Reign tends to operate as more alternate-universe fanfiction than anything pretending to approach history. It makes the most of its narrative leeway by applying the Gossip Girl formula of at least one party a week, which briefly interrupts the cavalcade of plot points and behind-doors scheming of as many characters as possible. The results can veer into the delightfully camp (that’s half the fun of a show like this). But when things work, they work, and this week brought three major threads closer together to good effect: the increasing threat of the heretics in the woods, the increasing hormones of those three wacky kids in the palace, and the increasingly priceless Queen Catherine.
After last week’s kiss between Mary and Bash (witnessed by Francis, because of course), the pagans threatening Mary are an awfully handy way to force Mary, Bash, and Francis to get in the same room and snipe at each other. And that’s for the best. The most interesting element of this love triangle has been how often it veers into the realm of potential threesome, and they’re more compelling as a messed-up but mutually invested trio than any given pair of them are. And their predicament spins them in complementary directions this week.
Bash has been treading a lot of water so far, with intriguing hints about his knowledge of the pagans taking a backseat to accidentally having more chemistry with Lola than with Mary. He gets more interesting after the pagans demand that he give a blood sacrifice. Speaking with Diane (who followed the pagans in her youth), he has no problems admitting that he’d be willing to murder for Mary, but smartly uses a petty thief as bait to draw out and murder a pagan rather than an innocent. It would be soothing for Mary and Francis, back at the castle worrying about his soul, except that when the thief assures Bash, “It doesn’t matter what blood flows through your veins,” it’s clear the thief knows him, and Bash realizes there are at least three people he’d kill for as he shoves the thief off a cliff. When he comes back, colder and newly, dangerously self-aware, it’s everything Francis feared: “Who will my brother be when he returns?”
Really, though, the only answer that would have made Francis happy is if his brother was someone else who was uninterested in Mary. But Francis, being an equal-opportunity tantrum-thrower, blames Mary just as much, claiming that as a royal she should know better and declaring Bash off-limits: “We can’t act on whim, on feeling.” Of course, that’s not really as true if you’re a male royal, as this show is well aware. The worst thing we’ve seen happen to a man acting on romantic whims so far is getting yelled at about tiles. Meanwhile, many of the major storylines so far this season have focused on the limitations on young women’s lives—which, sadly have more modern parallels than they should.
At the Must We end of the spectrum, we’re looking at Kenna, who’s been promoted to the King’s official mistress, and who is somehow unbearable. It’s hard to pinpoint why—she has every reason to suspect the King is unfaithful, and he proves her right before the episode’s even over—but for someone who seems to be setting her political sights high, she’s the least savvy handmaiden of the bunch, and recognizes her powerlessness mainly by open demands, which seems doomed to failure. “I only ask that you assume I’m not a fool,” she tells Mary, but Greer and Lola’s faces when Kenna admits the relationship says everything about that that needs be said.
In the middle this week, we have Diane, who’s used to achieving power obliquely after so many years; she’s ostensibly happily setting up her retirement cottage, and the King seeks her sympathetic ear as Kenna makes more demands. It would take someone so pragmatic to live through 20 years of being Queen Catherine’s rival, and when she tells Bash, “I’ll make sure you’re remembered,” you believe her.
Then again, it’s impossible to root against Catherine. Thanks to the superlative Megan Follows, she alone is worth watching the show for. She gives Catherine enough depth behind her gloriously arch line deliveries that her shifting priorities always manage to feel organic. (Her quick appraisal of how she would smuggle a stag head into the royal quarters, if she was planning to smuggle a stag head into the royal quarters, was a thing of beauty.) This week, she’s more concerned with the infiltration of the palace than about dispatching Mary, and proves to be as effective an ally as she is an enemy. It’s illuminating that having joined forces, Mary and Catherine demonstrate the difference between the hope of rule and the reality of rule by summoning the servants and asking them to step forward to confess what they know. Mary attempts sympathy. Catherine, who has no time for any of this, just threatens to burn their houses down. (It works, though not before Mary has to defend herself against the servant Sarah; for someone with four full-time handmaidens, poor Mary’s caught alone with a bad guy on a strangely regular basis.)
This episode, while jam-packed with plot as per usual, also had a more interesting thematic arc than we’ve seen so far; rather than insta-villain princes or prophecies, the episode separated people into those who know themselves and those who don’t. It’s a developing theme for many (Greer’s ongoing balancing act between family obligation and hormone overload is right at home here), and this episode shows Kenna adrift in the latter camp, with Francis right behind her, carrying his self-righteousness on his sleeve. Mary is stuck in the middle for the moment, though I suspect she’ll be nudged out of that soon enough. And the women who have had to know themselves and everyone else in order to survive—Diane and Catherine—might have a new neighbor in Bash, who now knows exactly what he’s willing to do, and still can’t wrap his mind around what kind of man that might make him. (King.)
- I’m honestly surprised Nostradamus didn’t show up this episode to warn Bash off the bloodwood in vague terms, or suggest to Catherine that he who dares wins.
- Engagement Watch: It’s on, but they can see other people, so long as none of those people is Bash, apparently.
- I’m not sure why they’re making Kenna a caricature of every Other Woman on TV. (They don’t have to; they’ve managed to make Greer’s position orders of magnitude more interesting without ever losing a sense of her stakes.) I hope Kenna has something else to do, soon, because even last week’s bizarrely intricate klepto-double-blind intrigue was more interesting than Kenna being the least savvy courtier in the world.
- “To have a king behind you on his knees...” King Henry of France, Master Creeper.
- And he put Kenna’s name in lights on his lawn. King Henry of France, John Hughes fan.
- Every week has at least one portentous line that seems more out of place the more sincerely it’s delivered. This week, “How much danger I am in?” asks Mary, after being drugged and gifted with a stag’s head by a cult that explicitly wants to a blood sacrifice. I dunno, four out of 10?
- Megan Follows is a gift. Never could there be a more matter-of-fact line reading of, “You realized the time and you knew your house was about to burn down, I know.”
- It’s still topped by her delivery of, “Feelings, honestly.”