Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review: The Musketeers Second Season

Last year, I had a few words to say about the first season of the BBC series, The Musketeers, and since I've now seen the second season, I thought that I should say something about it as well. In short, on its second season, the series continues with its free interpretation of history and Dumas' characters. But, given that Dumas himself bastardised history with relatively free hand, this is not something that we can blame the series very much for.

The new season opens with Cardinal Richelieu's funeral. In real history, the cardinal died in 1642 - a year before King Louis XIII - but the series decided to kill him earlier because the actor playing the cardinal got a lead role in some other British series. Despite Richelieu's untimely death, the series seems to be set in the same time period as the first season - there are references to a treaty with Sweden that seem to refer to the historical treaty of Bärwalde that took place in January 1631. However, that very reference also happens in connection with a marriage plan between a French noblewoman and the crown prince of Sweden. In real history, there was no crown prince in Sweden at this time and not for decades before or after. Gustavus Adolphus had only one daughter, the future Queen Christina who remained childless, and one son who was illegitimate.

The other historical inaccuracies are pretty much the same as during the first season: silly leather outfits, no tabards, references to 'uniforms' and Wild West styled felt hats rather than historical cavalier felt hats are all still there. However, some of the smaller historically accurate equipment that the characters carry around, such as powder flasks, are perhaps more numerous and the variety more extensive than during the first season. Spotting these few historical details from among the non-historical is itself a fun task while watching the episodes.

But, matters of historical setting aside, the cardinal's passing gives room to a new bad guy - and this time we are talking about real evil in the form of Comte de Rochefort. Rochefort has been the cardinal's spy in Spain and it is soon revealed to the viewers than rather than escaping his captors in Spain, he's pledged to serve their interests in France instead. And serve them he will: he quickly takes the position of the First Minister of France even as the Musketeers are falling from King Louis' favour... And he has personal evil designs even concerning King Louis' wife, Anne of Austria. Missing the eyepatch, the classic mark of evil? Don't worry, he'll get to it eventually and it is as silly as the rest of his outfit! Not only does he roam around in a long blue-tinted leather coat, but also struts around his office and the queen herself wearing nothing but his shirt - a mere undergarment in that day and age.

Like the first season, the episodes are semi-independent adventures taking the musketeers all around France and even Spain. These include magical gunpowder that is much more effective than the regular gunpowder (naturally this invention is destroyed), the king winding up in a slave caravan, an evil baron wreaking havoc in Athos' home county etc. Many of them are no more than average in quality. However, there's perhaps a slightly stronger overall plot this time around, in the form of Rochefort's rise to power that leads to the best part of the season: the final showdown in the two-part season finale. This, connected with d'Artagnan's romance with Constance and Aramis' interesting relationship with the queen, gives the season the kind of a backbone that it dearly needs. Still, I hope the antagonist next season will be someone less obviously evil, as Rochefort tends to err on the silly side in that regard.

Overall, the show is not fantastic, but it is an innocent, fun adventure series that manages to entertain me well enough for me to look forward to the next season. The third season might change the style of the show somewhat as it will be set in a period of war with Spain and Milady de Winter will not be around (the actress taking a hiatus to concentrate on her family). Historically, this war began in 1635 and lasted for 13 years. The aim was to fight the power of the Habsburgs in Europe. The Habsburg dynasty hasn't been mentioned thus far in the series, though, so I assume that it will be treated simply as a war between France and Spain and the characters will spend most of it fighting traditional villains rather than in the front lines...