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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Musketeers: The Prize

First, let's get one thing out of the way: I'm long past the days when I go into meltdown mode over television shows. That happened years ago with the death of Marian on Robin Hood, and what I took from the whole debacle is that it's not worth the time or energy to get over invested in long-running stories that run the risk of (best case scenario) growing stale or (worst case scenario) going completely off the rails.
And as a survivor of both Robin Hood and Merlin, which can be aptly described as precursors to this take on The Musketeers, I can say confidently that this season has still been better than the endings those other shows thought fit to deliver. I've been enjoying the show despite knowing that fandom has been largely dismissive of it – though I've had the advantage of learning in advance some of the season's more dubious creative decisions.
But having said all that, I can understand why viewers would find this episode particularly frustrating, built as it is on two characters who should know better making terrible, terrible decisions.

There's been a lot of talk on how the writers failed Milady this season, but I think Queen Anne has been the one to truly get the ball dropped on her. Her character's three-season arc was (or should have been) very clear: to go from a na├»ve and ignored consort to a sensible and pragmatic regent – yet this penultimate episode portrays her as little more than a petulant child. One scene has her complain: "why do you all hate me so much?" to a room full of councillors. How is anyone – in the council chamber or in the audience – meant to take her seriously after that?
Some of this has to do with the fact that in 2016 it's difficult to feel sympathy to a monarch who insists on obedience in all things. I'm currently watching Victoria, and there's a similar treatment in the way both Anne and Victoria are written: we're meant to admire them for exercising their status and expecting unquestioning obedience (both of them have a scene in which they haughtily remind a minister that: "I am your Queen!").
Expect that in 2016, such a declaration comes across less as empowering as it does a reminder of a bygone age that has thankfully passed. Whether it was the writers' intention or not, both Victoria and Anne come across as spoiled and covetous rather than strong and regal; demanding power as a matter of principal and privilege rather than practicality.
(Of course, Louis was also written in such a way, but we were never actually meant to see him as much more than the foolish puppet of more politically savvy men).  
Heck, this season has been rife with an underlying anti-establishment sentiment, so I'll confess that I'm at a loss to explain what the writers are trying to achieve with Anne and her actions in this episode.
But I'm not letting Treville off the hook either. Assuming that Queen Anne will act like a frightened mother and not a level-headed monarch after the death of her husband, he choses to put her in a situation ... where she's bound to act like a frightened mother instead of a level-headed monarch. And what exactly was his "plan" anyway? Throw the kid at Athos and hope for the best? Seriously?? His masterstroke ends with Constance and the new King of France roaming the streets of Paris without the faintest idea of what to do.
Do they even have weapons? Oy.
And it's not like Louis's death was sprung on him. The man has had MONTHS to prepare for the fallout of his death, so I fail to see how he didn't have discreet transport and a safe house prepared, not to mention the Queen's permission.  Anne isn't unreasonable: had she been told her son would be put into Constance's care and taken to (let's say) the convent where he was conceived, she would have given her blessing.
Instead she's left at a complete loss: grappling with the loss of her husband, the disappearance of her son, the shock that she's not regent after all, and Treville giving her absolutely no indication of what the hell he's doing beyond condescendingly asking her to: "trust me." Urgh. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to Anne: she's treated like a child, and so can't help but act like one.
He also decides to keep Aramis out of the loop, though he's surely the best candidate to keep the King safe, and not to inform Anne of his attempt to pardon Gaston and play him against Lorraine, because – why exactly? It's better to have her stressed and strung out and more liable to do impetuous stuff? Oh, and don't get me started on him disbanding the Red Guard. As Grimauld pointed out, all he did was hand over a trained and disgruntled group of fighting men already stationed within the city walls to his enemies.
He might get a great death scene, but I'm not sure the lead-up to it was worthy of the character.
I've gotten a little ahead of myself here, so let's go back to the beginning. After hanging on to life all season, Louis finally goes to meet his maker before this episode's opening credits, but not before one last dick move. He's made Treville and not Anne the regent.
