There are many period dramas on television, but few are as fun as Versailles, which is returning for its third and final season. The series documents the rise of Louis XIV’s (George Blagden) splendid castle, but also of the poisonous court that grew around it. At this point in the tale, the peasants of France are also pretty tired of paying for the nobles to frolic in this gilded getaway, but for now, Louis remains a King who is mostly adored — even as he struggles to find himself.
Like in past seasons, Louis is a man largely ruled by the women around him. He may claim Divine guidance and protection, but he also seeks the counsel of the women he trusts enough to take to bed. Lust continues to be a driving force in the series, as Versailles has always been a place built by and driven by desire, but it takes a different form this time. Montespan (Anne Brewster) is out, and the pious Scarron (Catherine Walker) is in — ironic, really, since Louis finds no interest in his own pious wife, the long-suffering Marie-Thérèse (Elisa Lasowski). But even the queen finds her own illicit comforts this season, thanks to the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold (Rory Keenan).
One place where romance isn’t happening, though, is with the mercurial Philippe (Alexander Vlahos), who is once again haunted by his time in battle and unable to reconnect with his longtime lover, the Chevalier (Evan Williams). The Chevalier has found himself a respectable place in court (as the Master of Ceremonies) and a way to occupy his time even without Philippe’s favor, which leaves the latter free to pursue an obsession of his concerning the Man in the Iron Mask. It’s a great example of how Versailles is able to flirt with history and mystery while keeping it malleable enough to suit its own needs. Borrowing heavily from Alexander Dumas’ fiction, Philippe teams up with Fabien (Tygh Runyan) to try and solve the mystery, layering a thriller of sorts into the show’s many plots.
Speaking of those many plots, Versailles’ new season finds Louis basking in victory after the war against William of Orange, but still hungry for expansion and what’s next for France. While he negotiates with Leopold for control of even more of Europe, he continues to levy taxes on his already poor countrymen, ones who (especially in Paris) are pretty fed up with it. It sows the seeds of revolution without, of course, taking us to that point, but it’s also the first time the show has spent significant time in the streets of Paris. Louis’ desires and his negotiations also cause him to stop being so open to the idea of Protestants living freely among the Catholics of France, as he cozies up to the Pope for more influence. As always, Versailles is always full of scheming, gossip, and the machinations of those in power who desire more of it, and yet we still feel for Louis, who Blagden always makes both confident and vulnerable — a potent combination that keeps him both kingly and (more essentially) human.
For those who have enjoyed Versailles over its first two seasons, Season 3 will deliver more of the same grandiosity, humor, and courtly intrigue that makes the show so entertaining even when it veers dangerously close to chaos. Versailles is not necessarily high art, but it has never fashioned itself as such. It’s fun, pure and simple, and yet still manages to make us care quite a bit about its main players. It’s never silly, in other words, even though it can be exceptionally melodramatic. But what else on Earth would you want or expect from a series set in such a time as this? It’s Versailles. Everything is meant to be bigger than life.
Versailles returns to Ovation for its final season on Saturday, October 6th.