Looks Good in Leather (the BBC Musketeer Edition Part I)
You Can Leave Your Hat On (the BBC Musketeer Edition Part II)
The last three episodes of the season have a lot of drama and angst, so I need to start off by showing you this vid about Tom Burke, and his World Cup seat. Whenever Athos gets too miserable or drunk or overwhelmed with tragic backstory, all you have to do is remember that he has Roger. They’re gonna be okay.
BIG SPOILERS after this section, for the final run of the season, honestly, don’t read this at all. Just go watch them. They’re really good. There are NARRATIVE SURPRISES in each episode that are best enjoyed as the directors, writers and Roger the horse intended.
I did warn you.
D’Artagnan has no hat.
All the other Musketeers have awesome hats, and blue leather cloaks with many buttons, and pretty armoured shoulder-patches which I believe Aramis hand-crafts in his spare time. D’Artagnan has none of these things. This whole not being a Musketeer thing is getting him down in a sad, sad way.
Luckily he and Constance are finally having sexytimes, which is somewhat cheering, but while they indulge in a happy afterglow of their love affair, everything else goes to hell around them.
Vinnie Jones guests in this episode as a thug from the provinces who has been gathering taxes for himself, burning down farms and biting people’s ears off. D’Artagnan’s farm is destroyed, leaving the young Gascon penniless (while at the same time explaining how he has managed without a proper job for the series so far).
There’s a Big Fight going down, because the Cardinal and Captain Treville are squabbling like schoolboys, so the King has declared a champion fight between
the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies the Red Guard and the Musketeers.
D’Artagnan is desperate to be chosen as the champion, because he might impress the King and thus finally win himself a Musketeer cloak (and a salary). But he’s not the only one who wants the honour… everyone’s going to compete! But they have to pay a fee to be in it.
A classic Musketeer theme from the novel is that the lads were so badly paid that they needed the women in their life to financially support them. Wealthy mistresses for the win! In this episode, that idea is explored quite thoroughly.
Aramis and Porthos go “fishing for widows” (in church no less) in order to find women they can seduce into paying their entry fees for the contest. Meanwhile, the two women in D’Artagnan’s life both want to help him with his money problems. Porthos blags his way into a warm bed and earns a gold-plated candlesnuffer for his trouble, but accidentally ends up in a genuine relationship. D’Artagnan lets the mysterious Milady pay his way, not realising that Constance was willing to hock her best tea service to support him. Aramis has to dodge a lot of yappy dogs as he returned to one of his old reliable mistresses to earn his purse. No one EVER ASKS how Athos got his entry fee, but he is the only one who does not explicitly receive the cash from a lady he has slept with.
He does, however, have a brief but passionate hate-snogging session with Milady in a public street, so don’t feel he’s missing out on anything.
Constance’s husband Bonancieux has only had a minor role in the series thus far, notable for not noticing anything that’s going on under his nose whether it be his handsome lodger flirting with (and now sleeping with) his wife, or Constance hosting political meetings with her Musketeer chums. This week we get to know him better, and his comic relief side slips into something more sinister.
Bo Poraj (who I only just realised is that bloke off Miranda) does a great turn as the preening, self-important tailor who is willing to spy on his wife’s activities for the Cardinal – then turns dark and blackmaily when he discovers (finally) that she’s not only sleeping with D’Artagnan, but in love with him.
Poor old Constance has the worst time in this episode, going from snuggly bliss with her new lover to worry that he’s falling in with the glamorous and dangerous Milady again, and finally despair when her husband makes her choose between D’Artagnan’s love or his life.
For everyone else, the episode is basically non-stop fight scenes and saucy bedroom antics, with a side of political intrigue. Treville nobly tries to take one for the team when he realises his champion will be up against a maniac and temporarily loses the respect of Athos who is furious he is sabotaging D’Artagnan’s only chance to earn his stripes. Vinnie Jones is terrifying and brutal as the Cardinal’s pet violent criminal. But we also finally see the extent to which Athos, Aramis and Porthos have faith in D’Artagnan and his worthiness to join them as a Musketeer.
Luckily, the king agrees with them.
I defy you all to watch the final scene without a slightly wobbly lip. Especially when everyone else figures out what’s going on a second or two before D’Artagnan does, Aramis provides a certain bit of leathercraft that he has been working on for just such an occasion, and D’Artagnan comes THIS close to bursting into tears.
This is the episode with the homicidal nuns. That is basically all you need to know. Musket-loading, brandy-molatov-cocktail-wielding, arse-kicking nuns.
