This review contains spoilers.
3.5 To Play The King
If we can but hope that last week’s The Queen’s Diamonds was this season at its lowest, then at least To Play The King shows some improvement, but unfortunately is still some way short of the quality of those opening few episodes and the series as a whole.
Written by Ellen Taylor (who is credited with many, many Coronation Street episodes as well as other British staples like Casualty), the story has a solid central plot and one I don’t think we’ve seen in The Musketeers before – a good, old fashioned heist. Except, it’s not just that. With unfortunate echoes of last week’s overstuffed mess, To Play The King treads a similar path and fills the hour to its absolute max, but at least hits more than it misses.
So what else went on? Well, there’s Sylvie’s continued sedition, the King’s compulsion to put on the best birthday party ever, the Queen’s loneliness, a mad prisoner and general grumping by Feron and Grimauld. It works better than last week because it’s much more tightly bound by the central heist plot and the King’s failing health with the tone far more consistent peppered with moments of well-acted tragedy.
Following in the footsteps of James Callis’ scene stealer, Bonnaire, this week’s standout was Stephen Walters’ Borel. If ever there was a part that could have easily teetered into total ‘hamming’, it was this. However, Walter’s plays the schizophrenic nature of his character with a cool refinement that adds to his unpredictability which in turn adds to his menace. I was honestly surprised where we went with this character and for once the distraction from the main plot worked well. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shouting at d’Artagnan not to leave him with the nuns. It even served to add to the overarching storyline as it exposed the King’s raw distrust for his wife and dislike for Aramis and gave some much needed depth to the Queen’s loneliness (although in all fairness despite all the gooey romance stuff, she did cheat on him and the child on which he now dotes is not his, so it’s not exactly an unfair reaction!). The one area of doubt was that I wasn’t entirely sure where Borel’s seeming psychic ability was coming from – maybe repeated viewings will make it clearer.
So what of the heist itself? It was a bit pants really. After the initial excitement of ‘it’s a heist episode!’, you soon realise that there is only so much time you can spend with Grimauld being errand boy to the locksmith before you realise that’s as exciting as it’s going to get. Inside Man this is not. Grimauld even gets outwitted by giving up his shot – and with it, my hopes of him being the great villain of the series are being slowly eroded. It’s not that he’s being sidelined, but whereas the relationship between him and Feron had an interesting dynamic to begin with they’ve almost lapsed into ‘boss and henchman territory’, which is a shame because I expected him to be a much more ominous threat to the Musketeers. I’d like to think his chance to shine, (or whatever the bad guy equivalent is…) will still come.
Feron’s treatment is also interesting. I do like the way that they’ve made him a very real villain. He makes mistakes, he’s physically weak, his outlook is always ambivalent but he remains a vicious, conniving and cold-hearted murderer. I wasn’t too sure with Everett’s portrayal in the opening episode as the line of pantomime villain was often crossed, but once settled he gives a uniformly great performance. There’s a ‘but’, of course, because for all his skulduggery I don’t feel the ominous presence in the same way I did with Richelieu or Rochefort. However, it’s possible that in moving away from the single ‘big bad’ the showrunners wanted something different from Feron – I suppose with only five episodes to go, we’ll find out.
Whilst on that, it has been disappointing that we’ve still yet to achieve that much darker tone, with the Musketeers generally on their knees as was promised for this third and final season. In fact, life is looking pretty rosy for them, in a Seventeenth Century France kind of way. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm… but they better hurry up.
This week would have been a thumbs down episode if it wasn’t for the last five minutes. The end pulled it out of the bag for me as not only did we get that great, crestfallen look from the Queen when she realised that the King will never forget past indiscretions, but we also got the standoff with Borel and then Athos finding Sylvie and then that great finish with Grimauld’s menancing vow. It was a excellent end to a distinctly average – and at times, below average – episode.
Is this where I wanted The Musketeers to be half-way through in their final season? Not really, no. We were promised darkness, and an emotional slog for our heroes – we haven’t got that yet – and that ‘yet’ I think is all in those last few minutes. The show can’t waste any more time in setting up the pieces, it must get on with knocking them down before a triumphant – or maybe tragic end, but a good one regardless.