The Musketeers continues its solid, unsurprising start with ‘Sleight of Hand’.
It too is another enjoyable yet predictable romp through the murkier side of swashbuckling. Meanwhile, characters are further defined, approximately fifty people are shot, and guest stars swagger as only Jason Flemyng can swagger (copiously shifting weight from buttock to buttock with each stride).
Few people are going to watch The Musketeers for astonishing revelations and rug-pulling moments. Indeed, Jason Flemyng – in an entertaining turn as episode villain Vadim – basically tells you what’s going to happen in one of his first lines. Its predictable plot is a foundation for a large and potentially interesting ensemble of characters. While some of the characters still drive the plot by being stupid (the King and Queen, largely, although I suppose writer Adrian Hodges could probably plead incest as a cause), this episode fleshes out Queen Anne and Aramis – laying down the foundations for a romance – and confirms that Constance will do almost anything for D’Artagnan, no matter how undignified.
So far, Constance is falling into the now standard ‘Feisty Companion’ role, and it’s jarring quite how quickly she’s thrown herself into the Musketeers’ world. It’s a bit of a shame that the Strong Female Characters are all motivated by their relationships to men, and forced into bosom-heaving corsets at all times. Milady de Winter does at least seem to get the upper hand over Cardinal Richeleu this week, although these character beats for her rely on his asking needless questions, which undermine his ruthlessness from last week. Ideally, she’d be a match for him without either of them looking daft.
While the title characters are ready and willing to kill people (so far, only Athos has noted moral consequences to their actions), you get the feeling things are being set up to generate maximum conflict later on in the series. For now we can enjoy the hefty explosions, the way the show achieves an impact in largely bloodless fight sequences, and the banter between the Musketeers. Everyone loves an amoral smart-arse, right? The Musketeers works really well on this level.
However, the worry is that the show doesn’t deliver on its promise, and is happy to tread water. If the sword fights and explosions become as old hat as Atlantis‘s seemingly endless slow-motion jumping shots, The Musketeers may have to content itself with being solid but shallow viewing.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 26 January 2014 on BBC One.
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