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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Musketeers: Fool's Gold

So this episode picked things up at a point I wasn't really expecting it to: with the boys actively chasing down Grimauld only to get waylaid in a secret village of women, where they discover his tragic backstory but not the man himself.
And not before a quick game of good cop/bad cop with one of Grimauld's men, who eventually spills his guts over what direction Grimauld took, and a visit from Sylvie to give them some intel about where Grimauld was born (which he told her a few episodes ago for absolutely no reason save that the writers knew it would come in handy at this precise moment).

The beginning of every horror movie, ever.
Once out in the forest a little girl easily lures them off the path and into the inevitable live-spring net trap that has ensnared the likes of Arthur, Merlin, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Snow White, Prince Charming, everyone on LOST at some point, and probably countless others – but instead of bandits or Ewoks, the Musketeers find themselves surrounded by a contingent of armed and unfriendly women. Among them: suspicious Juliette, reasonable Therese and (back at the village) heavily pregnant Elodie.
Question: why do these women use a little girl to lure the Musketeers (and presumably, other travellers) into their trap? They didn't steal anything from them, and their leader clearly didn't want them anywhere near their village, so what was the point of it?
Aramis tries to charm his way out, only to come across as mildly sleazy (later he pulls the "not all men" card, several hundred years before it became a cliché) which is only slightly less eye-roll inducing than Athos straight-facedly saying: "there's nothing we hold more sacred than a woman's sovereignty over her own life." Yeah, tell it to the wife you tried to hang without trial.
It's up to Porthos to get in a decent line when Elodie questions his surprise at the settlement they've built. He replies: "I'm not surprised, I'm impressed." Bless. I can always count on Porthos to say the right thing.
Hey, it's Dudley Dursley! Haven't seen him since that Merlin episode, but apparently he's helping out the women – though obviously not very well as that night they're raided by bandits and a woman is killed. It's at this point everyone splits up into their subplots:
D'artagnan captures one of the bandits and discovers that he's actually a deserter: an ex-convict who joined the army to avoid the death penalty only to find that war was even worse. Aramis approaches Juliette, who clearly recognizes the name Grimauld, and tells him she was friends with his now-absent mother. Porthos starts bonding with Elodie, who soon learns from him that her husband died in battle. Finally, Athos is told by Therese that she's seen a man in a deserted cabin in the forest, which may well be where Grimauld is hiding.
D'artagnan and Athos head out to the mystery cabin, and even spot a cloaked figure in the trees before gunshots turn them back again. Well, turns D'artagnan back. Athos is keeping stupidly quiet about the extent of the injuries Grimauld gave him (even though Grimauld didn't seem phased by a bullet to the stomach) and they're slowing him down.
Is it just me or is Athos...kinda stupid these days? I know he used to be utterly self-destructive; that it was the very basis of his character – but he was never incompetent, and he would have had enough common sense to not go and investigate what he thinks is Grimauld's hidey-hole by himself. Therese ends up locking him in the cabin, filling him in on Grimauld's terrible past through the door: his mother was gang-raped by soldiers, he was nearly drowned by her as a result, and Therese ended up raising him as best she could.
Now she's going to make sure the Musketeers never catch up to him by barricading Athos in the cabin, an odd course of action considering: a) she could have just denied all knowledge of Grimauld in the first place, b) there are three more Musketeers out there that'll surely come looking for their friend, and c) she could have just as easily delayed them by asking for help against their attackers, which is exactly what they end up doing.
In any case, she tells Athos: "you were outwitted by a woman" (it's not like it's difficult these days) before he promptly breaks down the door. She responds by stabbing him with a poisoned dart, and disappears into the forest. I had a quick look at IMDB, and it appears she won't be back.
Thanks to the poison, Athos spends a night hallucinating about Sylvie and Grimauld, flashbacking to the moment he saw him on the battlefield in the first episode. Okay, does this scene have some obscure significance that we don't know about yet? Because they keep harping on the fact that Athos saw Grimauld in the aftermath of battle, but whether it means something important or is just an attempt to forge a link between the two men remains to be seen.
As all this is going on, D'artagnan is getting another tragic backstory from Robert, the deserter that he takes captive but manages to talk into fighting for them. Turns out that Dudley – er, Bastien is also one of the deserters, and they're after a pile of gold that they hid in a nearby cave.
Having realized that Juliette has played the "I have a friend who is totally not me" card, Aramis confronts her about her history with Grimauld (yup, she's his mother even though the actors look exactly the same age) right before she's taken hostage by Bastien. I hate to victim blame, but that's what happens when you go to bathe alone on the outskirts of your village when you know there are desperate and bloodthirsty men targeting your people.
