Sunday, 10 May 2009

ROBIN HOOD 3.7 – "Too Hot To Handle"

Sunday, 10 May 2009

[SPOILERS] A heat wave hits Nottingham this week, resulting in a lack of water for the local populace; a problem exacerbated by Prince John (Toby Stephens), who hatches a plan to cut the limited water supplies, in an effort to be considered a hero when he selflessly offers them his own private barrels of water...

The memorable thing about "Too Hot To Handle" was how it developed Robin (Jonas Armstrong) and Isabella's (Lara Pulver) relationship far beyond what I'd expect from a mid-season episode. Indeed, it was only last week that Isabelle and Robin shared their first kiss, so perhaps Robin Hood's in too much of a rush to conclude one of the season's better ideas? Regardless, Prince John catches sight of Isabella canoodling with the eponymous outlaw minutes into the teaser, and orders Guy (Richard Armitage) to confirm his sister's treachery and kill them both. The Prince tells Isabella of his plot to cause a drought, and Isabella passes on the intel to outlaw Kate (Joanne Froggatt), prompting Guy to confront his sister and arch-enemy in the forest.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang are trying to help the thirsty villagers survive the water shortage, with Tuck (David Harewood) offering his extensive survival knowledge (er, squeeze a lizard's bladder), before leading the weakest peasants to the River Trent (a dowsing rod the medievel GPS) in a last-ditch effort to find water...

But it's with Robin and Isabella where the real drama lies, as the pair are captured and handcuffed together by Guy, only to escape for a brief interlude, before being captured trying to fix a castle well the Prince had plugged to sever Locksley's connection to a nearby strea. This leads to a clichéd situation with Robin and Isabella trapped inside said well as the water level starts to rise, with Guy taunting them from the grated opening above -- before leaving them to die and take credit for a job well done, without actually seeing drowned bodies first. Indeed, it's so clichéd, the execrable Demons pulled the exact same stunt a few months ago.

But, let's gloss over that. Robin fires another of his phsyics-defying-cartoon-arrows (snare Isabella's dress onto a ring protruding from the grate, to haul themselves to safety), we're treated to a rather snappy sword-fight between Guy, Prince John, Robin and Isabella -- who shows her true colours by turning on Robin in favour of Prince John, simply because Robin isn't loved-up enough to ditch his outlaw lifestyle and elope with her to a fantasized farmhouse. O-kay.

Throughout the episode, Toby Stephens was as magnificent as last week –- effortlessly filling the Sheriff-sized gap in lieu of Keith Allen, and giving proceedings a much-needed shot of humour and overacting that befits it. If Robin Hood's not going to dramatic, intelligent and grown-up in its approach to the English myth, then I'm happy to see Stephens treat it as pure panto-style entertainment instead.

I particularly liked a scene where the sociopath royal arrives in Locksley with emergency water supplies for the dying villagers, primed to be heralded a hero, only to notice they've already been given barrels of his water by Robin Hood, so he instead has a villager drowned to show his disappointment in them! Or how about when he shows disdain for Guy's "enigmatic" speeches (echoing the audience), and later cuts Guy short mid-speech with a curt "bored now!" Brilliant.

This definitely wasn't the best episode in terms of actual plot, but by keeping it simple the story afforded us some decent character moments. It did surprise me that they've introduced Isabella, only to turn her into a selfish cow the episode after she snogged Robin – so, assumedly this puts Kate back in the frame as the woman Robin's going to fall for? But, would Robin really choose to trample all over his best-friend Much's (Sam Troughton) dreams just to get the girl?

The direction by John Greening was also good, although I didn't like the pink tint the pictur was given to infer a heatwave. It just looked like someone had forgotten about the colour correction, or that I'd sat on my remote control funny. But, for the first time in a long time, the fight sequences here were damn solid: a three-way fight in a forest between Guy, Robin and Isabella (the latter two linked at the wrist) was really quite excellent and imaginative for the series, and the four-way
Errol Flynn-esque dungeon sword-fight was also good. More like that, please.

Overall, "Too Hot To Handle" was very good on most counts, let down slightly by a meandering subplot with Robin's gang and those dopey villagers. The Robin/Isabella storyline had some surprises (which hopefully won't be seen as a terrible misstep in retrospect, now she's effectively sided with the villains), and I remain impressed by Stephens' performance and Pulver's easygoing charisma. Armstrong appeared to give a more natural performance in Pulver's presence (especially in their field, forest and well scenes), and I still feel those actors have a better vibe together than Armstrong ever had with Lucy Griffiths. It's a shame they're on opposing sides again so soon, really...

9 May 2009
BBC1, 6.15pm

Writer: Chris Lang
Director: John Greening

Cast: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Richard Armitage (Guy), David Harewood (Tuck), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Sam Troughton (Much), Joe Armstrong (Allan), Lara Pulver (Isabella), Joanne Froggatt (Kate), Toby Stephens (Prince John), Rebecca Callard (Eleanor), Matt Devere (Jack) & Mate Haumann (Guard)