The Musketeers episode 6 review: The Exiles

Tara Fitzgerald guest stars in this week's politically themed episode of The Musketeers...

This review contains spoilers.

1.6 The Exiles

After last week’s disappointingly weak instalment, The Musketeers sees both a change in focus and pace in this week’s episode, The Exiles. Gone is the emphasis on fleshing out the Musketeers’ back stories, and in its place a political thriller involving a King with mum issues, a King’s mum with king issues and finally – but no means least, a Musketeer with attachment issues.

Despite now being de-shackled from delving into the Musketeers’ past, the plot itself doesn’t break any new ground. The King’s mother, Marie de Medici, risks execution by returning to her son after apparent attempts on her life. Elsewhere, D’Artagnan and Aramis are charged with the safe escort of a mother, her son and a priest to the Cardinal for reasons unknown. Not too much times passes before both stories come together as Marie plots to overthrow Louis by revealing the son of his previously unknown deformed, but with a heart of gold, elder twin. Throw in some running and shooting, some romance and some mild peril and that was pretty much the episode done.

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There were highlights, and despite the strange circumstances of the child’s birth, Amy Nuttall’s performance as the child’s mother was certainly one. Where she could so easily have strayed into OTT land, she’s plays her grief for the loss of her child and the love she had for Phillip with an innocence and compulsion that belies the contrived nature of the plot. This is spoilt somewhat by Aramis’ strange, out of nowhere,  attraction to Agnes which, although never comes to fruition, is not in keeping with the character’s past dalliances. If this was to prove that despite his reputation with the ladies, all Aramis is after is true love, I would say that we’ve missed a chapter in his development somewhere along the way. Remember the opening episode and his tryst with the Cardinal’s mistress, remember his flirtation with the Queen, remember where he regretted all this? The first two – yes, the last – not so much. Although not a huge problem in itself, it felt an unnecessary distraction as his appreciation of Agnes’ story and sympathy with her plight were already enough to convince. I’ve mentioned (grumbled) before about how The Musketeers seems hell bent to put some heavy drama into the each episode – here it just wasn’t needed.

On the flip side, I so wanted Marie de Medici to be somebody who could really push the Cardinal into being the evil, scheming git we all want him to be, but although Fitzgerald (who looked far too young to be Louis’ mum) excelled at the refrained malice there was always a sense that hers was a plan devoid of any real backing. Maybe if we’d seen some of the so-called soldiers surrounding Paris we would have got a much better idea of the scale and therefore the threat she posed. With just her and her protector/lover Vincent (Simon Merrells) the whole ‘lets overthrow the King’ line felt a bit weak.

This was certainly part of a larger problem with The Exiles. Having gone through the back stories, to go for a political plot would seem like a good idea, and a change in pace could add freshness. The problem is, a political storyline is only really interesting if there’s some intrigue and mystery to throw at the audience. The Exiles’ twists and turns were so obviously signposted within the opening few minutes that it was disappointing to find the story had nowhere else to go. This, more than any other episode to date, was crying out to be a two-parter where more time could have been given to building towards Marie’s arrival and her subterfuge, which in turn would have provided for a more interesting character and powerful ending.

One character that got more attention than perhaps he should have, was the King himself. Ryan Gage has to date played Louis with an overriding sense of naivety that elicits the right balance of sympathy and indifference that enables us to understand the Musketeers’ compulsion to defend as well as their, at times, defiance with authority. However, in The Exiles, we saw a different side of the King, his naivety was stretched into childishness and immaturity that seemed immediately at odds with what had been portrayed before. Perhaps this was an attempt to show just how damning an effect his mother had on him, but if so, it was clumsily done with the King appearing clownish and unlikeable – qualities that I’m sure any Musketeer would find hard to defend.  

Which leaves the Cardinal. Surely an episode rooted in the political would be prime territory for Capaldi’s Cardinal to strut his stuff. However, yet again we’re left with the Cardinal as barely a passive observer, and although I liked the scene where the Cardinal silently weighs up his options in whether to join Marie, there’s never any sense that he’s taken command of the situation. I’ve said it before, and The Exiles certainly hasn’t changed my mind – Capaldi is becoming tragically wasted in a role that he is perfect for.

That’s not to say The Exiles didn’t have other good points. I continue to like the way in which the relationship is developing between D’Artagnan and Constance. The writers are seemingly being very patient in the pay-off which surely can’t be too far away and as such episode by episode we’re no longer trying to ignore the infidelity to come, but rooting for it. Similarly, when the Musketeers are together, their easy banter and natural chemistry continue to be enjoyable to watch, although it’s a shame that for this week it was largely left in the background.  

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So yes – marginally better than last week, but this is starting to feel like filler until the return of Milady or the D’Artagnan/Constance relationship bubbles over,  or – and here’s wishful thinking – the Cardinal mans up and causes the Musketeers some real problems. 

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

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