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Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Musketeers: Brother in Arms

With the surprise ending to Penny Dreadful I'm down to reviewing just The Musketeers – which is also on its final season. I'm starting to regret complaining that I had too many shows to watch. 
Apparently the airing of this episode was delayed for a week in the UK, and (though I've got all the season downloaded) I decided to be a good little viewer and watch the show at the same pace as everyone else.
have however heard some of the rumours about what to expect in the coming episodes – and it doesn't sound like this show is going to help raise me out of the gloominess that the Penny Dreadful finale instilled.  

In any case, Brother in Arms was at least a better episode than last fortnight's The Hunger. The story is more complex, its characterization more nuanced, and its Disaster Dominos built on pretty sympathetic motivation. As it happens, King Louis has ordered his Musketeers to fetch his little brother Gaston, Duke of Orléans – a mystery to all considering Gaston has been in exile for conspiring against Louis.
He's still at it too, hiding a cache of treasonous letters on his person as the Musketeers bang on his door in the middle of the night. (Nice Cold Opening considering we're initially led to believe the loud knocking is threatening). On the way to the palace Gaston fakes an injury to get into a nearby tavern and pass on the letters to an associate, only to realize he's been robbed and promptly kill at least three patrons.
The situation goes from bad to worse when it becomes apparent all his victims were war veterans, and that the culprit is the tavern-keeper's wife Josephine, who has been stealing things for a while now in order to keep the tavern on its feet. The situation gets even murkier when we learn the King's motivation for bringing Gaston to the palace is not some inexplicable whim, but an attempt to make peace with his family members before his death of the white plague.
Nicely done, writers.
In a fun case of Nice Job Fixing It Villain, Gaston complains so hard and long about his stolen property that the Musketeers vow to find the incriminating letters and return them to him (you can pin-point the exact moment when Gaston realizes this isn't a good idea).
On confiding to Feron about his predicament, he only inspires his half-brother to seek out the letters for himself, seeing an opportunity to gather up a list of names that can be used for blackmailing purposes in the near future. Naturally, it's Grimauld who is given the task of retrieving them, which leads to him sabotaging the Musketeers' plans.
And finally, the owner of the tavern – Christophe – is pushed into action by the King's seeming indifference to his people's suffering and his sanctioned interruption of the dead men's funeral by Marcheaux and the Red Guard. It's only a matter of time before he's got Treville and Porthos held hostage at the tavern, demanding pensions for the ex-soldiers and (ironically enough) the head of the thief who caused all the trouble in the first place.
It's a case study of escalating violence when the King counter-strikes by sending the Red Guard to the tavern; a conflict jam-packed with opposing plans and motivations. Louis can't grasp the aggrieved mindset of his own people, and his people can't feel any sense of compassion for their monarch's impending death considering it's being withheld to keep the country stabilized. Treville can't share what he knows with the Musketeers, Feron and Gaston each have their own agendas, and Josephine's theft of the letters was done for entirely apolitical reasons.
The stalemate finally comes to a close when the Musketeers' attempt to resolve things peacefully comes to an end and they're forced to join up with Christophe's men once the Red Guard move in. Cue the requisite action sequence, which is pretty standard stuff for this show, sans the use of Constance and Sylvie as The Cavalry. That was pretty cool.
But someone has to die, and naturally it's Josephine since she has to be punished for – some narrative requirement or other. It's frustrating because you can just tell she was bumped off because the writers thought sympathetic blood had to be shed, and because she was the one to "start" the conflict by stealing the  letter in the first place (even though Gaston was more culpable) and because she was the easy choice for a heartrending death. Just like the female physician in the last episode. Funny that.  
It was not just in plot but in characterization that this episode improved upon the last. It was in Athos noticing D'artagnan using his own rhetoric to train the cadets, in Treville breaking down over news of Louis's impending death, in Aramis getting a brief glimpse of his son.
