The liberal and forward-thinking Comtesse Larroque presents the scheming Cardinal Richelieu with the opportunity to both finance a new French navy and pave his way to the highest office in the Catholic church.
Striking for equality
A young woman, Therese Dubois, is killed under the wheels of the royal carriage attempting to hand a petition from Comtesse Ninon de Larroque (Annabelle Wallis) to the queen pleading the cause of women’s education. Athos leads the investigation into the death and the disappearance of another girl, Fleur Baudin. At the Comtesse’s salon, she flirts with Athos while denying knowledge of Fleur’s location.
Richelieu sends Milady to find something to use as leverage against Larroque. He is visited by a papal envoy, Luca Sastini, who comes bearing gifts and a hint that he is in line to succeed an ill pope. He too advises the cardinal to deal harshly with the Comtesse.
Ninon invites Athos for dinner, but the pair return to find the cardinal’s guards raiding her salon, where they find Fleur and other girls in a hidden room. At Sastini’s behest, Richelieu convenes a kangaroo court where Larroque is found guilty of witchcraft thanks to Milady’s false testimony. The cardinal then suddenly collapses with convulsions, with Aramis‘ swift medical actions saving his life.
The Comtesse is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but the Musketeers solve the mystery just in time to save her. Sastini’s gift to Richelieu of a religious relic was soaked in poison, Athos shoots him as he attempts to stab the cardinal in his bed and the cardinal agrees to commute the death sentence as long as Ninon agrees to forfeit her estate and disappear.
Oh, and D’Artagnan and Constance get it on.
Picking up the pace
With just three episodes remaining, this story picks up the pace, combining serious historical allegory with a pleasing lightness of touch while also advancing Richelieu’s position as this season’s big bad and advancing some of the geopolitical intrigue that has been hovering in the background for several weeks.
The role of women in society, still a current issue in many nations, forms a central part of this episode. Comtesse Larroque is attempting to overturn a 17th century norm where women are little more than commodities to be traded into a lifetime of servitude. The manner of Therese’s death draws a strong parallel with Emily Davison, a British Suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote, who was killed when she stepped in front of the king’s horse at the 1913 Derby.
The heaviness of this subject (and Ninon’s later conviction for witchcraft) is offset by plenty of sharp dialogue and humour. In particular, Aramis uses a book to defend himself against the swords of a number of the cardinal’s men, begging the unspoken punchline about the pen being mightier than the sword. (Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.)
There’s plenty of flirting going on too: Athos and Ninon, Aramis and Queen Anne, and finally D’Artagnan and Constance. But the one relationship which really sparks up the screen is the public revelation of Milady and Athos’ reaction to her. Now his secret is out and the Musketeers are aware that she is working in the employ of Richelieu.
Richelieu’s role in events moves to a different level in this episode as Peter Capaldi finally steps out of the shadows to take centre stage. Here his dual loyalty to both France and the papacy is made explicit, with him ultimately choosing France over the church as the best vehicle for serving his own interests. He’s clearly still a deeply religious man, as he admits to Milady.
I’ve done terrible things. My account with God is not yet balanced.
And yet he is also one driven by pragmatic concerns rather than theological idealism.
I’m not a cruel man, just a practical one.
Even though he does ultimately spare Larroque’s life, he still gets exactly what he wants – her estate and wealth – while granting her only a small income and effectively exiling her. As mercies go, it’s a small one.
Despite his protestations, he is ruthlessly cruel when he wants to be and unafraid to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Sending back Sastini’s ashes to Rome sends a clear message about his regard for the pope’s authority over him.
The political aspect of the series also takes a big step forward here. France remains on the wrong end of its treaty with Spain and King Louis faces as many threats from within his own borders as without. But now France has the means to rebuild its navy, and a new treaty with Sweden increases her influence in European affairs.
But where is this season’s ultimate threat coming from? What combination of Richelieu, Milady and other agents will create the great jeopardy that the Musketeers must inevitably face in the finale?
Despite the repetition of this being the second week in a row where one of our heroes develops a romantic affection for a woman who ends up being sent away, A Rebellious Woman delivered on multiple fronts. There’s a real sense of the series heading into the closing straight, ready for a big finish.