It’s also an episode that is largely about Aramis, his hat and his big soulful eyes, and about Queen Anne, who literally lets her hair down at the beginning of the episode and keeps it that way until the very end. Weird things happen when the Queen lets her hair down. Assassination attempts, charred fish, and illicit sex, for the most part.
Muskets, muskets, muskets. Short ones, long ones, powder packets, how to load one, how to fire one, and so on. You can basically smell the gunpowder pouring off this episode. If you have a fetish for eighteenth century ballistics, this is the episode for you.
Our four (squee!) Musketeers have guard duty in a pretty glade while their Queen enjoys the healing waters of a forest spa. Aramis starts out delighting in the joys of being in the country, but within a couple of days is suffering from city-withdrawal and the desperate need to shoot something.
Athos and Porthos dedicate their “holiday” to sparring with new Musketeer D’Artagnan, which basically means trying to scuff, scrape and scratch his brand new armour until it is properly broken in. They take particular delight at slashing directly at his fleur-de-lis armband, and dragging him along the ground in the dirt. It’s a sacred duty.
Back in Paris, a Comic Relief German and his sporty daughter flirt delightedly with the King, who is getting more and more irritated with his marriage and lack of heirs, and sees in Charlotte the perfect wife. He lets slip to the Cardinal that he wishes Anne were dead so he could start again with a lady who might actually enjoy sex with him (and more importantly, HUNTING AND OTHER FUN THINGS), and the Cardinal responds a little too efficiently to the King’s desire.
Enter Milady, and her assassin-hiring skills. The spa holiday is about to be horribly interrupted.
On the run from the would-be killers who are pursuing them through the forest, the Musketeers and the Queen have to rough it in the wild. Aramis makes himself useful by punching fish with his shirt off, and Anne makes herself useful by cooking the fish. Let’s just say that Aramis is a lot better at punching fish than Her Majesty is at cooking. But the looks on the Musketeers’ faces as they dutifully swallow down chunks of fishy charcoal out of politeness are totally worth it.
While D’Artagnan and Porthos head for Paris to call for reinforcements, Athos, Anne and Aramis take refuge in a nunnery which is the most gorgeous piece of architecture-as-character since the House of Athos. The nuns are tough as old nails and refuse to leave under parley, choosing to stay and defend. The Mother Superior is magnificent, providing a cache of weapons for their use (usually reserved for shooting squirrels and Protestants), hefting furniture, using a mighty axe at one point to cut the rope of an invading soldier. Her greatest moment, however, is when she demonstrates her musket-loading competence to Athos in the heat of battle.
Athos’ face = “Adopt me.”
Aramis meets his long lost love Isabelle, now Sister Helene, who manages to gently point out that his big tragic backstory is a bit pants really, based on a romantic ideal of himself as a teenager which doesn’t match reality. She is a great nun, with a special badge in brandy-making. (Worth noting: he recognised the brandy before he recognised her) Sister Helene goes on to stab an invader in the leg, and invent the molatov cocktail. If it wasn’t for the Mother Superior, she would be the best nun. Sadly, she also dies heroically. Damn it.
There’s a big plot-related romantic interlude that happens in this episode. Which I wasn’t going to spoil, but you know, the title is a bit of a giveaway. This is the one where Aramis and Queen Anne hook up. The show had been teasing this idea all along – and what I like most about the timing is that while it happens at the height of Aramis’ grief and emotional breakdown (thus giving him at least a slight excuse about the Very Bad Decision), this particular twist in the story tells us a lot more about Anne than Aramis, and adds to her character journey. She isn’t seduced, but chooses to make a move on Aramis, just as she chooses her own path during the siege. As will be explored in next episode, her night with Aramis is symbolic of Anne taking power in other parts of her life. Every time she plays the passive queen from this point onwards, it’s pretty damned obvious that she is doing it deliberately.
Also the look on Athos’ face when he finds them in bed together is one of my favourite things about this show ever. Never mind hats, nuns and treason, pretty much this episode is all about Athos’ face.
Athos’ face = “Not enough brandy in the WORLD, Aramis.”
The siege is a brilliant piece of action staging, and the final rescue including all of the fake Musketeers, and good old Serge the cook with his musketoon Cleopatra, is wonderful. I am particularly impressed with the use of quiet moments, like Athos rolling the last musket ball to Aramis, in between all the shouting, shooting and explosions.
