It figures that the week after I say Reign should turn the volume up on the supernatural elements, we get an episode that’s 90 percent politics. But I can’t get too mad; “Kisses” is such a startling, welcome change of pace. Okay, yes, there are still sentences that end with things like, “she is your fiancée and their queen,” but they are much fewer and farther between than they were in the first two episodes. “Kisses” moves with purpose, setting up conflicts and knocking them down within a couple scenes of each other, not to mention that it leads to a cliffhanger with real, immediate stakes. Hopefully, this means Reign’s done setting the table and is ready to dig into the good stuff.
The best thing “Kisses” does is make clear what the show’s been telling instead of showing the past couple weeks. Not only is Mary a magnetic personality, full of life and stubborn fire, but she’s Mary, Queen of Scots. She doesn’t have time to flirt her way through court, nor the luxury of easing into her crown like Francis does. The pilot and “Snakes in the Garden” were too bogged down in the details to really convey this dilemma, but “Kisses” is far more successful at portraying her struggle to be both a teenager and a queen. It also helps that Adelaide Kane works overtime, shifting from a girl giggling with her friends about kissing (or lack thereof) to a woman responsible for an entire country with admirable elasticity. The second her uncle tells her the English are making their move, Kane’s entire body language changes. She straightens her spine, steels her jaw, and determines to fix this come hell or high water. And so she strides in to see King Henry, sweeping the curtains aside like she’s throwing down a gauntlet. The stakes have ostensibly been high all along, but they’ve never felt quite this high before, and it’s thrilling to watch Mary look her simpering fiancé dead in the eye and declare that she’s tired of waiting, because man, was I tired of waiting for that spark.
To be fair, we did get a glimpse of it last week as Mary chased Clarissa around the castle. But that was largely a solo mission, and this week, just about everyone gets a little something to do (except poor Aylee, who apparently may never get home and whose name I just had to look up on IMDB). Most notably, Francis takes Mary’s cue and decides to stand up to his father for once. Admirable, but I still laughed out loud when Francis decided to take this stand by interrupting Henry and Bash’s brodown fencing session. Intentional or not, it was the first time Reign used the stark contrast of Bash’s smirking bravado versus Francis’ meek second-guessing. (Also, Toby Regbo is just such a pretty little elfin boy and watching him interrupt that testosterone-off was pretty great.) By the time Francis backs his father into a corner with some strategically placed blackmail, I was on Henry’s page: finally. It’s the first sign of Francis having a real personality. It suits him.
“Kisses” then makes smart use of the requisite romantic entanglements by weaving them into the political action at hand with a little more discretion than before. The entire Colin storyline was a frustrating mess that created wholly unsatisfying conflict between Lola and Mary. It’s not that Greer’s anger that the Portuguese prince likes Mary better is that compelling, since we don’t know Greer well enough to get invested. It’s that the Colin conflict came out of a seriously distorted set of priorities (“how can you be upset that my boyfriend tried to rape you when he’s in jail?!”), and Tomas is the lynchpin of a truly intriguing arc. Then there’s his Portuguese tango. While the soundtrack’s anachronisms have spotty success, this uncomfortably sexy dance worked beautifully as a way to highlight the difference between Tomas and Francis, not to mention Mary’s discomfort. A week ago, I would have been cheering for Mary to head for the Portuguese hills. But Francis spends this entire episode trying to be worthy of Mary, and even if he doesn’t quite succeed, he’s at least trying. It’s hard not to feel for him when he desperately kisses Mary and tells her to marry Tomas. It’s harder still not to feel for Mary, who just had her first kiss and possibly her first heartbreak at the same time.
There’s something very sweet about the fact that half this episode is devoted to first kisses, isn’t there? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a teen show start from first base, never mind one that would like to be associated with the word, “salacious.” It’s also a smart way to draw the contrast between Mary the 15-year-old with a crush and Mary the resolute Queen, even if both are inexperienced in their own way. There’s no way this engagement to Tomas will last long, but even if we know the outcome, there's new hope for an intriguing ride along the way.
- So the “previously on” segment is someone caressing a blonde as she whips her hair back and forth…? Sure, why not.
- Anachronism of the Week: Greer’s bustier, emphasis on the bust. Really, all their dresses are still ridiculous, but we got Mary with her hair up(!) and an attempt at an Elizabethan collar(!!), so that’s something.
- Still not working for me: Henry and Kenna. Are they trying to sell this as a legitimate romance? I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly inspired by, "as a girl, I need more time."
- Suddenly really working for me: Bash! Finally! Let’s hope for a speedy recovery so we can get more sloshy lines like his deadpan, "Hard to imagine a more uncomfortable conversation about one's father."
- I didn’t mind the Greer/Mary stuff too much this week, but it will get old if every week features a different lady-in-waiting story that boils down to, "That totally sucked, but you're my queen, so I guess it’s fine, WHATEVER."
- Greer’s cook boyfriend is like, really pretty.
- Nostradamus having a vision looks more like him realizing he locked himself out of his house.
- "You'll meet a dark handsome stranger. Be careful of flattery."
- "Your mind is elsewhere. Lady Charlotte, or Isabella with the breasts like two pigeons?" (...are breasts like two pigeons a good thing, commentariat? Discuss!)