The episode opens with a frantic discussion about the Catholic plot to assassinate Henri, and unfolds in an equally breathless and frantic way, relying on a mixture of misunderstood motives, secretive behaviour and an inability to see things from a different perspective.
While the high and mighty, including Andre Morell’s Tavanne, retreat into their own entrenched positions, so their followers stubbornly resist the possibility of finding common ground. Gaston – as rigid in his religion as he accuses the Catholics of being – refuses to countenance the possibility that Steven might be trying to do the right thing. Steven clings to the hope that the Abbot must be the Doctor in disguise – and the notion drags him into deeper water. Parisians wish death by fire on their neighbours, just because they follow a slightly different doctrine.
The Abbot himself remains the black hole at the centre of the plot – casting ‘shadows where there is no sun’. Steven glimpses him momentarily from a window, but for the most part he is an unseen presence – even his own side doesn’t know where he is, and suspect he might not be all he appears (which only adds to Steven and the audience’s confusion).
While The Aztecs examined the idea of trying to alter the course of history, The Massacre examines the danger of visiting the past at all. Despite his best efforts, Steven has been drawn into events – his presence causes even more suspicion between Catholics and Protestants, and his attempts to extricate himself only seem to implicate him further. By the end of the episode he is a fugitive from both sides, his only ally the servant Anne Chaplet. Adrift in time, surrounded by danger, and only half comprehending the plots that are unfolding around him, the peril is tangible. The Aztecs suggested you can’t change history – not one line. This suggests you can’t escape it.
Next episode: Priest of Death