This review contains spoilers.
2.3 The Good Traitor
Last week’s An Ordinary Man brought excitement and danger through some strong writing and performances, and could certainly be considered up there with the best the series has had to offer. It was a good example of how a Musketeers’ story can be told that reflects the excitement and adventure of the source material but in a manner that modern audiences would enjoy – exactly what we’ve been wanting from this adaptation. The question was of course – is this a one-off? Have they peaked early ? Well, in The Good Traitor the cast and writers have done an excellent job of picking up where An Ordinary Man left off – certainly being the equal in writing, performance and direction.
On the surface, there is a lot going on in The Good Traitor. Writers Adrian Hodges (showrunner) and Lucy Catherine (her first foray in The Musketeers) and director Marc Jobst (again a newcomer to The Musketeers but with extensive credits such as Silk, Waking The Dead and Casualty) have packed the episode to the gills with several overlapping storylines that, due to the sheer amount going on, just shouldn’t have worked. The fact it did, and worked well is all credit to them, but where they really won me over was that each storyline was equally compelling, fun and entertaining.
Tariq Alaman, played by the apparently ever-present Colin Salmon (you’ve got to wonder – what did more for his career, Strictly or Arrow?) was supposed to be the main storyline. In fact, on reflection, Alaman was actually the side show with the real, more impactful stories surrounding it. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘let’s rescue the daughter of a traitor and former enemy of France to get experimental gun powder’ plan has Musketeers written all over it. It also works very well in the episode itself, even with Salmon’s interesting Spanish accent, he did all the right things in the right places and made for a good, sympathetic character desperate to see his daughter (although some of his actions during the market scene are questionable good parenting skills…). However, it was a one-off story – with, I imagine, very limited impact on the series as a whole. Whereas, the other three main story elements, the King and Milady, the Queen and Rochefort as well as the illness of the Dauphin will have consequences that will play on well into the season and beyond.
Lets go back to the beginning though. That was a great opening with Rochefort. Warren’s performance has improved substantially from the season opener and those opening five minutes were so creepy that, well hell – the man has problems. That’s good though, I don’t want my villains to be of the slap-on-the-thigh and mustache twiddling sort – we didn’t get that with Capaldi and it’s good that we’re not going to get that with Warren. That added layer of perversity has made his subsequent scenes, especially those with the Queen, that much more tense. As with King Louis, we are getting to spend more time with Queen Anne, and although she is still very much the innocent of the company, her relationship with Rochefort puts this at such risk that it’s compulsive to see just what might happen.
Rochefort and the Queen was certainly an interesting development, but my favourite part of this week’s episode has to be King Louis and Milady. It was brilliant and fun to watch Louis be so easily seduced by Milady. Helped by great performances by both Ryan Gage and Maime McCoy, with the former starting to steal scenes left, right and centre, their story was surprising in that despite it being pretty clear what Milady wanted it was almost inconceivable that Louis would be so easily tempted – especially with the ongoing issues with his son. However, there the writers went, and it was great as it not only highlighted the King’s immaturity and dangerously unpredictable nature but also exposed his infidelity to the Queen (although from her comments about brothels in last week’s episode that may have been her expectation anyway). Now that Rochefort is doing his best Glenn Close impression, and with the Queen not averse to her own slip into infidelity, the King’s actions may well have ramifications when undoubtedly the Rochefort/Aramis/Queen Anne storyline comes crashing together. The big news is that Milady is properly back and not just on the sidelines. This season it would appear that she’s going to get front seats to all the action and likely with the King’s protection to boot. You almost feel sorry for the Musketeers for what’s likely to come.
The storyline I was originally least interested in – the events surrounding the Dauphin’s illess – actually turned out to be solid stuff. Okay, so the signposting for Constance to dive in and help was there from the start – but kidnapping the Dauphin was a little extreme and not entirely what I was expecting. Tamla Kari was consistently one of the best performers in the first season and it was going to be difficult with the break up between her and D’Artagnan to find her a suitable role and keep her in the mix. Bringing her close to the queen and into the Royal Court was a great move, and as we saw this week, can bring some life to even the most mundane of plotting. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, especially now she knows that Milady is back and close by.
It might appear that this week’s review has been a bit of a gush-a-thon, but I believe that The Good Traitor didn’t do much wrong at all. Apart from the good performances and writing, Jobst shot with some flair (as seen in the storming of the Spanish safe house and in the framing of the Porthos and Anthonia Thomas’ Samara conversations) and it just felt that the show had reached a new confidence with its storytelling that has been a little lacking in the series to date. As I mentioned earlier though, this was a show that largely relegated the Musketeers to the background (although I recognise that The Good Traitor tried to give Porthos a little more to do, but compared to Rochefort or Milady, it still wasn’t much), and pushed what we consider to be the supporting cast to the forefront.
What we didn’t bank on was that the supporting cast could be just as, or even more interesting that the Musketeers themselves. This also gives us a more interesting palette because although the Musketeers will never die, they will also always have to be the good guys. (I know that’s the point but it doesn’t always make for good viewing.) Shows like The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones succeed so well because that their concept of good and evil is blurred – hell, even the kids in those shows are multifaceted characters whose innocence is qualified in shades of grey. By drawing attention to the non-Musketeers it allows for a more nuanced and less digital approach and has some fun with our expectations. The bottom line is that Milday, Rochefort and now even the Royals have become far more interesting and entertaining characters to be with that the any of the Musketeers, and I’m not sure if they’ll try to readjust the balance – I’m actually not sure if I actually care as at the moment it’s just good fun to watch.
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