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Reign: "Liege Lord"

In which Mary really for real becomes Queen of Scots

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Reign

"Lord Liege"

Season 1, Episode 17

After months of the girls saying marriage would solve their problems, it’s become abundantly clear that it’s only going to get more complicated from here on out. At this point, the idea that a husband would keep any of them safe is laughable, even to them. As Lola tells her husband to be, they “live in a world where marriage is a risk.” They’re all quickly realizing what we’ve known from the beginning, when they swanned into French court all giggly about their first kisses—they can only depend on themselves.

Historically speaking, everyone seriously took their sweet time getting married. Narratively speaking, marrying half the main cast to each other and tying the other half in engagements before the first season’s over is an incredibly bold move, especially for a teen soap. Television loves will-they won’t-they relationships, and with good reason. That coiled tension of wanting someone so badly you can’t stand is rich with possibility. With “Liege Lord,” though, Reign takes a breather from love triangles and all that exhausting yearning to explore the dynamics of actual partnerships—and it’s one of the most intriguing episodes Reign has done to date.

Every couple is at a different stage in their partnership, and is therefore facing different sets of problem. Lola is trying to lock down Lord Julian before her pregnancy starts to show, but gets an unpleasant shock when Julian confesses that while he’s “in a mood for marrying,” his previous wives both died in childbirth and he never wants to risk it again. Lola’s so surprised that a noble wouldn’t care about heirs that she can’t come up with a good enough reason to turn down his proposal (though to be fair, turning down a public proposal would be terribly awkward, which is also why public proposals are the worst). Lola’s storyline has been tilting full-on soap opera lately, what with her secret royal baby and all, so I really was convinced the solution would be something like Mary faking a pregnancy so Lola could provide the royal couple with an heir, and hey, it could still happen. But much to my surprise, Lola actually decides to be upfront with her fiancé. More surprising still, Julian takes the news with ease even when Lola won’t go so far as to reveal the father. The cynic’s read of this situation would also add that Julian might be taking the news well because he’ll know it’s not his fault if Lola does end up dying in childbirth. Either way, Julian also lets slip that he’s made some mistakes, too, though he won’t ask about her past if she won’t ask about his. This will surely come back to haunt Lola, but for now, it’s all very touching and lovely.

Meanwhile, Kenna and Bash (and the entire Reign viewership) are still reeling from their surprise wedding. Bash has resigned himself to his fate while Kenna ‘s stone-cold furious that all her schemes have brought her to a forced marriage with the King’s traitorous bastard. I suspected they might be interesting together, but their odd couple alliance proves to be much more fun than I had anticipated. Their first scene proves that they have a snappy repartee (Kenna: “What do you have to complain about? "You're now married to a beautiful woman of noble birth." Bash: "Who's notorious for sleeping with my father. I see no awkwardness there.").

Torrance Coombs does much better once the script lifts the pressure of pining off of him, but “Liege Lord” is Caitlin Stasey’s best showcase yet. Her disdain for Bash and his dingy shaving mirror lets her play around with Kenna’s more Clueless tendencies, and then it turns on a dime when Mary asks her to infilitrate the King’s chambers to save Scotland. As an indignant Kenna tells Bash later, she actually does give a damn about her queen, and her country. Now, we’ve seen Kenna say just about the opposite in pursuit of the King and a noble husband, but I would argue that this doesn’t necessarily make Kenna inconsistent. It rather marks her pained evolution from a starstruck teen to a defiant woman. She’s lived, she’s loved, she’s learned. We know she’s a keen observer from her pinpointing the source of Lola’s angst, so it’s not altogether surprising when she gives it to Bash straight about his obsession with their queen: “A love like that could destroy both of us.” All it takes to shut down Bash’s half-hearted protest that it’s all in the past is Kenna shooting him a weary look of disdain. Kenna takes a big risk when she confides in Bash how scared she is of the King, whose touch now leaves her ill, and Bash similarly takes a leap when he steps in to get her away at the end of the episode. At this point, they both realize there’s no point in hiding things from each other. If they’re going to rise above the shit hand King Henry dealt them, they need to band together and become real partners.

