Pigs root around in their pen, grunting. A dirty woman dressed in rags, her hair wild and unkempt talks to them, her muttering voice constant. She carries one of the pigs into her hovel, and it lets out high pitched squeals. While riders approach through the woods, she talks to the pig, calling it a naughty boy and telling it it mustn't run away. She sees the riders through the trees and is stricken with fear. She puts the pig down and hurries into the forest to hide.
The men come closer, one on horseback, richly dressed. The others on foot, dressed more simply. The one in front, Master Clout, turns to the leader on his horse, "She's perfect, you'll see."
Once they reach the hovel the men enter, looking for her. She goes deeper into the woods. The men announce that she's not in the house, so the leader tells them to find her. She watches while they search. The leader enters the house, covering his nose against the stench. Master Clout points out the broomstick, and the lord knocks his knuckle against the cauldron. Lord Edgar orders them to bring a pig along with the broomstick and cauldron. Why? Master Clout wonders. "She can't be a witch without a familiar."
The opening credits roll.
The outlaws are having a jousting contest in an open field. Robin acts as Will's horse, carrying the man on his back. While Tuck plays the same part for Much. Marion shouts encouragement as the two pairs run at each other and the riders try to knock each other off. After a couple charges they collapse in a laughing heap, and the others jump into the fray.
Little John and Meg approach the group, leading a horse. The rest sort themselves out, and John hands over a string of fish. The two of them have something to say.
"Meg and I are to be married," the big man says.
"You're what?" Will demands.
"I love him," Meg says lifting her chin.
"Is this your doing?" Will asks angrily.
"No," John says.
"I'll bet it is!"
"If you want to shout at someone, shout at me," John says quietly.
"I didn't shout, John," Will says more softly, then turns and walks away. Robin faces John.
"Meg can't join us."
"She's not going to," John says. "I'm taking her to Hathersage."
"I know you're thinking I'm to blame," Meg says, "but I'm not, cause John feels the same as me, don't you, John?"
"Yes, lass, you know I do that."
"You can't leave us, John," Robin protests. "We need you."
"So does Meg," he answers. "I'm sorry."
"We can't make you stay," Robin says, resigned. Then with a bit of hope, "Can we?" John shakes his head. Robin accepts the man's answer and clasps his hand. "Herne protect you. Go in peace." Each of the group come in turn to say their good-byes.
"God be with you, John," Tuck says, then, "God be with you both."
Much is next. "You won't forget us, will you?" the boy asks.
"How could I?" John responds. "You're part of me. All of you." He hugs Much, tears springing up in his eyes. He hugs Marion as well.
"Be happy," the girl says. From Nasir he gets a nod, then the man clasps his arm, saying good-bye without words. Will faces away from the group, standing by the horse. John comes up to him and touches his arm silently.
The woman still watches the intruders from the forest. They can't find her, but Master Clout promises she'll be back. She won't leave the pigs. They agree to come back again, and they take the black pig. Once they've gone, she comes out of the woods, making helpless noises in her throat. "Rutterkin," she says, and starts to cry.
In Nottingham a crowd of peasants is running in confusion, some throw things at the soldiers before darting back into the mob. Soldiers shoot into the crowd. Screams fill the air as the panicked group mills and churns.
In the castle, King John is in bed. He tells his doctors to leave; he doesn't want anymore purging or leeches. Gisburne enters to report that there's been more rioting in the city. Young boys near the market seemed to be the instigators. John says they'll hang everyone in Nottingham. He rages about the Sheriff going on a pilgrimage at the first sign of trouble and leaving him to deal with it. Gisburne suggest that "Perhaps he knew you were coming," then quickly explains...to deal with it.
Meg rides the horse and John leads it as they head toward Hathersage. They run into the pig lady who hurries along making incoherent noises. When she sees them, she gets defensive. "Don't you touch me." Meg recognizes her, the villagers in Wickham call her Mad Mab. John says hello to her, but she threatens him. "I'll smash you!" and hits him with her staff.
"What's wrong?" he asks. She begins to sob.
"They took my baby." John looks at Meg. They'll have to help her. Meg's disappointed that their journey is put on hold, but she agrees that they have to do something.
In Nottingham, Lord Edgar is presenting the cauldron, broomstick, etc. to King John. "What's this got to do with me?" the King asks.
