With just one episode left in the season, I’m pretty sure Reign’s given me whiplash. It’s gone from touching coming-of-age story, to eyelash fluttering teen romance, to supernatural thriller, to the All Hail Queen Catherine Variety Hour (ft. poison)—usually in the span of about 20 minutes. Sometimes, all a television show needs to be entertaining is to defiantly throw caution to the winds, or in Reign’s case, throw queens into secret passageways and swords into unsuspecting necks. “Long Live The King,” however, is an hour of pure soap. Between Lola’s husband revealing his true colors, Mary and Catherine plotting Henry’s demise, and Henry’s bonkers conclusion at the episode’s end, there’s barely a scene that goes by without evoking the classic scene-chewing and handwringing that soap operas hold so dear. “Long Live The King” proves that toeing the soap opera is a delicate operation that’s equally exhausting and daring. It pays very little attention to continuity or nuance, but at the same time, it gleefully lets go of last week’s historical sturm und drang to hurtle headlong into some truly ridiculous, delicious plots.
We flash forward this week “months” ahead of “Higher Ground,” to find that not a whole lot has changed. In one corner we have Bash and Kenna, who are going strong despite Bash’s periodic disappearances into the woods. See, he’s in hot pursuit of The Darkness, who’s been a problem all along even though Reign pretty much only remembers the beast when Bash and/or Nostradamus run out of things to do. (At this point, it’s a tossup as to whether Nostradamus forgot Clarissa’s alive or the show did.) Bashtradamus hunting The Darkness is an okay plot and everything, but the more appealing—and surprising—aspect of this story is how great Bash and Kenna have become as a team. In fact, it’s frustrating that we’ve seen so little of them in the lead-up to their big romantic confessions in this episode, which are lovely. Still, Torrance Coombs and Caitlin Stasey’s chemistry sells the moment, and it’s a mark of how relentlessly fast Reign is moving that I’m so invested in them as a couple when I never could have imagined the pairing just a few episodes ago.
It’s also a mark of how beautifully nuts Reign has gotten that I barely blinked at Mary and Catherine’s plot to kill Henry with poisoned communion wafers. One more time: Mary and Catherine plot to kill Henry with poisoned communion wafers. On the surface, this should be the best thing Reign’s ever done. Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows have played so well off each other, relishing the opportunity to sweep about a castle in improbably shiny robes and barking impossibly dramatic orders at useless underlings. Again, them teaming up to take down Henry, who has become a study in futile mania, should be great. It does have its moments, like Catherine protesting that she’s already tried to poison Henry, only to have Mary counter in exasperation that Catherine’s too “imaginative” a murderer to give up that easy. The murder attempt itself is beautiful, thanks to the shot of Henry kneeling down to take communion in what looks to be an actual church (welcome back, budget), and a genuinely interesting twist when Catherine realizes that Duke DeGuise is double-crossing everyone. For the most part, though, this storyline is a mess. Then there’s the would-be heartwarming conversation between father and son, which is the first one in possibly forever, and therefore telegraphs the fact that Francis will find out about his wife and mother’s nefarious plot and protest with all the righteous indignation he can muster. It’s an obvious, conscious decision to make Mary less infallible, which, to be clear is a completely fair instinct. But this particular bout of foolishness is unconvincing because it doesn’t come out of any story that we’ve seen so far. However hardened Mary’s become, I don’t buy that she’d murder Francis’ father behind his back, and I don’t buy Henry’s 11th hour paternal instincts. The whole setup is manipulative, and not in the beautiful Catherine de Medici kind of way I’ve come to treasure.
Finally, there’s Lola and Julien—or should I say, Remy. Now this was some prime, primetime soap drama. After weeks of speculation as to his character, Lola’s Lord Julien reveals himself to be Remy, the lowly servant boy who accidentally on purpose stole his master’s identity. Lord Julien is dead; long live Lord Remy. I’m relieved he’s not The Darkness if only because the scenes where the con comes undone are so ridiculous they almost round the corner back to brilliance. In the span of some indeterminate amount of time, Remy meets Julien’s uncle, comes clean to Lola, confronts Julien’s uncle, and sets the house on fire so as to vanish the impaled corpse of Julien’s uncle. It’s unclear why this Remy character would care about Greer making out with a servant if he were just impersonating Julien, or why he was even so hesitant not to have kids, but none of it matters in this rush of melodrama. Giacomo Gianniotti and Anna Popplewell gasp and sob at each between every sentence (Popplewell is an especially good crier), wholeheartedly embracing the drama of this twisted Prince and the Pauper tale. I burst out laughing in total delight when Lola pushed Julien’s uncle into a wall spike; by the time Remy grabbed a torch, told Lola he could never see her again, and set the bed on fire, I was beside myself. There are many things a skeptic could say about Reign, but they could never accuse it of going halfway. Impaled uncles aside, though, “Long Live The King” moves in such fits and starts that it’s hard to process fully. It’s fun, but is it actually any good?
And then, as if it can hear the creeping doubt, “Long Live The King” cuts to King Henry and his maps. After yet another dead end in his feverish pursuit of the English throne—not to mention yet another murder attempt—Henry is at his wit’s end. It does look like the show has decided that King Henry is truly mad. It’s a confusing move, but it’s hard to hate it like I want to because Alan Van Sprang has risen to the challenge with such infectious enthusiasm. He somehow delivers Henry’s rambling soliloquy with both a snarl and a whimper, alternately prowling and stumbling around the room like he can barely stand with all his thoughts weighing him down. Then Henry turns—and sees his dead brother. His dead brother nods. Henry turns again—and announces into the ether that he has no choice. He has to kill his son, and marry his wife. Fin.
I mean, it’s absurd. The entire episode is absurd—a nonsensical amalgamation of characterization, twists, motives, and tropes that only occasionally come together to make anything approaching coherent. But watching Van Sprang’s Henry circling his maps, wild-eyed and tying himself in verbal knots for an audience of one jaundiced ghost, it’s hard to care how we got there. “Long Live The King” isn’t a good episode of Reign, not really—but goddamn if it wasn’t a fun one.
- The A.V. Club wouldn’t let me give this episode a “HAHAHAHAHAH,” so I gave it a B+. (Put this on my epitaph.)