The Musketeers episode 5 review: The Homecoming

Has The Musketeers bitten off more than it can chew with its latest raft of social issues? Here's Rob's review of episode 5...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 The Homecoming

Post the BAFTA-inflicted break, it was back to business with The Musketeers in their latest offering, The Homecoming, written by show runner Adrian Hodges. Already at its mid-season point, the show has done well to inject some flair and freshness into an old tale by taking stylistic risks whilst remaining respectful to its source. The Homecoming should therefore present little risk, especially with the talent behind the camera,  to the established formula – indeed, with Porthos’ turn as ‘Musketeer of the Week’ it should represent an opportunity to hit a high, with Charles’ portrayal by far the most charismatic and strongest of the four swordsmen.

Porthos, after being arrested for a murder following an evening of which he has no recollection, is rescued by his childhood friends and taken to the Court of Miracles, a hive of thieves and beggars that has already caught the eye of both the Cardinal and King as a place that Paris could do without. Whilst Porthos is getting reacquainted with some of his old pals, the other three Musketeers attempt to clear his name by finding the real murderer. If that reads a little like a strange seventeenth century mash-up of The Hangover and An Innocent Man then you may think that The Homecoming’s problem’s may be one of tone, but unfortunately that’s the least of its issues.  

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Despite its intended focus on Porthos, The Homecoming has the feel of a mystery/detective story above all else – the problem is that it also covers some other pretty significant themes. Much like the misjudged light touch given to slavery in The Musketeers‘ third episode, Commodities, The Homecoming sees throw-outs to the undercurrent of resentment to the wealthy elite and the poor, racism and issues of religion. These are meaty issues, and you could argue that they have little place in a series that has won many people over through its one-liners and sword play and there is little doubt that this, as well as the interaction between the Musketeers is where the show’s real heart is. However, there has been persistent intent to throw more weighty issues into the fray, almost as if it has to justify its 9pm timeslot.

At times The Musketeers does succeed – you only have to look at the previous episode’s exploration of loyalty and justice to demonstrate that it can be more than witty lines and banter – but arguably that particular example worked because that was a theme closest to what The Musketeers represents. The Homecoming’s  treatment of these issues are perhaps knowingly throwaway in that the plot eventually boils down to one of simply blowing things up and therefore could be considered nothing more than a writer’s ruse – think Clue’s ‘Communism was just a red herring’ line. Regardless of the reason, the balance between The Homecoming’s humour, action and these significant themes means that the episode suffers tonally, and with it the audience’s attention on what should have been the central focus of fleshing out of Porthos’ character.  

So let’s get straight to it. Porthos, the clear early favourite as the most charismatic of the Musketeers should have had a better story. We learn that he was brought up in the Court of Miracles, seemingly ran with thieves and then wanted to get away from it all. There’s not that much there in the way of detail, in fact it’s almost like he’s a bit-player in his own story with the focus very much on the ‘who did it’. It’s certainly fine to leave aspects purposefully vague, but when the other three have had seemingly much more attention paid to their individual stories it does seem strange that he suffers in comparison. Similarly tarnished by this approach was the attention paid to the Court of Miracles itself. Little was done to distinguish the area from the rest of Paris, and for what should have been an environment littered with interesting characters the rather uncharismatic Charon (Ashley Walters) and his lady Flea (Fiona Glascott) are given too little to do within their allotted clichés. Without anyone to take and throw back his banter, Porthos similarly suffers by being given little to do but to wait for the other Musketeers to jump through the appropriate hoops. It’s a huge waste of a character and actor that has consistently been great.

So with the Porthos back-story a bit of a dud, it’s good that we have a solid bit of detecting to see us through. For the most part it does work well, and despite its rather linear approach the detective threesome of Athos, Aramis and D’Artagnan is quite entertaining to watch. Where it fails is in the final hurdle. I was hoping that the ‘chance’ conversation at the beginning between the Cardinal and the King was unrelated to the plot – otherwise what’s the point of the mystery if we’ve already know this is just the Cardinal being the Cardinal. Perhaps I got distracted, like the Musketeers, by the religious red herring which was more interesting then what appears to be a very straight forward plot by the Cardinal to simply deal with a problem by blowing things up.

This is where I think the show has taken the most risk. At the moment, the Cardinal is being played as the Dr. Claw to the Musketeers’ Inspector Gadget in that he’s behind everything, pretty much everyone knows that the case, but each week we go through variations on the same theme. After a while, and without any go-go gadget swords, I fear that this might get a little stagnant. Apart from anything else, why waste such a talent as Capaldi on a Cardinal that held such promise in the opening episode but has subsequently faded to the background. There is some hope, with the Musketeer-centric episodes now out of the way, that the rest of the season can concentrate on developing both the Cardinal and Milady into something far more memorable.

One final moan that for me ruined the episode more than anything else. Emile de Mauvoisin kills his son and then Porthos stumbles upon them. Why did Emile think that the best approach was to leave both men in the street instead of killing Porthos and keeping the bodies out of sight until after the plot was carried out? The arrest of Porthos and his return to the Court has no impact on Emile’s scheme other than substantially increasing the risk of exposure. Even if Emile had just left his son there would be unwanted attention on the family, which is presumably just what you want when you are on a secret mission from the Cardinal about to commit multiple atrocities.  

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This exemplifies the messiness within The Homecoming, an episode that had great potential but falls well short of the heights reached by earlier episodes. Just a mid-season slump? I hope so, especially as the show’s renewal for a second season shows that the Beeb must have some faith in what’s to come. 

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, The Good Soldier, here.

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