"Everything," Edgar answers. Then he tells the King they found his lost glove in her hovel. She must be the cause of the King's pains. The King says he wants her burnt. Edgar agrees, but says first she must confess who paid her. He shows the King a bag of Scottish coins. Edgar reminds the King that he has two brothers, one is the King of Scotland and the other is the Earl of Huntingdon, the father of Robin Hood. He continues by saying when he visited the Earl he overheard his brother saying, "Slowly, the King must die slowly." The King wonders why he didn't tell him sooner if this is true. Edgar smoothly answers that he loves his brother, and he needed proof before he could accuse him.
The King sends Gisburne to arrest the Earl of Huntingdon.
John and Meg have returned to the outlaws' camp. The group sits around the fire, sharing a meal. John and Meg tell the others about Mad Mab, and the whole group laughs at John's recounting of her pig noises. Mab sits by herself with her back to the group, putting a tree between her and the others. Much gets up and brings her some food. But all she says is that she wants Rutterkin back. The others laugh and call to Much that she likes him.
"She'd never leave the pigs," Meg says. "No one knows who she is." Marion wonders what they can do for her. Much asks who Rutterkin is and they think he'd have to be one of the pigs. They try to figure it out, was he stolen, did the pigs just get out of the pen? Marion suggests that they can help by rounding up the pigs. Robin denies it. No way does he want to chase after pigs, and the others agree.
At the hovel the group chases after the little piglets, trying to catch them and carry them over to the pen. They make faces, and laugh at each other, struggling with the squirming animals. Mab stays away from the others, and mutters that she wants Rutterkin. But she's got all the others, they say. She seems to rant, "He's not wicked like the ones who took him." Who did take him, Robin asks. "The swords," she says, "and the blood, and their eyes." Her words are strange and Robin gives up. He and Marion leave her with a simple, "Herne protect you, Mab."
John puts Meg on the horse and shakes hands with Robin. They're interrupted by soldiers coming. They stop the man in the lead and Robin recognizes his Uncle, Edgar. He asks what he was doing, and Edgar says he was looking for Robin. "Looking or hunting?" Robin asks. Edgar denies that he would hunt his nephew and tells him "blood is thicker than water."
"I know him," Mab whispers to herself from her hiding place in the bushes.
Edgar tells Robin his father's been accused of treason and arrested. Robin will try to rescue him. They debate whether they should wait for him to be transported on the bridge or the track at Darkmere. They settle on the bridge, and Edgar tells him the Earl will be in an ordinary farm wagon with two disguised guards.
In Nottingham Castle, Edgar tells the King where the outlaws will be. John mutters that the witch must confess. He concludes by saying to Edgar, "Your zeal does you credit, but I wouldn't want you for a relative."
The outlaws run up to the bridge and separate to take up their positions in hiding. Marion and Robin hide together. "Do you trust him?" Marion asks. Yes, Robin answers. He's always been loyal to the earl.
Will and John hide together. "You're still here then?" Will says with a grin.
"Because it's his father," John answers.
"So you're still gonna leave," Will says, his voice falling.
"After the earl's safe," John confirms.
Much and Nasir hide together. Much asks Nasir if he ever feels fear and the Saracen says he does.
The wagon comes rolling up to the bridge. Robin runs ahead, and they attack. They pull down the two men driving the cart, but soldiers pour out of the back of the covered wagon. They realize it's a trap and more soldiers ride toward both sides of the bridge. They begin to fight the soldiers and Robin is knocked off the bridge and into the water by a horse. Marion jumps in after him, but two soldiers grab her. One by one, Tuck, Much, Will, John and finally Nasir jump over the side and land in the water. The soldiers are closing in. Nasir finds Robin in the water and pulls him up gasping and sputtering. The others have made a defensive circle as the soldiers close in on them. Nasir hides himself and Robin behind a screen of plants growing on the side of the bridge.
The others, trapped in the middle of the river by a ring of soldiers, prepare to fight. But Gisburne holds a knife to the captured Marion's neck and the others are forced to drop their weapons.
Mad Mab holds Cedric, one of her pigs, muttering and cooing to it in an attempt to comfort it over Rutterkin's absence. Edgar enters the hovel, and faced with him, she remembers how knows him. In vivid detail, the scene plays out in her memory.
She is in a castle, wearing a wimple and dress, the image is a stark contrast to the filthiness of her current state. She sees Edgar beckon to another man, who stabs and kills someone hidden behind a column. In horror, she backs away.
The memory returned, she fights with the present day Edgar, but he subdues her and drags her outside where the men get her.
At the bridge, Robin is reviving. He looks to Nasir. "Marion?" he asks. The Saracen can only shake his head, no. "And the others?" Robin asks next, already knowing the answer. Undaunted he says that they will save them, Herne will guide them.
