Warning: Spoiler Alert
I’d like to mention a few things before we get started pertaining to The Musketeers. First and foremost, I really like what BBC America is trying to do here. It is a far cry from putting it in the Sherlock fandom realm, but so far so good. I enjoy the slight tweaks and creative license they’ve taken towards arguably the most re-done story ever told in cinema and television. Specifically in regards to the casting.
Anything old, we tend to type cast with stereotypical British actors. As if British accents are present everywhere throughout history. Or in the case of the 1993 theatrical release, use headliners or up and comers. Consider the 1993 version: Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, Chris O’Donnell, Tim Curry, Gabrielle Anwar, Rebecca De Mornay. This is the version for me (my affection for television/movies was born in the 1980s and 1990s), is the basis for comparison. Not because it’s a great version, I’m sure a traditionalist, historian or even movie buff might argue that it is indeed anything but great.
This version is illicitly American. Charlie Harper as the religious and romantically charismatic Aramis. Jack Bauer as the conflicted yet mature Athos. Jimmy King as the lovable irresponsible Porthos. And Dick Grayson (Robin) as the idealistic yet helplessly lame D’Artagnan. Twenty years ago, this is how we saw this story. BBCA has taken a better, deeper, more nuanced approach to this story and that is refreshing.
In this version (thus far), my favorite character is Porthos. Generally considered the third wheel/comic relief, has been elevated to a character I look forward to seeing and hearing. Porthos is not a fat guy to be made fun of as in the case of Gerard Depardieu from Man in the Iron Mask, pardon my nerdom but this Porthos is more like the Panthro of the Thundercats. Big yes, but very much the smart ass fighter we hope a Musketeer to be. Secondly and ironically, is D’Artagnan. Usually portrayed as a wuss in over his head. I watched Luke Pasqualino as D’Artagnan for almost a full 5 minutes in episode 1 before even considering the idea that he was D’Artagnan. I told my wife, “you’ll never believe this, D’Artagnan is not a wimp in this version”.
The other tidbits are direction and tone. The direction seems to be filled with layers, I hope. A few times already this show has surprised me story wise. I zigged when they zagged, which makes for a great story. I like that this is not a series telling Dumas’ story. It’s a series using Dumas’ story as the backdrop or even the universe in which to tell a different story. And tone, whether you realize it or not, tone is important to telling a story that’s already been told. It’s not light-hearted or cheeky. Its dark at times and brutally realistic to the area and time. Very important to a period piece like this, even if it’s fictional.
This week Musketeers starts out with Aramis, Athos, and Porthos coaching and cautioning D’Artagnan on the duel he is about to partake in. Something that is outlawed. Shortly in, the authorities come charging in and eventually arrest D’Artagnan. This seems out of character for the group. And my suspicions were immediately raised when Porthos said, “he knows the code of the Musketeers, every man for himself”.
After a quick scolding, we find the Musketeers addressed in a much more cordial tone. The arrest of D’Artagnan was intentional. Not only that but the arrest had to be “sold” and believable. My interest is even more peaked with this revelation as it seems to be the first significant deviation from the original story. Look, the pilot was very solid. But the pilot was by most criteria, a 43 minute telling of the important details from any movie about this story you’ve ever seen. Musketeers doing what they do. A young kid comes to avenge his dead father. The Cardinal has a problem with the Musketeers. The King complies with the Cardinal’s wishes. Athos’ former love interest reveals herself. We’ve all seen it before, but it had to be said. And now we start a new path.
A quick but intriguing scene follows with D’Artagnan in jail with another man. This man is familiar. The rule of small character/big name should send off alarms in your head. Most of the actors in this show I am unfamiliar with. So when I spot one I’ve seen before, it’s not to be taken lightly. If you’re wondering his name is Jason Fleming. I am most familiar with his work as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in A League of Extraordinary Men. I’d like to think this is an important detail. Like he will be a long running character. However, I think it is too early in the series for such a character introduction.
The Musketeers three continue on selling the exaggeration of the truth about D’Artagnan. Getting Aramis slapped in the process.
Aramis: I love that in a woman…
During a periodic attempt to pardon some prisoners, D’Artagnan’s new friend and cell mate Vadim, has a different idea. A jailbreak with the Queen as armor. Once the Queen is secured, with Aramis stuck in a romantic gaze with her, D’Artagnan and his new friend escape free and clear. Athos and Treville are left to watch and wonder what exactly their newest recruit is up to. “D’Artagnan is proving he was the right man for the job.”-Athos.
