This review will contain spoilers through the end of Robin Hood Series Two.
Let me state for the record: the artistic problems with Robin Hood – Season 2 are too numerous and hilarious for a mere sidenote in a review that focuses on how the series treated its female characters. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself seriously except when it takes itself seriously, and doesn’t mean to send any messages except when it means to send messages. It’s not just bad; it’s a hodge podge of overreaching and underachieving that makes serious analysis difficult, to say the least.
But when you get rid of the only two women in the show in the same episode, I’ll make that extra effort.
Robin Hood’s first season contained two women with agency. It even narrowly passed the Bechdel test (Marian’s conversations with the supposed Mother Superior in “The Taxman Cometh” and the few conversations she had with Djaq). Marian had been doing her own version of the Robin Hood thing since before he returned from the Holy Land, and Djaq had her own unique motivations for joining Robin’s gang and often challenged his hot-headed decisions with logical long-term thinking.
This changed in Series Two. Djaq, like the rest of Robin’s gang, was sidelined to the point where she barely got a line per episode. Instead of more character development, we got a sudden announcement that she was in love with Will, despite never having a conversation with him after early Series One. This conveniently explains Anjali Jay’s departure from the show, when at the last minute she and Will decide, for reasons apparently classified beyond our clearance level, to stay behind in the Holy Land.
Marian’s changes were even worse. In Series One, she had her own agenda: to take care of the poor without getting anyone killed (which often conflicted with Robin’s agenda of caring for the poor without getting too many people killed) and to protect her ailing father. To achieve her goals, she took risky actions (although, in her extremely male-dominated world, taking any action at all amounted to a death wish). In Series Two, she took no action and demonstrated no agenda of her own. Instead, she struggled to fulfill Robin’s agendas by manipulating Guy and Allan into doing things.
Let’s review. Series One: Marian does stuff she believes she must do. Series Two: Marian talks men into inadvertently doing what other men want. (With one very strange exception.) That’s a hell of a backwards journey. Fictional women have been manipulating men on other men’s behalf since the Garden of Eden story, and look where it got Eve: blamed for everything.
The exception I mentioned above was the big shocker at the end of the season: Marian’s death. This too is an act of manipulation – in order to distract Guy from killing King Richard, she deliberately enrages him by telling him she’s in love with Robin. Guy immediately rams a sword through her belly, then runs away in horror. Djaq examines Marian and announces she’s going to die when they remove the sword, so after getting in all the dialog the writers thought would win them awards, Marian pulls out the sword herself and dies. Now, this scene has some crazy logic flaws that could cause you to read more into it than that (there had to be other ways to distract Guy until Robin could show up, for example), but what I’ve described is what we’re meant to get out of it, so I’m going to cut the writers some slack and focus on that.
It’s still abysmal. Because this doesn’t reveal anything about Marian – we already knew she was heroic to the point of self-sacrifice. That was one of the things we loved about her. No, the character this scene reveals is Guy, who’s been pushed so heavily this season I nicknamed the show “Robin Who?” If you still thought Guy had a heart of gold underneath his psychotic exterior, his skewering of the woman he allegedly loves should give you a clue. And while I actually like that the script has confirmed that brutish stalking is not romantic (something not all writers – and, sadly, not all people – seem to grasp), and like that it confirmed Marian was never swayed by Guy, we didn’t need to lose her to do that.
But the fact we didn’t learn these things until we had to lose her (because Lucy Griffiths chose to leave the show) tells me what her real purpose was for the writers in Series Two. Her purpose was to string us along as one-third of a love triangle. We knew Robin loved her, we knew Guy thought he loved her, but we weren’t supposed to be quite sure what Marian felt. That’s why we couldn’t be allowed to see her motivations, watch her work from an agenda of her own – we were being baited, and this season’s Marian was simply the worm on the hook. In Series One, we had a number of scenes in which Marian could give us secret facial expressions, letting us know she was scared/plotting/lying while she maintained a facade before Guy, the Sheriff, or even on occasion Robin. In this series we didn’t get these shots. We saw of Marian what the men in her life saw of her – no more, no less.
And sadly, most of what they saw in her was a way to get to each other.