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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Musketeers: We Are The Garrison

Well, here we are. I get the feeling I've enjoyed this final season of The Musketeers more than most, though at the same time there's definitely been something missing from these episodes. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is – perhaps the BBC's complete indifference in promoting or even AIRING the show on schedule; perhaps the lack of a decent villain in an action-adventure costume drama; perhaps the shift from strong standalone episodes to a more wonky season-long arc.


The last two seasons were better at achieving a nice balance of the ensemble, whereas season three very much revolved around Athos, Aramis, and (for some reason) King Louis. I swear Ryan Gage must be the greatest guy that's ever lived, as between The Musketeers and The Hobbit, I've no idea how his utterly unappealing characters manage to hog so much screen-time.  
It sadly meant that D'artagnan, Constance and Porthos were pushed aside by an overflow of lacklustre villains:  Feron, Grimauld, Marcheaux, Gaston, Lorraine, and whatever other weekly bad guy turned up. They may have been a moderate improvement on Rochefort, but after season two lost Cardinal Richeliu and season three lost Milady (for the most part) there was a definite drop in quality when it came to worthy adversaries to challenge our heroes.
And everyone got a better deal than Queen Anne, who was completely misused and undermined this season, despite a fantastic opportunity to finally see her rise to power.
But it wasn't all bad. For starters: Constance didn't die! It's been a shitty year for female characters, with dozens of genre shows dealing out ignominious deaths with bloodthirsty abandon, and since the literary Constance was fridged for the sake of manpain, the showrunners had the opportunity to do the same and cite "it's in the book" as their excuse.
But they didn't. They didn't! Despite two fake-outs that had me yelling "don't do it you bastards", Constance gets to live and be happy and to live! How happy this makes me is an indicator of how bad this year has been.
"Fuck that trope!"
Also well-handled was the ongoing anti-war theme set against the backdrop of fighting with Spain. Most of the guest stars were widows and refugees and veterans and deserters, and though it got a little heavy handed at times, for the most part the difference in atmosphere paid off in the stories they chose to tell (a village full of women probably wouldn't have been as plausible in the first two seasons).
And all things considered, I liked this Grand Finale. Sure, it was a little disjointed, with Marcheaux dispatched in the first act and Grimauld in the last, with an assortment of tried-and-true narrative tropes making up its middle (destroying the garrison, kidnapping the love interest, attempting to assassinate the royal family, the mano-a-mano duel between hero and villain – heck, there's even a pregnancy reveal) but what I most appreciated is that in many ways it doesn't feel like an ending so much as it does a new chapter.
This is not the end of the story; instead the show closes on a transitory note as all our main characters part ways by accepting new roles: Aramis as War Minister, Porthos as a General, D'artagnan as the new Captain, and Athos as a soon-to-be-father, whose final scene is literally a transition; walking with Sylvie out of Paris and out-of-frame (though where he's taking a pregnant woman in a war-torn country remains a mystery. And wasn't she meant to starting a school for the poor?)
Although it'll probably never happen, the BBC could easily pick this show up again at some point in the future, such is the nature of its final episode and the way it chose to leave the door open. Things like the Queen's new relationship with Milady, Porthos's reunion with Elodie, D'artagnan becoming Captain, Constance's reservations about having children, Aramis finally finding a place near his son, the Musketeers being redefined as defenders of the people instead of the crown – all are developments ripe with storytelling potential.
The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with its originality. A more pat ending would have had the Musketeers declare their loyalty to each other and reaffirm the status quo; yet by concluding with the team divided and the sense that most of their character arcs are still only half-complete, there's a bittersweet aspect that's surprising in an episode that refrained from killing off any major characters (sans Treville).
In other words, there may be more adventures to come – as well as a mass reunion at some point in the future – but we can't witness any of it. In this sense it's a double-edged sword: our characters have parted, but their futures are still in flux, which means we can affix whatever fates we like to them. In my case, having been warned about the dissolution of the Athos/Milady relationship in advance, I wasn't that disappointed with what was depicted here. Milady is still alive, still technically Athos's wife, and still causing trouble. Although we may never get to see it, these two clearly aren't finished with each other yet...
The whole thing is an open invitation to fan-fic writers to continue the story. So get cracking!
Miscellaneous Observations:
The dual voiceovers from Grimauld and Athos – one for the prologue over Treville's funeral and one for the final montage – were nicely done, particularly in the ongoing theme (which in hindsight was more pronounced than I initially give it credit for) that love is ultimately a strength and not a disadvantage. In their final fight, Grimauld taunts Athos about how love has weakened him, following on from an interesting conversation he has with Sylvie (in which the latter is struck dumb at Grimauld's incomprehension of love), D'artagnan's talk with Athos in which he describes his relationship with Constance as "the greatest cause you'll ever have", and Aramis's comment to Grimauld: "and you said your mother was weak" (said sarcastically; intended to throw the designation on Grimauld instead).
But it's love that gets the final word: as Sylvie and Athos leave Paris, she asks him: "and love?" To which she's told: "Love above all else."
***
This show isn't exactly sterling when it comes to its portrayal of female characters – but I also think it's above average, especially when you consider this is a male-centric action-adventure story (or if you simply compare it to Robin Hood or Merlin). D'artagnan's distraught line "she's a Musketeer" when he believes that Constance has perished reminded me of a Tumblr post that complained there weren't enough female characters that weren't designated love interests – or more specifically, my rebuttal of this claim (at the end of this review).
This show not only has a wide range of female characters that aren't love interests, but the ones that are aren't defined by that role. In fact, this final episode sharply illuminated the fact that Constance, Sylvie, Anne and Milady have strong platonic relationships with the Musketeers that go well beyond their significant others: Aramis looks grief-stricken after it appears Constance has died, D'artagnan makes a point of declaring: "this is for Sylvie" when he confronts Marcheaux, and Porthos's farewells to the girls are just as warm and affectionate as those to the Musketeers.  And don't forget that in the previous episode, Athos sought out Constance's help independently of her husband.
