Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Robin Hood Series One Review (Part II)

I reviewed the first seven episodes of BBC’s Robin Hood in the post Robin Hood Series One Review (Part I).  I split this review at that point not only because it was near the middle, but because there is also definite shift in the focus.

Would you trust these men with the life of the king? The first seven episodes understandably focused on setting up the setting and the characters.  However, the focus changes as we move towards the the final six episodes.  We see less of the sheriff’s depredations at home and more of his plot to kill King Richard.  This is a theme that will be further expanded upon in Robin Hood Series Two.

So without further adieu, here is what I thought of the final six episodes:

Tattoo?  What Tattoo?

This episode begins with a flashback to Robin’s days in the Holy Land.  A group of Saracen assassins make an attempt on King Richard’s life.  During the battle, Robin injures one of the assassins with his sword, leaving a wide gash across a tattoo on the assassin’s arm.

Back in Locksley, Robin Hood and his Merry Men crash a party that Gisborne is hosting in celebration of the king’s birthday.  They successfully make off with the guest’s riches, but there are complications two complications.  First, Robin sees that Guy has a tattoo with a scar through it, meaning he was one of the men who tried to kill the king.  Second, when they are forced to flee, Djaq gets captured.

Gisborne rides into the forest after the outlaws, but Robin gets the drop on him.  He is just about to slit Gisborne’s throat for attempted regicide when the rest of the Merry Men stop him.  They feel that Robin shouldn’t act as judge, jury, and executioner.

Meanwhile, Djaq attempts to escape her cell using a vial of acid she had secreted on her body.  The sheriff is fascinated, and attempts to coerce her to make more of the stuff.

Ultimately, a prisoner exchange is setup.  When Robin brings up that the tattoo on Gisborne’s arm is proof that they are involved in a plot to kill the king, the sheriff uses the acid he confiscated from Djaq to burn it off.

This episode was interesting because it highlights the darker aspects of Robin.  He is also starting to lose his inhibitions about killing the sheriff and Guy of Gisborne, which will lead to the new deal at the beginning of Series Two.

4 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

A Thing or Two About Loyalty

A scientist and friend of Guy of Gisborne named Lambert invents “Greek Fire”, presented here as a highly explosive form of black powder.  He is willing to sell it to the sheriff, but only if he promises to use it only for peaceful purposes like mining.  This attitude gets him thrown in the dungeon.

Robin and his men make attempts to rescue the scientist, but don’t have much initial luck.  Guy, who still feels loyalty to Lambert, attempts to convince him to go along with the sheriff’s plans. After all,the alternative is suffering and death.

An important, if somewhat implausible, sub-plot involves Much.  When Robin finds out about the scientist’s predicament, he formulates a plan which involves Much getting himself thrown in prison so he can gather information.  However, rather than jail him, the sheriff has Much made into an Earl with his own estate and a personal spy/jailer/servant girl named Eve.  The sheriff hopes that Much will either slip up and spill some information about Robin or be tempted by riches and power to betray him. 

Not surprisingly, this plan backfires.  Much is such a decent man that Eve finds she doesn’t have the heart to betray him.  Instead, she helps the Merry Men by sending false information back to the sheriff.

Meanwhile, Marian tries to convince Guy of Gisborne to let his friend escape the dungeon.  Guy considers it, but decides his loyalty is to the sheriff and not his friend.  Lambert is ultimately tortured to death. 

Robin and his Merry Men retrieve a ledger containing all of Lambert’s notes on making Greek Fire.  After some argument, the decide to destroy it.  However, unseen by anyone but Robin, Djaq retrieves it from the campfire before it can burn.

This episode explored the themes of loyalty in numerous ways.  Guy’s loyalties to his friend and the sheriff, Much’s loyalty to Robin, and Eve’s transfer of loyalty to Much are only a few examples.  An excellent episode.

5 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

Peace? Off!

A man named Harold is setting fire to churches, poisoning wells, and other antisocial activities.  Robin and Much realize he is a former crusader suffering from “Crusader Sickness”, a.k.a. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  They subdue him and take him back to camp where he is cared for by Much.

The merry men locate a cart stuck in the mud.  Searching it, they locate an evil looking black mask and a map to Nottingham Castle.  The superstitious band comes to believe that the sheriff is hosting an evil magician at the castle.

In reality, the sheriff is hosting Prince Malik, the brother of Saladin who is on a mission of peace.  Prince Malik wishes an audience with Prince John, but he is being delayed by the sheriff.  The sheriff has sent messengers demanding a ransom from Saladin.  What no one knows is that Prince Malik is there without permission and that Saladin’s reply will consist of deadly assassins.

