Ever since its first episode, Galavant’s not-so-secret weapon has been Timothy Omundson’s King Richard, an infantile ruler whose tyranny often amounted to one long temper tantrum, even as he ruthlessly sentenced his subjects to death. Creator Dan Fogelman could have kept Richard confined to this archetype of the cruel yet impotent monarch, and the the character would have still been entertaining—it’s not like anyone gets sick of watching Prince John be a prickish dandy in Disney’s animated Robin Hood.
But Fogelman and his writing team flipped the script at the end of last season, first humbling Richard by taking everything—his queen, his kingdom, his brutish manservant—away from him, then building him back up into a character that’s likable for reasons that go beyond foppish comedy. At this point, Richard’s a bona fide hero—a doltish hero that annoys the hell out of Galavant, but a hero nonetheless. His metamorphosis now moves at the speed of a Brundlefly, pushing him to appeal to a village’s democracy (not their fear) in hopes of recruiting an army to take back his kingdom, then question if he might legitimately be in love with the only person who joins up: his childhood friend Roberta (Clare Foster).
Lest he become the straight man, Richard remains klutzy even as he tries to do good, including a date with Roberta when he sets his own beard aflame. The gag of a romantic fool accidentally lighting himself on fire while talking to a woman is a tired one, having been used by ABC as recently as one month ago on The Muppets, but Omundson sells it by actually downplaying it. As he leaves the table to extinguish himself, he daintily pinches his burning facial hair, trying to maintain a sense of decorum even as his follicles singe away.
The point is that Fogelman knows how to heap significant changes onto his characters while still retaining the comedic traits that make them entertaining in the first place. But where last season mostly applied this principle to Richard, tonight’s two episodes start to do the same with Isabella and Madalena. The former—still imprisoned in an oversized dollhouse—drifts increasingly farther from her romantic feelings for Galavant after being put under the spell of Chester Wormwood (Robert Lindsay), a wedding planner intent on using her marriage with Prince Harry as a means to gain power. As with Richard, the show gets a lot of comedic mileage out of shrouding his rather lame gestures in doom—the funniest moment of “Aw, Hell, The King” arrives early on, when, after Wormwood promises to look out for Isabella’s best interests, the camera pans behind his back to reveal that his fingers are crossed. Ominous music swells, and another scene-stealing Galavant villain is born.
Granted, Isabella isn’t aware of any of this, and her falling out of love with Gal comes from being manipulated by an enchanted tiara, not her actual feelings. But given the increasing romantic distance from him—manipulated or not—plus the second thoughts they both had last week about their one and only kiss, I wouldn’t be surprised if the couple doesn’t get the happy ending they were once set up for.
Madalena has much more agency in her transformation, which takes effect after her own cruelty seemingly turns on her in the form of the amusingly titled Basikobitczes, a group of dragon ladies far more spiteful than her. As it turns out, they actually played a large part in fostering the more unsavory parts of her personality. As a child, she always wanted to be invited to their exclusive gatherings, but found herself ridiculed by them for being poor. As is the case with many kids who are bullied, Madalena turned her hurt feelings into idolization, mimicking the Basikobitczes in hopes that she would one day achieve their status and be invited to one of their dinner parties.
That day finally arrives, and upon entering the dining hall, she discovers that it’s not deer or hog they’re roasting, but her. After the other women torment Madalena with insults, they go as far as to bring back a mean-spirited prank from her childhood, pretending to offer her a ride back to the castle in their carriage, then inching forward every time she tries to board. What follows is a piano ballad called “Is This A Feeling?” that might be the most tender and melancholy moment on Galavant so far, not just because Madalena’s being vulnerable, but because she’s surprised that she’s even capable of being vulnerable. As all the feels come oozing out of her, she realizes how long she’s been repressing her own insecurities.
At the same time, it wouldn’t make sense for her to make a complete role reversal into some charitable ruler. While Richard was able to change completely, he’s different from Madalena in that he was never aware of how awful he was being. He acted that way because he was spoiled, immature, and didn’t know any better. Madalena, on the other hand, has always relished being a villain, and is we see in “Bewitched, Bothered, And Belittled,” it’s something she’s aspired to ever since she was a little girl. So when Gareth sees her crying and brings her the severed ears of the Basikobitczes (“I got you the exact same earrings those queens had,” he grunts), it’s as happy an ending as a supervillain is likely to get. It’s sick and twisted, and yet, between two people who view the world through a blood-splattered lens, it’s also rather sweet.
With such rapid and effective character development shared among the core cast, it’s slightly irksome that the first installment in each evening of the series continues to feature Gal and Richard encountering a new group of strangers. Last time, we got the shrug-worthy Enchanted Forest (disco number notwithstanding) and this week unveils the peasants who have separated from Richard’s former kingdom. The idea of a village who becomes democratized after being free of their king tickles the brain as a concept, but it’s a bit of a drag watching a community be functional for the better part of 22 minutes, especially when stacked against the madcap tone of a show like Galavant. Even though the storyline gives us Roberta, she could have been woven into the narrative in some other way, and outside of her introduction and Richard’s jaunty “If I Were A Jolly Blacksmith” (I hope to God that’s the song title), there’s nothing particularly memorable in the front half of the episode. With the road back to Richard’s kingdom getting shorter and shorter, maybe there will be less time for detours.
- Galavant continues to push the diversity of its musical genres. In addition to the Carole King-isms of “Is This A Feeling?” and the shades of Monty Python found in the blacksmith song, we calypso, more big-band, and even a mariachi number at dinner with Richard and Roberta.
- Also, the duet between Chef and Gwynne deserves its own bullet. After realizing being a wealthy servant isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, they reaffirm their love under more impoverished circumstances, making the tune a sister song to the first time they sang together last season. My guess at the title: “This Is As Good As It Gets.”
- When Sid pretends to draw the guilt-ridden nightmares from Gareth’s head, it’s reminiscent of the Pensieve in the Harry Potter series.
- “I would hit the thing with the other thing until I made a different thing.”
- “So what are we roasting? Wild boar? Stag? Heretics?”
- “How am I going to sleep in the thing people use to give birth and die in?”