The Musketeers (1×10) “Musketeers Don’t Die Easily” – Review

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Here it is – the grand finale of Season 1 of The Musketeers. Did it round off the season in suitably swashbuckling style?

THE MUSKETEERS - BBC ONE

“All for one.”

I may have been skeptical about the series at times, but I was genuinely excited for The Musketeers finale. The production team certainly know how to build to a powerhouse story for the last episode, and last week had sufficiently teased us. As I hoped, the twists and revelations start before the opening titles and keep on coming throughout one of The Musketeers’ finest hours.

It’s more than a bit of a shock that D’Artagnan is shot before the titles even roll, but it’s a happy mark of a show that has grown in confidence. And shot by another of our heroes! When the series began much was made of the way The Musketeers was to show us old fashioned heroes, none of these Walter White anti-heroes of the modern day. But really, that’s underselling the series – their characters are far more complicated than that.

“I promise I haven’t murdered anyone yet today.”

I was slightly concerned as to how long the “D’Artagnan is only an apprentice musketeer” thing would last, but that his position with them is uncertain after Athos’s attack works well and is unsettling. With Milady de Winter finally coming to the fore, it seems her plan to ensnare the young musketeer is working perfectly…

And then, fifteen minutes in, a twist! It was all a plot, the Musketeers are springing their own trap on the villainous lady, and D’Artagnan was shot only for effect. We could sit here and question the bravery (stupidity?) of a man who is willing to let himself be shot at a time where there was no sterilized, organized healthcare, but who cares? It’s a great twist, and it shows us just how high the stakes are. The Musketeers, I have moaned, is rarely original, with little flair. That was flair.

There are two other excellent set pieces in this episode. One is Athos’s fake funeral, which is a great opportunity for comedy, finding Porthos and Aramis in a mischievous mood, much to the annoyance of Captain Treville. “He would have liked that bit.” (By the way, can you do more with Hugo Speer’s character next season? He has had nothing to do in all ten episodes!)

The other scene of merit is of course, the “All for one” scene. Murray Gold’s brilliant score swells and it’s an oddly sombre but fantastic moment. It’s a testament to creator Adrian Hodges that the famous catchphrase wasn’t trotted out before every fight throughout the series with little subtlety or discrimination. Held back until episode ten, it makes it feel special, and a crystallization of where the series is now. Impressive.

“I hate the Cardinal. That’s childish talk.”

It’s a great episode but, as ever with The Musketeers, some problems still remain. One of the biggest annoyances for me was the way the Cardinal’s story was wrapped up. Due to Peter Capaldi’s recent casting as Doctor Who, he won’t be returning next year. It is a shame that he will be probably dispatched so thoughtlessly, off-screen, when there was the perfect opportunity to dispense with him in this episode! The Queen uncovering his treachery is a glorious scene, well played by both Capaldi and Alexandra Dowling, but implausibly she forgives the villain! For wanting her killed! Surely it would make sense for her to order his immediate execution, and the Cardinal would meet a tragic end for his tragic deeds? Although I’m not sure the programme makers knew Capaldi’s Doctor Who news at the time of shooting, it has been reported that he was never contracted for the long run. That was a shame, a missed opportunity. Thanks to Capaldi, though, who has been a highlight of the season. The Cardinal was an old softie really – he’s right, killing the Queen to prevent civil war is an almost reasonable motive. Right at the end, he became a bit more human.

I’ve mentioned before the heavy-handed feminism at play in the show, presumably to pre-empt accusations of misogyny in a show all about testosterone. It’s a good sentiment, but it’s not done very well, which potentially makes it more offensive! Lines like “untie these ropes and I’ll show you want I can do” don’t ring true with me though. I love a feisty female character, but I also believe in historical accuracy, and I don’t believe that all of the uneducated women of olde France were prototype Beyoncés. The real misogyny lies in the fact that all Constance gets to do this week is play the damsel in distress, but to make up for it, the writer gives her the title line to say. Now be a good girl and let the men rescue you.

That’s not the only duff line in the script sadly. “I knew you were evil”, “You have such spirit”, “I’m going to thoroughly enjoy killing you” and “If Constance has been missing all night she might be in danger!” are all terrible clangers. The last one in particular sounds very Scooby Doo, and the others have never been said by ordinary people in the history of anything. Add to that the fact that Sean Pertwee fails to be particularly threatening or interesting as Sarazin, and that storyline becomes the weakest thing in the episode.

urlFinal verdict on Season 1

The end pulls it back slightly, although Constance remains useless. The ambush and massive final fight – The Musketeers’ biggest to date – is suitably epic. I most enjoyed the man who was shot and fell through a roof. It’s slightly overlong, and slightly unbelievable that Sarazin has what appears to be four thousand men on his side… and that four measly Musketeers can pick them off… but mostly it’s fun, as it should be.

Then it’s time to tie up all the loose ends – end of season admin, if you like. Milady is spared. Constance’s husband’s attempted suicide is a nice little shock and leaves us wondering if they will get together or not. The actor who plays Constance’s husband is poor, however. Then comes one of the best scenes – we think the Cardinal’s head is for the chop and then it turns out: the Queen is pregnant! But is it really the King’s baby, or is it the lovely Aramis’s? Santiago Cabrera is fantastic in that final scene, in which he vows to protect the child that may or may not be his; he is my favourite of the Musketeers. The final scene is silly, and childishly written, which is a shame as it lets down the strong episode. It’s a bit of a corny “so gang what did we learn this week?” affair, with them all sharing lines and patting each other on the back. But it’s right that we end with our heroes storming off into the sunset, ready for new adventures.

The Musketeers is a good show, and sometimes even a great one. With season 2 already filming, I’m slightly nervous that not waiting to gauge the reception of season 1 will mean that the problems will not be sorted out. Season 2 cannot be the same – it must build on and rectify, with subtler storytelling, more twists and turns, more varied plots.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised for the most part. The finale was strong, although not the strongest episode (episode 6 is the champion for me). Throughout, the production values have been high, with classy and thrilling fights making the most of high speed cameras. The series may have old fashioned touches to it but it can be self-aware and witty too. It’s given the Musketeers a strong resonance, a sort of brand within itself, which is exactly what this old tale deserves.

Fight count: Previous total = 32. Final total = 36 – Although the last one was really about ten fights’ worth! Oh well. It’s been fun hasn’t it?