Not surprisingly, Robin and his Merry Men manage to sort everything out.  Prince Malik reveals that the black mask is used for acupuncture, which he uses to assist Harold with his PTSD.

This episode was pretty average.  Also, acupuncture heals PTSD in one treatment?  I bet a whole lot of combat veterans wish they knew that!

3 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

Dead Man Walking

Guy of Gisborne and his men are collecting taxes when they accidentally discover Luke the Cooper has been supplying Robin Hood and his Merry Men with bows.  Luke is arrested along with his stepson John, who is also the natural born son of Little John.

Robin Hood and Little John just happen to witness the arrest.  Little John is understandably upset and rushes to the attack despite being outnumbered.  As a result, he is captured as well.

Little John speaks with his son in prison, although John’s son is unaware he is speaking with his father. After all, John was always told his father was dead.  When Little John’s former wife Alice, is thrown in prison as well, the truth comes out. 

The family is scheduled to be tortured in front of some minor nobles, but Robin Hood and his men rescue them before they are harmed.  John’s family then goes to start a life elsewhere, but Little John’s son tells his father that he will never forget him.

This episode was nice if a little bland.  The scenes with John and his son were very nice.  I also enjoyed that Luke the Cooper was such a decent man.

4 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

Return of the King

The word on the street is that King Richard is returning from the Holy Land.  Robin is more determined than ever to find proof that Guy of Gisborne tried to kill the king.  Since a secret trip to the Holy Land would have taken a long time, Robin begins to investigate Guy’s alibi.

During the time Guy would have been in the Holy Land, he claims an illness kept him bedridden.  The only person who saw Guy during that time was his physician Pitts, who would check in on him daily and bring him food. Robin confronts Pitts, who admits he was covering up Guy’s absence but claims ignorance of the plot against the king.

Meanwhile, Marian is preparing to marry Guy of Gisborne.  She is uncertain of Robin’s claims that he is a traitor and believes that she can bring out his more noble qualities (a clue: no).  However, she is planning on a final fling as the Night Watchmen before settling down.

So Marian, as the Night Watchman, decides to rob her future husband.  Unfortunately, things do not go well and she is stabbed in the stomach.  Robin and his Merry Men arrive to rescue her and get her back to the forest. 

Allan-a-Dale and Will Scarlett get separated from the others during the commotion, but also escape with a good deal of gold.  Allan notes that once the king is back and Robin is the lord of Locksley again, there is not much room for commoners like them.  So the two decide to scarper off with the money.

In the forest, Marian takes a turn for the worse.  Needing a doctor, Robin Hood rounds up Pitts.  They take him back to the camp, not realizing that he is leaving a trail of bandages behind for the sheriff’s men to follow.

Once at the camp, the doctor attempts to save Marian.  Robin realizes that Pitts left a trail and obliterates it, but the sheriff’s men are already too close.  Running back to the camp to warn his men, he finds out that the doctor has failed and Marian is dead.

I thought that Allan-a-Dales actions in this episode are a nice precursor to the role he plays in Series Two.  Not much else to say about this one except it is a solid episode which ends on a heck of a cliffhanger. 

4 out of 5 bull’s-eyes

A Clue: No

Surrounded by the sheriff’s men, the situation seems grim for our heroes.  Still grieving over Marion, Robin springs into action with brutal efficiency.  Up to this point, Robin has avoided killing people, using his uncanny accuracy with the bow to pull off amazing trick shots.  This time Robin uses his accuracy to kill, and the sheriff’s men die like lambs lead to the slaughter.

The situation turns worse for the sheriff when Will Scarlett and Allan-a-Dale rejoin the fight.  Will had second thoughts about Allan’s plan to take the money and run.  So the two men returned just in time to lend aid.  The tide having turned, the sheriff and Guy retreat.

Back at the camp, Djaq notices that Marian is not actually dead.  The physician had given her some hemlock before operating on her, which induced a coma-like state in her.  She comes out of it, much to everyone’s surprise and relief.

Meanwhile, the sheriff reveals to Guy that the king who is arriving is not really King Richard but an impostor.  It is all a plan to ferret out the nobles who are against him.  Since most of these minor lords have never seen the king in person, he will be able to see who turns against him once the “king” has returned.

Suffice it to say that Robin and his Merry Men disrupts both the sheriff’s plot and Marian’s wedding.

This is a decent way to end Series One.  While Marian’s “death” and subsequent resurrection was a bit of a cheap way to generate sentiment, the way Robin flew off the handle illustrates the depth of his feeling for her.  I also liked the sheriff’s plot, especially that it hinged on most people simply not knowing what the king looks like.

5 out of 5 bull’s-eyes