Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Musketeers: The Prodigal Father

So we finally get our long-awaited Porthos episode! And yet oddly enough, very little of it is actually devoted to Porthos. He's forced to share screen-time with a plot about a brothel selling off kidnapped girls that his father may or may not be complicit in the running of – and just to cap things off, the episode ends on the attempted rape of Queen Anne.
Porthos looks how I feel.

It's... an uncomfortable creative decision to say the least.

This show doesn't like to waste time, so having concluded the previous episode with Treville promising Porthos to tell him what he knows about this father, this one opens with Porthos approaching his father's house – grand but dilapidated – with whatever details Treville told him about Belgard left unknown to the audience.
His father turns out to be Liam Cunningham, because Liam Cunningham one of those guys who is in everything (and I can also add him to my list of actors who appeared in both The Musketeers and Merlin). Belgard is a man who (according to him) was made the scapegoat after the assassination of King Louis's father, and has since lived in his squalid estate with the daughter of his second marriage, who you can tell is evil solely on the basis of her dress.
Look at those straps! Evil!
Yet according to Belgard, he truly loved Porthos's mother. As he tells it they were married in secret, but after Porthos was born Belgard's father found out and demanded he give them both up. On refusing, Belgard's father ordered Treville and de Foix to kidnap them, dump them in the slums, and tell Belgard they were dead.
So, not the best circumstances in which to have a father/son reunion. What's more, Belgard is oddly reticent about the reappearance of his long-last son: neither particularly excited nor overtly upset.
At least the show has remembered that Porthos and Aramis are best buddies, for Aramis accompanies Porthos on this little fieldtrip – and it's a good thing too since they're subjected to an awkward dinner with the strangest father, nastiest half-sister and rowdiest brother-in-law you could hope for.
There's other weird stuff going on in the house, as the duo come across two terrified girls running from Porthos's brother-in-law Levesque. They apparently stole from the lady of the house, but later Aramis spots one of the girls in the back of a cart, dead.
It's at this point you realize it's going to be a very dark episode.
Unfortunately this entire storyline is marked out by a very odd sense of pacing, and the inevitable "we won't tell Porthos this important thing because he needs to find it out himself it's not the right dramatic point in which to divulge this information."
For instance, Belgard doesn't immediately explain (even if it was a lie) the circumstances of his marriage to Porthos's mother. The discussion is held off until they're all sitting around the dinner table. But wouldn't Porthos demand an explanation straight away?
Likewise, Treville's decision not to immediately tell Porthos what Belgard is really like only leads to more misunderstanding. Why put Porthos through the agony of reconnecting with his father only to later find out he was a liar and a cheat the whole time?
In other words, this entire story would have been avoided had Treville just told the truth right from the start and allowed Porthos to make his own judgements from a position of clarity. Or if they wanted to milk the scenario for dramatic impact, surely it would have made more sense if Porthos had found his father all by himself. That way Treville would have not had to withhold information for no good reason.
As it was, the exposition of the episode felt badly strung out, especially when we know a guy like Porthos would immediately demand answers. Clearly they were going for the whole "who's telling the truth?" scenario between Belgard and Treville, but Belgard's demeanour throughout the whole thing is a bit too subtle to really get a fix on him. Liam Cunningham obviously didn't want to overplay things in either direction, but as a result the character doesn't come across either as (initially) falsely tragic or (eventually) sincerely loathsome as he should have done. He's ultimately more of a plot device than an actual character.
I'm also not sure I buy Porthos's main concern being whether or not he deserved his place in the Musketeers. We know that this is the most important thing in the world to Porthos – would he really have given it up so easily?
In non-Porthos related storylines, Aramis follows Levesque to a sleazy house covered in naughty pictures, where young girls are being sold off to men in an auction that involves the words "purity" and "innocence" and ... you get the gist. Again, it's all a little awkwardly staged. Eleanor is stupid enough to admit two Musketeers who are clearly sizing the place up, leading to one of the oddest escape sequences I've ever seen.

