Robin Hood shows signs of quality from time to time, but it's a show with a style and attitude that tries too hard to appeal to contemporary audiences, by downplaying supposedly archaic elements of the English legend without understanding you can "modernize" an old story without anachronistic terminology and suchlike. This new season is still suffering from old problems that have dogged the series from the start, but will hopefully continue improving the formula. After all, season 2 was much better than the first.
"Total Eclipse" certainly gets off to a spirited start, with Robin shunning his gang (reduced in numbers following the departure of Will and Djaq) and challenging Guy with a nicely-achieved CGI arrow through his bedroom window, embedding itself above his bed's headboard. The resulting duel ends with Guy on the edge of a cliff (are there cliffs in Nottinghamshire?), before managing to get the upper hand over Robin, and throw his nemesis over the edge to an apparent watery end.
The Sheriff (Keith Allen) is overjoyed when Guy reveals he's managed to kill Hood, but a visiting messenger of Prince John's isn't convinced until he sees a body. Elsewhere, a mysterious newcomer to England's shores has been watching recent events and finds Robin unconscious in the river, taking him to a cave to tend to his injuries. This is
Essentially, the episode involves Tuck deceiving everyone in various ways to manipulate Robin into taking action and remembering the ideals he holds dear. Tuck forms a bond with the grief-stricken Guy, delivers Robin's duped gang to their enemy, and thus inspires Robin to mount a one-man rescue mission, timed to coincide with a solar eclipse that will make the perfect backdrop for the Sheriff's latest defeat, and elevate the Hood legend to mythic status.
A few things about "Total Eclipse" worked very well: David Harewood made a good impression as Tuck (he has twice the charisma than Robin's whole gang put together already), I liked the idea of Robin suffering a crisis of faith after Marian's death (sadly shortlived), and Armitage just about manages to shine despite his silly new costume and longer hairstyle that makes him look like a 16-year-old Goth.
Throughout the episode, there was less intrusive music than usual, too -- and that helped give the show a sense of reality. Robin Hood's bombastic soundtrack usually just draws attention to itself (not helped by the fact they seem to reuse the same half-dozen tracks), so it was nice that a few scenes passed by without being audibly strangled.
Yet, inevitably, a lot of things still irritated me: there's always been a sense of repetition that the show stuggles to escape, with the Sheriff once again capturing Robin's men and deciding to orchestrate a public execution instead of just killing them. I suppose we should be grateful he decided to skewer them with a giant crossbow instead of build some gallows for the umpteenth time, though. And the gang still mutter their concerns about breaking into Nottingham Castle as if it's an impregnable stronghold, despite regularly proving otherwise with a rescue mission every other week. I suppose such flaws are inherent in translating the myth as a weekly television series (and they have to make use of the excellent sets), but it's still frustrating that episodes follow a template of someone being captured half-way through the story, only to be rescued in the last five minutes from under the Sheriff's nose.
Overall, "Total Eclipse" was worth watching for David Harewood, whose continued role in the gang will hopefully be just as charming, but little else really fired the imagination. Robin Hood's the kind of show you can pick fault with throughout, really. Ignoring the TV/film cliché of a solar eclipse happening in seconds rather than hours (also see Heroes earlier this year), Robin Hood's the kind of show that immediately follows that celestial event with a hero shot of Robin on the castle ramparts with the chalky circle of the moon to his right, on the opposite side of the sky to the sun. D'oh!
28 March 2009
Writer: Michael Chaplin
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood), Keith Allen (The Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisbourne), David Harewood (Brother Tuck), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Joe Armstrong (Alan)