He's not particularly happy that his last sight on earth
is the wife that cheated on him.
Treville runs for the Dauphin (literally sprints, it's actually pretty funny) and then takes him to Athos, having reached two absurd conclusions: that it's not safe for him in the palace (all those guards, all those high walls and secret rooms, all that controlled environment!) and that he's better off in the streets of Paris, despite the army camped out on its doorstep.
It's led by the Duke of Lorraine, who is in cahoots with Gaston and Grimauld. Yes, they've introduced yet another villain to the proceedings, because it's not like we haven't had enough of them this season.
I have to admit that I wasn't paying all that much attention to the political manoeuvrings at this point: they involved Treville deliberately bringing Gaston back to the palace and ensuring that he sees a decoy of the Dauphin leaving in a carriage, sneaking off to negotiate with Lorraine behind Gaston's back, and sending Porthos to offer Gaston all kinds of perks without any intention of following through. The promise of pardons is put on the table, and Grimauld realizes (rather belatedly considering his oft-mentioned distaste for the aristocracy this entire season) that he's about to be hung out to dry.
His solution is to get his hands on the trump card: King Louis Junior.
I have to say that I enjoyed watching Athos go to Constance for assistance, trusting her to care for the boy above anyone else, including his own Musketeers. A recovered Sylvie helps out, fully aware of the irony of a situation in which she's assisting a young king despite her dislike of the monarchy – it's one of the few moments of self-awareness when it comes to the show's attempt to have its cake and eat it too regarding its portrayal of the royal family. 
We get a tour of the show's past locations: Christophe's tavern, Constance's old home – even the laundry house from season two, though at this point what could have been a fairly suspenseful sequence in which the women try to keep one step ahead of their pursuers becomes a straightforward case of Pass the Parcel. By the end of the episode the King has been handed from Athos to Constance to D'artagnan to Grimauld to Treville to Porthos, with a relatively pointless interlude in a cathedral after Anne insists on seeing her son; a move that achieves nothing but putting him in more danger.
(The theme of self-sabotaging continues in which Sylvie goes to Aramis for help, telling him where Louis Junior is in a conversation that's overheard by Marcheaux, thereby giving him the information he needs to strike. This is episode is constructed entirely on our so-called heroes being Hoisted By Their Own Petard and running around like headless chickens).
But if there's one thing I did like – though I wish they'd delved into it more deeply – it's the network of trust that pulls all the characters together. Treville trusts Athos but not Aramis; Athos trusts Constance over the other Musketeers; and Marcheaux informs Grimauld that: "Treville only trusts Musketeers." For a while it's a guessing game among the other characters as to who has custody of Louis Junior, and though it should have been fairly obvious who he was with, I suppose it was interesting to note that Aramis had no clue, D'artagnan draws close to the truth without articulating it, and Anne figured out pretty quickly that she should go to the garrison in search of Constance.
It's nice to see the women together again – their rapport was one of my favourite things about season two, and it's been missing almost entirely here. Pity it only existed in this episode so that Anne could pull rank on Constance and have her do something remarkably stupid, but if I'm feeling generous, I could say that the episode revolved less around idiotic planning, and more upon the reliability of Constance.  
Miscellaneous Observations:
No Milady in this episode? Boo.
Rest in peace, Treville. I had a feeling he would ultimately be this show's Sacrificial Lion, though at least he got to Boromir his way to the end. And was that final shot a deliberate call-back to the death of D'artagnan's father?
Gee Gaston, that was a very loud treasonous speech in front of a lot of people you made to your dead brother. I'm pretty sure Aramis heard every word. This was a good shot though:
Also good was that Grimauld/Porthos scene, in which the former is finally clued in on what's going to happen to him, and some decent husband/wife interaction between D'artagnan and Constance.
Was anyone else reminded of The Sound of Music when the laundress's sigh of relief gives D'artagnan's hiding place away? (Though in the movie's case it was Liesl's gasp of recognition).
All things considered, this wasn't exactly what I would have wished for the penultimate episode. Though there's nothing wrong with the idea of everyone being on the hunt for a four year old destined to rule the country, the leaps of logic required to get the ball rolling were pretty catastrophic.
At least we got this recreation of Bucky buying plums.

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