A few things got in the way of this watch (a build up of other stuff and the New Year), but back on track now.
I felt the final 3 episodes allowed the show to hit it's stride and settle down into something better than what the 3 openers promised. A few things assisted this for me. The group was largely settled (Robin, Marian, Much, Tuck, Little John, Nasir and Will comprise it, Alan A' Dale enters later on and he's considered less important in this particular retelling) which allows the show to concentrate on it's major players, with the occasional redshirt thrown in when they need a larger band of outlaws or someone to cop an arrow in the back (even Gisborne's generally hapless band of soldiers don't always miss). They removed some inconvenient characters (Abbot Hugo is largely sidelined and not missed, the Sheriff and Guy are villain enough). The episodes were all self contained. There was less mysticism. I find this a rather unnecessary component and it doesn't sit well with the rest of the story. It does appear in the final episode (King's Fool) of the season, but I'll cover that a bit more as I talk about the individual episodes.
Episode 4 was called Seven Poor Knights from Acre and it concerns a band of Templars returning from the Crusades. This gives the audience a good sense of time and political situation. Prior to this we really only have Nasir to remind us that the Crusades are happening. There's been very little mention of King Richard (probably imprisoned in Germany at the time) or King John.
In recent years there's been a lot of romance surrounding the Knights Templar and they're often remembered fondly and with some sympathy for the end that they meet with the burning of Simon De Montfort and the acquisition of a greedy church for a lot of their goods and wealth. Back in the 1980's they were more villain than hero. This lot are particularly nasty.
They take a village hostage and meet with the Sheriff and Guy as they ride through. Guy wants to order them off the land, but when they mention that they're after Robin and his band for stealing from them, the Sheriff decides to let the Templars do his dirty work for him.
The reason they want Robin is that they believe he stole a golden standard of theirs and they cannot return to the order's base in Lincoln without it. The standard was really stolen by a one-eyed thief from Nottingham and it falls into the Sheriff's hands, so he sees a way of having his cake and eating it too. The Templars kill Robin Hood for him and he winds up with a valuable piece of gold.
The Templars take Much and hold him as hostage (I'm not thrilled with Much's presentation in this. He's generally an idiot, but not a mentally deficient child as he is portrayed here). Robin goes in to rescue him, loses a trial by combat against another Templar (a big German) and has to agree to retrieve their standard to save Much, the village and he and his band. On that I don't know why when the outlaws had the Templars in their sights they didn't simply shoot them. They're quite good at hand to hand, but they don't match Robin and Co with bows. Initially I thought that it was because the Templars were wearing mail and that may protect them, although I was doubtful. Later on this can't have been the case, because they shoot Gisborne's mail clad soldiers dead easily. One of those plot holes that TV like to hand wave I guess.
Robin steals the standard from the Sheriff and then gives it to the village. The Templars have the tables turned on them by means of guerrilla warfare and are sent in disgrace back to the order's headquarters in Lincoln.
Alan A'Dale brings us the last of the band. When they first encounter him, he's riding through the forest singing mournfully and badly. They try to rob him, but he has nothing other than his horse, if he's trying to make his living out of music this isn't at all surprising. He comes across as rather wet to be totally honest. He's in love with a nobleman's daughter and said daughter has been promised to the Sheriff in marriage along with a chest full of silver as a dowery.
Robin agrees to liberate the girl, return her to Alan and of course take the silver. The rescue is a horrible mess. For some reason the girl rides away with Guy and Robin pursues alone while the rest of the gang take the wagon containing the dowery. The fight in the mud between Robin and Guy is one of the more pointless scenes I've witnessed. I'm sure it sounded great on paper, on screen it looks silly, rather than comical and it goes on far too long, accomplishing nothing other than letting the Sheriff unload on Gisborne again (I was starting to feel rather sorry for him by this point). The wagon theft is a bust too. The Sheriff anticipated Gisborne's ineptitude and the silver took a different route. The box that Robin's men and woman steal is full of rocks. I also don't understand why the nobleman's daughter (Margaret) simply sat on her horse and watched Guy and Robin flounder around in the mud, rather than riding away, she seemed to be a pretty good rider during the chase.
There's a side plot concerning Little John's girlfriend Meg, from a nearby village and how the Sheriff threatens to tax them heavily because they harboured one of Robin's men.
To stop Alan whining and because Margaret seems a decent sort they mess up the Sheriff's wedding and steal Margaret. The Sheriff manages to keep his silver by claiming that it was stolen. Margaret and Alan are married by Tuck and she gives Robin a valuable necklace that the Sheriff gave her to pay the tax levied on Meg's village (exactly how he's going to sell it to turn it into the tax money I do not know) and they ride off into the sunset. At this stage it's unclear as to whether Alan will reappear or not and naming the episode after him is a bit like fan service.
That was a lightweight episode and they had to finish the season with a heavyweight one. This they accomplished by casting John Rhys Davies as King Richard (he hadn't been Gimli yet, but he had been in Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Initially Richard represents himself as a knight returning from the Crusades. He accepts the 'hospitality' of Robin's band after they rescue him from a group of attackers. He gauges their opinion and motivation while he eats with them. Things turn nasty when Robin demands payment for the meal. He claims to have no money, so Robin says they'll take his horse. He offers to fight someone for it. It is decide to have him wrestle John. First to win two falls takes all.
The two are evenly matched and after Richard wins the match he reveals who he really is. He also invites them as his guests to Nottingham. While Will isn't considered all that smart and he can be quite impulsive he has a healthy paranoia and refuses to accompany the others to Nottingham.
His fears seem to be unfounded. Richard accepts Robin and his friends with open arms and they all get very drunk. The next day his true colours come out. He offers them all pardons and to make Robin and the rest wardens of the forest (that means that they can hunt the deer with impunity and continue to protect the people around the forest) and return Marion's lands to her. The catch is that they have to fight for him in Normandy, as John gave away some of the lands Richard regards as his own.
I must admit it took some courage to show Richard in a negative light then, when he was largely regarded as The Lionheart by many people.
Robin is all for it, but doesn't realise that in doing this he has become as John puts it the 'Kings Fool' (hence the episode title, that was done very neatly). Back in the forest Will receives a message from Herne carved on the shaft of an arrow that opens Robin's eyes and forces he and his friends to run. There's a very good escape scene, where Robin shows that he's almost as good with a sword as he is with a bow. In the escape though, Guy shoots Marion in the back with a crossbow bolt.
This is where the episode lost it for me. If you're going to kill someone then kill them, don't just introduce some magical deus ex machina to save them. If you don't want to kill Marion then don't kill her, just wound her or kill someone else. Herne of course saves the day and Marion, and the season ends with Marion in Robin's arms and they all live to fight and steal another day.