Sometimes I like to look back at my first couple Reign reviews and laugh and laugh. Back then, I worried about things like “historical accuracy,” “engagements,” and “Aylee.” I wondered what the endgame was for this funny show, which seemed determined to perch between teen soap and supernatural shitshow without really going for either. I sighed that at least Adelaide Kane was doing well, and hoped that maybe the show would catch up to her eventually. But the most incredible thing to me now, really, is that I thought this show was about Mary.
Catherine’s always been a nefarious joy, but ever since she got thrown in prison, she’s raised scheming and eyebrow arching to an art form. Henry trying to get rid of her is like trying to kill a spider; the second you think you’ve got it, the wily thing ends up in a part of the ceiling you didn’t even know you had, and you're left swinging at nothing like an idiot. “Inquisition,” though, is the first episode where we actually get to see Catherine struggle. She’s still playing the game, but the rules have changed, there are too many players to control, and worst of all, no one will let her cheat. As Catherine tries to save her own life and spirals further and further into chaos, “Inquisition” mirrors her panic by becoming her worst nightmare as literally as it possibly can. There’s nothing she or her black-clad Medici relatives won’t do to save her life, or at least her dignity, and so she sweeps about the castle in her black crown and robes like an unholy specter of vengeance, pursuing Mary and the pagan baby and her husband and the truth with equal parts desperation and fury.
Which is all a fancy way of saying: holy shit, you guys. Catherine de Medici might just be perfect.
We first see her back in her cell, slopping porridge back into her bowl. This is not especially notable, except that her perfectly impatient eye-roll is a prime example of just how good Megan Follows has become in this role. She’s relishing every last second of it. There hasn’t been a single scene where Follows has let her guard down, which becomes even more obvious when the only thing she’s acting against is a bowl of porridge. (It also says something when Mary and Bash’s storyline is about trying to hide an illegitimate pagan baby from a kings guard horse chase, and I all I wanted was more of Megan Follows threatening people.) We then meet her aforementioned Medici brethren, who love Catherine, dramatic entrances, and light to moderate torture tactics. They inform her that while Henry’s appeal to the Pope was unsuccessful, the King is thinking that charging Catherine with adultery might just stick. “Who am I accused to be adulterous with?” she demands, and I actually said “please let it be Nostradamus” out loud as it cut to Henry’s guards tossing everyone’s favorite raspy prophet into jail.
As Catherine says, the most offensive thing about Henry’s faux-accusation is that it completely lacks creativity. And as it turns out, Catherine wouldn’t be so foolish as to get with the hangdog court seer when she could fall for Henry’s friend and then banish him from court on trumped-up charges. The reveal that Richard Delacroix was Catherine’s former lover was, to borrow her phrase, well played. I was genuinely surprised, and their reconciliation scene in front of the fireplace managed to be come off both remarkably sweet and like the living, breathing embodiment of a romance novel cover ("Say you love me best," Delacroix actually says while her hands stroke his beard). That this scene happens after we learn so much about how close Catherine and Henry used to be is just a twist of the knife. Poor Henry is outclassed on just about every level with Catherine, but seeing him pine for what they used to have is the most I’ve ever liked him—which is saying something, since this is also in an episode where he says, “No one cares, Kenna.” At the very least, we learn that Catherine was desperate to have a child if only to keep herself secure, and that Henry loved her enough to try whatever bizarre fertility treatment she threw at him. It’s just too bad that she finally had a kid she couldn’t acknowledge, because it was with Richard, and oh by the way, it was Clarissa.
That’s right. If all of the above wasn’t enough, we finally got answers about the French court’s resident eavesdropper. (My professional notes: "CLARISSA IS CATHERINE'S DAUGHTER OH WOW I'M SO HAPPY.") Really, it’s only fitting that while Mary’s known about this shadowy presence for months, Catherine demands and procures real answers about Clarissa approximately three seconds after encountering her.