Most interestingly of all, Queen Anne's last scene might be with Aramis, but her last bit of spoken dialogue is with Milady, who in turn accepts her role as the Queen's assassin and declares: "I am Milady de Winter" as she dispatches her latest victim. Neither scene has anything whatsoever to do with their respective partners.
***
The destruction of the garrison reminded me of the similar fate that befell the library in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though in this case the location didn't have the same level of personality (and therefore can't capture the same sense of loss when it's gone).
I have to admit, Elodie's reappearance was a little random, and seemed to exist mostly to provide Porthos with a last-minute romance (even though of all the Musketeers he was the most qualified to handle a relationship, and therefore should have gotten one long before this) but at least she was crucial in identifying Grimauld in the crowd, thereby tipping off the Musketeers. Still, what would have happened if Porthos had decided he wasn't interested in taking her and her child on board?
"Hey everyone, just looking for a baby daddy."
As mentioned above, the writers are particularly cruel in teasing Constance's death not once but twice – first in the destroyed garrison, and then when she comes face-to-face with Grimauld. And in a rather odd acting choice, Luke Pasqualino immediately starts shushing her when she revives from smoke inhalation. Dude, let the woman breathe.
I had hoped Constance would be the one to get the honour of killing Marcheaux, especially since they'd set up a vendetta between the two of them. Ah well, D'artagnan needed a final villain, and Grimauld was reserved for Athos. Though that said, I had hoped Milady would be the one to burst in and save Athos's life by dispatching Grimauld – though I really enjoyed her final scene. I'd actually forgotten all about Gaston, but Anne sending Milady assassinate him was a neat way of tying up this particular loose end.
There were plenty of  subtle call-backs to the first season's finale when it came to the confrontation with Grimauld/Marcheaux: a woman held hostage, a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown in the streets of Paris, a near execution (though of Aramis/Porthos instead of Athos), and everything pared down to a simple vendetta. One nice touch was that because Grimauld thinks D'artagnan is dead, he's used as a wildcard in the ensuing fight. It's a good way of getting one final action sequence between the original three Musketeers (whereas the brawl with Grimauld focuses back on Athos and D'artagnan, ostensibly our protagonists and the show's central relationship).
The anti-establishment theme that was threaded throughout this season comes back to bite the writers in the behind: clearly they can't abolish the monarchy without rejecting historical precedence (and though stories like this like to give democracy a hat-tip, it's ultimately easier to stick with the status quo). The writers compensate by having Anne redefine the Musketeers as defenders of the people instead of the monarchy. In other words, the system isn't going to be abolished, but just a little bit nicer.
Still, I had to laugh: she may be helping out the peasants, but she's still giving her friends front-row privileges.
Can the people at the back even hear her?
Cause they sure as heck can't see her.
I have to say, I never particularly warmed to Aramis/Anne as a couple. In the first season their relationship made sense: finding themselves in a life-or-death situation, they took comfort in each other for a night and conceived a child. That's all it needed to be, with Anne getting her longed-for heir and Aramis forced to watch his own child grow up from afar. That the writers continued with their love affair, despite the two of them barely knowing each other, didn't make for a particularly rootable couple – especially when innocent people starting dying as a result.  
Though that hardly compares with the hash-job done on Athos/Milady, which gets no closure at all. Though there are some nice bits of character development on display for Athos in this episode (not only that he's put the past behind him when it comes to his relationship with Milady, but that he rejects wine when offered) I'm still left stumped as to what really went down between him and his wife all those years ago.
All I really wanted was more insight into the choices Athos made during Milady's trial. He truly seemed to believe that she'd killed his brother, spurred on by Catherine whispering in his ear. Later the show heavily indicates that Milady was fending off a rape attack – but does Athos believe this? Does he ever apologise to her?
And what about before that? I think Catherine was right when she told Athos most of his anger came from the fact his ego had been bruised. At the start of their relationship he probably looked on Milady like King Copheuta did the beggar girl: she was young and innocent and adoring, and it made him feel benevolent and important. It's a very human emotion, but it's still a flaw, and Athos's reaction to the realization that his wife wasn't who he imagined her to be did not reflect well on him.
Although he handled the fallout of the mutual betrayal in a (slightly) healthier way than she did (simply on the basis of him channelling his energy into helping other people instead of assassinating them) HE needed redemption from his past just as much as Milady did – and he was on his way to getting it when he saved Milady's life from Catherine's attempt to hang her.
Damn, that was a great moment. Why'd they chuck that away? Because the next time we see them together, he immediately grabs her by the throat. In this moment, he's the villain, especially since Milady has done absolutely nothing wrong. If Sylvie had seen Athos's reaction to finding Milady in his office, I'm not sure she would be so keen on pursuing a relationship with him.
So yeah, I guess I'm still a little bitter here. Just imagine for a moment if the roles of Athos and Milady had been gender-swapped. I've no doubt that fandom would have raked a female character across hot coals if she had submitted to the execution of her husband for a self-defensive kill and a murky history; blaming her entirely for the course his life takes after that point. Her entire plot arc would no doubt revolve around recognizing her mistakes and making amends to the man she wronged. And yet here Athos gets off scott-free while Milady remains in the shadows.
Granted, I've just finished pointing out that the show itself left this door wide open for continuation in the future – but in the short-term, it's highly unsatisfactory.
***
Okay, I better not finish this on a sour note. It's a been a fun three years, filled with sword-fighting and chase scenes and action sequences and bromances that miraculously didn't  denigrate the female characters – not from the show itself or its fandom (which is sadly quite astounding). But what I take away most from it is this: The Musketeers is a show that actually had HEROES has its protagonists. In recent years we've all been in the throes of the Anti-Hero craze, with an onslaught of drug-dealers, serial killers, psychopaths, cannibals, vampires, pirates, smugglers and other unsavoury folk as figures whose stories are worth telling and sympathizing with.
This trend is dying off a little, especially as it veers too closely to depressing real-world events, but it's been extremely uplifting to have a show starring likable, decent (and diverse!) men who uphold the law, live by a code of conduct, respect women, and consistently place others before their own needs. Sure, they had their foibles, but all of them were focused on doing the right thing, and living for something greater than themselves.
I'm going to miss that.

