The Musketeers episode 3 review: Commodities

Review Rob Kemp 2 Feb 2014 - 22:00

The Musketeers delves further into Athos' past in episode three. Here's Rob's review of Commodities...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 Commodities

Commodities sees The Musketeers head in a different direction from its opening episodes. With style, characters and setting largely established it is perhaps unsurprising that writer Adrian Hodges decided to add some darker layers to what had been up to now, the very bright personalities of the Musketeers themselves. The series has won a lot of people over with its fun and adventurous take on this well-loved story, any departure – especially so soon in the season – could therefore be considered risky. The question is, will the change win over those critics who wanted a little more drama with their swashbuckling?

On first glance, Commodities’ opening would appear no different, stylistically speaking, than those that have come before it. Heavy on the action and humour, light on the drama with a good introduction to the episode's main protaganist, the interesting and well-played (by Battlestar Galatica’s James Callis) Bonnair. He’s a significantly different player than last week’s  Vadim. Cunning, and cowardly, but interestingly shallow, Bonnaire presents a character which is the antithesis of the Musketeers themselves. The opening ten minutes certainly sets this stage, with the episode poised to play out like a road trip filled with hijinks and mayhem as the Musketeers escort Bonnaire to see the King.

It was at this point that Commodities swerves into more dramatic territory, and that’s unfortunate because I think I could have quite happily watched the version of this episode that had that hijinks and mayhem. That’s not to say that the drama was particularly bad and normally I would applaud any attempt to focus on characterisation. Here, though, it feels shoe-horned and deliberate. An example? The coincidence that Athos’ ‘home’ was just by the farm in which Porthos was injured was a little too on the nose. Another example? The fact the Milady knew exactly where and when to find Athos, (France is a big country, but it’s even a bigger country when you don’t have phones or cars).

Commodities meanders between the mystery of Athos’ background, his relationship with Milady and the reveal that Bonnaire is a slaver – to which Porthos takes particular umbrage. Both have the potential to bring a depth that the Musketeers has yet to show, but shoved together and bookended by the Musketeers' more typical brand of adventure made for an uneven, and schizophrenic mix.

No one element comes out well. Athos, the only Musketeer to get any substantial screen time or development, is good at the brooding and remorse. However, when faced with Milady – and the realisation that he’s been lied to, denied the justice he’s sought (and paid for with the aforementioned brooding and remorse) and having his family home set on fire, his capitulation makes little sense. Likewise, the highlighting of slavery, and Porthos’ connection with it goes nowhere except that it’s bad but not illegal. The manner in which it’s dealt has all the delicacy of a crowbar and only really serves to give Porthos and Bonnaire something to do whilst Athos is brooding elsewhere, (did I already mention that Athos broods a lot in this episode?).

Athos was certainly the winner in term of development and screen time, with the rest of the cast largely relegated to the background. Even Charles’ Porthos, whose one-liners have lit up previous episodes, was limited to scowling and some handbag fighting with Bonnaire. Special mention must be made to Anna Skellern’s punchy and lively portrayal of Maria Bonnaire. In many ways it was a shame that she had to die, as hers was a character that seemed a perfect fit within the Musketeer world and her ability to outthink and outwit D’Artagnan surely had legs. However, as I’ve already alluded, this episode wasn’t about fun, this was all about the brooding and the scowling and unfortunately Commodities paid the price accordingly.

Was this then the Musketeers being too ambitious too early? I don’t think so, the time was definitely right to start to explore the characters and the relationships that will undoubtedly dominate as the season continues. However, the sudden emphasis on the dramatic was just too obvious a stylistic change and just didn’t flow as well as previous episodes.

I’m not that worried though, as plots become revealed, relationships boil over and swords get crossed there’ll be plenty more opportunities for the Musketeers to hit their more (and hopefully, better) dramatic strides. 

Read Rob's review of the previous episode, Sleight Of Hand, here.

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