If you’ve ever so much as flicked a glance down my blog, you’ll have noticed that I’ve recently fallen for new BBC series The Musketeers. The costumes, the plotlines, the sexy people constantly touching one another – it was love at first sight.
In this, my first television review, I aim with a doleful heart to disentangle the knotty threads of the disappointing cross-stitch that was the Musketeers finale. If you’re avoiding spoilers, don’t click the cut. If you’ve already clicked the cut, then for the love of goodness stop reading now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
A troubling trend in The Musketeers has been the tendency towards uncritical reproductions of hackneyed tropes. While the earlier episodes weren’t masterpieces of narrative disruption, they sometimes failed to play into expectations – Flea surviving the debacle at the Court of Miracles springs to mind; I had been gearing myself up for righteous anger upon her predictable death. Later episodes, however, have been playing those storylines straight. The penultimate episode, ‘Knight Takes Queen’, introduced Sister Hélène, Aramis’ first love-turned-nun. She dies in order to facilitate Aramis and Queen Anne’s sleeping together.
The finale completes this trajectory. Sadly, I can’t even say that the plot of the episode was predictable – because I honestly had expected better. A banal plan by the musketeers – to fool Richelieu into revealing his responsibility for ordering the death of Queen Anne – spools out in its unhurried entirety, with every villain cooperatively playing their parts apparently without independent thought. Another scheme intiated by Milady de Winter that consists of literally nothing more than ‘take Constance hostage’ takes place over four whole scenes. If you were awaiting the seemingly inevitable twist, you were doomed to disappointment.
Another ill note was the failure of characters to carry through details from the rest of the season into their characterisation in the finale. While it was established in the first episode that Athos and Constance are old friends, in the finale you’d be hard pressed to guess they even knew one another. Constance, having spent the season realising her ambition to learn to fight with swords and guns, neither uses or even tries to aquire either, despite her misadventures at the hands of Milady. This lack of consistency robs the finale of much-needed emotional depth.
Constance Bonacieux’s kidnapping subplot is particularly disappointing, as her character’s potential goes utterly unexplored. As young and adventurous as d’Artagnan, her desires are throttled by 17th century Parisian society in a way those of the male characters aren’t. In episode 4, ‘The Good Soldier’, Constance asks d’Artagnan to teach her how to fight immediately after being saved from an attempted rape. Though she reasons ‘why should men get to have all the fun?’, it’s not hard to understand her motivations.
The finale, however, leaves Constance’s emotions in the dark – other than her love for d’Artagnan. Despite her physical danger, her feelings for him, rather than her own presumable fear, frustration or anger, are the central thread of her plot in this episode.
On which note, a little quiz. Can you name a single female character in The Musketeers not involved in a romantic subplot? I can’t. As for male characters, there are a few: Richelieu and Treville spring to mind immediately; Marsac, Labarge and Gallagher are examples of single episode appearances.
Is it that the creative team cannot conceive of a woman, in this male-dominated show, who relates to the world in a non-sexual or non-romantic way? Even Marie de’ Medici, whose very nearly successful quest for the French throne involved no sexual or romantic gambit whatsoever, is shown sleeping with her right-hand man. The way in which female characters are apparently coded by their approach to romance smacks of thoughtless writing, especially egregious in a show which pays lip service to feminism in episodes like ‘A Rebellious Woman’.
Although the episode misdirects the viewer with the musketeers’ schemes, the stakes in this season finale are low. A brand new villain – a Fagin-esque Jack Sparrow knockoff played by Sean Pertwee – and his team of henchmen are invented to be the antagonist muscle, so that when they are knocked down like a game of Who’s Who, no one need care. Richelieu swallows the musketeers’ tricks whole, without any of the guile that is the trademark of his character, and so poses no threat. The only thing the good guys need worry about is Constance, playing the part of the damsel-in-distress without any nuance. Even she, though, is all right in the end.
The season ends with Constance and d’Artagnan sundered once more, Milady shooed away by a newly lackadaisical Athos, and the Queen pregnant by Aramis. The musketeers’ collusion with Queen Anne seems to promisingly foreshadow a future in which the manipulative, self-satisfied Queen calls the shots in the musketeers’ regiment, though whether the show is willing to attach such a grey morality to its saintly main characters remains to be seen. Constance’s future on the show seems less hopeful. She ends the season roped to her husband once more, left by a petulant d’Artagnan.
By the time the credits roll, very little has materially changed for our heroes, and so any tension falls flat. In a show which has previously shone at character development and meaningful interaction, the finale was an unexpected disappointment. I was ready to be heartbroken. Instead, I was just irritated. The whole thing felt trite and pedestrian. Let’s hope the next series returns to better form.