It's hard to see in stills, but these girls are actually walking down the stairs, and the men are awkwardly trailing after them. There's no suspense or danger to it at all. Athos gets temporarily taken out with a tray, the house's security is as useless as you'd expect, and I've no idea why they killed Martine at the start of the episode. Isn't that just destroying an asset?  
So all this may as well be wrapped up on an equally strange note: Porthos is randomly wandering around the estate when he finds a girl chained up in a barn. (Why give him free rein of the estate when there was a chance of him finding a kidnapped girl?) At that point the other Musketeers turn up, Levesque is shot, the truth comes out (Belgard gave up Porthos and his mother because he valued his estate more) and Porthos washes his hands of him.
It's something of an anti-climax to a story that's been building up over the course of the season, and since there's a good chance we'll never see Belgard again, I'm left wondering what the point of it was. What has Porthos actually learned? That the Musketeers are his true home. We knew that already, and so did he.
Elsewhere, Constance is wracked with guilt over her husband's death, and D'artagnan is wracked with impatience over the fact she's not immediately jumping into a relationship with him. Yup, dickhead D'artagnan is back again, placing a time limit on how long Constance has got before he takes off.
Look, I know D'artagnan has always been characterized by his impatience, but dude – let the woman work things out!
As it turns out Hot Physician turns up again – okay, his name is Lemay – and he decides to propose to Constance! Um, okay. It's all quite sweet and personally I think they'd actually make a better match than Constance/D'artagnan, but of course their official couple status means it's not on the table.
But ... what exactly was the point of all this? Constance was trying to get over the guilt of her husband's death; she was never actually going to seriously consider Lemay's offer, and the two events are thematically completely unrelated. Lemay in no way influenced her decision to progress her relationship with D'artagnan, so from a storytelling perspective I'm not sure why his proposal was included.
Still, he takes her rejection graciously (better than D'artagnan would have) and she floats away in her Cinderella dress to confess her love for D'artagnan for what feels like the millionth time.
Meanwhile, King Louis is delving ever further into Howard Hughes territory. And I wonder, are we meant to assume that Rochefort is behind this recent paranoia? I get Louis has been through a lot of traumatic experiences lately, but there's been no clear transition from one to the other. Is Rochefort dripping poison in his ear about all the enemies out to get him?
If so, we haven't really seen that happen – not to the same extent that we've seen him trying to isolate the Queen. He was putting pressure on Constance to take some time off this episode, and it all accumulates in Rochefort confronting Anne, attacking her in her own bedroom, and insisting that he's going to tell the king about her adultery. Yikes.
If there's one fly in his ointment, it's the return of Milady. I had to watch the scene twice, but it would appear that Milady appears in Rochefort's office at his request, for the purpose of him hiring her to find out more about Aramis and the Queen. I'm not sure why he needs Milady when he apparently still has Marguerite wrapped around his little finger, but hey, it gives her the excuse for some double-crossing.
Interestingly, she goes straight to Athos to spill the beans – for a price of course. She's playing with fire, but she has main character status, right? She'll be alright. I'm more worried about Constance at this point.
Miscellaneous Observations:
A wonky episode. The writers usually attempt to give their antagonists a little bit of nuance, but here it was just open villainy across the board. Belgard's true colours eventually come out, Rochefort was at his smarmy, obsessive best worst, and Eleanor and her douchey husband were just a bit much. Selling young girls to the highest bidder? There's no getting around that, so I suppose the writers felt there was no point in even trying to humanize them.
The girls being sold to the brothel were (unsurprisingly) not particularly fleshed out, and despite the nastiness of the story they were caught in, I at least appreciated the attempt to characterize Camille as someone mainly concerned with her friend's wellbeing. It was a small but memorable way of giving some degree of agency to a girl who otherwise had none. She also yelled "follow them!" to the other girls when Athos and D'artagnan staged their escape, suggesting a level of trust between the girls and a smidgeon of decision-making when it came to their fate. And this was just adorable:
Do they really have to be sent home? Can't they be trained up as a mini Musketeer contingency?
So although I can't say I enjoyed this particular storyline (the show really seems to be pushing the boundaries of what it can get away with, and this was the first time I really wouldn't classify it as "family friendly") it does manage to give some degree of personality to female characters who – on any other show – would just be pretty manikins for the man-folk to rescue.
Porthos's devotion to his mother is lovely. The first accusation he levels against his father is that his mother died in the Court of Miracles (continuity!) and despite me welling up at the initial scene in which he looks at his mother's portrait, it was somehow even more touching (and sad) to realize it wasn't her at all. But he knew it wasn't because he remembered what she looked like.
And Treville's line "he takes after his mother" was a great vindication of her.
Only Tom Burke could deliver a line like: "I gave you everything," and not sound like a whiny man-child. Take notes, D'artagnan. Still rather amusing that he still just sits around in taverns, staring sadly into space. I'm convinced that Milady's thought on seeing him this was:
"Really Athos? It's not like YOU were hanged from a tree."
Hey, there were actually OTHER Musketeers who went to Belgard's house! Wow, there's more than four in all of France.
Next week it looks as though the long-simmering and carefully-constructed season arc will come to a head, and to my surprise Milady and Marguerite were surprisingly prominent. Is it too much to ask that they'll have pivotal roles to play in the saving of Queen Anne's reputation?