So, Nostradamus’ father got Clarissa as a baby, spent his life trying to remove her facial birthmark, and accidentally deformed her in the process (mad scientists are such a trip). Rossif Sutherland has been trying his best, I think, but I swear I rewound that dramatic moment when he rasps, “I feel responsible for her!” five times and I’m still only 80% sure that’s what he said. On the other hand, and unsurprisingly, Follows really goes for it. She’s always been fond of the dramatic stand-up and whip around routine, but this time, Follows contorts her face with some brand new emotions for the Catherine we have come to know and bow down to: pain and confusion. When Henry realized that his friend grew a beard to hide the genetic birthmark that made its way onto his wife’s discarded daughter, I actually clapped in delight like some goddamn preteen seal. In maybe a third of an episode, we got Henry and Richard’s friendship, Henry and Catherine having actual marital sex, Catherine and Richard making out by a fireplace, the discovery that Catherine and Richard had a lovechild and Catherine and Richard’s lovechild discovering that she is that lovechild. All we need now is a set of identical twins with amnesia.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for a single episode, and yet they still manage to build to even higher points. The first is when Catherine tries to persuade Henry that accepting Bash means accepting heresy. She marches into the throne room with his two behemoth guards and holds up a sphere she stole from Diane’s attic room (on loan from The Craft). She announces that Diane uses the sphere to keep souls nearby, smashes the sphere, and picks up what appears to be Diane’s soul stand-in. “Lovely,” Catherine muses, “if a bit lightweight.” This is all well and awesome, but the moment that catapulted this review’s grade up a letter is King Henry’s reaction. The guard insists he saw the heretical items in Diane’s room, and it’s only a few seconds until Henry is chopping him in the neck with a sword. Everyone screams, the blood splatters, and then there’s the horrible realization that the sword didn’t even make it all the way through. It’s just stuck there, like an axe in a log, only it’s the physical manifestation of Henry’s rage stuck in a seven-foot tall guard’s neck. It’s a straight-up butchering, and I feel confident saying that it’s just as disturbing as anything in Game of Thrones. If we could get a blood-streaked Cersei Lannister to spit, “well played” at Margarey Tyrell, we’d be in business.
The last scene, however, is just about the most intense event this show has ever done—and again, someone in this episode just got a sword stuck in his neck. But the final montage and cliffhanger make for gripping television, and are rather beautiful besides. Catherine has a neat little box of poison courtesy of her Medici relatives, because having an affair is far less embarrassing than having lost a battle. She ponders the box as she stares in the mirror. She puts on her mascara, her robe, and of course, her crown. Elsewhere in the castle, Mary disrobes for a bath. It’s not the subtlest way of showing just how deep the disparity between the two has become, but hey, this is Reign; subtlety was never in the cards. And so Catherine steals into Mary’s bathroom and catches her, vulnerable, in the tub. She throws poison bath salts into the water, and as they bubble to the surface, Catherine holds a dagger to Mary’s throat and whispers in her ear that if she’s going down, Mary’s going to join her. By the time both Clarissa finds Mary and Catherine on the floor sputtering and dying, I was pretty much right there with them. So much happened in this episode, and yet in the world Reign has created, attempted murder-suicide via poison bath salts seemed perfectly in order.
- This is my longest review by far and I talked about maybe 40% of this episode. Think you can make it up for me in the comments?
- Week two without Francis. Did the Frary contingent revolt on Twitter again? Or did they realize that Francis’ whole morality thing was seriously dragging the show down?
- Catherine Appreciation Corner: I mean, that was pretty much this entire review, but I also enjoyed, "Who ties the hands of the king? besides a lusty few."
- I was going to say I wanted a Medici vs. Lannisters cagematch, but I’m pretty sure the Medicis would crush them.
- Love you forever CW, but the music was out of control this episode. That scene where Bash makes some kind of “love me” plea to Mary seems like it’s supposed to be sweet, but the Bruckheimer music made me want Bash to be a whole lot swashbucklier (I’m aware this is not a word, but wouldn’t it be great if it were?).
- "I've been betrayed sufficiently for one day." Oh, Henry. You must be new.
- Nostradamus: "Somehow I never see anything coming that could help me." [sad trombone]
- “So. Which one of us will crush the other first?"