Robin's men are in a large locked cage, that rolls through a crowd of peasants, soldiers guarding it on all sides. Meg runs beside the cart, trying to keep up with it and evade the soldiers that push the crowds back. Unable to keep up, she stops running, and wipes tears from her eyes as the others are rolled farther away.
In Nottingham Castle, King John says that he will declare a public holiday for the occasion of the hangings. He talks briefly to the "vermin" as he calls the prisoners, but they are silent.
Mad Mab is brought in. "She smells as evil as she looks," John says with a grimace. She asks for Rutterkin, and calls him a "little devil." He seizes on the statement, asking her if the pig is her devil. "Proper little devil sometimes" she says, then lists the things he does...knocks his bowl over, bullies Ethel. She begs the King to let him go. Surely he's got plenty of pigs of his own.
John tells Edgar that they will need a full confession, then turns his attention to Gisburne. He asks the man why he allowed Robin Hood to escape. Gisburne tries to remind him that they've captured the others, but John is in a rage. "Because you are incompetent, inept, inadequate, and incompetent," he screams, stalking around the taller man.
Robin enters Herne's cave. Herne gives him the cup, and he drinks from it. Then Herne tells him to look into the flames. "Open your thoughts, fly unfettered," he says. The flames become images, blending and changing. A crown, a ring, Master Clout, Edgar, Rutterkin. As the last image fades, Herne speaks again. The seeing is over, "make of it what you will."
The Earl has been brought into Nottingham. He expresses his loyalty to the crown, "whoever wears it." The King tells him they have the witch, and the Earl asks if he's been accused of witchcraft. He says the accusation is laughable, and John's anger rises. Is the Earl mocking him? No, the Earl answers, but he is mocked...by the accuser. He demands that he be allowed to confront his accuser, but John has him dragged away. He shouts to the king as he is taken, the charge is false, all England will know it.
Edgar and the torturers enter the dungeon. Mad Mab is in her cell singing to Rutterkin. "Hay is for horses, straw is for cows, milk is for little pigs, swill for the sows." Edgar shows her the confession and tells her she can take Rutterkin home if she signs it. Her eyes flick over the paper, reading it, and a puzzled look rests on Edgar's face briefly. She pronounces the confession lies and says she won't admit to lies. But when Edgar tells one of the torturers to kill the pig, she gives in and signs the confession.
In the darkness of night Robin and Nasir enter Wickham. They sneak into Meg's home and wake her. Her startled reaction fades when she recognizes them, and she's immediately willing to help. She shows them to a house. There is a guard dog outside; he bounds away from the house barking. Two men come to see where he's gone; Robin and Nasir knock them out. The dog runs to Meg who feeds it scraps of meat. Robin and Nasir enter the house and approach the bed. The man's drunk, which Robin says explains why the dog didn't wake him. But he'll wake now.
Robin smashes his hands down next to the man, yelling for him to wake up. He screams questions at the confused Master Clout; where did he get the ring? It was Edgar, wasn't it?
In Nottingham the cart full of prisoners rolls through the town toward a chopping block. King John comes to sit on the dais and the entire crowd thunders with booing. He takes his seat and the Earl is brought in. Gisburne sulks on the edges of the crowd, "Inadequate, am I?"
Meg enters Nottingham with a cart of hay. The soldiers stab their swords into it, checking for stowaways.
King John speaks to the crowd. This is an example of his justice. Transgressors will pay the penalty. Meg goes over to the caged prisoners, and Gisburne notices, watching for afar as John kneels down to speak to her through the bars.
"Hello, Meg," John says sadly. "Looks like the wedding's off."
"Would've been anyway, wouldn't it, John?"
"Don't say that."
"You'll never settle down," Meg says. "You're an outlaw; you always will be."
"Not for much longer," John says with melancholy.
"For a lot longer," Meg answers, smiling. "You'll see." A grin blossoms on the big man's face as he realizes what she means.
A ladder is brought to the cage and Scarlet is taken to the block first.
"What's your name, villain?" the King asks.
"Scarlet. What's yours?" Will says snidely, getting a huge laugh from the crowd.
"You filthy wolfshead!" John rages.
"That's me," the unrepentant outlaw answers, getting another laugh. "I'll tell you lot something, shall I," he yells to the crowd. "I'd rather die an outlaw than live as a slave under that maniac's rule."
"His head! His head!" the King screams, anger overtaking him as the crowd roars approval.
