After an interminable two-episode absence, all of Richard Armitage-fandom rejoiced when Guy returned to Nottingham (at last!!). More on my favorite baddie's return in a second. :) This episode of Robin Hood opens with a mysterious noblewoman being chased through the woods. Just when all hope seems lost (eekk!), Robin (Jonas Armstrong) magically appears and of course rescues her. The woman, Isabella (Lara Pulver), *claims* to be the maidservant of the squire's wife and her decoy, ordered to help her escape her wicked husband. Robin, of course, buys this story hook, line, and sinker, because he's that kind of guy & because electric sparks immediately fly between him & the spunky Isabella (who's eerily reminscent of Marian in this scene, in both looks and attitude).
Robin, Isabella, and the gang run into Guy & his men returning to Nottingham. This is quite a different Guy than the one we last saw in episode 2, Cause and Effect. Then he was cowed & fearing for his life, "betrayed" (I think one can use that word, because he's apparently dumb enough to "trust" Sheriff) by the Sheriff (Keith Allen) and sent to Prince John to account for Nottingham's unpaid taxes. This time Guy's returned flush with pride and purpose, with a mandate from Prince John to kill Robin Hood (like that's gonna work in episode 5 of the season *rolls eyes*) a secret weapon (unbelievably silly), and men to command. Guy's starting to think that he doesn't need the Sheriff for success or validation, and personally I love the edge Richard Armitage gives his portrayal of Guy here.
Besides the Isabella/Guy's secret "weapon" storyline, this episode also serves as a much-needed showcase for Little John's (Gordon Kennedy) character. While Guy & his men are herding Robin & crew towards their arena-inspired end (really...a freaking LION?!), Little John falls in with a traveling troupe of performers who stage, of all things, gladiator-like fighting tournaments. Let's just be honest here, this is a ridiculous conceit, right up there with season 2's foray into Las Vegas-style gambling. Generally when this show is cheesy, I don't mind - it's part of the fun, after all. ;-) This fighting troupe was interesting for me because it's headed by a woman named Bertha (gotta love that name!) played by Denise Black, who I last saw play a similar role in The Scarlet Pimpernel Meets Madamoiselle Guillotine(if you've never seen the Richard E. Grant Scarlet Pimpernel films, do yourself a favor and track down copies of them asap!). Bertha's goal is to of course betray Little John for cash (though this idea occurs to her only after her amorous advances towards the Sheriff are turned down flat - hilarious!). Little John immediately hits it off with one of the kid's in Bertha's entourage, and their interaction is a nice reminder of the fact that John's a father, who's outlaw life has cost him a relationship and life with his wife & son. Plus, as cheesy as the fixed arena fights may be, the fact that they rely on brute strength plays nicely into Little John's purpose as "muscle" on the show.
Of course, the most interesting aspect of this episode is, for me anyway, the introduction of Isabella - who turns out to be Guy's sister!! Apparently Guy's selfish, thoughtless impulses go way farther back than season 1 - years earlier Guy sold his sister in marriage to an abusive squire in order to help further his own social position. The way things stand now, Isabella's been away from her brother for years, so she doesn't really know him anymore. And the fact that she's an abused woman would, one could think, make her a sympathetic, pro-outlaw character. However, Isabella is first and foremost a Gisborne. So where will the show take her character? Personally, I love the fact that the show chose to delve into Gisborne's past a bit. I find it interesting that Isabella is so out of touch with her brother, and so desperate for escape, that she's seeking sanctuary from her betrayer. Only a chance meeting with the charismatic Robin appears to have made her think twice about blindly jumping from the frying pan of her marriage into the fire with her brother & his plans. There's a lot of potential with her character, so we must wait and see how fast & to what degree the writers squander Isabella's potential.
Post-Marian, I vastly prefer the introduction of Isabella to the show rather than the unforgivably annoying, grating, pull-my-hair-out-I-can't-stand-her-that-much character of Kate (Joanne Froggatt). Kate was introduced so obviously, so badly, as a "poor man's Marian." This characterization sin is only compounded by the fact that the writers only seemed to transfer Marian's annoying characteristics to the new blonde stand-in - whininess, ingratitude, and to top it off bad hair. ;-) Isabella has TONS of potential IMO because she's got a tension-frought history with my favorite Guy, she appears capable of intelligence and spunk, and she's got some genuine chemistry with Robin (that last scene shows off some serious sparks!). Of course, a lot could change over the course of the season - but for now, Isabella is my favorite introduction to the cast.
*Great Sheriff quote: "For once I'm pleased to see you, Hood! It means Gisborne has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again!!" - that pretty much sums up the relationship between the Sheriff & Guy, doesn't it? LOL!
*It just dawned on me that Isabella married Squire Thornton - could this be a nod to Richard Armitage's breakout role as John Thornton in North and South? Methinks it must be...