At this point, Reign knows where its strengths lie. It knows that Megan Follows’ Catherine is a reliable source of biting witticisms and high drama, and that Adelaide Kane can take romantic teen treacle and make it seem like a crisis worthy of a Queen’s time. It knows that the shadowy threat that something supernatural may or may not be happening pairs beautifully with its Elizabethan gothic setting. It knows that the ladies-in-waiting will wear anything as long as it’s grossly inaccurate for the time period, and that when in doubt, they must turn to mesh. It knows that delving too far into politics risks the ultimate sin of boring its impatient audience, and that any major European power play should therefore include some combination of sex and supernatural wickedness. As a result, Reign has become appointment viewing for anyone craving the gleeful kind of camp that other shows have trouble achieving without taking themselves too seriously. On the other hand, this also means that Reign is best when taken one jaw-dropping scene at a time. Thinking too hard about the overarching storyline reveals narrative inconsistencies and outright plot holes that distract from the deliciously twisted fun at hand. “Dirty Laundry” is a very fun episode that comes very close to falling apart once you start pulling at the loose threads.
So first, the fun!
The episode opens two months after “Consummation” as Mary and Francis return from their honeymoon. Mary is understandably reluctant to face everyone again, or more accurately, to come back to “politics, backstabbing, murder…just another day at French court!” They just had the most lovely Loire Valley honeymoon, and all they want to do is make out in the back of their carriage, so everything is about to go horribly wrong. That much is clear. I think it’s safe to say, though, that no one expected to see King Henry literally fuck a woman to death.
Oh, yes, friends. That is a thing that really, truly happened. We’ve gotten some truly twisted shit on this show, but it will be hard to top Henry slamming the Bohemian Archduke’s sister up against a window, the woman throwing her hand up against the steamy pane a la Titanic, and Henry pelvic-thrusting her clear out the window and down to her death. It’s such a patently absurd moment, but it’s also a genuine shock. Best of all, it sets the stage for the episode’s most enjoyable subplot—Henry and Catherine working as a team. It’s smart to shift Catherine away from Mary and Nostradamus’ respective orbits; her work there is done, for the time being. And while both Megan Follows and Catherine raise the games of everyone they works with, no one benefits more from her presence than Alan Van Sprang’s Henry. He and his leather pants are just fine at working the resident horndog angle, but Henry is never more interesting than when he’s working with his wife. Catherine equally terrifies and thrills him; he hates to admit it, but she’s just about the only person he respects at court. For her part, Catherine has some sentimental attachment to the father of her children, but she has no delusions about him being all that special. As she says with a silky sneer, hands clasped in front of a crackling fire: “Don’t try to school a professional, Henry.”
And the best thing is, he doesn’t. He hands over the reins to Catherine without much hesitation, because as he says, she’s his and France’s best chance for survival. From there on out, Henry and Catherine’s Great Murder Cover-up Caper is a rare chance for the actors to stretch their comedic muscles. Even their scrubbing the blood out of the balcony finds some humor; Henry can’t quite believe how casually Catherine treats the body, while he’s about three seconds from falling to his knees and shrieking, “Out, damned spot!” They then drag the poor Bohemian sister’s body across the castle (it’s all very Downton Abbey), brainstorm a believable suicide note (it’s all very Heathers), and improvise a scenario to placate the irate Archduke that ends up implicating that his sister was sleeping with a priest, who they then accidentally tortured to death (it’s all very…Reign). Horrific subject matter aside, Catherine and Henry find themselves actually enjoying each other’s company. It’s no surprise, then, when Henry finally tells Catherine with hearts in his eyes that she’s a “galleon in full sail, all guns blazing.” It’s even less of a surprise when she pushes him away.