An arrow lands with a thunk in the throne, barely missing John's head. "Let them free, Lord King, or England will look to your successor," Robin Hood commands. A second arrow, this one from Nasir in the crowd, sends a soldier to his death. Confusion sets in; people try to figure out where the shots are coming from. Gisburne notices Robin on the roof. The prisoners are let out of the cage and the Earl is cut free. Robin tells King John to look at the ring on the arrow. The King's eyes travel to the ring resting on the arrow by his head. Robin tells him to ask Edgar who he gave the ring to.
Nasir brings in Master Clout, and Robin orders him to tell the King of Edgar's plot. The man admits everything, that Edgar plotted against his brother the earl. "I led him to the mad woman, the one with the pigs. She seemed most suitable."
"Suitable?!" the King yells, as both he and the Earl fly into fits of rage. Edgar flees, riding a horse through the crowd. The Earl mounts and follows, while the King yells vainly at the soldiers to catch Edgar. Gisburne sneaks up to the roof and plucks Robin's arrow from his bow, the two of them grapple. Confusion reigns. The outlaws escape in the confusion and John sits on his throne, disgusted.
Edgar and the Earl ride at a full gallop through the forest, Edgar in the lead. In prison Mad Mab is singing. "Hay is for horses, straw is for cows," she holds a clear ball, and can see Edgar on his horse in it. "Milk is for little pigs," her eyes go cold and she croaks the last line, "DEATH finds you now."
Edgar looks behind him, and before he realizes it he's ridden into a tree branch. He falls from his saddle dead, blood at his temple. The Earl catches up and dismounts. He checks to see what's happened.
In the prison Mab laughs. He didn't remember. But she did. She knew he was the one who killed her husband. Where, when, she wonders, her eyes dim, it's forgotten.
She picks up Rutterkin and with a look she unlocks the cell door. They're going home.
The Earl rides along the road. Robin waits perched in a tree and drops down in front of him. Father and son greet each other.
"Where's Edgar?" Robin asks.
"He's dead. He fell from his horse," the Earl explains. "I could never have killed him. Not my brother."
"No," Robin says, "not a brother."
"Thank you for clearing my name."
"You were innocent, and you're my father," Robin says, as if that is explanation enough.
"I disinherited you."
"What else could you do? I'm an outlaw."
"Give up this life, Robert," the Earl pleads.
"No," Robin says. "Not until there's justice for all."
"I doubt if there'll ever be that," the Earl says with a shake of his head. "Besides, there are other ways of getting justice."
"Use them," Robin says, his voice growing heated. "Curb the King's tyranny."
"Still hotheaded," his father chuckles.
"Still your son," Robin says with a smile.
"To whom I own my life."
"You own me nothing," Robin says, then amends his statement. "Except perhaps your blessing."
"That's freely given." The Earl mounts his horse. "God keep you safe, Robin in the Hood." He waves once and Robin waves in return, then watches his father ride away.
I guess the main reason is the family stuff. It works on a bunch of levels. On one level there's John trying to start a family with Meg, but already having another family in the outlaws. And on another there's Robin's families. He's also got the outlaws as a family, then there's his father who's his blood family and who still loves him but who will never truly understand him, and then there's Edgar who's also blood family but who is so self-serving that family of any kind means nothing to him. It's really kind of neat how these levels of family intertwine and how each of them reacts to the situation that's affecting them all. For one thing, seeing how devoted the raggle-taggle band of outlaws is to each other puts any other example or definition of family to shame. They unhesitatingly give themselves up for Marion. John puts all his plans on hold because Robin's father is in danger. And Nasir and Robin go into Nottingham to free the others. There's also the fun jousting game at the beginning of the episode. One of the things I loved best about series 1 was all the games they would play, and in this episode you see that again. I think that shows how comfortable they've finally become with Huntingdon, and I think it also shows another side of their family.
I also really liked the scene at the end between Robin and his father. The last time they were together the Earl was treating Robert like a boy, ordering him around. Here, he treats him as a man and an equal. It seems Robert may have been disinherited for becoming an outlaw, but he also gained his father's respect in a way I don't think he was able to before. Even though his father doesn't agree with his choice, he respects him for making it.
The John and Meg thing I like because of the family aspect, but also just because I really enjoy them as a couple and I like the fact that we've come from her half-teasing him about marriage in The Witch of Elsdon to him actually prepared to marry her. It also brings up some interesting stuff with Will. If John leaves, Will loses his best friend. It's really well done the way he seems to be wavering between being devastated at losing John and knowing he should be happy for his friend.
As far as Mab and the pigs go... Well, I love the part where they round the pigs up. The look on Robin's face when he's carrying the piglet is priceless. And I like them in terms of another type of family. That aspect of the plotline wasn't what I liked best, but it was a serviceable idea for the entrapment of the earl so it worked for me.