  1. I thought this was such a strange episode, really; I didn't know what to think about it. I'm glad I wasn't the only one. The whole thing was just paced really strangely, the A- and B-plots were miles apart, and a lot of things were left rather opaque (the Milady-Rochefort meeting especially - why would either of them want or agree to that?).

    Still, at least Anne's reaction to Rochefort was all we could have hoped. I was thankful that she was the one who essentially saved herself, and that Constance is her closest ally. I love those two together so much. I particularly loved how, earlier in the episode, Anne just casually revealed her biggest secret to Constance, clearly not even contemplating the possibility that that might be a bad idea. She didn't even do the "you must not tell anyone" thing, she just knew they could trust each other! Sigh. So great.

    Really enjoying your reviews - the best around for this show, I must say. Don't know what I'd do without them.

    1. Still, at least Anne's reaction to Rochefort was all we could have hoped. I was thankful that she was the one who essentially saved herself, and that Constance is her closest ally.

      I am infinitely more invested in Constance/Anne than Constance/D'artagnan, and I'm terrified that this season will end with Constance's death BECAUSE of D'artagnan. I dearly hope they won't go there.

      And it took me a while to connect the dots (as I'm not overly familiar with the original novel) but in hindsight I'm glad Anne was the one to give Rochefort his iconic eye-patch.

      They get so much stuff RIGHT with the way they write the women, which I suppose makes me doubly nervous about how it'll all pan out.

  2. It was such an odd episode, It was a hard episode to follow, as I was constantly thinking, hang on, why? what? argh, why are they being so frustrating (yes, you D'Artagnan, serves you right if Constance turns around and married hot doctor)

    Actually, when Milady said to Athos he was a hard man to find, I thought (at first) she was being sarcastic - he's always sitting in the corner of the pub
    and Yes, I thought she was summoned to Rochefort's office too

    I've no idea why all of a sudden Louis is behaving as he is. Isn't he always under threat of being assassinated?

    1. As Jammeke pointed out on Tumblr, Lemay actually RECOGNIZED that Constance might need time after the death of her husband before accepting his proposal. How can the guest star understand but the protagonist NOT?

      Perhaps it's all on purpose, though to what end, I'm not sure.

      I've no idea why all of a sudden Louis is behaving as he is. Isn't he always under threat of being assassinated?

      Perhaps it's just one too many life-threatening experiences, though it doesn't gel well with the fact that Ryan Gage is still playing him as a petulant man-child.

  3. I don't know if you've ever come across Selenak on LJ,
    but it looks like the writers are plundering Duma's history even more here,in regards to his parentage it just a pity that it isn't very successful. (It might have been better if they'd had stuck closer to the real facts)
    I still haven't worked out if Liam Cunningham actually knew what his daughter and son-in-law where up to and kept saying he was a recluse just to get the suspicion away from him, or what!

    1. Ah, thanks for that link! I would lurk on Selenak's journal, but I lost all my bookmarks in January's great computer meltdown.

      Re: Liam Cunningham - me neither. I guess it was implied that he knew about it, but it was never really clarified.

  4. I felt all the same things you expressed about the approach and pacing and the things I was disappointed in, but also the lovely little things like the brief scene with the girls at the table that stop it from being quite as flat and upsetting as most shows are with this sort of thing!

    Of all things, the thing that actually interested me most about this episode was that Anne got Rochefort's eye! Does that mean he'll start wearing an eye patch? It's a minor thing, but when we first met Rochefort I was disappointed that they weren't continuing in the tradition that Christopher Lee started in the 1970s version of putting Rochefort into an eye patch, so the idea that they may be bringing in that little nod to the history of the role is really fun!