Back in Paris, we’ve been watching Milady and the Cardinal become steadily unhinged, taking out their collapsing tower of cards on each other with venomous fury. This is their worst plot ever and as Milady scurries to fix the damage throughout the episode, she makes some pretty major mistakes. In particular: she’s used her forget-me-not signature once too often, so Athos is on her case; and she’s used the same perfume once too often, so D’Artagnan is also on her case.
IF ONLY THESE TWO MEN WERE FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES AND COULD SOMEHOW COMPARE NOTES.
10. Musketeers Don’t Die Easily
It is impossible to review this episode without spoiling the hell out of it. This is your last chance to go watch it first. Please do that.It’s worth it.
Is there a TV Trope for that episode when all the main protagonist’s friends turn into dicks for no apparent reason, making the protag feel isolated and miserable? It used to happen at least once a season in Buffy. For the first ten minutes or so, that’s what we get here.
This is the episode where Milady’s plans for D’Artagnan finally fall into place.
Athos gets blind drunk, mauls Milady in the street, and finally confesses his tragic backstory to his friends at musket-point which is like at gunpoint but you have to reload after a single shot. Milady entreats D’Artagnan to save her, which helps Porthos and Aramis figure out that Milady is his mysterious patroness – they then manage to point out very loudly that this means he has shagged his best friend’s wife (obviously the most important and helpful detail right now). Athos shoots D’Artagnan, catching him in the side, and all three Musketeers abandon him bleeding in the street. So much for the Bro Code!
The next day, Captain Treville finds D’Artagnan recuperating in Milady’s bed and apologetically lets him know that as Athos refuses to serve with him now, Treville has been forced to choose between them. Guess who loses his hard-won commission? Not the Musketeer who got drunk, threatened his wife and shot a fellow Musketeer in the street.
Miserable, wounded and abandoned, D’Artagnan is completely ready to be turned to the Cardinal’s cause.
This would make for a horrible episode of The Musketeers if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a hustle. Because our boys (including Treville) all basically got together at some point in the three months since the last episode, talked out their issues, fist bumped in a manly way, and schemed a scheme to get one over on not only Milady, but the Cardinal himself.
THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT.
I do think it’s hilarious that their scheme requires Athos to get genuinely drunk and then shoot D’Artagnan to wound him. It didn’t occur to anyone that maybe he should just pretend to be very drunk.
To prove himself to Milady, D’Artagnan now has to kill Athos – cue more public theatre, including blood in a pig’s bladder, and a fake funeral at which Porthos and Aramis heckle Treville to make sure he says enough nice things about poor dead Athos (and then Porthos actually tears up a bit because he’s the emotional type). The Musketeers are way too good at this lark. I like to think that if they ever lose their commissions, they will be able to make a living as the best grifters ever, knocking over casinos and fooling fat merchants out of big bags of gold.
Funnily enough, getting Athos killed doesn’t make Milady as happy as she thought it would. Which is probably a good thing for her to know? We also get some insight into Milady’s early criminal past, before her marriage, when she is forced to call upon Saracen, her slimy original employer from her pickpocket days, played with deliciously theatrical malevolence by Sean Pertwee in eyeliner.
Sean Pertwee in eyeliner is equal favourite with Voguing Tara Fitzgerald as my favourite guest star from this season.
Everyone gets strong scenes in this final episode, including the unravelling Cardinal, the imperious Queen Anne (finally embracing her own power as her relationship with the King shifts), the stoic, reliable Treville (who once again is in on the plan with the boys because he is the most tolerant boss ever and always up for a merry jape) and the implacable, inseparable Musketeers.
Constance is kidnapped for a large part of the story. Which was stressful for me the first time I watched it, well aware of how her story ends in the book. I was also a bit miffed that after a whole season of Constance being Not The Damsel, the show finally cashed in all their damsel cards at once.
But Milady using Constance as D’Artagnan’s vulnerable point is a classic and important aspect of the original story, so there’s also that. It would suck if Constance in Danger was a regular thing in every episode, but the abduction works well in the finale because it shows the layers of mistrust and insurance that Milady always factors into her schemes – she doesn’t even reveal that she has Constance until after her original plan has fallen apart, and Athos has pulled his ‘guess who’s not dead, HA now you know how it feels’ act on her.
Milady’s face = “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
Until the final sequence, which is a glorious piece of High Noon/Wild West shoot out choreography that shows off our Musketeers and their manly skills to dramatic perfection, Constance is not treated like a game token but as a proper character, and the abduction is mostly used to progress her own character rather than that of the men in her life – she gets to be brave, resourceful and defensive under extreme pressure, and both times she escapes under her own steam she only fails to get away because Milady is faster and meaner.
