On a scale from Glee to Game of Thrones, tonight’s relentless back-and-forth between flirting and backstabbing ranks a solid Gossip Girl (for reference, that’s about an 8). There’s some progress made with the forest heretics, but the majority of “A Chill in the Air” puts the brakes on the grand scheme of things and squares in on the dangers of being a hormonal teenager at court. Sure, it’s a more personal set of politics than European border wars, but in true teen show fashion, it’s not any less traumatizing.
First and foremost, Mary and Francis had an entire episode of gleeful making out last week, so they get a whole host of new problems tonight in the form of his first love, Olivia. There are moments when Olivia comes very close to having her own personality—most notably when she sneaks a flagon of wine in her muff—but otherwise, she’s an agent sent explicitly to take a hatchet to Mary and Francis’ blossoming puppy love. As far as high school drama goes, the returning ex is contrivance number one. Olivia also reminded me of something I had completely forgotten about, namely Francis’ nameless girlfriend who so brazenly slid her dress off her shoulder in the pilot. Reign’s shown a tendency towards short-term memory loss, so I can’t tell if Olivia is a way to bring back the idea that Francis might get around, or if they’re just pretending that girl didn’t exist.
At any rate, the aspect of Olivia’s story that “A Chill in the Air” does just fine with is the idea of “ruined” women. The fact that men got to sleep around in boathouses while women got sent away in disgrace was a real issue at court, and the depressing thing is, just about every modern teen show has a variation on this issue because, well, it’s still an issue. Still, “A Chill in the Air” burns through this plot in a way that makes it feel like every scene is a checkmark. Check, Mary and Francis dig each other. Check, Francis’ ex-girlfriend crashes the party. Check, Mary and the ex-girlfriend butt heads over their boy. Check, Mary and Francis fight; check, Mary makes out with someone else; check, Francis sees it; check, they’re in a fight. Exactly nothing in this sequence was surprising and, ultimately, I was disappointed in the return of the Bash/Mary/Francis triangle. The last couple episodes have gone by without a hint of Bash’s feelings for Mary, which I loved. I’m sure there are Tumblr gifsets that make the opposite argument, but from where I’m standing, Terrance Coombs has shown far more chemistry with Anna Popplewell (Lola) and even Caitlin Stasey (Kenna).
Meanwhile, Greer tries to resist the considerable charms of the kitchen boy yet again, and yet again, she fails. I’d be rooting for this pairing even if her only present alternative wasn’t an older merchant who might be physically incapable of talking about anything but pepper. This relationship might be of the least consequence in terms of the big picture, but it’s the most purely enjoyable. Adelaide Kane is lovely and doing a fine job being magnetic, but Celina Sinden and Jonathan Keltz have the best chemistry on the show. They sold the hell out of the scene where Leith essentially says he can be her mistress, and not just because it was intercut with Francis and Olivia’s far less subtle counterpart.
That’s not to say that the actors aren’t trying their damndest to sell the Francis/Mary/Bash triangle, or the inevitably doomed Kenna/King Henry romance, but you can always feel the weight of the effort behind the writing. There’s a hell of a lot of pressure on teen shows to give its adolescent audience romance it can believe in, pairings it can root for, and sexual tension it can get lost in. But there’s just no faking chemistry. I can’t get invested in the brothers’ quarrel over Mary or Kenna falling for the King just because the script says I should. The good news is that this is only the fifth episode. Now that there’s an official full-season pickup, there’s plenty of time for them to settle in and explore pairings they weren’t expecting. In fact, my favorite television pairings have almost always been ones that come out of a natural chemistry, or when the writers realize that the relationship they wanted isn’t actually the one that fits. They still have time to convince me that Bash and Mary have an sexual tension they dare not speak of, or that Kenna and Henry’s relationship isn’t extremely creepy, but I suspect they’d be better off redirecting their energy elsewhere. Personally, I’m rooting for more drunk Mary.
- Speaking of which: This episode gets a B for Booze!
- Anachronism of the week: Do the men’s various leather jackets count? No really, I’m asking.
- The heretic plot would have been a lot more interesting if they hadn’t immediately cut the mystery off at the knees. For instance, I suspected that boy was a heretic when he redirected Olivia’s carriage, so I didn’t need him to immediately take out a sinister necklace. As many of you have noted, Reign’s main problem is telegraphing every little thing. The script’s need to spell everything all out took the chill out of the air long before the final scene valiantly tried to get it back.
- I don't know why most of the court action took place in a barn, but I can dig it.
- In other news: Aylee is a double agent! How fitting that the overlooked lady-in-waiting should get a plot via attention-seeking kleptomania.
- Catherine’s descent into Bond villain madness continues apace as she coos about taking Mary under her wing as she literally strokes her pet bird. Classic.
- “There was an incident… in the boathouse. Where we were found… in the boathouse.”