This review contains spoilers.
Directed by John Strictland (from last week’s Keep Your Friends Close) and written by Pete McKenna (who also wrote the first series episode, Knight Takes Queen), An Ordinary Man is a step-up from last week’s so-so season opener bringing some much needed thrills and depth whilst also seeing the return of a first season favorite, Milady.
Somewhat surprisingly given her importance to last season’s overarching storyline, An Ordinary Man isn’t Milady’s story. It is however the King’s, who so often is given to being either the comic relief or simply a convenient character to order the Musketeers to go off on their adventures. I think Ryan Gage has done a great job of making his King Louis child-like but with a large dose of immaturity and spite that has created some sharp edges to his performance. At times both likeable and repugnant, it was always going to be interesting to see what would happen if we got to spend time with him away from his court. Seeing him outside his natural environment, his naivety and inability to grasp the danger was as expected, but in several of his responses to D’Artagnan and the glimpse of his fatherless childhood revealed him to be a more dangerous man than his fittings and courtly behaviour would suggest. Yes he may be immature, but he understands the power of his position even if he lacks the wisdom to use it. This was a good insight to the King and his inner Machiavelli, serving as a timely reminder of the threat he poses even to those who care for him the most.
The capture of the King may have been the central story, but it served as a catalyst for some well-thought out plotting. Warren’s Rochefort is better here than last week’s entertaining but a little-too-on-the-nose portrayal (for one, the manic stares have thankfully gone). It’s clear that Rochefort is no Richelieu, but then that would have only served to remind us of the Capaldi-sized hole they had to replace. Rochefort is written as being more direct in his strategy, but there’s nothing wrong in that as not every villain has to have Moriaty levels of intellect to be appreciated as worthy – indeed Rochefort’s more direct and physical nature and the manner in which Warren carries off his lies and subterfuge with an arrogance and visible smugness has already got me crying out for his comeuppance, which in my book is a good indicator of a well-played git.
As one villain is developing, we get reintroduced to a familiar face. There was never any doubt over Milady’s return, Maimie McCoy created a woman that was at times the Cardinal’s equal in both viciousness and cunning. However, with her relationship with Athos and D’Artagnan laid bare there was always a question of how she could return with the same level of threat. Yes, I was surprised that her return wasn’t important enough to be the primary story, or for it to be a last second sting to set up the next episode. However in the end her introduction was just right – serving to remind us of her ability to manipulate as well as perfectly establishing a reason to return to Paris. It’s good to have her back – and no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the episodes to come.
Apart from the strong ensemble performance and the good writing, why I think An Ordinary Man was one of the strongest Musketeers episodes is that at its heart it posed a question that gave some depth to the world in which these characters exists – what is honour and does it have worth? Now, I may be looking for meaning where there was no intention for there to be any (and please feel free to feedback below with your own thoughts!) However, the Musketeers are supposedly the epitome of honour, ideally an ‘updated’ version of the knights of old with their codes and loyalties. An Ordinary Man took their concept of honour and dismantled it, revealing an uncomfortable truth: should men of honour protect with their lives someone who doesn’t have any? Best seen in D’Artganan’s disbelief at Louis’ request to execute the man to whom he granted clemency, it was a clear indication that we’re dealing with a fallible ruler who rates personal satisfaction over that of justice. Having made Louis to be unpredictable and selfish, the show highlights the dichotomy of the Musketeers’ position and as such offers the opinion that honour is worthless when loyalty remains unquestioned.
I mentioned last week that one of The Musketeers‘ biggest problems was that because of the material, it’s unlikely that there’ll be significant character deaths and that caused an issue because the show needs something in order to create that tension and compulsion to watch. However there are other ways in which to damage the Musketeers, and by questioning the code that they follow and seeing their angst at the conflict in their beliefs is a smart way of creating interest that embraces the source material and scars the characters in a much more interesting way that by simple threats of violence that we know can only go so far. Again – and I might be looking for more than is actually there, but similar themes are explored in McKenna’s Knight Takes Queen (especially Aramis’ dalliance with the Queen) which leads me to think that there might just be something in it.
If this is a theme then it sets us up nicely for when that loyalty is questioned and honour becomes forgotten. Undoubtedly, Aramis is the prime candidate to take the first fall, after all it doesn’t seem like it’s going to take too much to forsake his honour for the sake of his – what we believe to be – son, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
So well done An Ordinary Man, I’m now really looking forward to seeing just how the dark they’re willing for the Musketeers to go…