The title of the episode, “Musketeers Don’t Die Easily” is spoken twice, once by Milady and once by Constance. There’s a lot of doubling and reflection in how these two women interact with the story and the Musketeers, and while I normally spit on the trope where the heroine fights with the lady villain while the men get on with fighting the manly villains, I appreciate every scene that these two have together.
I also think that the scene of D’Artagnan fighting Sean Pertwee in eyeliner works within this trope – Saracen is plainly the second string villain next to Milady, which means that actually the boy is fighting the boy sidekick while Constance and Milady face off against each other.
I honestly believed that Milady might kill Constance every step of the way, and it was bloody terrifying. I was muttering a lot of: “Now would not be a good time to stick with canon, show! I need Constance’s face to stay attached to the rest of her!”
There are many resolutions in this episode, which ties everything up gorgeously as a season of television – but still leaves many tantalising threads for the future. I was refusing to Google anything in fear of being spoiled, so didn’t know for certain there would be a Season 2 until it was done – but yes there is, and everyone is “contracted for the long term”, except for the Cardinal because of BLOODY DOCTOR WHO (I’m not bitter at all, just Capaldflicted, I’ll get over it when I see what a good Doctor he is, I’m sure, but oh he was the best Cardinal, and that look on his face at the end when he was maybe putting things together about Aramis and Anne, will we ever get closure on that or is he basically running to a monastery straight after that?).
One of the most splendid thing about the scenes in which the Musketeers reveal the Cardinal’s wrongdoing is the way that they bring Queen Anne in on the ruse, so that she is the one with the power over him once all is revealed. In fact, though she is peripheral to most of this episode’s plot, Anne’s increased power as a Palace player is a major shift in the narrative, and very promising for next season. The final final final reveal, in which the Cardinal obviously thinks she has dobbed on him to the King, only to discover that actually the King and Queen have a Happy Impending Event to announce (which will change the power dynamics of the Palace forever), is delicious largely because Anne is doing absolutely NOTHING but smiling, and yet that smile tells us everything about who has beaten who.
Yes, Cardinal, Queen Anne beat you by getting herself knocked up by a Musketeer, and she enjoyed herself in the process. The lady knows how to multi-task.
As ever, the entire scene is made better by Athos’ face, with a bonus side helping of Aramis’ face as they both work Really Hard to hide the big secret that could well get them killed one day.
In conclusion, I love this show. You got that already. But a big part of why I love this show is because it is an unashamedly emotional show about male friendship, and the emotional wellbeing of soldiers. I love that it’s a show that revolves around male action heroes and yet doesn’t throw women under the bus – the women of the The Musketeers are dangerous, passionate, clever, and lead their own stories. And not just our three main female characters – there are interesting guest roles for women in nearly every episode, and even the one-episode-love-interests have complex lives and their own rich stories.
Ninon’s flirtation with Athos is arguably the least interesting thing that happens to her in her story, in which she has her life towered, is put on trial as a witch, and spreads feminism all over Paris and beyond. Sister Helene is much happier as a nun than she feels she would have been married to Aramis – and while he’s felt guilty about ‘wrecking her life’ all these years, it turns out she actually chose the veil with genuine enthusiasm. Flea won’t give up the Court of Miracles for either of the men she loves. Alice knows she won’t be happy married to a Musketeer, and after her first experience of marriage and widowhood, she’s confident enough not to compromise on that point. All of these women are interesting enough to be a part of the story regardless of their romances.
Also, platonic friendships! Aramis gets laid more often than all his friends put together, and yet his most interesting scenes with women are often those which are not motivated by sex or romance – with Agnes and her baby in The Exiles, giving Ninon spiritual guidance in A Rebellious Woman, and with Constance in every scene ever.
The Musketeers didn’t have to be a show about women too – they had every excuse to make it Mostly About The Blokes And Their Hats – but it’s a better show because it is about so many diverse characters, and different kinds of strength, power, love and friendship. It takes so many action tropes that are usually All About Male Power (spaghetti western & cockney mobster in particular) and shows how they can actually be more nuanced and interesting with friendship, love and loyalty explored along with the muscles and swordplay.
And it’s funny. And their faces. And the sword fights.
And their hats.
D’Artagnan still doesn’t have a hat.
Maybe next season.
This post has been brought to you by the patrons of Musketeer Space.