The Musketeers (1×07) “A Rebellious Woman” – Review

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Last week saw the best episode of The Musketeers so far. Will this week’s adventure live up to that standard?

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“So what they say is true. You are … a rebellious woman.”

One of the reasons “A Rebellious Woman” works particularly well because there is a lot going on. The episode foregrounds feminism, witchcraft and the Cardinal’s poisoning as well as furthering Athos’s character arc.

The series has presented women as self-consciously (and perhaps implausible) proto-feminists before, but this week these are educated young women so there ideals seem a little more grounded. The opening parade (should I start a Musketeers parade count as well as fight count? There have been so many!) is a great set-up with the suffragette-like actions of one young woman leading to a complicated moral dilemma. The Musketeers is making a habit of seeming to anticipate history, and whilst it’s not exactly misleading, the production team may want to be careful in case it starts looking as if they just got the dates wrong.

The story is peppered with some good set-pieces, from the guards trashing the library, tearing pages out of books, to the series’ third aborted execution. (Should I start an aborted execution count as well? So many things to count!)

“No person. No nation. No God will stand in my way.”

Finally, an episode that properly showcases the Cardinal, Peter Capaldi. His camp flourish is back, he’s clearly having fun with this role, but the real opportunities come later. Lovely dialogue is afforded to him in and around the trial scenes, such as “Your majesty is joking but Satan is real. And his female familiars are everywhere.” This is the Cardinal as paranoid and perhaps sexually frustrated man is an interesting new angle.

The progression in this story is stark and entertaining: Capaldi goes from sassy finger wagging and cool malice in the trial, to his lowest ebb. The drink of water sequence is tantalizingly drawn out, in a way that clearly signposts its importance. His poisoning is well-acted and exciting, and the mystery as to who poisoned him carries us quickly through the latter half of the show.

And again, crucially, it gives Capaldi a chance to play something new. The episode flirts with spiritualism in a subtle and interesting way, and lines such as “How come God gets the credit” walk the right line in the centre of facetious and pretentious. “I have done terrible things,” he says in one of his most vulnerable, most honest moments. “My account with God is not yet balanced.” This also throws his dynamic with the Musketeers into a new light, because for once they are sort of on his side. When he reverts back to his old self there is a real sense of triumph, although perhaps it comes a little too easily. If this were to have some sort of long-lasting effect for the character, it would have carried more weight.

“The secrets of our bodies…”

There is also a lot of nice character development for the Musketeers themselves this week. The beautiful Comtesse Ninon De Larroque (Annabelle Wallis) attracts not one but two Musketeers – Aramis and Athos. Usually the guest-star-of-the-week just latches on to one of them so this is perhaps surprising. It’s a wasted opportunity that we are shown no friction between Aramis and Athos in their separate but both intimate relationships with this woman. (Also, Aramis was in love with someone else last week!)

Athos is perhaps too busy dealing with his past, in the shape of the villainous Milady de Winter. During Athos’s outburst in court, what you get is the perfect cohesion of sound and direction working together to make it properly immersive. You feel Athos’ angst, and the story has more impact as a result.

However, this episode does bring to the audience’s attention just how much of a backseat Luke Pasqualino’s D’Artagnan has taken since episode one. Until the sequence in which he steals the whole episode, that is – where his love for Constance slips out and his eyes glance over, looking everywhere but at her. A fantastic performance.

Final verdict

Judging by the “next time” trailer, the series neglect of D’Artagnan will be remedied. This was a strong outing for The Musketeers, stronger than the efforts earlier in the series but just failing to live up to the sheer brilliance of last week’s episode. However, it is a respectable compliment for a show to say that it is improving, and The Musketeers deserves that compliment.

Fight count: Previous total = 18. New total = 19

– only one fight this week! And even that wasn’t of the sword variety. What a change of pace!