The Musketeers (1×08) “The Challenge” – Review

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It’s all about the fighting this week… as it is most weeks on The Musketeers

The Musketeers“I want it noted he’s a very dangerous man…”

From rebellious women last week to dangerous men this week! The ridiculously-named Labarge (might as well be called The Barge) played by Vinnie Jones, is the focus of this adventure for The Musketeers. But maybe calling it an adventure is being kind, as the episode doesn’t really go anywhere. This episode is a bit like going on a running machine at a gym – it’s full of testosterone and by the end you’re worn out as if you have been somewhere, but geographically and mentally, you’ve not actually moved or progressed. (Ironically, this episode was written by The Musketeers’ only female writer, Susie Conklin.)

The opening gambit is ridiculous and that ridiculousness carries on through the hour. The Barge pulling free of his shackles, leading to the Red Guards blaming the Musketeers, is just stupid, and engineered specifically to set up a friction between the regiments that we’ve simply not seen for eight episodes. Perhaps I am biased as it is their show we are watching, not The Red Guards (spin off?), but the Musketeers specifically warn them The Barge might break free. Then he does. And the Red Guards go, “Hey, why didn’t you warn us?!” Plus, was it necessary to push over the horse, and is the horse okay? I don’t see how that stunt could have been faked or performed painlessly, I’m assuming it was? Let me know BBC, is the horse okay?

There’s no denying it, the Musketeers vs The Red Guards is just a rubbish story. But it’s also true to say that it’s really just window dressing for the various plot threads that need to be tugged along in time for the grand finale in two weeks. Maimie McCoy gets some good (if brief) scenes here, and hopefully we shall see more of her, as she’s been kept very much to the shadows so far. It feels like she’s ready to pounce. The Cardinal (Peter Capaldi) finding out she is Athos’ ex-wife and asking whose side is she on is good, but not good enough to justify the whole silly run-around. But don’t worry, the Cardinal is back on his feet, acting like last week never happened, in a resplendent new outfit…

“You have a natural talent, but you often let your emotions run away with you.”

The saving grace of the story is that it presents us with some good D’Artagnan action, which I did request in last week’s review. Do the programme makers listen to me? (No, they don’t.) That Luke Pasqualino’s character is still not officially part of the King’s Commission is a nice detail to reinstate that separation, and his dueling with Athos works well. Tom Burke is a stand-out performer… his clear-voiced insults during a frantic sword fight are mesmerizing.

Plus, the secret affair is out! In the event, something that we have been building to for weeks carries little punch. Partially this is due to the fact that the woman’s husband has been absent for most of the series, therefore the repercussions of him finding out don’t feel extensive. Partially, this is because it feels as if it comes out of left-field – the sort of thing we as intelligent audiences are trained to expect from the finale.

But never mind that – Treville puts himself forward! It’s a decent twist but by this point I’ve given up on the episode. D’Artangnan, of course, saves the day, with a big swordfight as the climax… what’s new? Pasqualino’s performance as he is dubbed into the Musketeers officially is lovely, he single-handedly salvages those scenes. Although again, is this not more of an episode 10 action? Where do we go from here? Well apparently, D’Artagnan is key, which sets up the series climax in a moderately interesting way. But really, a man, admittedly a criminal, lost his life so that the Musketeers and the Red Guards to engage in a meaningless macho urinating competition. Realistic for the time it may be, I like my television to have a bit more decency.

“There is a life beyond the Musketeers, you know…”

Aramis and Porthos eying up the widows in the church is a rare moment of fun and charm in an otherwise uninteresting episode. However, the story that comes of that for Porthos is just as uninteresting. There is a touching dilemma somewhere in there, and Howard Charles gives his all, but it needs teasing out. The widow seems to agree with my sentiments about The Musketeers indecency and runs off. I felt like doing so too.

Final verdict

“The Challenge” is certainly one of the weakest episodes of the season, perhaps the weakest. It was less an episode and more a ‘to do’ list, with a very minor plot painted over the top. But the preparation it made for the finale was strong, so hopefully next week’s penultimate episode will excite us more.

Fight count: Previous total = 19. New total = 27

– I’m counting the climactic fight as three, one for the Captain vs The Barge, one for D’Artagnan vs The Barge and one for the brawl it becomes. After all that fighting I think I need to lie down.