killed, and though he’s brought a huge army to crush everyone, the shock value isn’t what it should be. In part two, everyone is a bit baffled: “that ghost has raised an army!” “I want my town back,” says the Sheriff. “Your weapons are no match for these men’s hatred of you.” The show has always been obsessed with gunpowder and anachronistic super-weapons like Greek Fire previously, and now the alchemical Archer must pit his knowledge of “Byzantine Fire” against the Sheriff’s supply of it. Archer is the one, in fact, who sold the Byzantine Fire to the Sheriff. “We have to take the trebuchets” (in order to prevent spectacular explosions).

“Why didn’t you give me up to him?” asks the newly-noble (or simply world-weary) Guy to Robin. “I’m with you,” he announces. For Marian’s sake he almost had been in the Helm’s Deep episode from season 2. With Isabella tucked safely into the dungeons, Guy goes to her to offer her honorable death: poison. “This is your idea of mercy?!” Even from where I’m standing, this seems a bit lame and not a little dangerous. “For our mother’s sake,” he says. “There’s precious little left of goodness in either of us.”

Kate attempts a dangerous run to get word to King Richard for reinforcements, but the Sheriff introduces the historically sound but unfortunate fact that “he was captured by Leopold of Austria.” Robin points out that the Sheriff is unlikely to kill everyone. “Who’s going to pay tax if they’re all dead?” Vasey asks (he seems to have lost all sense of humor when he “died”). “I’m bored with that game.” Meanwhile Isabella has escaped and is running through tunnels. She’s all for creating traps and letting the Sheriff in. Guy, stupidly, pursues. “I set up this little trap . . .” In a stand-off with Vasey, Isabella, and her captain-at-arms versus Robin, Guy, and Archer, the Sheriff notes that it’s better that the battle is decided this way; “the important few.” I will say this: the choreography here is well-handled and quite good.

I knew Robin Hood was going to die from the start of this episode. It wasn’t until this scene that I knew Guy was going to die. This made me very disappointed, and although the manner of his death was better than it could have been two seasons ago, it still seemed a bit of an anti-climax to his revolution toward good. It’s perhaps fitting that in the end Isabella got to strike the killing blow. She also (very Hamlet-like) got to graze Robin with a poison-tipped blade (courtesy of Guy, however unwittingly this time) and announced, “You’ll be dead before sundown.” She and her cronies initiated a retreat, but not before Guy could die in Robin’s arms. “This is the end . . . Marian, the love of my life . . .” As per usual, RA milks the drama for all it’s worth. I’m not going to lie and say this didn’t vex me exceedingly.

Even Isabella felt a bit of remorse that she’d had a hand in killing her own brother; “this is no time for sentiment” announces the Sheriff. However, by this time, Tuck had discovered the secret to Byzantine Fire. A very easy and morally grey way of killing off ALL the villains: blow them up! Which was exactly the puzzling and unlooked-for conclusion. However, it’s time for angels to sing the sweet prince to his rest: “it’s time to say goodbye.” Again I’ll confess I wasn’t dry-eyed as Much, John, Tuck, Archer, and Kate bid their friend and leader goodbye. “We have cheated death so many times,” says Robin to poor Much (one of two original characters who DON’T die). “This isn’t fair,” cries Kate, and she certainly has a point. Robin is both visionary and quite serene at the end: “the greatest adventure is yet to come.” Tuck rallies the survivors into planning for a future without a man called Robin Hood, but the organization can still bear his name. If it wasn’t cancelled, however.

There were some sophisticated ideas this season, and if the freshness and zest of the first series could have been combined with some of the darker, larger issues raised in this one, perhaps we would have had a cohesive whole. Did the characters really “jump the shark” or were the constant switching sides merely a reflection of real life? To be sure I’d have to watch the series again. John and Tuck had some strong episodes before they faded into the background; Kate, while not always the most nuanced of characters, was at least consistent and bright. I feel quite sorry for Allan; his character growth had stagnated by the end of last series (why they didn’t send him off like Will and Djaq I don’t know) so they just waited for the opportune moment to kill him off! Much remained the backbone of the program but, again, did not develop to a significant degree.

Robin I found a little less insufferable this season (and clearly superior to this Archer character). Isabella I found quite intriguing at times and wished there’d been a bit more cohesion to her character, especially in developing her relationship with PJ (and where did PJ go anyway?). Vasey was missed when he wasn’t around, yet perhaps the evil camp Sheriff act was getting old too. Looking at it dispassionately, Guy’s character was at its most interesting in “A Dangerous Deal,” when he had a new character to react against and the possibilities for him to rediscover the “good” aspects of his nature were most fecund. After he “turned good,” I have to admit he was relegated to the sidelines a bit and became almost boring. I should have seen his death coming much earlier than he did, because like Allan he was becoming a puppet for “yes, Robin,” “no, Robin.” He seemed to have lost his bite when he made his peace with the outlaws. I’m not suggesting that he couldn’t have been interesting if he’d been good; as I said, I’m happy to rewrite the end of series 3 so that Archer and Robin die heroically and Guy is the next Robin. You’re probably tired of me harping on that theme, though.

Series three was a mixed bag. I was certainly depressed after it was over that it would be no more, even as I criticized the last few episodes. C’est la vie.

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