It's the penultimate instalment of the BBC's deluxe Dumas adaptation, and Monte Cristo's plans for revenge are on the verge of fruition. But a fly has unexpectedly alighted on his vengeful ointment in the form of his long-repressed but still all-consuming love for Mercedes. He's agreed to her request to spare the life of her son Albert, but insists he must die in the young man's place: "Mercedes, what I love most after you and myself is my dignity, and that strength that makes me superior to other men. That strength was my life. And with one shot you have blasted it!"
With a final plea that Edmond trust in God, Mercedes tearfully takes her leave of him. She's watched by Haydée, who goes to tell the Count of a dream she had in which he was dead. She asks about the woman she saw, "So pale and proud, like a ghost." "You are right, Haydée," sighs the Count. "She was a ghost."
The day has arrived for the Count's duel with Albert, a scene gorgeously shot on film. Acting as the Count's second (and clad in the startling headgear of his regiment), Maximilian Morrel begs the Count not to kill Albert. The Count promises that he won't, sliding into a reverie: "I've seen a phantom. And the phantom said that I have lived long enough." He makes Maximilian promise to look after Haydée as a sister.
But all does not go as Monte Cristo expected. When Albert arrives he goes, against protocol, to talk to the Count. He reveals that Mercedes has told him all about Edmond's long incarceration and his father's part in it. He proclaims that the Count had every right to take revenge against Fernand, and thanks him for not delivering a more severe punishment.
The assembled gentlemen are startled by this turn of events, to say the least.
Having been banished to Italy by the Count last week, the roguish Cavalcanti surprises Benedetto, his erstwhile partner in crime, by revealing that he hasn't gone anywhere. He's decided he deserves to get considerably more out of Benedetto's forthcoming marriage to Eugenie Danglars ("It was I who took you from nothing and taught you to prance like a dancing master!"). He threatens to reveal the truth of Benedetto's identity to the bride's father unless he's provided for by the couple.
At this, Benedetto quietly reaches for his stiletto and stabs his "father" to death, casually hiding the body under the bedclothes and requesting a handkerchief from the footman (his own foster father, Bertuccio) to wipe his hands. Bertuccio didn't see the crime, but notes to the Count that Cavalcanti was seen entering the house at Auteuil but not leaving it.
The Count receives a visit from General de Morcerf, who wants to know why his son was denied satisfaction, not believing that Albert would have apologised. He challenges the Count to a duel with swords, telling Monte Cristo of the bubbling hatred he feels for him: "I feel as if I had always known you, and always hated you." The Count recounts the General's own inglorious history, and drops just enough subtle hints his real identity finally dawns on his old enemy: "I show you today a face that the happiness of revenge makes young again."
Reeling from the discovery of his adversary's identity, the General stumbles out. The satisfied Count addresses the camera: "One."
In the dead of night. Benedetto buries his late partner, not realising that he's watched by the Count's silent slave Ali.
The dazed Fernand returns home, to discover only a single servant, Jacques (Dudley Jones) at home. With barely suppressed glee, Jacques informs his master that the lady and son of the house have gone away, taking the rest of the servants with them. Once he has made himself scarce, his master discreetly steps outside and shoots himself.
It's the wedding of Eugenie Danglars and the so-called Andrea Cavalcanti, and in the grounds of the Danglars home Maximilian and Valentine de Villefort rush to embrace each other, shot from above in an exact echo of Edmond and Mercedes' embrace in the first episode. With her father still opposed to the match, they determine to flee abroad together.
In the house, the Count has a chat with the bridegroom: "You know", he says with irony so thick you could cut it with a rapier, "I think that you've managed this whole affair rather skilfully". He's keen to brush off any suggestion that he might have had a hand in setting up the couple: "I don't believe in making matches, it's against my principles."
The Count is then approached by an angry Louise d'Armilly, the marriage he plotted spelling the end of her, erm, friendship with Eugenie. She tells him that she despises Andrea. The Count briefly feigns surprise.
"He seems no worse than a hundred other young men."
"No, he does not seem to be. But I think he is."
"I think you are a very shrewd judge of character."
The Count assures Louise, however, that the marriage won't be taking place.
And of course he's right. As the triumphant Benedetto and the reluctant Eugenie are brought together to sign their marriage contract (still unaware, remember, that they share a mother), an unholy uproar invades the Danglars home with the arrival of the police to arrest the groom. A particularly wonderful shot sees the horrified Danglars caught in reflection behind the Count , who calmly sips at his wine.
Knowing the game's up, Benedetto grabs a handful of jewels carelessly left on a bed and makes his escape, only to end up in the clutches of the impassive Ali.
That night, Eugenie rages to Louise about her perfidious nearly-husband, and also the death of General de Morcerf: "He blew his brains out. A pity all men don't follow his example." The not-so-subtle characterisation of Eugenie as a man-hating lesbian isn't the greatest LGBT representation ever, but at least she's allowed a happy ending, as she and Louise decide to run away to Italy together before her father can find out about it.
The episode ends with Bertuccio paying his foster child a visit in prison. He hasn't come for sentimental reasons, though, but on the orders of the count, who wants him to tell Benedetto the truth about his origins...
Astonishing, breakneck stuff as always. Next week, the final chapter of Edmond Dantés' terrible revenge...