Robin Hood series 2 continued to be a good (often outstanding) programme, and Jonas Armstrong continued to prove himself as the right man for the role. He is a great Robin Hood.
I think it important to re-state that fact in the wake of such huge upset over the death of Marian, and the criticism of the producer's judgement therein; plus the added disappointment over the total redundancy of Djaq (Anjali Jay) in series 2, not to mention the less than convincing conclusion to her relationship with Will Scarlet; together with various other concerns about consistency where writing and character development were concerned.
Programmes like Robin Hood, Dr Who, Star Trek, Torchwood, etc., etc., are always going to attract an intelligent audience, keen to analyse plot lines and characters as they unfold. We want complexities, but we also expect consistency. Yes, we might be critical, but be in no doubt we enjoyed it. So, why then is this post so difficult to write? Why is Robin Hood's mercurial role in series 2 proving so difficult to define?
At the start of series 1, when Robin stood on the steps of Nottingham Castle and posed the challenge "Will you tolerate this!?" he posed that question not just to the town of Nottingham but to the country beyond; the country (and the girl) he had left behind to do his duty, believing that when he returned it would be to a better place, and one which would respect him for the service he'd done.
That moment on those steps was a thrilling one to witness. In one fell swoop Jonas Armstrong committed Kevin Costner's somnambulistic version to history. (Take away Alan Rickman and Bryan Adams from "Prince of Thieves" and you're left with very little). Jonas Armstrong, with his youthful mixture of boy next door looks and charismatic smile, delivered not only the energy of an Errol Flynn type, but also such emotionally charged scenes as Marian's initial "death scene", the tearful intensity of which we haven't seen in any Robin Hood before. Standing defiant on those Castle steps, as his arrows cut the Scarlet brothers down from the nooses around their necks, Robin Hood was a hero both of the people and for the people, even going so far as to speak openly about the unjust taxes which were being raised to furnish his beloved King's war; a war which scarred him far more than he realised.
So what happened? Did Robin Hood turn away from those people, or did they turn away from him? I offer you my assessment of the character as portrayed in Robin Hood series 2. It is only my opinion, and not necessarily the writer's intent.
Right at the start of series 2, in "Sisterhood", we can see something has changed in Robin. He should be happy. Marian had publicly demonstrated her love by riding away with him on horseback, leaving a punched out Gisborne at the altar. He had assembled and knocked into shape an excellent band of outlaws, embracing all sciences and cultures, and to which both Will Scarlet and Allan A' Dale had returned to the fold. He should be happy, but he's not. And worse than that, he's out to kill.
Of course it wouldn't work out if Robin Hood went about killing his enemies every week, otherwise we'd run out of cast members. But for the first time in that episode we had to be told an "official" reason why he can't kill the Sheriff of Nottingham, and so the thought that "he would if he could" (rather than the fact he might be restraining himself through some sense of morality) does put an entirely different slant on his character: This Robin Hood, rather than have learnt his lesson from the horrors of war, actually wants to kill. And more than that, it might be suggested by his actions in the subsequent programme "Beauty and the Booby", that he actually wants to "kill or be killed". Time and again Robin Hood instructs his outlaw gang to either stay behind when he goes on his missions, or stay back when the action starts. The loyal Much sees this straight away, and is most concerned over his master's apparently reckless, self destructive actions in the strong room. Does Robin have a death wish? And note how it is Little John, not Robin, who gives the final morale boosting call to action (something which will occur time and again from this point onwards). Does Robin also have growing concerns about his own leadership qualities and ability to inspire his gang?
In several ways, episode 3 ("Childhood"), is pivotal to the decline in Robin Hood as both a confident leader of men, and as a heroic saviour of the oppressed. Like a schoolboy he spies on Marian's encounter with a bare chested Guy, still uncertain of her loyalties, and then has to suffer the indignity of being thrown from pillar to post by "Guy the Man of Damascus Steel". His own plan to retrieve the black diamonds is thwarted by the Sheriff, and it is Marian who's macho dagger against the steel maker's spine saves the day. And to top it all, although he doesn't know it yet, there is now a traitor in his ranks. After a clear indication of unrest amongst the troops when Will Scarlet and Allan A' Dale almost left in series 1, Robin has still failed to learn from his mistakes as a leader, and Allan has deserted him.
Robin Hood the hero, the Pagan "Green Man" from the Forest, hailed since pre-Christian times as the spirit who will ensure a good harvest and bring harmony to the land, is clearly both failing and falling apart at the seams. And if ever proof were needed, look no further than episode 4 as the "Angel of Death" spreads his plague like genocidal death amongst the very people before whom Robin Hood once stood on those steps and pledged "I will not tolerate this". But his eye has long since left the ball, and now the victims of the Sheriff of Nottingham's corruption are falling in ever greater numbers. (And Will Scarlet's father, the very man who's sons Robin had saved on that inspiring day, is amongst them).
