We’re still mulling over Season 3 of The Musketeers, and now that it’s available on Hulu here in our part of the world, we’ve started rewatching it. As S mentioned last week, one of the more controversial aspects of this final season is what happens with the character of Milady de Winter. If you haven’t seen Season 3 yet, consider yourself warned that SPOILERS FOLLOW.
The first problem that I see with how Milady’s story ends is that, from a certain point of view, it’s not really the end of her story at all. It’s the end of Queen Anne’s story. Anne has gone from being the sidelined, ignored queen to being the regent and de facto ruler of France. And Milady acts as the symbol of this. In season one, she worked for the Cardinal, who was the true power in the kingdom. At the end of season three, she’s working for Anne, which shows how the queen is now the one in control. It’s actually a neat way of showing the queen’s arc, but it doesn’t really have much to do with Milady’s arc, and so I can see how people might have found it unsatisfying.
The second problem is that, as S discussed last week, Milady didn’t get redemption, even though it seemed earlier as if she might have been heading in that direction. Coming to the end of Season 2, it certainly looked as if Milady was about to do a classic “Heel-Face Turn.” That is to say, she looked like she was about to go from being a bad guy to being a good guy. She helped the heroes beat the real villain, and she almost-but-not-quite ended up with the leading man.
But of course what happened to her in Season 3 was that she turned back to being a spy and an assassin, and she engaged in (or was forced into) what TV Tropes calls “Redemption Rejection.” This is when a villain has a chance to make a Heel-Face Turn, but instead decides to keep being a bad guy. The classic example of this, as cited on the TV Tropes page, and as noted above in our picture for the week, is Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost, who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.
A character doesn’t actually even have to be a traditional villain, though, in order to reject redemption. Another great example on the TV Tropes pages is Barney from How I Met Your Mother. S and I stopped watching that show a few episodes into Season 6, but we’d still get updates on the show from time to time from our online friends. One of them once summarized a then-current plot line on the show by saying that, “Barney grows a soul for the umpteenth time,” or words to that effect. Time and time again, Barney looked like he was going to be a decent person, but then he would decide to go back to being his old, legen…(wait for it)…darily charming, yet awful self.
This points to what I think is one of the usual causes of “Redemption Rejection”—namely, the need in many long-running series (both sitcoms and soaps) to “reset” the story and put the characters back the way they were. If Barney stops being a cad, we all feel good for him and cheer for about ten seconds, and then we realize that the show is now essentially over, since his caddishness is one of the primary sources of humor and dramatic tension on the show.
That’s one of the things that makes the decision to “reset” Milady to a villainess at the end seem so odd: there was no particular reason to do it. Yes, she needs to be a villainess (or at least a “frenemy”) for there to be tension with the other leads (especially Athos). But when the show ends, there’s no need for that anymore. Milady actually can have a happy ending, just like Porthos can be a general and Athos can decide to adopt a terrible new hairstyle. The fact that those things would have made the story problematic going forward doesn’t matter anymore, because the story is over.
It’s interesting to note that, from what I understand, How I Met Your Mother did essentially the same thing with Barney. (Admittedly, I’ve never watched the finale, and I probably never will; I’m just going off what I’ve read about it.) They had him return to his usual lechery at the end, instead of redeeming him. And from what I’ve read, there was a very similar outcry from fans. During the run of the show, fans reveled in his bad-boy antics, and they might have prayed, paraphrasing St. Augustine, “Lord, grant Barney Stinson chastity and continence, but not yet.” Once the show ended, though, it seems like fans want to believe that the bad boy settled down. And in a similar way, it looks like there are a number of Musketeers fans who wanted Milady to find happiness and some way of supporting herself other than knifing people in the dark.