“It is time to write the next chapter of our glorious empire,” Louis XIV commands the men of his council, after having woken them up in the middle of the night in Versailles’ season 3 premiere. “To stand still is to die, so we cannot wait.”
Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait much longer. The third and final chapter of Ovation’s sexy, soapy historical drama kicks off this weekend, but before the sun sets on the Sun King series, there’s plenty of drama yet to go down in that gilded château.
When season 1 began, Louis XIV dreamed of building an unfathomably magnificent palace as both a marker of his own glory and as a means by which to centralize his court. The new season opens with a highly symbolic (you might call it reflective) moment, as the young monarch unveils the completed Hall of Mirrors to his nobles. That splendid corridor is the icing on the already heavily adorned cake that is Versailles — so what next?
“So now he’s achieved everything he wanted to,” says star George Blagden, also pointing out that Louis has won every war he’s entered at this point. “What does he do? It’s kind of a psychological layer that we explore throughout season 3. Once you’ve conquered everything that you wanted to in this world, perhaps you have to go to the next.”
That forward motion propels Louis to “take religion head-on” in this season — as well as some of the more cosmic questions that come with it. “He realizes that the next thing for him to conquer is this question of legacy, and becoming an everlasting figure,” Blagden says. “One which we will eventually make a TV series about, in 2014, of three seasons.”
Thankfully, Louis won’t be navigating those heavy questions alone. Madame de Maintenon (Catherine Walker), whom Louis married in secret in 1683, “leads him down this path,” Blagden teases. “This incredibly powerful, intelligent woman gave him this idea of legacy and creating a name for himself after he’s gone.” The pair of them “egg each other on” to loftier aims — greater still than just building the most breathtaking royal residence on the planet — to the point where “she’s actually driving the most ambitious man in the world,” Blagden says. “I hope people will really enjoy seeing how much they may or may not spiral out of control.”
As Louis’ conception of his own existence expands, so too does the scope of the entire series, stretching beyond the betrayals and manipulations of the central group of courtiers and spilling out into the real-world chaos of the streets of Paris. After Philippe (Alexander Vlahos) returns from war, Louis elevates one of his brother’s comrades, a humble tanner, to become official purveyor of shoes to Versailles. The introduction of that character and his sister “provides a fantastic juxtaposition and contrast to the world of Versailles, and shows you the repercussions and the consequences of some of the decisions that Louis and his brother and the people in that building [have made],” Blagden says. “What we wanted to do with season 3 was give their exclusive boys’ club a real-world context.”
The series also adds a real-world mystery: That of the man in the iron mask, a prisoner from French history whose identity has inspired centuries of wild theories and scholarly debate.
“When we found out at the start of season 3 that they wanted to explore that part of history, we all showed up with different ideas of what that would be,” Blagden says, careful not to give too much away. “There are several theories as to what the reality of that myth is, and certain writers, famous historical authors have written different versions of who the man in the iron mask was. I’m not going to tell you which one we explore, but we always acknowledge that it was one of a group of theories.”
Whichever theory they follow, it can’t mean anything good for the people in Louis’ palace. “It’s a serious existential crisis for people in that building when we start introducing the man in the iron mask,” Blagden continues. “It kind of redefines, perhaps, who the royal family is — I think that’s probably giving away more than I should have. I won’t say anymore.”
Versailles returns Saturday, Oct. 6, at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Ovation.