Porthos gets more than he bargained for on his birthday when he is found guilty of murder and becomes caught up in an explosive scheme to rid Paris of one of its less salubrious areas.
A brief history of Porthos
After Athos and Aramis were the focus of the previous two episodes, it’s the turn of a Porthos-centric tale which fills in much of the back-story of the former slave’s son which was previously touched upon in Commodities.
Porthos wakes in the street after a night of drunken revelry celebrating his birthday to discover himself lying next to a dead young man, Jean de Mauvoisin, who has been shot in the head. He is arrested, tried by an unsympathetic judge and sentenced to immediate execution.
But before he can be taken to the gallows, he is rescued by a posse of masked men and taken to the Court of Miracles, a no-go slum within Paris which Cardinal Richelieu describes as being “a miniature kingdom of professional thieves, highway robbers, whores and beggars”.
It turns out that Porthos, then a thief, grew up in the Court of Miracles but left in search of a better life. His old friend Charon (Ashley Walters) is now the court’s ‘king’, with Flea (Fiona Glascott), his queen, forming the third side of a love triangle as she still holds a candle for the reinvented Musketeer.
The remainder of the episode revolves around the Musketeers’ dual quest to clear Porthos’ name and recover him from the court.
The procedural part of the story is fairly mundane. Aramis does his best Sherlock impersonation, with a visit to the crime scene and the morgue allowing him to deduce that Jean was shot at point-blank range. Jean’s father Emile is part of the king’s inner circle, but the Mauvoisin family is virtually penniless.
What appears at first to have been a religiously-motivated plot by his son to blow up a Protestant church is actually nothing more than the greed of a father desperate to restore his family’s former wealth.
Mauvoisin has bought up houses all around the Court of Miracles on the cheap. Aided by Charon, he intends to blow up the court, driving its criminal population out and making a new fortune from redeveloping the land.
This conveniently aligns with Richelieu’s plans to fulfil the king’s ambition to rebuild a modern Paris as part of his legacy to France. The cardinal is fully aware and complicit in Mauvoisin’s plot, in spite of the inevitable bloodshed that would result.
However, Treville and the Musketeers uncover the truth just in time. Treville apprehends Mauvoisin for both the gunpowder conspiracy and the murder of his own son, whose conscience would not allow him to be part of the plan.
Athos, Aramis and D’Artagnan stop Mauvoisin’s men from lighting the explosives and rescue Porthos. Charon’s role is revealed, he accidentally shoots Flea and, after Porthos has shown him mercy, he attempts to stab him in the back but is instead killed by Aramis. Once again, Porthos leaves the Court of Miracles and Flea behind him to return to his new, better life.
The better man
Despite having started out as a lowly, uneducated thief who doesn’t even know his exact birthday, Porthos displays that he possessed courage and heroism even before becoming a soldier by willingly leaving behind the only life he knew in search of something better.
It’s clear he is now a different man to the one who first left the Court of Miracles. There is still something of the cad about him, but he has learned the value of honour, loyalty and friendship – one for all and all for one, one might say – over greed and self-interest.
Charon represents the path not taken for Porthos: an opportunist on the make willing to sacrifice the entire community he rules in order to take Mauvoisin’s shilling.
The same goes for Mauvoisin, who is willing to go to any lengths – including mass murder – to restore his family’s name and wealth. He owned an honourable name and Treville afforded him the privilege of ending his own life, but it was the son of a slave with no family name who proved himself to be the true gentleman.
A sluggish return
After a week’s hiatus (due to BBC1 screening the BAFTAs), The Musketeers‘ return was, unfortunately, a sluggish one. The focus on fleshing out Porthos’ back-story – though welcome and well done – came at a heavy cost.
The series’ leading ladies – Milady, Constance and the queen – are all absent, and the procedural murder-and-conspiracy element of the story felt perfunctory, pedestrian and laden with too many clichés, from Aramis’ quippy banter with the morgue attendant to the all-too-familiar greed-dressed-up-as-red-herring motive.
That’s not to say this was a poor episode. It wasn’t, and as a character piece it did an excellent job of developing Porthos.
Indeed, five episodes in it feels like we are really starting to know and understand our four leads. But overall it lacked the show’s usual verve and pace, with even Richelieu’s role in events being kept too much at arms’ length.
Average – and it says a lot about how much the show has improved thus far that average feels distinctly disappointing.