With Constance, Aramis and Queen Anne all in mortal danger, the Musketeers race against time to foil Rochefort’s plans.
The battle with Rochefort ends, as war with Spain begins
Well, that wasn’t the finale I was expecting – and it was much the better for it. Although not lacking in action, there is a surprising degree of introspection and a focus on character as much as spectacle that manages to successfully combine darker and deeper moments with some lusty fight sequences in a way that the programme has struggled to do throughout this season.
From the opening rescue of Constance through to Porthos taking on Spanish spy-master Vargas’s men single-handed to the climactic sequence in which the Musketeers storm the palace and each of them takes their turn at outduelling Rochefort – who stubbornly fights on, Terminator-like until D’Artagnan, as promised, delivers the killing blow through his chest – there’s plenty of musketeering and swashbuckling swordplay. But it’s in the quieter moments, of which there are many, that the episode really shines.
The plot itself is standard, predictable fare, served up without an excess of trimmings. D’Artagnan, Athos and Treville rescue Constance in the nick of time. Rochefort manipulates King Louis at every turn, informing him of Anne and Aramis‘s affair, using Marguerite (who subsequently takes her own life) to testify against Aramis to sentence him to death and then persuading the king to sign his wife’s death warrant.
Meanwhile Porthos ensnares Vargas, with an assist from Constance and the others. (We’ll let the timing of events pass without too much scrutiny, but suffice to say they must have ridden fast.) Milady springs Aramis from his cell but not before he makes a deal with God to spare the queen. She tells Athos she hates who she has become and offers him the opportunity to come to England with her to start a new life.
The Musketeers take Vargas to inform Louis of Rochefort’s treachery. Aramis saves Anne from being strangled as the four Musketeers combine to take Rochefort down, then resigns his commission to join the monastery at Douai to fulfil his bargain. Louis declares war on Spain and appoints Treville his Minister for War, who in turn names Athos as the new Musketeers’ captain and presents Porthos with his sword to make his peace with him. D’Artagnan and Constance marry. Athos rides to meet Milady but finds she has already gone. With the regiment heading to the border for war, Athos, D’Artagnan and Porthos ride to bring Aramis back.
A satisfying end to a variable season
I’ve been critical of this second season, which has struggled when venturing into darker, more serious territory, wasting the talents of big-name guest stars such as Colin Salmon and Liam Cunningham with plodding, predictable and occasionally nonsensical storylines. Athos’s almost-sister-in-law Catherine was built up to be a potential threat who fizzled out with barely a whimper in the penultimate episode.
However, there have been high points too. Although a far less subtle character than Cardinal Richelieu, Rochefort’s hands-on and increasingly deranged pantomime villain made for some fun moments, with Marc Warren‘s performance walking the fine line between dramatic and hammy and delivering just enough to eke out the slightest bit of sympathy for a man driven mad by an unattainable love.
Aramis and Athos have had some meaty storylines, Porthos less so (a shame, because Howard Charles has been terrific throughout) and D’Artagnan finally got his girl (a relationship I really struggle to care for). Even King Louis and Queen Anne have had their significant episodes and moments too, even if they do seem to find it remarkably easy to put themselves in danger.
Perhaps best of all, though, has been the shift in Milady’s character. Still morally grey (if not entirely black), being freed from her role as the doer of the Cardinal’s dirty work has given her the scope to flit between both camps, and the rekindling of her relationship with Athos suggests the possibility of redemption in the future. Without ever softening her character, Maimie McCoy is given just enough latitude over the closing two episodes to flesh out the one-dimensional assassin of season one into an altogether more intriguing character.
Overall, while it hasn’t been a great season – too many pedestrian clunkers disrupting the flow of good episodes – the finale demonstrates that when the writers get the blend right, The Musketeers can deliver as a straight historical drama.
Historians might be forgiven for tearing their hair out, but we have now arrived at the destination we have been heading to all season: the start of the Franco-Spanish war of 1635-1659. The Dauphin, who will go on to become Louis XIV, isn’t actually due to be born until 1638. But we’ll let that one slide for the sake of dramatic licence.
I remain convinced that the third season will be the show’s last. UK viewing figures have plummeted – episode nine achieved overnight ratings of just 2.7 million viewers – not helped by its move to Friday night and taking a week’s hiatus three times (twice for live sport and also for Comic Relief). However, the show has performed decently in terms of international sales, so its renewal came as little surprise.
More importantly, though, there are clear signs that in creative terms the show is already past the point of no return. A number of episodes this year have felt like retreads of previous stories. The action sequences (while still impressive) are starting to feel a little samey.
And, more importantly, how much further can the characters grow? D’Artagnan has won his commission and Constance and is growing in stature as a Musketeer – his natural end-point is to become a leader, as he does in the original Dumas novel. For that to happen, Athos must vacate the role he has just been appointed to – and perhaps a happy retirement with Milady is where we are headed. In the book, Aramis leaves to become a monk – as he has already done here, albeit temporarily. As for Porthos, whose character development so far has focussed primarily on uncovering the secrets of his past, who knows? The novel suggests he too will find love, but series creator Adrian Hodges has already demonstrated he’s happy to play fast and loose with canon, so anything could happen.
Either way, we’re already past the narrative end-point of the original story in a number of respects. The novel essentially ends with the siege of La Rochelle in 1628, which has been mentioned in passing as having already occurred, so we’re in uncharted territory. It’s clear the war will form the backdrop to season three and presumably provide much of its impetus. Could it be that we will see the series wrapped up with a coda that takes us to the war’s end and a happy ending for our four dashing heroes, echoing Dumas’s sequel Twenty Years After? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.
Episode rating: 9/10. Season 2 rating: 7/10.