Unlike Henry screwing someone out a goddamn window, the twist that absolutely everyone saw coming is that Lola is pregnant with Francis’ child. It’s hard to be mad at how predictable it is, though, because it really is stunning that there hasn’t been a surprise pregnancy on this show before now. Everyone is having sex with everyone, and King Henry’s apparent acumen for pulling out aside, birth control has hardly been a consideration. It looks like we’re going to be stuck with this plot for a while. Mary talked Lola out of an abortion straight out of an American Horror Story flashback, but I’m afraid it already peaked with the surprisingly heart-wrenching scene between Lola and Kenna. Now, Kenna’s been trying to find her place at court ever since we met her, and apparently has no qualms playing second sexual fiddle to Diane de Poitiers. She still knows, though, that hitching her wagon to Henry’s famously roving wagon is a risky move without a guarantee, and so she’s now officially on the hunt for a husband that will set her up for life in some lavish castle with servants who will appreciate her Coachella headbands. And so when Lola finally confesses that she is carrying Francis’ child, Kenna can’t understand why she wouldn’t want to leverage it into a more permanent position at court. Yes, Lola’s relationship to Francis would be an open secret for the rest of her life, and she might not get to take care of her kid, and she would never get to have a real family of her own, but she’d be secure. To Kenna, that kind of security is the bottom line. To Lola, it’s a life sentence. Anna Popplewell plays Lola’s desperation with just the right amount of steely determination, which is just enough to make Kenna look very silly by comparison. I’ve never had as much vitriol for Kenna as the majority of Reign’s audience apparently does, but “Dirty Laundry” shines such an unflattering light on her that it’s hard not to read it as giving in to fan reaction.
On a similar note, I was also surprised by how strongly people reacted against Lola when she and Francis had sex. Sure, sleeping with your best friend’s ex-boyfriend is a universal taboo, and okay, sleeping with your best friend who also happens to be a queen is just a colossal mistake. But again, Francis was there, too. It seems weird that he’s largely absent from an episode that has so much riding on his aggressive sperm (again, I am so sorry). I also have to wonder if the show is ever going to address the wildly imbalanced power struggles at play in most of the sexual relationships. Kenna and King Henry started off on a questionable note. She might have been in the mood, but the King snuck up on her without so much as a, “hey girl.” If she hadn’t been into him, what could she have really done? As he’s so fond of reminding us, he’s the king. He could make her do or say anything, and if she had refused, he could have ruined her for life. Lola and Francis are a less extreme example, but the fact remains that Francis is the Dauphin of France, and Lola a mere lady. We now know because of the whole Bash debacle that Francis has no problem messing with someone’s life if he feels they wronged him. So again, what if Lola had refused? Would he have been so embarrassed that he held it against her? Would he have sent her away to Spain? I don’t mean to play a game of what ifs, since that becomes counterproductive to a point, but it’s worth pointing out that Lola and Kenna’s romantic entanglements have more riding on them than just heartbreak. Getting involved with a royal means risking everything you have. And as Francis admits to Mary this episode, being a royal pretty much means you can play God. Lola and Kenna are subordinate women in a court where entitled men get to play chess with their lives. Kenna doesn’t get that yet, but Lola’s despair proves that she realizes that all too well.
This episode’s unraveling, however, is the continued Mary/Bash/Francis nonsense. Two months after he so dramatically dashed off into the night, Bash has apparently stayed within a mile radius of the castle. He runs into Elizabethan Katniss, they flirt, and he tells her his name. It’s a small detail, but it really should be a matter of life and death if we’re to believe his life is in as grave danger as he keeps telling people it is. Bash’s forest dalliances also confuses the episode’s timeline. He meets this girl, and then we immediately cut to them palling around as she brings him home. If we got to see some of this pheasant hunting bonding they tell us about, it might have been easier to buy their friendship and eventual kiss. But “Dirty Laundry” tries to do so much with Bash that it just ends up looking like Bash is everywhere and nowhere. He’s in the woods! He’s in the secret passageways! He’s in Mary’s room! He’s on call to save Lola! No wait, he’s leaving France! It’s just too much. It doesn’t help that he’s developed this irritating habit of speaking in platitudes when he’s around Mary, who treats his wild-eyed declarations that he will protect her or else with the firm but gentle grace of a true queen. We can only hope that when Mary tells him, “my part in this is ended, I am married,” it means that we’ll get to see our Queen face some conflicts that don’t involve the floppy-haired boys who have yet to deserve her.
- Every week, I write longer and longer reviews, and every week, I still can’t find space to talk about a gasp-worthy plot twist. This week, that honor goes to the reemergence of Francis’ girlfriend Olivia, who apparently ran into some bad shit in the woods that inspires her to stab a priest with his own cross. Bless.
- Adelaide Kane really does knock all her scenes out of the park tonight, from her incredulity as Catherine offers her fertility potions, to the dark cloud of fury and hurt that passes over her face when she realizes Lola’s baby is Francis’.
- Archduke: "This note mentions sexual prowess!"
Catherine, without blinking: "I think that was just wishful thinking on the part of the writer. Right, Henry?"
- I can’t be the only one who wants “the darkness” in the woods that bit Olivia to be Katherine Pierce, right?
- We didn’t get to know Elizabethan Katniss long, but “stay for supper, and the night, and me” is my new pickup line. Wish me luck!