This review contains spoilers.
3.3 Brother In Arms
Let’s start with a complaint. Three episodes into this final series of The Musketeers and this is the third completely new time slot. Even with interference from football and news events, that feels disrespectful to fans and not indicative of a show wanting to go out on a high but rather something being hurried off the BBC’s schedules. It’s a shame because Brother In Arms in a step up from last week’s The Hunger and demonstrates that The Musketeers deserves to be shown a little more respect.
Simon Allen takes over writing duties from Simon Ashford as this week we see The Musketeers come to grips with Louis’ brother Gaston, grapple with their consciences and do some basic derring-do. However, that doesn’t even get close to the revelation of the week: King Louis is dying from the White Plague (tuberculosis, for those that care). Wow. That came from nowhere, but is a welcome surprise that adds much and explains even more.
But let’s return to the beginning with that great introduction of Gaston. We were told at the start that this year there wouldn’t be one ‘big bad’ but several that have interweaving relationships. So it’s nice to see that Gaston poses a different kind of threat to the Musketeers, not one of violence or even manipulation but something far more base, he offers cowardly spite and vitriol from a position of apparent untouchability (come on – we all hate those!). Although he ends up in the Bastille I’m assuming his part is not quite done and I think Andre Flynn does a great job playing him and it’ll be good to see just where he goes and what upset he can cause the Musketeers.
That’s the aspect I’m most impressed with this series, this layering of the threat, because it’s difficult to see where the body blows will come. The past two seasons have been obvious in that the show naturally leads up to a final showdown, so it’s refreshing to see a different approach. Plus we can’t forgot that Milady-shaped hole, surely her reappearance can’t be all that far away.
Brother In Arms also improves over The Hunger’s clunky and too on-the-nose refugee crisis nod. Rather than centre the story on a particular issue, it explores an appropriately meaningful theme and does it pretty well. The overriding question of the episode is what do you do when your principles are compromised, something which is of great significance to a team where honour is everything. Here the Musketeers had to directly face the challenges of defending the cowardly and guilty against loyalty and honour. The Musketeers were in an intractable position, but it was good to see the torment and their barely disguised disgust with the person to whom they have sworn to protect. None of this was played directly, but as a consequence of the story, which added value rather than being obstructive. It also made for a thrilling end because it made the decision for the Musketeers to fire on the Red Guard all that more digestible.
This week there were a couple of nice, smaller moments that added much, especially to longer time fans of the show. D’Artagnan’s head-over-heart moment during his mentoring was a good reflection on how far he’s come – as was Athos’ silent recognition. In fact, in just ten seconds that quick but meaningful interaction demonstrates the strength of the show because as an audience we get it. We don’t need a longwinded explanation, just a nod – a look and a wry smile. This is also reflected in the reunion between Aramis and the Queen, which was both touchingly performed and nicely written. Again a somewhat quick and understated meeting played with some deep overtones that didn’t require overstuffed dialogue.
The surprise of the week definitely goes to Ryan Cage’s Louis, who I had felt was becoming a little too comical for the tone of the show. Now everything is clear and it was good to see that despite his buffoonery there is a person who cares about his friends and is capable of making decisions (albeit bad ones) when the times comes. Louis’ confession to Treville was his best moment of the show by far (not to mention a great reaction from Speer). Putting this death sentence over the King is also a great move for the show because it will provide momentum and ups the stakes significantly as surely the villains will want to make sure they’re appropriately positioned.
This was also another good ensemble episode for the Musketeers. Whereas in the first two series there were times when we struggled to see them as ‘that’ team, it’s much easier to see how and why they would be there for each other.
It wasn’t such a good episode for Constance, although her timing at the end could be said to be far too much on the convenient side of opportune. With the introduction and machinations of the villains both Constance and the Queen have largely taken a back seat. I’m not particularly upset by that as I would imagine their stories are yet to come, although I have to say I think the balance is just about right as the bad guys are currently far more interesting.
With action, drama with some really nice moments for good measure, Brother In Arms ticks all the right boxes and is what you want at this point in the series – a promise of disaster and menace that should, hopefully, cause the Musketeers pain and anguish that will make for some thrilling episodes ahead.
Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, The Hunger, here.