I have interesting friends. Since many of us are into psychology, when we watch things, we wind up talking about mental disorders. The BBC series The Musketeers is rich ground for antisocial disorders. Most of its characters have antisocial traits (the antisocial spectrum includes narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths—people without a moral conscience), but three of them stand out in particular.
Let’s start out with one of the “lesser” evils of the antisocial disorders, the narcissist. Narcissistic personality disorder is a long-standing pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), an overwhelming need for admiration, and a complete lack of empathy for others.
Cardinal Richelieu is a classic narcissist. While unwilling to murder others himself, he delegates assassinations to others for the “greater good of France.” If someone stands in his way, he eradicates them—but takes no pleasure from it and chalks it up to a “necessity,” at one point even saying of another’s intentions, “Your compassion for the poor is astounding.”
Richelieu will negotiate and work with his enemies for a higher cause. His loyalty to France ahead of his own interests reveals he is no psychopath. He’s willing to sacrifice his ambition for the good of his country; a psychopath’s only concern is self interest. Everything has a purpose, and it does not always advance his power, but it “betters” France. He displays the antisocial narcissistic traits of no concern how his choices impact others, a willingness to use them for his own ends (and frame them, murder them, and betray them), an inflated ego, and callousness toward others’ emotional states.
Though his crimes add up before the end of the season, his most overt action involves attempting to murder the queen of France. When the Musketeers force him into a confession, he rationalizes it, pointing out how she does not serve in the interests of France since she leaves it precarious without an heir. He shows concern for his own precarious power, but no regard for her feelings (or those of the king who would mourn her).
That brings us to the next “lesser of two evils,” the sociopath. Sociopaths and psychopaths share a similar set of traits; they have a poor inner sense of right and wrong, they lack empathy, and can’t understand or share another person’s feelings. Both use manipulation and reckless behavior to get what they want. Neither fears the consequences of their actions, but where a psychopath has no moral conscience, a sociopath has a weak conscience. He may know what he’s doing is wrong and it may cause him to feel minor guilt or remorse, but it does not stop his behavior.
Sociopaths blame others and have excuses for their behavior. They act without thinking how it will affect others. Psychopaths are more calculating and cold, they plan their moves and use aggression to get what they want. The show is unusual, in that while its psychopath and narcissist are the villains, its sociopath is one of the “heroes.”
Aramis is gorgeous and charming, but his first episode establishes him as a callous man out to gratify his desires with no concern for the consequences for himself or others. The series opens with him having seduced the cardinal’s mistress. When he tells the others, “I love her” when they point out how dangerous it is, his friend Athos, who knows him well, asks if that’s true, or if he likes “stealing from the Cardinal.” As fun as it is for Aramis to sneak in and out of windows to avoid “the most powerful man in France,” his paramour winds up dead when the Cardinal discovers the truth. Richelieu sees this betrayal as evidence he cannot trust her. Since she knows too much, he cannot let her live.
If Aramis felt concern for others’ safety, he would never have seduced Adelle. He knows Richelieu is dangerous. A non-antisocial personality would know it’s dangerous to meddle with him. Aramis gives no thought to the consequences of getting caught—it never occurs to him Adelle might lose her life. She winds up dead because of his actions. Rather than self-blame, guilt or remorse, he blames the Cardinal.
We see this same reckless behavior exhibited in his romance with the queen. If anyone found out, Louis could execute her for adultery. Each choice he makes with a woman gratifies his desires and endangers her life. His carelessness proves a Sociopath trait: his emotional bonds are superficial compared to non-antisocial types.
The psychopath is the worst of the three, personified in Lady DeWinter. She is calculating, deliberate in her attempts to undermine and destroy Athos through intentional long-term strategies, sadistic in her violence, and unpredictable. She kills people she does not need to, because she gets “pleasure from it.” In only the first episode, in her quest to bring down Athos, she murders a man, seduces D’Artangan, and frames him for her crimes. She has no concern for his life. When a priest confronts her about her “sins,” she strangles him and insists she comes not for “absolution, but revenge.”
She is a murderess without remorse, never apologetic for her actions and unstable in her associations. While she and Aramis share low / absent levels of fear and anxiety, she has formed no group loyalties (just to the Cardinal, who “pulled her from the gutter”) whereas Aramis has formed a group attachment to the Musketeers.
Other Musketeers also show Sociopath traits, often manipulating others for personal or financial gain, showing little remorse for the consequences of their actions, and excusing their actions as necessary. Athos is the only Musketeer with no antisocial traits. The show wants us to cheer for the Musketeers, our “heroes.” With such a rich tableau of antisocial behaviors on display, it certainly makes for a memorable experience.