The Musketeers: 301 “Spoils of War” Review
Reviewed by Lewis Hurst.
The Musketeers has finally returned to UK television screens, after BBC made the confusing decision to air the series abroad well before its home country. The new series arriving is also a bittersweet thing with it being confirmed that, at least for now, the current series will be the last with BBC officially cancelling the show back in April, with chances of a last minute save from other networks looking unlikely. Let’s face it, The Musketeers was probably never quite the massive hit the BBC wanted.
In fact, the length of time BBC has taken to air the series in the UK is similar to their treatment of Atlantis last year once that show was cancelled; namely they were indifferent to the fans and the show itself. BBC’s attitude is apparent; once you’re cancelled they just don’t care, no matter how many episodes you have left to air. It is a shame they made the decision to cancel this early (for all they know, Series 3 could be a surprise hit) and I hope it has no effect on the rest of the series; let’s not forget how badly Merlin suffered for its cancellation with an entire series worth of plot being shoved into the final few episodes just to resolve all the plot threads (messily) and Atlantis suffering even more by ending on a cliffhanger with nearly every plot thread unresolved. Hopefully the writers were well aware of the impending cancellation when writing this series and planned accordingly. With the writers not ruling out the possibility of big deaths later in the series, it seems they might have. Anyway, onto the episode at hand.
Spoils of War was the typical first episode. It chose a simple plot that allowed the audience to quickly catch up on what the characters have been up to since the last series which is what most shows do when returning from a long break; it’s really only shows with smaller casts and less episodes that have huge plot advancements in the first episode, also fitting into the mantra many TV shows work with of “Don’t play all your cards too early”. The main focus of this episode was bringing Aramis back from his exile and introducing us to the changed political landscape of Paris since the last series, with a handy time skip of a few years to allow big changes to occur. We find that France is at war with Spain and the war has taken its toll on France. France is suffering heavy losses, the Musketeers numbers are dwindling, and crime is running rampant in Paris without the Musketeers to help keep the peace. It’s an entirely different situation than the one we’re used to on the show. While the threat of war with Spain has always been hanging heavily over the past two series, war has finally broke out and we see how it’s affecting all of our characters. Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan have become war heroes, Constance is now in charge of the Musketeers, Treville is trying to navigate the murky waters of politics while Aramis lives in exile as a monk.
Aramis questioning his place in the world was certainly the main plot here. After the events of Series 2, we see Aramis trying to fulfil his vow to God and atone for his sins. The question of the best way to atone was the main question hanging over Aramis. In fact, it was nice to see it took a little more than Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan showing up to convince Aramis to rejoin the Musketeers. At the end of the episode, we see Aramis rejoining the group; deciding the best way to atone for his sins is to be where he’ll do the most good. And that is as a Musketeer. It was a nice central story and certainly a great way to wrap up Aramis’ personal issues from Series 2 and move them onward. Aramis’s arc was easily one of my favourite things about the episode.
And now we move onto our new villains. The Musketeers continues its trend of casting high profile actors as the main villain of each series as Rupert Everett joins the cast as Marquis de Feron; King Louis’ bastard brother. Feron was an interesting addition. Afflicted by gout, Feron certainly isn’t a physically imposing threat he certainly was incredibly threatening if coming off as slightly pantomime at times. However Feron did have moments of true villainy as he condoned the brutal beating of a young Musketeer recruit and simply stating it wasn’t his fault the boy wasn’t well trained as Treville and Constance confronted him. As introductions go, it was a good one. It was also a bold move to show Feron crying from the pain of his leg and stating that he can’t live with it. To show the villain in a moment of utter weakness was an interesting move this early on so I’m intrigued to see what pay off this could possibly have later in the series.
Matthew McNulty meanwhile was our secondary villain in the form of Lucien Grimaud. Grimaud was an incredibly violent character, killing the general because he wasn’t shown respect for example. He didn’t get enough to do to really make a large impact but that will presumably change in the next few episodes. The set up though is remarkably reminiscent of Series One with Feron as the brains and Grimaud as the fists being similar to Richelieu and Milady, if this partnership will be as memorable remains to be seen.
Louis meanwhile has become incredibly withdrawn and spends most of his time with Dauphin and ignoring every other problem, much to the annoyance of Treville and Anne and letting Feron have free reign of the city. Note how Feron sat in the large chair at the head of the table? It’s almost as if he was showcasing his power to Treville, showing he was ruling in all but name. But why has Louis become so withdrawn? Perhaps the betrayal of Rochefort hit harder than originally thought? Or is there something else at work…?
The weakest part of the episode was without a doubt Treville and Constance’s prank on the Red Guards. A slightly pointless waste of screentime as it seemed to be used only for the cheap joke of the Red Guards being naked in the streets and for Feron to confront the Captain of the Red Guards. While the scene was amusing, it did feel incredibly superfluous to the rest of the episode and made me wonder if it only existed to give Constance something to do in the episode as otherwise she’d have had very limited screen time.
Also, I’m not sure if the budget has been slashed for this series (which wouldn’t surprise me), but the action scenes this episode didn’t feel… well gripping. The opening war scene had lots going on, sure, with lots of explosions, but at no point did it feel like a war and instead felt like a tiny skirmish. And the action scenes towards the end just didn’t involve me that much. Maybe it’s the way Andy Hay directed them or maybe, again, it was budget issues but I certainly wasn’t feeling roused by the fights no matter what the music wanted.
But that said, it was incredibly refreshing to see everyone back on screen. The cast, as usual, gave it their all, often elevating lines and scenes that could have come across as subpar in the hands of lesser actors. Even though BBC’s treatment of the show is disappointing, there is no denying they can assemble a stellar cast. Here’s hoping some of them manage to move onto bigger and better things in the future.
Overall, this episode was a satisfactory reintroduction to the show. It re-established existing characters and established new ones as well as wrapping up Aramis’s arc from Series 2. If Series 3 continues this way, it could go on to become a great series, ending the show on a high.