Later in the Cardinal’s study, after Treville and Athos leave with the information that D’Artagnan may be in more danger than he knows, “Milady” emerges. She may just be the sultry vixen pulling the strings. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. She even takes a moment to illustrate just how easy it would be to win back D’Artagnan to the Cardinal. A skill that works on the Cardinal almost immediately.
Elsewhere, D’Artagnan faces the accusation that he may be more than he claims, a wanted man on the run. After looking into his eyes with the intent to harm, Vadim feels that he can trust D’Artagnan. The plan is to create a new France by eliminating both the King and Queen. Two actions that a Musketeer or an aspiring Musketeer would have a distinct problem with. Unless we’re talking about John Malkovich, he was just starved for revenge.
Gratuitous Aramis flirting with the wrong woman scene.
“She’s not a woman, she’s the Queen. Set your sights a little lower. For all our sakes.”-Porthos.
In a swift move, D’Artagnan is able to convince the third wheel that he was not out spying on the escaped cell mate, but visiting his “mistress”. Forced to prove they are acquainted, he kisses Constance while simultaneously conveys to her to send for Aramis. Then informs the miscreant that he will “need some time” (wink wink). All as a clever ploy to report what he knows about the plan to kill the King and Queen. And just like that, D’Artagnan goes from danger to safety back to danger again.
Milady emerges to do what she has planned to. Persuade him to side with the Cardinal and not the Musketeers. No decision is made before the Musketeers arrive. Back at the hideout, there is the unresolved issue of whether or not the bad guys can trust D’Artagnan. This is a lovely, yet typical, undercover story wearing the cloak of a 17th century France.
A plan is devised to remove the King and Queen from a public obligation. A plan that the King and Queen immediately rejected. Always smart that the royal family reject security precautions in favor of not appearing cowardly. Instead Treville and Athos spend time interviewing those on the grounds to get a better sense of Vadim (the cell mate) who consequently used to work for the royal family. Vadim has become quite taken with D’Artagnan. A miscalculation I assume he will pay for shortly.
Upon his departure, D’Artagnan passes along the map and plans for the assassination to Porthos waiting in the alley. Very Mission Impossible-esque. While the Musketeers debate the merits of striking early, there is a meeting inside. Lead by Vadim and marking the celebration of what is to come. Prior to the celebration kicking off, Vadim channels his inner Jesus, “Every man here, I trust like a brother. All except one. We have a traitor in our midst. Surprisingly they did not pull the typical move.
The typical move is the lead the viewer to someone who is actually loyal sparing our would be hero and mole. Creating a horrible reveal to the villain later. This time they root out the mole from the jump.
The Musketeers it seems, may have made the correct choice to strike early. However, if Vadim knew of D’Artagnan’s treachery, he probably gave him the wrong plan. Musketeers behind the eight ball again. Following the break, D’Artagnan discovers that he is tied to the massive amount of gun powder our Musketeers have been searching for the entire time.
At the King and Queen’s side during the public event, Vadim’s plan begins. A commotion is created and the Musketeers jump into action. Which is visually nice, but remember Vadim’s first scene. “The thing with any good trick is to get them to look the wrong way”. This is not a straight forward assassination attempt.
D’Artagnan escapes the gunpowder room but not cleanly. Right about the time the Musketeers close in on Vadim, the room blows. Catching all but Vadim off guard, who has clearly planned this out in every way. Vadim’s mistress is taken out by ‘Milady’ shortly after discovering that the stolen diamond was in her possession the whole time. Vadim crosses his own men killing one of them. And in a lovely ‘house of mirrors’ approach, D’Artagnan defeats Vadim in a sword fight by firelight. Wounded Vadim escapes momentarily just as the Musketeers catch up. Shortly thereafter the criminal is apprehended just before dying.
I think it is fair to assume that D’Artagnan has proven himself worthy of the Musketeers, and I imagine a formal induction should be on the horizon. Not to say all is well that ends well. The Cardinal still has plans to involve D’Artagnan. However, the decision will be his. Naturally, we already know which way he will side, which creates more story lines to follow. What is unseen is the presence through two episodes of any such over-arching storyline. Today was saving the King and Queen while stopping a criminal from a big score. But what is the big picture issue? If this is an episodic detective drama disguised in the appearance of a 17th century French period piece, if it is I will be more than significantly disappointed. We shall see.