The Musketeers series 1 finale review: Musketeers Don’t Die Easily

The Musketeers rounds off its first series with a satisfying finale...

This review contains spoilers.

1.10 Musketeers Don’t Die Easily

So here we are, the end of The Musketeers‘ first season. It’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the most even of rides, the quality dipped noticeably during the mid-season, but overall the series has given us enough thrills and excitement that getting to the end has been an enjoyable and at times fun journey rather than a chore. In fact, Sunday evenings will feel decidedly more grey without the colourful adventures of the Musketeers and the early renewal for a second season now feels like a good move by the Beeb rather than the risk it so easily could have been.

The real question is – did it stick the landing? In many ways Musketeers Don’t Die Easily is representative of this first season; at times it was great, at times it lost its way but it was generally good value throughout.

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Musketeers Don’t Die Easily picks up the threads left by last week’s foiled assassination of the Queen, albeit after a period of some months. The Cardinal needs to cover his tracks and by so doing sets Milady the titular task of killing the Musketeers. Putting aside the fact that in seventeenth century France you probably could quite easily kill four Musketeers, the story combines betrayal, conspiracy and subterfuge to defeat Milady, expose the Cardinal and be home in time for tea and medals.

The façade of D’Artagnan turning against the Musketeers worked well, and despite the obvious nature of the ploy, it was a little disappointing to see it being dropped so early in the episode. However, the overall pace and sense of consequence gave the episode some of the weight that’s been sorely missing at other times in the series. This did feel like a season’s final episode and the stakes were appropriately upped.

This was Milady’s episode and Maimie McCoy is finally brought out of the shadows to takes a central and direct role in the proceedings. The series has carefully developed her relationship with the Cardinal and we much better appreciate the threat that he represents to her life. Filling in a little of her background worked well, we understand the lengths she has to go in order to protect what she has but it also gives her an injection of sympathy without which Athos’ final judgement would seem completely inappropriate.

Musketeers Don’t Die Easily therefore represents a good, but not wholly satisfying conclusion on her season’s involvement (I don’t quite buy that we’ve seen the last of her). McCoy has consistently done well to mix seduction, innocence and violence into what could be so easily a pantomime villain. In many ways she is the Cardinal’s most direct weapon, and if anyone could kill the Musketeers you would believe she could.

That’s where the story lets her down, because instead of doing it herself – and we certainly know that she’s both capable of the planning and the action – she goes to someone who is everything she is not, brutish and direct, i.e. the exact kind of person who would find it difficult to kill the Musketeers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to see Sean Pertwee pop up but he was playing the role that Vinnie Jones played a couple of episode back, that of the generic bad guy with the penchant for violence. Having taken this route, it never really felt like the Musketeers were in any danger and so the episode was a little light on tension, especially towards the end. I also feel that we sold short on her final scenes, I get that letting her go was an ideal and somewhat easy way to leave the door open for her possible return, but even with the little sympathy we might have felt, it robbed us of any satisfaction that she was going to be held to account for her actions,.

I was also surprised that with everything else going on in the episode they went as far as they did with exposing the Cardinal’s plot to the Queen. Despite the quality of the four Musketeer leads, Capaldi continues to steal most scenes and his realisation that he’d be duped by D’Artagnan was easily one of the most satisfying of the series. However, in some ways it – like Milady’s last scene, felt a little short and almost trivial. Here was the man who had plotted and killed for his own advancement and yet when finally exposed the Queen is content to have him know she’s watching. For a man like the Cardinal I’m not sure that’s a threat that he should be all that worried about, indeed, the seeds sown at the episode’s close would make it appear likely that the Cardinal will soon be very much back on top. There were times throughout the season that the Cardinal was made to be more of a bystander than a key antagonist, and that’s okay if you have others equally as nuanced and threatening but looking back, that wasn’t the case. So for the Cardinal not to have had a larger presence seems wasteful, especially with such a talent as Capaldi. That aside, he has been great in the role and his absence in the next series will be very sorely felt.

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The Musketeers, as characters, have acquitted themselves well throughout the series, and although Musketeers Don’t Die Easily may have not had them quite at their wittiest or most thrilling, it was still a fine showcase for an ensemble that have developed impressive charm and camaraderie. D’Artagnan comes off the best and the on and off again relationship with Constance was handled well. It was a nice surprise to see that the show-runners had decided to end the relationship on such an unhappy note rather than go for the more clichéd and predicable option. Again, there’s certainly more to come in the next season and as long as they follow the same careful development it should make for interesting viewing rather than descend into a bad soap pastiche.    

Musketeers Don’t Die Easily aptly fulfils its role as a season finale, it tied up some outstanding plots whilst creating a few more for the season to come. Whilst not the best (my vote goes to A Rebellious Woman) it certainly wasn’t the worst (step forward The Homecoming) it ends what has been generally good season, maybe not in the most emphatic way, but certainly in a satisfying one.

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Knight Takes Queen, here.

Series one of The Musketeers is now available on DVD.

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