The fighting begins, and there are several nifty action sequences: D'artagnan parkour-ing all over the rocks, the women getting the chance to save the lives of Musketeers just as often as they're saved in return, and Porthos sitting out the fight after Elodie's inevitable labour pains start. 
In another odd twist it turns out that all the gold has already been spent on building the village – so why not just tell the deserters that in the first place? Sure, they may not have believed it, but it might have sown some discord among the ranks. Heck, if Bastien was a spy in their camp, shouldn't he have found out by himself?
Over in the B-plot, Treville and Queen Anne have worked out Grimauld's plan to march on Paris as soon as the king is dead, a development they can't defend themselves from considering the French army is spread out fighting Spain. Louis wants to give his brother the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that maybe Gaston was abducted. Oh Louis. I'm afraid it's your fate to be betrayed by every member of your family: brother, mother and wife alike.
The better news is that Anne is finally making a bid for power, approaching Louis and asking to be named regent. She actually comes right out and admits her affair with Aramis, but promises to secure Louis's legacy by raising "their" son and taking control of the history that's recorded.
However, it's down to Treville, in what is possibly the best scene of the episode, to make Louis see reason. He gets a big thumbs-up from me when he points out the double-standard between men and women when it comes to extramarital affairs, and advises that Louis make his peace with Anne. Seriously, it's a lovely scene in which Louis says "no" to Treville's offer of advice, only to turn around and expectantly wait for it.
Unfortunately (as is always the case with Louis) whatever good will I had for him is immediately ruined when he leaves Anne with the parting shot that her punishment will be to keep the secret of her son's paternity for the rest of her life. And after what was such a nice little scene between them! 
Look, I want to have some degree of sympathy for the guy in his final days, but it appears he's going to be a passive-aggressive ass right to the end.
In many ways this is a strange episode – an unusual little detour into second-hand backstory for Grimauld in a place that will certainly never be visited again, populated by a surprising number of characters (five supporting cast members in all). With a little tweaking some of them probably could have been combined to cut down on excess plotlines (Robert/Bastien and Juliette/Therese more-or-less served the same narrative purpose) but I was impressed by the episode's ability to focus on all four Musketeers instead of just one, as is usually the case.
That said, I always cringe when any show tackles gender issues, largely because they usually make a pig's breakfast of the whole thing. The Musketeers managed it to reasonably good effect in season one with Ninon, but there are as many hits as there are misses with this episode. For every man-hating rape victim who needs to be taught "not all men" and whose life is ultimately saved by Aramis, there's Porthos delivering a baby or Treville pointing out the injustice of Louis's treatment of Anne. Yet despite the whole "sisters are doing it for themselves" vibe, the Musketeers inevitably take over the proceedings as soon as they enter the village, with the women silently acquiescing to their leadership. 
For what it's worth, the episode was written and directed by women, and there's a balanced attempt to get both sides of the equation: Juliette and Therese tell Grimauld's sob-story, and Robert gets the chance to tell his. It's all in keeping with this season's theme of the cost of war – especially among the most vulnerable. Even so, I'm generally not a fan of the whole "sympathising with the oppressors" deal (in this case, the obvious harm that soldiers/deserters inflict upon the women) and the insight into Grimauld would be a lot more interesting if we actually knew what his motivations are. What exactly is he getting out of a coup against the French royal family? Is anything we learned about his childhood going to effect his future storyline? 
Miscellaneous Observations:
No Constance in this episode. Boo.
For some reason Governor Feron is still in the opening credits, though they've erased Rupert Everett's name.
I kind of liked the mini-twist at the beginning that Brujon (that young cadet who's always turning up) actually IS a good shot. It gave D'artagnan the chance to smug his way through the line: "he's a Musketeer cadet."
Athos gives Sylvie the patented longing look that he should really keep to himself. Yeah, I get that his near-death experience has brought back Broody!Athos, but honestly – enough is enough!
Robert earned his "good guy" potential when he couldn't shoot a pregnant woman even though she'd just taken out several of his pals. He was a minor supporting character, but I'm glad he got his second chance among the women.
One thing that bugged me; when Aramis told the women pre-battle: "I want you all to listen to Elodie." Why on earth wouldn’t they? And why did he get to make that call? They'd respond to her orders more quickly than they would a complete stranger's.

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