4 comments:

  1. So, I'm commenting now because I finally sat down and watched all of the series on Hulu, been planning to for a while. I think a good way they could come back to the show in the future is if BBC is willing by doing a 20 Years Later adaptation. If they really wait until 2036 the show could even have everyone return and we can see how in this version of The Three Musketeers they've settled in and how they'd deal with a child from Milady or it could be Sylvie's if the writers find that a better choice. Have him spiteful to Athos and Milady/Sylvie or all three forcing Athos, Sylvie, and Milady to come together, build up Sylvie and Milady's relationship this way. We can see the new king as a grown king with Aramis still serving under him. D'artagan and Constance's relationship can grow however the writers think it'll have at that point as well as D'artagan even getting a young cadet as his own personal pupil to be a focus. Porthos leading the military as the story requires.

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    1. The show definitely left itself open to future stories down the track, the question is whether the actors will still be available/interested in returning two decades later. Hopefully they will, as the original novels certainly allow for a reunion - perhaps we'll see the man in the iron mask at some stage (though his book identity will obviously have to be changed).

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  2. Ryan Gage played Hitler in an episode of Red Dwarf last week, the conceit being this was a version of Hitler who had been 'cured' of evil. Rather interesting to compare to his portrayal of King Louis.

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  3. I know this is a year later, but I put off watching the last season because I could not handle that they unceremoniously canceled the show. I do think Aramis and Anne's relationship is one that is seemingly subtle and lives in the shadows and the penultimate episode's final pairing may seem harried. BUT-- The nature of their affair is intense and brief. I lament the lack of scenes between them: however, I do think that lack of having a solid non-abstract relationship is the only "relationship" these characters can dream of having. Both Anne and Aramis hold dear the qualities of honor and loyalty. They never get an attempt to really exercise this passion due to their loyalty and honor. If you dig down deep you see that who they are (not just Queen and soldier) has a lot in common with each other. We see a glimpse of this vulnerability that lurks beneath the surface of both characters when they are alone together. The build
    up had been there when they had very polite and cordial, saying what they were supposed never what they wanted. I would say in some degree or another each character is trapped with their station of life (Anne) or with the demons that are deep within (Aramis). They recognize that gentle nature in each other and the impossibility of that love. If you carefully consider each character you can see that the lack of mention of the word love is fitting; each character is fettered by either themselves or who they are supposed to be. They have been flirting and protecting each other in the best way they can, glances and meaningful echanges via the eyes. I do wish we had more insight from Anne on her feelings about Aramis, because that poor woman was made to feel very miserable.

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