The royal party is taken hostage by the astronomer Marmion, who forces King Louis to play a deadly game with the lives of those closest to him.
The Musketeers has made a noticeable effort to introduce darker plotlines this season, with varying degrees of success. As befits its oft-quoted biblical title (it’s from 1 Corinthians 13:12), this ranks alongside Emilie as the darkest story thus far.
And herein lies my problem with the episode. It’s not a bad story by any means and I applaud the writers for mixing in more serious tales with the action-based romps such as last week’s The Return that are the series’ stock-in-trade. But for me (and I accept that this is a matter of personal taste) The Musketeers works best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously. When it does, I detect a whiff of trying too hard and clunky plotting.
For better or worse, season one positioned the show at the lighter end of the dramatic spectrum, and subsequent attempts to give us some serious baddies with deep motivations and put characters beyond our core Musketeers in peril feels like a bit of a box-ticking exercise. The Musketeers is many things – a lot of them good – but it isn’t Nordic Noir or Broadchurch and too much of this episode drifted into hackneyed cliché for me, undermined by lazy writing.
For starters, wasn’t the royal party taken hostage with surprising ease? Three Musketeers and a handful of Red Guards to protect the entire royal family and their entourage on a lengthy journey to an exposed location, easily overpowered by only a dozen or so men? Really?
As for our Villain of the Week, Marmion, I buy the traumatic events that sent him crazy with revenge. Quarantining of plague villages did occur, and I’m sure that many people inadvertently met the same fate as Marmion and Robert‘s family. But would a 17th century astronomer of such renown that the king would pay him a visit to observe an eclipse be living in a small, out-of-the-way village? It’s far more likely he would have been in Paris or at the very least one of the largest cities.
Instead Marmion’s skill as an astronomer feels more like a flimsy pretext to bring the king to him and to hammer home the double meaning of the episode’s title: Marmion’s camera obscura – literally translated, a dark chamber – made of glass lenses and his more metaphorical ploy to hold a dark mirror up to Louis to show him first-hand the consequences of his prior actions. It’s a laboured double entendre, and one in which logical sense becomes subservient to a plot device.
Indeed, the entire episode is packed full of clichés. Marmion’s God-complex posturing and coin-toss game, which quickly wear thin through repetition. The cowardly courtier. D’Artagnan and Constance own up to their mutual love under threat of death. Porthos and Rochefort collaborate to escape by literally pulling in opposite directions. (Porthos’s subsequent John Wayne-style shrugging off of his dislocated shoulder is funny, though.) And finally we have Robert’s self-sacrifice at his brother’s hand, a denouement that couldn’t have been more telegraphed if it had been written in ten-foot tall neon letters.
Overall, this was an episode that failed to rise above the ordinary.
More promisingly, two of the ongoing story arcs moved along here while another shifts in an intriguing new direction.
D’Artagnan and Constance’s love is now in the open – acknowledged by both of them and observed by everyone else. Anne‘s indiscretion in revealing Aramis (who survives a fall from a high window remarkably unscathed) as the Dauphin‘s true father in front of a scorned Marguerite will undoubtedly play into Rochefort’s hands. And Milady finds herself cast out of favour by Louis’s capricious petulance, re-establishing her as a free agent who could align herself with either Rochefort or the Musketeers depending on which suits her best.
While Louis preens himself and gleefully humiliates his own wife, real and potential enemies of no inconsiderable means are silently circling him as he continues to push away the only people – the Musketeers – who genuinely have his best interests at heart. There may be trouble ahead …