The Musketeers: Sleight of Hand

“He knows the musketeer motto: every man for himself.”

It happens far too often. A masterful pilot airs. It raises our hopes that a new show has landed on our screens that will transport us into a wonderful story. Then, we watch the second episode and come crashing back down to earth. What was so good in the pilot has been forgotten by the writers, the characters become predictable, the story leaves us rolling our eyes. I watched this episode with a great deal of trepidation. I needn’t have worried.

The plot of this episode tipped over into a procedural. This is not a criticism, at least not much of one. I like procedurals. But, the criminal had to be stopped by the heroes. Even Treville felt a bit like the police captain trying to keep his detectives in check. Believe me, you’ve seen it. But, where this episode succeeded was, once again, in the characters we were able to spend the hour with. It is in the small moments that this series is finding its strength.

As does the fact that we, as the audience, are not spoon fed every fact and are expected to keep up. At the beginning of the episode, it becomes clear that D’Artagnan is now treated by the musketeers as one of their own, almost as a little brother. Although we saw them all drinking together at the end of the last episode, it is obvious that they have all spent time together and have grown to respect the younger man a great deal.

Even the musketeers we have yet to meet think of D’Artagnan as one of them. As Treville tells off the three for allowing the duel to occur, they all know it’s part of the trick. The others do not and they express their displeasure at their colleagues very clearly.

As the title of this episode makes clear, it is all about tricks and deception. We quickly learn that even the opening duel was a set-up to get D’Artagnan into the prison to interact with Vadim, this week’s bad guy. Vadim, nicely played by Jason Flemyng, was an interesting antagonist. His fascination with trickery, while occasionally a bit too obvious, was fun. It kept the story moving and it kept me guessing.

The best thing that Vadim did, however, was force our heroes and our villains to work together. What a fascinating choice for so early in a story. I loved watching Treville and the Cardinal both try to stop the king from attending mass. The point is, of course, that these two men have similar goals. Not identical (for then we wouldn’t have a story), but when their agendas align, they are a formidable team.

Porthos continues to be my favorite of the musketeers, stealing every scene he is in. His pride and self-congratulations when D’Artagnan kicks his duel opponent in a tender area made me laugh out loud. “I taught him that move.” In addition to being the comic relief, Porthos is the one that sees the truth in any situation. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter that the others do not.

The best part of this episode was the beginnings of two romances, neither of which is going to be particularly wise. Both are going to be enormous fun to watch.

D’Artagnan likes finding reasons to kiss Constance. Last week, it was to escape from the Red Guard. This week, it is to convince Felix that she is his mistress. It is clear that she is crazy about him. He certainly likes her as well, but the course of true love being what it is, Milady is the third corner of this triangle. D’Artagnan is not through with her yet, nor she with him.

Aramis and the Queen. Oh dear. First the Cardinal’s mistress and now the king’s wife. Aramis likes to flirt with danger as well as women. Her attraction to him is easy to understand. He protects her; compared to her husband, he is all man; and, let’s face it, Santiago Cabrera is very, very easy on the eyes. His attraction? Not so clear. Yes, she is beautiful and she clearly has a brain. But, as Porthos says, “she’s not a woman. She’s the queen.”

It is interesting that both of the romances being set up involve adultery. I understand that in 1630, when marriage was a business arrangement, having a lover on the side was standard practice, especially among the social classes depicted in this show. It is, however, written for a modern audience and I am intrigued to see where they take these two couples.

But, I will be honest. I love both couples and am shamelessly shipping them both already. I was so happy with this episode. Unlike the bombs at Notre Dame, it was not a dud. Three out of four diamond pendants that show up around the most interesting necks.

Salut:

Not only is this story fun to watch, it is beautifully shot. The opening duel in the snowy woods was evocative. Similarly, all of the explosions were fantastic.

One of the main reasons to watch any version of The Musketeers is for the sword fights. The ones in this episode were brilliantly choreographed and exciting as hell. The final one, shot against the various fires, was gorgeous.

Being the history geek that I am, I love the allusions to old Paris. The Grand Châtelet was, indeed, a prison at this time. The Louvre, still one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, was a palace until the Revolution.

Speaking of which, with the hindsight of history, it is interesting to listen to Vadim say, “We’re going to build a new France. We kill the king and queen. The poor and the dispossessed will rise up and join us, taking back what belongs to them.” A century and half later, that is exactly what happened.

The king’s father, Henri IV, was assassinated for religious reasons as he sat in his coach. Louis was only nine when he ascended to the throne.

The tradition of pardoning prisoners on Good Friday still happens.

Touché:

D’Artagnan: “I was raised to fight light a gentleman.”
Aramis: “Were you raised to die young?”

Porthos: “Well, I think he can do it. And, I’m a pretty good judge of character.”
Aramis: “You’re a terrible judge of character. Especially when you’re sober.”

Vadim: “The secret to a good trick. Make people look the wrong way.”

D’Artagnan: “Mutton is one that goes ‘baa’ and has wool on it.”

Aramis: “God, I love that in a woman.”
Porthos: “What? Passion?”
Aramis: “Violence.”

Aramis: “I’ve got you.”
Queen Anne: “So you have.”

Constance: “Things were very quiet before you came here, Monsieur.”
D’Artagnan: “I’m sorry. You must miss that.”
Constance: “Not for a single second.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

3 comments:

mazephoenix said...

Loved this episode. Jason Flemyng was great in Primeval, and X-men:First class.
Porthos is so great here.

CrazyCris said...

Speaking of the Louvre, one of the things about the palace that gets frequently mentioned in Dumas' Musketeers novels (there are more than just "The 3 Musketeers") are all the passages and secret ways in the Louvre! Makes me so frustrated whenever I visit the Museum, just the thought of all those secret ways I'm not allowed to wander around in and explore! :p

Billie Doux said...

I liked this one, too. I especially liked D'Artagnan finally stomping out the fuse only to have a zillion others light up.

I was also thinking of the French Revolution and saying, hey, guy, just wait a century or so and you'll have your wish.