If you’re reading this than maybe you, like me, felt a Musketeer-shaped hole in the Beeb’s New Year line-up. Fortunately, there was no need to fear cancellation as it was always going to be a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’ as filming of the forthcoming season had been no secret. The question was, despite the wait, was this season going to be better than the last (which was pretty decent by anyone’s standards) and how were the showrunners going to keep things fresh?
Based on episode one of the new run, I can say with some confidence that the show seems to have grown in all the right ways.
It opens big and picks up from where the last season finished (albeit four years later in ‘show time’). War is upon France and the Spanish are getting the upper hand. Absolutely no time is lost in finding our heroes on the battlefield and it probably doesn’t spoil anything by saying that they acquit themselves well and in true Musketeer fashion. During this battle events throw the Musketeers against a new villain and start them along a new path with some old friends.
Without spoiling any story elements, you could characterise this episode by its need to tie up loose ends, reacquaint everyone with the characters and then introduce some new villains to set up the rest of the season. It does every single one of those things perfectly well, even if the result feels a little workmanlike, battle scenes aside. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a very entertaining hour of television but by the nature of the purpose, its ambition is somewhat…constrained.
It appears that The Musketeers’ showrunners (now plural after creator Adrian Hodges left at the end of season two with Simon Allen and Simon Ashford picking up the reins) and writers have been listening to a few fan concerns. Danger, tension, uncertainty are all traits that any adventure show should have. However, because the characters in The Musketeers are so well known it’s difficult to put them into any peril without feeling a little overconfident that all will be well in the end. The problem with invulnerable characters is of course the action surrounding them becomes largely meaningless no matter how much peril you’re going to put them in (and unlike the DC shows that kill and maim their way through their supporting cast to inflict a different kind on pain on their leads, the full Musketeers cast still seems pretty safe).
For series three, we’re assured that the writers have specifically addressed this, promising that it will be darker (read – much, much darker) and make the audience feel truly worried for these beloved characters. Those who’ve read the books know that not all ends well for some of them, so maybe the show will take more inspiration from its source?
The writers have also addressed the problem with, as they put it, the ‘end-of-level bad guy’. Each season has had a big bad, with a slow-burn build to the final confrontation. This time they have multiple villains which overlap, interact and generally do very bad things to the Musketeers. Having seen some of them in action it’s clear that there are most certainly troubling times ahead, and I’m sure the show will benefit from it.
Finally, this is the last series. The previous two have done an amazing job of breathing life into an old idea, whilst still remaining true to the spirit of what the Musketeers should be. I have a sneaking suspicion that this run might just knock it out of the park, if for nothing else, a definitive ending and closure raises the stakes, not to mention the entertainment value.
No matter how it ends, for now it’s good to have The Musketeers back on screen, and in a season premiere that has it pretty much nailed.
The Musketeers series 3 starts on Saturday the 28th of May at 9.30pm on BBC One.