The Musketeers play a dangerous of bluff and misdirection with Milady de Winter in an attempt to expose Cardinal Richelieu’s plot to kill Queen Anne in last week’s Knight Takes Queen.
Three months later
Three months have passed since the failed assassination of the queen. D’Artagnan appears to fall out with his fellow Musketeers and is forced out of the regiment. He kills Athos in a duel and seeks protection from Milady and Richelieu in exchange for securing a letter which implicates the Cardinal. In bringing the letter to the Cardinal, Aramis and Porthos goad him into confessing the truth, unaware that Anne can hear him.
Richelieu gives up Milady to save himself, but she has taken out insurance by having Constance kidnapped by her former criminal mentor, Sarazin. The four Musketeers overcome Sarazin’s small army to rescue Constance. Athos spares Milady’s life, telling her to leave the country and that he will kill her if he sees her again.
Constance is ready to leave her husband for D’Artagnan, but changes her mind when she discovers her distraught husband attempted suicide, thinking she had already gone. Aramis learns that Anne is pregnant with his child.
All for one, and one for all
The Musketeers has largely relied on telling uncomplicated, black-and-white stories of heroism and villainy, but for its season finale it presents us with a rather more complex and substantial tale which continually switches direction.
It doesn’t overstep the mark, though. Despite its strong opening scene which depicts D’Artagnan falling out with a drunken Athos as he accosts Milady, we all know that the new recruit wouldn’t fall out with his three friends so easily and that his casting out by Treville is part of a wider deception to gain Milady and Richelieu’s confidence. To the writers’ credit, there’s no attempt to stretch the viewers’ disbelief – the Musketeers’ plan is revealed early on and we’re shown the sleight of hand employed by Porthos to fake Athos’ death.
The strong camaraderie between the four men is confirmed at the end as they unwaveringly ride into battle against Sarazin’s superior numbers, stopping only to load up with more weaponry than most war movies and to give us – at last – the fan-pleasing Musketeer motto which has been knowingly withheld or subverted previously: “All for one, and one for all.”
The final battle to rescue Constance is lavishly done, as they defeat Sarazin’s men in a blaze of muskets, grenades and swordplay. And, of course, we’re treated to a closing shot of the quartet riding off into the distance, spaghetti western-style. The four Musketeers may have no love and no money, but they have honour – and each other.
Milady – the real Big Bad
The episode squarely positions Milady as the true villain of the season. Richelieu may wield more power, but it’s his agent who is by far the more ruthless, not least because she does herself what the Cardinal can only order others to do.
She is a liar and a murderer, and she is the Cardinal’s spy – and she is my wife.
She shoots one man without batting an eyelid and has Constance abducted to use as insurance, taking the opportunity to punch her rival for D’Artagnan’s affections with obvious glee. Yes, she tells D’Artagnan a more sympathetic side to her story, claiming Athos’ brother Thomas tried to force himself upon her and that her husband was blind to the truth when he ordered her hanging. But she’s also obviously lying through her teeth in the process, spinning a yarn to try to win D’Artagnan over to her side. She does what she does because she’s good at it, and because she enjoys it.
The Cardinal, on the other hand, is a wily political operator and a pragmatist who is driven as much by a desire to do what best serves his king and his country as much as by the notion of power and personal gain. As he tells Aramis and Porthos:
I alone will face the truths that no one else can stomach.
Every decision the Cardinal has made has been a rational one with a tangible purpose, Occasionally he is lining his own pockets, but more often that not he is doing what he believes is best for France: clean up the slums of Paris, remove Anne so that the German Charlotte can give the king an heir and help fund France’s new navy with her dowry, and dispose of the Musketeers to protect his own skin. Ultimately he proves to be something of a coward, being all too willing to save himself by sacrificing Milady.
There are a few elements within the episode which stretched credibility a bit. The ease with which Richelieu and Milady buy into D’Artagnan’s change of heart doesn’t feel plausible – it’s too hurried and they should be much more suspicious of his real intentions than they are, particularly given that Athos as good as told the Cardinal that the Musketeers were on to him last week.
And, having so carefully planned Milady’s downfall and played the charade of Athos’ ‘death’ so thoroughly, for him to reveal himself to her so casually when the Musketeers already know Constance is missing is as stupid as it is unnecessary. It’s nothing more than a plot contrivance to ensure we get a rousing fight scene to finish with as the Musketeers rush to the rescue in a blaze of glory. I can forgive that, but it does undermine an otherwise strong episode somewhat.
It has been confirmed that Peter Capaldi‘s commitment to Doctor Who’s punishing schedule means he won’t return as Cardinal Richelieu, although the possibility of the character being recast remains. Richelieu’s position in the royal court hangs on Queen Anne’s good grace. She and the Musketeers all know what he tried to do. At the same time, however, Richelieu has realised that Aramis is the father of her child. Both sides now hold a degree of leverage over the other as a result, and there’s an unspoken rapprochement which leaves his position tenable.
Also, joining the dots, Anne’s pregnancy by Aramis suggests that maybe it is Louis rather than she who was the problem behind their inability to produce an heir. This, and the difficulty of keeping the truth about whose baby it is a secret ongoing, is likely to emerge as an ongoing storyline in season two.
So, if Richelieu does not appear, who will be next season’s Big Bad? The smart money is on it being the Comte de Rochefort, who features heavily in the original book, but we can also expect Milady to return somehow.
No matter who is and isn’t in season two, The Musketeers has established itself as a fun slice of Sunday night escapism which doesn’t try too hard. The show seeks to entertain viewers via an engaging set of characters without too many pretensions of grandeur or gravitas. It’s been good fun and has brightened up my winter evenings. I’ll be looking forward to its return next year.
Episode rating: 8/10. Season 1 rating: 8/10