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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Musketeers: The Hunger

Okay, that was... rather uninspired. It's not that stealing grain, scapegoating refugees and profiteering off the king is a bad evil plan – just one that makes for an uninteresting story.  
Granted it's only the second episode, and sometimes it takes a while for a new season to find its feet. But I couldn't help but feel that this was a very formulaic episode. The bad guys monologue to each other. The good guys investigate. Someone is thrown in a prison cell. There's a feisty love interest. Some swordfights. The one-off patsy is taken out, but the seasonal bad guy lives on to douche another day.
Could it be that the writes have simply run out of ideas? In which case, it's probably just as well this is the final season.

The episode was very much based on class issues, with the Duke of Beaufort in cahoots with Governor Feron to pay off his debts by hiding grain and blaming it on the refugees. By inciting a riot among the citizens of Paris, they can then go to the King and ask him to pay an exorbitant price for "reserve grain" in order to quell the mob. The people get fed (eventually) and Beaufort gets the money he needs to get himself out of trouble.
Grimauld (who we could reasonably expect to be an ally of the lower classes) clenches his teeth and puts up with Beaufort's shitty attitude toward him. As for the refugees, who have come to the city from outlying regions to escape the war? Well, no one will miss them if a few are hanged for the crime of stealing food.
Um...maybe a little too on the nose with all this?
Okay, perhaps I don't have the right to say that. My country isn't currently facing a refugee crisis, and for all I know this episode is a case of Some Anvils Need to be Dropped. But at the same time it reminded me of the inelegant attempts the BBC's Robin Hood made at turning the legends into an analogy of the War on Terror. There was a good idea in there somewhere, but the quality of writing couldn't quite elevate it to something truly profound – or even that interesting.  
The rivalry between the Musketeers and the Red Guards kicks off again (a welcome return since this was largely missing from season two) though I always get worried about Constance in these situations. Captain Marcheaux is clearly sticking around, and he's got an axe to grind when it comes to Madame D'artagnan. I know I could get someone to spoil her fate for me, but I have tentative faith that the show isn't stupid enough to kill her off.
The Red Guards duly arrest a bunch of refugees, with the intent to force a confession under the threat of hanging. This leaves the Musketeers to search the refugee camp in search of any evidence that the grain is there: naturally they find none.
But among the refugees is a young woman called Sylvie, who spends most of the episode doing a lot of frantic running. She's got papers that could condemn her people somehow, and though her father tells her to burn them, she can't bring herself to go through with it.
Her meeting with Athos plays out well, with her pointing a pistol at him and Athos staring it down. This is the type of push/pull dynamic that I like: she gets to prove her mettle, but he isn't flattened by it. (It worked better than the scene in which he condescendingly handcuffs her for her own safety). 

Plus, Athos still has that "don't actually give a shit" attitude still going on:
Athos, hard at work.
The papers turn out to be pamphlets encouraging sedition against the king, and though the French Revolution is still a century away, King Louis's characterization means it's not difficult to see where they're coming from. But there's some interesting tip-toeing around this issue: the Musketeers are naturally sympathetic to the refugees, but at the same time they're loyal to the royal family (even if they don't think much of Louis, they'll always protect the Queen).
Porthos's angry reaction in particular is interesting, as he was also integral in proving the innocence of the refugees by tracking down the grain and delivering it to the palace just in the nick of time.
I wonder if this is going to be the underlying narrative thread of the season: the Musketeers gradually moving away from the monarchy and embracing the cause of the people. I hope so, or else the otherwise awkward Not So Different discussion D'artagnan has with Sylvie's father in which the latter declares: "a better world is coming" is rendered pointless filler.
But come to think of it, this show has always been very good at using the Musketeers as a bridge between the upper and lower classes. They're seen in the rundown streets of Paris just as often as they are in the palace grounds, and the problems that accompany poverty are treated with as much import as issues of state and warfare.
There's also this whole bit about how Feron/Grimauld have a spy in the refugee camp called Leon, who kills a woman-physician (dammit, show!) and plants empty grain sacks in a wagon. Just as Sylvie and the Musketeers catch on, Marcheaux shoots him dead and destroys their evidence of a conspiracy. 
All things considered, it was the best scene of the episode – though once again we're kicking off the tradition of the Musketeers continually being on the back foot when it comes to their dealings with the bad guys. I know they retrieved the grain, but you gotta give them a few more wins this time around!
Speaking of which, plenty of screen-time was afforded to our villains. We learn that Grimauld was the son of an army whore and had to survive on scraps thrown to him by the soldiers – so he's an aggrieved member of the underclass. I've had my fill of this character type after six seasons of Downton Abbey, and I suspect the show isn't going to take his sad backstory into account when they inevitably pit him against Athos.
Beaufort keeps bad-mouthing him in Feron's presence, but the Governor is fairly calm about it, suggesting that the two don't have a deep emotional connection. And after a scene in which Grimauld tries to stop Feron from taking more opium (or whatever painkilling drug he's supplying him with) we learn that the power balance is tipped in Feron's favour: he insists on more, and Grimauld backs down.
What remains confusing however is why Grimauld decided to introduce himself to the Musketeers in the final scene. Now they know what he looks like, which is hardly the sort of thing a man-in-the-shadows like Grimauld would want – especially since Athos seems to already know him from somewhere. Perhaps there's a deeper plan at work, but I get the feeling the writers just wanted the episode to end on a note of subtle confrontation, complete with ominous music.
Say boys, that encounter was a little odd, wasn't it?
Let's not forget that guy's face in case he pops up later in suspicious circumstances.
And finally, we get a scene between the royal couple and their son which demonstrates the writers aren't through with making the Queen their punching bag. Not only does little Louis seem to favour his father, but Louis Senior sees fit to needle Anne about Aramis's return to the Musketeers. Er – why? It's been four years since the accusations of adultery were laid against her, and last time we saw him Louis seemed to have completely dismissed them.  
Portrait of a sad family.
It was an episode that practically had a checklist of contemporary issues to get through: fair trials, extortion, refugees, police brutality – but no personal stake for any of the main characters (sorry Sylvie, but we've only just met you). Hopefully things improve from here on out, but if not – hey, I'm a survivor of Robin Hood and Merlin and therefore an expert at compartmentalizing. I'll take the good stuff and ignore the rest.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Athos says everyone in Paris is entitled to a fair trial – that's rich coming from him, because I am very certain there was nothing about Milady's hanging that was even remotely legal.
Still haven't warmed up to Feron, but Rupert Everett is very good at pulling off a man in constant pain.
This makeshift chapel in the refugee camp was a lovely touch:
Since we're in the final season I'm hoping to see a return from some of the guest-stars of previous years – so there was a little regret that this episode didn't utilize Flea and the Court of Miracles, which would have worked just as nicely as refugees.

2 comments:

  1. I read in an article somewhere that its a new writing and production team this year (not sure of the reason behind the change)
    I'm hoping they're just warming up and finding their feet, as so far, its not really firing

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I knew Adrian Hodges had left, so the change in tone (while adhering closely to story elements) doesn't surprise me.
      I've lowered my expectations, but I don't want these reviews to be wall-to-wall complaining. If things don't pick up I'll probably just see things through the end (too close to the finish line to quit now!) and write some full-season thoughts.

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