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Friday, June 3, 2016

The Musketeers: Spoils of War

Just as one show ends (The Tunnel) another begins, though the third season of The Musketeers has been jerked around considerably in regards to its airdates. Apparently the entire season has already been broadcast in Turkey – and possibly a few other countries – leading to all sorts of spoilers crossing my dashboard in the preceding months.
Maybe it's just me, but that lack of care makes it difficult to really throw myself back into the story. I watched this episode not as the culmination of a suspenseful build-up, but after noticing a review for the first episode on someone else's Tumblr and realizing: "oh crap, I gotta get onto that."
And as it happens, this season is our last. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed: three strong seasons is nothing to be ashamed of, but I felt The Musketeers had a life-expectancy of at least five (putting it on par with Merlin). Apparently it hasn't been doing as well as I assumed, or perhaps it was just too expensive for its own good.
Still, it's better to end something while it's still engaging than drag it out forever, and we know in advance to savour every moment. 

As the final episode of last season promised, France is now at war with Spain, and our boys (or at least three of them) are serving their country in hilariously suicidal ways: D'artagnan in the gung-ho "bullets bounce off me cos I'm the main character" kind of way, and Athos in the "for some reason I'm still alive, so let's get this shit over with" way.
In an opening sequence that I suspect blew most of the budget for this season, the two of them race to and fro over a battlefield, dodging bullets/canons/spears/swords and getting only a few artful smudges of dirt as a result.
You don't survive this unless you're in the opening credits.
Aramis meanwhile, has spent the last four years in a monastery, single-fathering a bunch of orphans. At the end of last season I was a bit fed up with Aramis: I know the character's shtick is that his dick is perpetually getting him (and everyone else) in trouble, but the suicide of Marguerite went completely unmentioned when he decided to atone for his sins by becoming a monk.
The show went a decent way in redressing this, first by ensuring that Aramis spent four years in the monastery (the end of last season hinted he was only going to be in there a couple of hours before the other three pulled him out again) and secondly by having him name the women who died because of him: Adele, Isabella and Marguerite. I'm glad they were all remembered and honoured, even if it was just briefly.
But there's more setup to be had: introducing this season's villains. At first we get an arrogant war general and a nasty highwayman, but they turn out to be red herrings. It's the re-edited opening credits that clue us in to who's really important. 
At the palace we're introduced to Governor Feron (and yikes, Rupert Everett is suddenly an old man – when did that happen??) who is the king's bastard brother and the new commander of the Red Guard. At the moment he's a little too slimy to be really interesting, instructing his men to beat up Musketeer cadets with the same sort of aggrieved entitlement issues that made Rochefort so tiresome. Oh Peter Capaldi, I miss you.
Meanwhile a hooded and cloaked man called Lucien Grimaud kick-starts the episode's plot by kidnapping the aforementioned general, stealing France's incoming supply of gunpowder, and seizing control of a monastery in order to sell it to the Spanish without any prying eyes. At least, I think that's the gist of it. This show has always been very good with its straightforward plotting, but this veered into "huh?" territory a couple of times. If Grimaud had a good reason to cut off the army general's fingers, cart him all the way to the monastery, and then break his neck on arrival, I must have missed it.
However, he has potential. Athos seemed to recognize him (he's certainly handsome enough to have once been a Musketeer), so there's bound to be a backstory between them, and his final scene with Feron – in which he provides the older man with opiates in a surprisingly gentle manner – hints at a power dynamic that could prove interesting.
In any case, Grimaud's plot intersects with Aramis when he takes over the monastery, leading our ex-Musketeer to try and flee the place with his miniature flock. Despite the episode opening and closing with close-ups on Athos, this was probably Aramis's story more than any other. We saw him bullshitting his way to safety after the children happened upon the highwaymen, taking charge of the situation when the monastery was overrun, re-establishing his relationship with Porthos and God, and getting the big action sequence at the end, complete with running away in slow-motion from a big explosion.
He even got his own sidekick, an annoying Musketeer wannabe called Luc who surprisingly improves as the episode continues. This show often does well with its minor characters: in this case someone who starts off as obnoxious gets course-corrected halfway through and ends up being a fairly competent and endearing kid.
There was surprisingly not a lot of Porthos or D'artagnan this time around, though the show was careful to remind us of who was most important in each of their lives: for D'artagnan it's Constance, and for Porthos it's Aramis – as seen by the fact he acts like a dumped boyfriend once they're reunited. (They also throw in a sliver of a subplot between Porthos and an adorable little moppet which tipped just a little too far into cutesy-poo territory for my liking).
Dammit, it's cute in stills though.
Back in Paris we're treated to a Treville/Constance team-up in order to humiliate the bullying Red Guard – though it instantly puts Constance back on death watch when one of them talks about how "unnatural" it is that a woman is in charge of the garrison.
(Yes, apparently Treville put Constance in charge of the Musketeers' garrison. It's ridiculous, but it's also awesome, so what the heck – I LOVE IT).
But given her book fate, I get a little panicky when Constance is threatened, and I'm not spoiled on what happens to her this season. Don’t tell me, just pray for her – because you KNOW the Red Guard retribution is going to be twice as nasty as what she pulled. Hell hath no fury like a man with a bruised ego.
In any case, she's still a warm and fussy mother hen, and her final scene in realizing that D'artagnan had returned was delightful. Another thing this show has always been good at: the little scenes of domestic happiness amidst all the fighting/scheming/charging about on horseback.
Well, unless you're Queen Anne. In which case you're still long-suffering while your husband obsesses over your son and plays stupid practical jokes.
One thing that always interests me is the way the show balances the characters and their centrality to the narrative. Although the entire ensemble is important, I think the show (judging from the fact we see him first and last in this episode) considers Athos to be its protagonist, followed by D'artagnan as the deuteragonist, and Porthos and Aramis as the tritagonists.
Athos is the leader after all, and D'artagnan his protégé. Porthos and Aramis are usually in the roles of Those Two Guys (despite the focus on Aramis in this episode) and though the story considers Porthos and Aramis as the best friends of the team, it was Aramis's friendship with Athos that the narrative treated as most important, simply in the sense that it was Athos who drew Aramis back into the fold.
It's comparable to D'artagnan's final scene focusing on his reunion with Constance instead of his comrades (thus elevating his relationship with her over the bromance) and thereby leaving the novel's titular three musketeers to face-off with the seasonal villain.
Such is the intricate network of character relationship and cast billing.
So this premiere successfully widened its scope with the French/Spanish war, reunited our heroes without short-changing Aramis's penance, and introduced the season's villains in a way that was ... let's go with "workmanlike". The Musketeers has never been about in-depth characterization or breath-taking plotting, but it's fun and it's solid – two traits that are unfortunately rather rare these days.
Miscellaneous Observations:
There's a trope known as the Action Dress Rip, in which a female character rips her dress so that she can more easily leap into the fray. Now thanks to Aramis and his monk habit, we've seen the male version.
Great acting from this little boy, who is just so excited to be on set that day:
Sure Aramis, get the kids to hide behind kegs of wine. Surely the bloodthirsty marauders won't be interested in investigating that at all.
One thing that rang false was that the Musketeers were treated as legendary heroes by the monastery children. Even assuming that they'd heard about such things in a monastery (and yet, nothing about Aramis?) I'm not sure the king's soldiers warrant that amount of fame – at least, not yet.
I'm entirely sure what tone Queen Anne was going for when she told Feron: "you don't look like a bastard," but it certainly wasn't true at the time:


  1. So glad you're reviewing these! I am up to episode eight, but will do my best not to spoil you (no idea what's going on with the schedule here). I will say that I was rather smitten with Feron from the get-go, although part of this may have just been my joy at having a proven scenery-chewer like Everett as the villain. There are many things this show could use, but an understated villain is not one of them.

    Anne, as always, is dramatically underused.

    1. I'm willing to let Feron grow on me, and so far he's better than Rochefort: I just suppose I'm still haunted by how bad Rochefort was. It's tricky to get the right villainous tone in a costume drama like this one.

  2. "Hell hath no fury like a man with a bruised ego." This is the one and only true version of the common phrase and I'm in love with it.

    My first thought when they said "Grimaud" was, predictably, influenced by how I am fresh of reading all the books for the first time! Obviously THIS Grimaud isn't Athos's faithful lackey, but pulling the same name and Athos giving long looks at him made me wonder! Presumably it was just trying to distinguish the odd figure across the battle scene, but still. So far, despite the weirdness of the severing-kidnapping-killing sequence with the general, that final opium scene gives me faith that Grimaud has the potential for more scope of character than we saw with Rochefort.

    The sequence of D'artagnan's being reunited with Constance in this one episode made me believe in their romance more than...any of the series so far! And I say that as someone who has generally enjoyed them in a non-cynical way, despite all the will-they-won't-they-extended-angst!

    I appreciate that they allowed Aramis to have actually spent some years at the monastery, with feedback from his abbot that he wasn't meant to be a monk, rather than pulling him back after one day as the previous finale suggested. Aramis was always my favorite as a child due (ironically?) to Charlie Sheen in the 1993 version and Jeremy Irons in Man in the Iron Mask, so finding out that in the books he grew up to be on the cold, ambitious side once he hit forty really hit me hard. As a result, I took Aramis's increasing douchiness in season 2 more personally than I probably should have! But this season opening has done a lot to repair my little broken heart that way.

    I like, too, what you posit about Athos ultimately being the sort-of main character. Again, now that I've read the books, I realize how terribly Athos' character was martyred in all the movie versions I've ever seen, and I've been longing for a performance with the depth, breadth and subtlety the character deserves! And even in a version that deviates so widely from the plot of the original romances (which I don't mind at ALL), I feel that Tom Burke is the most authentic Athos I've seen. I'm so sad that there are only going to be three seasons, but I knew that before I started the series at all!

    (I'm privately hoping Howard Charles will get to star in some kind of adaptation of Alexandre Dumas Pere's life story. His entire performance as Porthos is basically an extended audition tape!)

    Anyway hopefully you're enjoying my spam of Musketeer comments! I'm in the throes of Musketeer-related emotions after finishing the books and have been binge-watching tons of adaptations (and binge-researching the history and literary criticism/commentary on the romances), and this show paired with your reviews is probably doing the most to sate my craving and balm my little wounded heart from the sadness of the books' ending!

    1. You know, I've never actually read any of the original books! I should definitely try to rectify that sooner rather than later, but I've still (as of this comment) got the last three episodes of the series to watch/review.

      I feel that Tom Burke is the most authentic Athos I've seen. I'm so sad that there are only going to be three seasons, but I knew that before I started the series at all!

      I think the lasting quality of this series is that ALL the characters have been incredibly well cast. A couple of them have been a little short-changed (especially this season) when it comes to screen-time, but on the whole this show really does have my favourite versions of the characters in any adaptation I've seen so far.

      I'm glad you're enjoying my posts!