TV REVIEW: The Musketeers - Commodoties

As Athos, Aramis, Porthos and d'Artagnan are tasked with bringing merchant trader Bonnaire back to the King, we gain a little insight into the past of some of heroes. 

Commodities opens with Bonnaire (James Callis of Battlestar Galactica and 'come the fuck on Bridget' fame) swaggering through port and causing a bit of a scene in a tavern when several parties close in on him. Besides the Musketeers, there are two Spanish agents and men working for his spurned business partner. There's also his wife Marie (Anna Skellern) who develops an amusing habit of outwitting d'Artagnan. However, when Porthos is injured, they are forced to take refuge and Athos reluctantly offers his nearby country pile, confronting his past with Milady through cunning use of flashback and later through her decision to reveal herself as alive to him. Meanwhile, Porthos discovers Bonnaire is a slaver and the heroes find themselves conflicted when it comes to deciding their next course of action.

Continuing with the rip-roaring atmosphere of the first two episodes, Commodities fully embraces the post-Pirates of the Caribbean swashbuckling status of the show, throwing in a Badelt-esque score in its opening moments and Jack Sparrow inspired performance with Callis' enthusiastic portrayal of Bonnaire. The opening and closing scenes, both tavern-based, are a lot of fun, allowing the easy chemistry between the four main characters to shine whilst giving its guest star a memorable entrance. Callis, like Jason Flemyng last week, slots into the ensemble easily and makes Bonnaire a truly detestable figure with an outer layer of smarm.

The episode takes a darker turn with the discovery of Bonnaire's true profession, that of a slaver. After speaking of his own African heritage, Porthos is naturally more than a little peeved. This seems to have been included, not only to address the casting of Howard Charles (more on that very shortly) but also as a neat homage to Dumas' own African heritage. It gave the episode a greater emotional weight to the proceedings, already slightly more sombre due to Athos' brooding. It's an odd turn in an otherwise rollicking episode and the discussion with slavery isn't exactly the most nuanced of discussions, coming swiftly to the conclusion of 'slavery is bad' and not doing much else with it. The Musketeers' betrayal of Bonnaire's escape at the end led to some emotional closure, but the transition from the usual atmosphere to something more contemplative and dark was a little clunky. Fortunately, it didn't detract from the quality of the episode too much, as everything else was on spectacular form.

So the casting of Charles appears to have caused a bit of a ballyhoo; there's the usual comments regarding the BBC being 'too PC', denying that there may have been black people in 17th century Europe (there were and frankly that's just silly) and parallels drawn, as the episode does, with Dumas' ancestry. However, no one has actually mentioned that Charles was clearly the best person for the role (and I happen to think he's fantastic) or if we're really going to go with the historical accuracy bent, the cast members in this production of The Musketeers, set in 17th century Paris, AREN'T FRENCH. It's a ludicrous argument and one that needs to be forgotten as quickly as it was brought up. Charles is brilliant and this version of Porthos is a lot of fun. Let's leave it at that.

The other main strand in this episode was a foray in Athos' past as the Comte de la Fere, something which haunts him as he broods with furrowed brow. I'll overlook the convenience of his home being nearby the exact spot where Porthos is injured for the sake of swift plot progression, but it is only a slight misstep. Tom Burke is given a fair amount of heavy lifting in this episode and handles it well; his final confession to d'Artagnan shows a vulnerability to the character so far unseen. The flashback scenes were used well too, never outstaying their welcome but showing enough of his relationship with Milady to bring those in the audience not in the know up to speed. It already has me looking forward to a proper showdown with Burke and Maime McCoy.

A strong episode then if not as good as the first two, but it lays a lot of groundwork down for future plot developments as well as shifting the focus from d'Artagnan to learn a little more about his compatriots.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the first two episodes here.

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