This review contains spoilers.
3.10 We Are The Garrison
So here we are, the end of both the third series and the show. It’s been a funny old run, never quite meeting the dramatic highs of the second nor the freshness of the first, but that’s not to say it didn’t have its moments. It is somewhat fitting that We Are The Garrison reflects the series as a whole – it ticks all the boxes but does so in a somewhat workmanlike manner. It’s a fitting end to the show – good, mostly satisfying but lacking that certain something that would set it distinctly apart.
It was fantastic to see the Musketeers being placed unequivocally front and centre. All four actors embraced their final moments in these characters and each shone. Writer and showrunner Simon Allen has done a good job to ensure that no one is short-changed in the final act, although for me the stand out moment was a small one (they so often are, aren’t they) with the Musketeers bantering with Athos about his impending fatherhood. Sandwiched between scenes of significant tension it at first seemed out of place, but actually offered a rare glimpse of what we hoped these characters were like when they’re not performing heroic deeds or chasing down villains. It’s something that a writer like Joss Whedon might do as a matter of course, and here it truly shines. I would normally say at this point, ‘more like this please’, but instead it offers a glimpse of perhaps what had been missed in the preceding episodes and indeed series.
However there was an equally startling small scene that in some ways betrayed what the Musketeers represent. As they go in to rescue Sylvie from Grimauld and Marcheaux they go forward stating the need for no etiquette, no mercy, no rules and no honour. Excuse me? When it really gets tough, they give up the very things they stand for – the essence of what sets them apart from everybody else and what it means to be a Musketeer. For me those thirty seconds threatened to undermine the entire episode and did a great deal of damage to the series, not just because it is said, butbecause of the flippant way in which it’s said. No ruminations on what part of their soul will be lost, no deep discussion on how this betrays their inner values, not even a look of inner reflection (what I would have given for a look of inner reflection!). No – it was a simple toss everything aside and lets crack on – and that for me was truly gutting.
What of Grimauld? Well despite the showrunners protesting that in this season there was no single ‘big bad’, there quite obviously was – and that was Grimauld. As I mentioned last week, Grimauld’s development has not been a kind one. He’s gone from an evil force of nature to glorified henchman to bargain basement schemer to, well, someone with a point to prove. He started as an interesting dark force in the Musketeers world and ended it a pale imitation of the cunning of Capaldi’s Richelieu and the psychotic force of Warren’s Rochefort. It was because of his diminishing as a bad guy that those final scenes seemed robbed of tension. Look back to Rochefort and his comeuppance and there’s a much deeper resonance and elation over his demise. But in this season Grimauld was certainly the all-in bet, as Gaston, Marcheaux and even the Barons didn’t really have anything else to offer except single-note villainy and playground bullying. Feron was by far the most interesting of the lot and we lost him in episode six.
The rest of the supporting cast do come out of this, and the whole series, reasonably well. Anne, Constance and Sylvie all have their part to play, although it’s still a little galling to think back to the second series finale and see how Tamla Kari has been largely discarded this season. Being happily married to d’Artagnan was obviously of no interest to the writers and I get the feeling that there simply wasn’t sufficient room for both her and Sylvie. In some ways I wish they would have chosen one or the other as both ultimately suffered.
Which brings me onto Milady. What a waste. If you share my thoughts on the weakness of Grimauld, you might agree with me there. Milady has consistently been one of the shining lights of this show yet to bring her in and tease her in Prisoners Of War only for her to be clearly an afterthought in this episode felt criminal. That’s not to say that the thought of the Queen controlling the person with whom the King had so publicly romped doesn’t have some ring of justice about it. But her dispatching of Gaston in such a plain manner belittled all that she’s done in the past. Perhaps her reappearance was intended as fan service. If so, this fan sorely wishes they hadn’t bothered.
So as a finale it was suitably grand, there were great explosions, excitement, dangers, peril , action and all the other words you would want associated with a show called The Musketeers. It ticked the boxes and left me satisfied that this was indeed the end. However, the actual ending had far too much sweetness and light. Indeed, I think those final five minutes dominated the whole structure of this episode because the compelling plot was for the Musketeers to beat the bad guys, save the city and ride off into the sunset. Such was the compulsion to finish in this manner that we get Elodie return to marry Porthos which makes no sense at all (which shows just how Porthos suffered this season in the character focus and development stakes), Sylvie’s inconvenient pregnancy (because how else is perma-grump Athos going to be happy), the complete reversal of Anne’s promise to Louis over Aramis which all together, sets up d’Artagnan to take up the captaincy of the Musketeers – the perfect twee book-end to the first ever episode
A quality ending of course can be happy – not everything dark is automatically good, but this wasn’t just a happy ending, it was an easy ending. If there’s one overriding criticism of this series is that time after time the show has taken the easy route – and its ultimate ending exemplifies that approach. The blame could lay anywhere but The Musketeers had enough excellent moments to want to take more of a risk on what it was and what it could have been. The BBC’s attitude was obviously to dump it, such has been the mess of its scheduling. If however they had been bold and kept to what they envisaged – an adult, modern take on the Musketeers then maybe it would have found a more sustaining audience. To be clear I don’t think that this has anything to do with budgets or indeed writing (the resources and quality were obviously there). No, the flaw here was a lack of sustained vision and a somewhat timid approach to a post-watershed series that felt at times as if it was a Saturday tea time show.
Will The Musketeers be remembered fondly? Perhaps, although the more damning question is, will it even be remembered? With a little more daring this show could have been a jewel in the BBC’s crown. Instead, I’ll think back on it as ambitious, well-cast and with a handful of great episodes but rarely reaching its potential. How about you?
Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, The Prize, here.