A lot has been said of the scenes between Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage throughout Robin Hood, and such scenes as the balcony sequence, the "wedding", and many others were impressive for their tension. But I would argue that the scenes between Jonas and Joe Armstrong in episode 5, "Ducking and Diving", are amongst the finest of the entire two series. When Robin Hood is confronted with the traitor Allan A ' Dale he is not only face to face with the man who betrayed him, but face to face with his own failure as a leader. Robin saved Allan from the gallows; Allan's brother was hung by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and yet STILL Allan has determined that working for the enemy is a better option than a future with Robin of Loxley. In these scenes between Jonas and Joe the sparks fly off the screen; both actors seizing the moment to shine for a while outside that Lucy / Guy spotlight the producers seemed intent on driving into the ground. And as extra proof that Robin has now come completely unglued, he simply and remorselessly kills the man (Henry) holding Much at knife point. No consideration for Henry's mental state, no attempt at persuasion and bargaining. Nothing. Apart that is from one arrow, clean and straight to the heart. (I loved it. But heroes aren't meant to be doing that sort of thing, and we all know he could have made a trick shot).
What we are witnessing at this stage is Robin Hood the disturbed war veteran; Robin Hood who did his duty by King and country and, having done so, cannot now understand why the consequence would appear to be this world of corruption, death and desertion he finds himself returned to. Even the girl he loves stubbornly refuses to join his cause in fighting from the Forest, preferring instead a more "hands on" approach, dispensing food in the darkened streets of Nottingham. It is not so much Robin Hood who is taking from the rich to give to the poor as it is the Night Watchman.
The next truly pivotal point in Robin Hood's decline as a heroic character occurs in episode 6, "For England". Now totally bereft of all ideas on how to stop the schemes of the Black Knights, he dresses from head to toe in sinister black, jumps on a table top, and without warning slaughters all before him, fully expectant that his actions will also result in his own death. If this was the 20th century, what we would be witnessing is an ex-war vet turned psycho with a sniper gun atop a tower block. Even Gisborne himself hasn't committed murder on this scale! But what is even worse from Robin's perspective is that Gisborne probably wouldn't have failed. He would have taken their heads off, whereas Robin's arrows simply thud into the Black Knight's hidden breastplates as the Sheriff of Nottingham has once again outwitted him. By adopting his enemies ruthless tactics and morals, Robin has lowered himself to their status, lost the fight, and become once and for all "the loser".
Robin Hood's only hope, his only "way back" to his former, confident, focussed, high spirited self, is "the girl he left behind". Robin Hood without Maid Marian is a man without purpose, because Marian is a symbol of all that was good and right about the Country he thought he was defending and fighting for. Marian empowers Robin Hood. She is quite literally the Wind Beneath His Wings. Only Marian's approval can stop his inner turmoil, if only she could be made to understand his continued unquestioning loyalty to the King, and his "big plan" to get Richard home, rather than deal with the situation himself on a local level, as he once pledged to, and as both Marian and John clearly still want to.
And so it is that, in the same episode which sees the Sheriff's men silently slaughtered without warning when ambushed from behind by Robin Hood's outlaws, he finally tells her he loves her. In fact he loves her so much his anger subsides long enough to let the traitor Allan A Dale live. When Marian's father is murdered soon after this scene, and Marian agrees to flee into Sherwood Forest with Robin, it still seems possible for a while that he can win the day; regroup his forces, draw strength from Marian, and return to destroy the corruption in Nottingham. But it will never be. It is John, not Robin, who comforts Marian in her grieving, whilst Robin stubbornly refuses to be swayed from his only plan to get King Richard home. Not for a moment has he learned anything from the desertion of Allan and the later disobedience of Djaq and John. In the end, Marian, the one person who could have saved him, seems to desert him herself, returning to Nottingham Town to continue her vigilante actions alone as the Night Watchman. Even his proposal of marriage will not persuade her to stay, and in one final ironic twist of fate, it will be Guy of Gisborne who stands bravely at Marian's side to defend Nottingham against overwhelming odds, whilst Robin Hood the loser stumbles about Sherwood Forest trying to secure the safety of his arch enemy the Sheriff.
England desperately needed a hero. Robin Hood and Much might have expected to be greeted and lauded as home coming heroes. But heroes need heroic causes, and Robin's cause was seriously flawed. And whereas Much accepted and learned from that fact, Robin never did.
For me personally, what happens in episodes 11, 12, and 13 is a shambles. There are some great moments, as when Guy discovers who is behind the Night Watchman's mask, but the whole thing lacks continuity. What is interesting about those three episodes is sometimes more the actor's performances than the script. Lucy Griffiths gives it her all. She knows it's over, and she goes out on a bang, grabbing every headline (and so she should). Anjali Rose has long since gone onto "remote pilot" and, having been ignored all series, who can blame her? In "that scene" with Harry Lloyd they both look like they're saying "Let's just get this over with. The pubs will be open in a bit". In fact, Harry Lloyd is soooo over the top I seriously think he's taking the p*ss out of the script. Go and look at it again. He cannot be serious. And we all know of Richard Armitage's concerns because he's made them public, and subsequently signed up for "Spooks".
And Jonas Armstrong? One of the best Robin Hood's ever? Series 2 asked him to go to the well one time too many, and he doesn't look too happy about it. After all, he'd already ended one series with a Lucy death scene, giving everything he had in a superb performance. Then there was Edward's death a couple of episodes previous, and now he has to do it all over again? Several readers commented on the fact Jonas didn't seem to care as much as he should have when Marian was finally killed. Who can blame him? Perhaps it should be a measure of how splendid Jonas Armstrong was that, not only has he given perhaps the most diverse set of performances ever in the Robin Hood role, but that he had to do it within a context that became increasingly frustrating and confusing as it neared its end.
Labels: harry lloyd, Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Richard Armirage, Robin Hood, Robin Hood BBC, Robin Hood BBC review, Robin Hood series 2