The Musketeers (1×05) “The Homecoming” – Review

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Porthos is a wanted man in this week’s exciting adventure for The Musketeers!

THE MUSKETEERS“Whatever you may think of my actions… I am a gentleman.”

The opening gambit is pleasing, but then we know by now that The Musketeers does opening gambits well. It’s all fun and games intercut with something more sinister, with subtle but good visuals from director Saul Metzstein. This week’s hook is a real winner: Porthos, wanted!, and sets up for the audience the exact trajectory of the next hour. Did he kill the man? Yet again you could level accusations of unoriginality at The Musketeers, but that would be churlish when they tell received narratives well. Howard Charles deserves the spotlight and he really relishes it.

The episode leans on another genre as well: the mystery. To an extent all of the episodes so far have been mysteries, or had mystery elements, but this is the first in which it actually feels like we are stripping down to secrets and unveilings at the denouement. That’s fresh territory for the show which is welcome five episodes in, and is handled well in the early part of the story. One of this week’s two guests, The Hour’s Anton Lesser, puts in a sterling and understated performance, particularly when he finds out his son is dead.

“I was… admiring the beauty and serenity of Paris.”

Sadly, the other special guest, the fantastic Ashley Walters, is wasted in a slightly thankless part. Fun though it is to strip back Porthos’ past, it doesn’t capture our interest as much as the exploration of, for example, Athos in an earlier episode.

Porthos’ touching revelation that he has no idea how old he is, or when his actual birthday is, is lovely. The episode is full of memorable imagery like gunpowder pouring out of a barrel instead of ink, as is the rattling and banging of objects as the musketeers venture into uncharted waters. Scary, thrilling and really evocative. Again, the musical score excels this week, particularly when Porthos is dragged away to the gallows. Murray Gold just never gets it wrong. And then the story turns on a knife-edge as Porthos is rescued from certain death, and the mystery deepens.

The episode is littered with good touches, such as the ongoing exploration of D’Artagnan as not-quite-a-musketeer. Here we see it works both ways – he knows less about their world but also has less faith in the comrades themselves. “What if he’s guilty?”, he asks of Porthos, and he is the only person that entertains that notion. Although the banging things as a warning scene is way up there, my favourite scene is the one in which an unusually camp Peter Capaldi has his “blemish on the map” speech. Divine.

“You are outnumbered.” “I have God on my side.” “Well I hope he’s good with a sword.”

The cast are the problem this week, namely in the fact that Peter Capaldi is absent, and special guest Ashley Walters doesn’t get nearly enough to do! It’s only when you take a character out of a show that you fully appreciate his influence, and although (spoilers!) he is due to be replaced by the brilliant Marc Warren in Season 2, I can’t help but thinking that the show might be lacking when he leaves properly to go and play Doctor Who.

Also, apart from the good dialogue pulled out above, it’s mostly clunky, as in previous weeks. This is where the episode falls down, in the final act, where the dialogue starts spelling out the mystery too much and it slips into melodrama. Lines like “At first we thought this was about attacking the protestants. But this was about greed, pure and simple” are woeful. When Porthos says “There’s something else – I didn’t kill that boy”, you can practically hear the writer saying, ‘Oh I forgot I have to wrap that up!’ Writing is spinning plates in the air! Plus, if this was a whodunit, then the answer would be: everyone. In some way, everyone dunit, and although the answers are sort of satisfying, the way they are revealed is less so. The idea that someone is sick of poverty I found difficult to watch with sincerity. They’re just poor! Is that believable or am I just baulking against an attitude I don’t like? I’m unsure. And then of course, we could have predicted that Ashley Walters was going to die in the end. Loose ends tied up, onto episode six, but the flair is gone.

Final verdict

One of the strongest outings for The Musketeers turns into one of the weakest with a messy and ill-judged conclusion. In action series especially, it’s important to gallop to the finish line, and episode five fell short. On the plus side, there was much less mindless violence this week:

Fight count: Previous total = 14. New total = 16