Other relationships were fleshed out a bit more, like the give/take dynamic of Athos and Treville. Both expect honesty from the other, but Athos immediately catches on when Treville withholds Louis's condition from him, saying: "I thought we were telling each other everything." Only Tom Burke could deliver such a line and actually make it funny.
But I can also see both sides of the argument when Treville tells Athos he needs to act more like a leader and less like a soldier – even though Athos has essentially been demoted from a war hero to the king's errand boy. That would be frustrating.
Treville and Queen Anne make for a good team (even as they're saddled with some truly awful exposition: "need I remind Your Majesty that you exiled him for plotting to overthrow you," and "Treville believes Gaston cannot be trusted") and by the end of the episode have even managed to synchronise their eye-rolls.
Still, the Queen's loneliness and isolation is palpable. Alexandra Dowling imbues Anne with such a tragic bearing, and even the return of Constance to the palace isn't enough to lift her spirits. I'm not entirely sure what to make of Constance revealing that she's deliberately trying not to get pregnant (not sure how effective contraceptives were back in the day) but the Anne/Aramis reunion was as awkward as it should have been.
Louis's lack of interest in Anne and obsession with his son makes a lot of sense in light of his illness, but is actually a little sad: he knows that she cares little for him, and so rather pragmatically decides not to waste any more time on her. I'm not sure how well this fits with their prior dynamic, when there was at least some semblance of mutual affection (even if it was more brotherly/sisterly in nature) but at least Anne still has the authority to shut down guys like Marcheaux when they're hassling her favourite former-lady-in-waiting.
That said, I'm terrified Constance is going to die at his hands instead of Milady's. I admire her pluck, but she keeps needling him in such a way that could backfire. Hell hath no fury like a man with a bruised ego.
The subtle rivalry between Aramis and Athos for Sylvie's attention is pretty cute, with Aramis definitely coming out worse off. But even better, Sylvie doesn't end her conversation with a goodbye kiss.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Brother in Arms continued the anti-monarchy theme that I expect will run throughout this entire season, even as the script took steps to garner sympathy for Louis's current situation. Once again the Musketeers find themselves as the bridge between rich and poor: their loyalty to the royal family set against their awareness of the poor's suffering.
I'm not entirely sure why Grimauld covered the costs of the memorial service (to maintain cover?) or why the Red Guard assumed the thief would even be at the church in the first place (if it was anyone but Josephine, a hypothetical thief would have been long-gone).
There was some pertinent dialogue here, from Athos's "this is a fire that must not be lit" to Treville's "this isn't the way you change things" to Christophe's "you have to take victory." Cutting a little too close for comfort there, show.
I think this actor actually had a missing eye. That or the makeup team deserves a pay rise.
Relatives of Louis have always been oddly one-off characters – they're never mentioned until they're relevant, and they're never mentioned again once the episode is finished with them. It's not a huge deal, but I'm surprised the show on the whole never took the opportunity to build a complex political environment.
As such, it felt like Gaston has come a little late to the party, though the casting director deserves credit for finding someone with a credible resemblance to Ryan Gage: the baby face and the demented smile are spot-on.
Once again we have to sit through the tedious sight of the Musketeers being admonished by a "superior". Come on show, we had a whole season of this last year and it got really old, extremely quickly.
I'm not hugely interested in Feron, but Rupert Everett is doing a great job. Even the way he constantly leans against the walls speaks of a man in constant physical pain.
But on that note, I'm still not impressed by this season's bad guys, of which there are simply too many. In this episode alone we had the spoiled shit, the big bully, the silent assassin, the crippled mastermind – even put altogether they're not half as interesting as season one's Cardinal Richelieu.
The cross is a nice detail on Aramis's... er... surcoat?


  1. Its such a pity this show has lost some of its previous 'oomph'.
    However, if you want to watch a King Louis, then I really would highly recommend Versailles. It took me some getting used to George Blagden as the King, but he is rather good, and Alex is simply absolutely wonderful as the Duke (and reinforces how wasted we was as Mordred)
    but alas - no musketeers

    1. Yeah, I think you can tell just from the actors' performances that things were starting to wind down.

      I actually have the first episode of Versailles! Now it's just a matter of finding the time to watch it all.