When the titular character gets tossed from the top of a cliff to certain death within the first five minutes of a season premiere, it's entirely probable that the death is not so certain. But, this is Robin Hood and in this version of the classic tale, the producers have no compunction about altering key elements of the well-known story. As last season taught the viewer, anyone can die at anytime.
The series, which stars Jonas Armstrong as Robin, is beginning its third season this Saturday on BBC America and has a hero who, at the outset, finds himself at his wit's end. To understand exactly how Robin has arrived at this odd crossroads, it is absolutely necessary to know what happened at the close of season two (don't read beyond this point if you want to be surprised by what has come before).
The finale of the second season featured Robin and his band in the Holy Land trying to save King Richard from an evil plot being orchestrated by the Sherriff of Nottingham. Robin manages to foil the plot and marry Marian, but when Guy of Gisborne learns of the girl he loves marrying Robin, he kills her. Understandably, Robin does not take the death of his bride particularly well, hence his distressed state at the outset of this new season.
Robin, of course, doesn't die when he gets thrown off a cliff at the beginning of the third season, but the events do show that we may be getting a new Robin this go-round. In the past, Robin has been held in check by his love for Marian and his desire to protect her, with that check removed, there seems little to stop Robin from going off half-cocked on some "damn fool idealistic crusade." Or, there would be if one of the season's new characters, Friar Tuck (David Harewood), weren't to show up and do his best to convince Robin and everyone else who will listen that Robin is more than a man, that he's an ideal and a legend.
Returning alongside Robin this season are his men, Much (Sam Troughton), Little John (Gordon Kennedy), and Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong). The group is slimmed down from the end of the second season, with Will and Djaq apparently making good on their promise to stay in the Holy Land. Of course, with the quick addition of Friar Tuck and the addition in later episodes of Kate (Joanne Froggatt), the merry men and women quickly return to their previous size.
The baddies are back for another season too, with the Sherriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) and Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) still fighting their own battles against the King, and, interestingly as the series progresses, Prince John and each other. It seems as though the events that took place in the Holy Land have greatly affected these men, their perceptions of the world around them, and their loyalties.
While the Sherriff may have lost some of his place in the power structure of the nation under Prince John, it is Gisborne who is truly suffering. He may have murdered Marian, but he also loved her deeply and is greatly affected by her death. Armitage plays the part beautifully, not only looking like an empty shell of a man in the season premiere, but also conveying a sense of mourning from within as well. He blames himself, he blames the Sherriff, he blames Robin, and he is a man on the verge of complete collapse. One can only wonder where the rest of the season will take him.
What is most interesting about the first couple of episodes of this new season – and hopefully something which continues for the episodes still to come – is the huge change in character dynamics. Though the characters in this version of the tale have never stuck to the straight and narrow, the producers now seem completely unencumbered by any previous versions of the story. It is nice to see that rather than treading on safe ground, rather than recasting Marian or bringing back Lucy Griffiths to the role and declaring that which came before as a dream sequence or some other "safe" choice, the producers have chosen to truly make the legend their own.
The second season of Robin Hood, from its very outset, upped the ante, making the villains larger and the stakes greater. It worked very well, but the choice now in the third season to seemingly go smaller, to turn the story from massive plots to backstabbing and in-fighting also seems appropriate. One can only make the plots so big before they turn into Doctor Evil sharks with lasers super-villainy. What it appears the third season is headed towards is a look at how the man Robin of Locksley truly becomes the legend Robin Hood.
The BBC has already announced that there will be no fourth season of the series, which is a shame because the series is not only cleverly constructed, but wonderfully acted and completely fascinating. Through the years the tale has been told many times and there have been many Robins and Marians and Merry Men – the shoes one has to fill to be in a new version are tremendous, but everyone involved in this production has proven themselves more than capable.
Season three of Robin Hood premieres Saturday September 12 at 9:00pm on BBC America.