In the end, though,  “Liege Lord” belongs to Mary, Queen of Scots. Her and Francis’ honeymoon phase comes crashing back down to earth this week once they remember that they’re royals.  One of Catherine’s loyal prostitutes emerges to chew up every piece of scenery that dare crosses her path, but also to inform Mary that her marriage includes a secret clause that would give Scotland to France if she dies without an heir. She then actually thumps twice on her getaway carriage and cries, “Drive!” before escaping into the night. I love soap drama more than is healthy, but this was a seriously silly bit of acting that undermined a game-changing revelation.

From there, the game’s afoot. Mary and Francis decide to force their parents to throw out the clause by setting her mother up for a Protestant rebellion. The episode’s commitment to justifying all the politics is admirable, but there are a few scenes between Mary and Francis that are entirely devoted to them catching us up on all the details—and there are a lot of details. It’s much more interesting to watch Mary relish her newfound confidence. When Francis asks if she's ready to betray her formidable mother Marie Deguise, the camera follows Mary drawing herself up like a snake, rearing for the kill. "I'm the Queen of Scotland,” she says, “not the Queen of Deguise." It’s a neat piece of acting from Kane, who’s been in a supporting role for a few weeks now, though Regbo does equally good work as Francis admires his formidable wife with a smirk of pride. It’s more interesting still  when Mary gets to square off with her countrymen. Even aside from them actually having Scottish accents (one even says “lass”!), the visiting Scots remind us that while Mary might be Queen of Scots, she’s lived in France almost all her life. There’s really no reason for them to trust her. Mary then mines the power she’s been building since we met her, steels her jaw, and demands their respect. Kane clearly relishes the opportunity to let loose, especially when she spits, “I would defy the Devil himself if he tried to buy and sell my country!” Like Francis, they can only look at her with the utmost respect as they lay down their swords in front of her.

So it’s really too bad when Catherine gets them all viciously slaughtered. But surprising? Not so much. Catherine’s proved that she will do anything to preserve her and her family’s power, so she visibly switches gears when she even gets the hint that something is going awry. Now, we knew it was going to happen, but it was more than convenient that her seduced Scot let slip about Mary’s meeting with the Protestants, not to mention that Catherine immediately understood that the secret clause was not as much a secret anymore. But Catherine’s mercenary-like efficiency in disposing of such threats is a consistently thrilling well for the show to draw from, so I can’t fault it too much for rushing it here. The script also smartly lets us see the chaos when the French storm the brothel to slaughter the Scots. The ruthless order then feels less like a political power play so much as ruthless murder, especially since bystander prostitutes end up as collateral damage. A soldier reports back to tell Catherine that “it’s done,” and she waits until he leaves to put her head in her hands. There’s a beautiful transition shot as she just sits there, hands splayed across her exhausted face, until the light breaks. In fact, the only thing that could make the scene more beautiful is when Mary comes in to punch her in the face.

Catherine only reels for a second before delivering a fiery speech about how being a royal means a certain amount of sacrifice. It’s a beautiful showpiece for Megan Follows, especially as the music crescendos into her seething that this pain “will go on and on until your death because that’s how it works.” Still, the most remarkable thing about  “Liege Lord” is that even though we’ve been hearing that Catherine’s found her match in Mary, this it the first time it actually feels true. Mary recovers from her pain quickly enough to form a counter-scheme rocks Catherine to her core, since it could end in French civil war. Mary wins, and they watch the contract burn. It’s a triumphant moment, but the most exciting one comes later, when Mary coolly informs Francis that she was never bluffing…and she never will again. Nice to meet you, Mary Queen of Scots. We’ve waited a long time for you to arrive.

Stray observations:

  • Greer largely took this week off, but I like to imagine that she was off rolling her eyes somewhere while Castleroy mused on how to incorporate pepper into their wedding cake.
  • Kenna: "We didn't actually have sex." Bash: "I don't want to calibrate the exact inch you stopped." (FYI: I’m dangerously close to making a Kenna and Bash Appreciation Corner.)
  • Catherine and The Scot’s post-coital scene was so full of gems I didn’t even know how to incorporate them into the review, including but not limited to: “I suppose bowing would be pointless now,” and “you’ve shown your willingness to serve me in the past…hour.”
  • Francis’ dismayed face when Mary says he can join her in Scotland as her “consort” made me laugh a lot. Also, really cute how he didn’t think Mary will put her country before him like he did to her for months on end. The patriarchy can be so damn sensitive sometimes.
  • Mary telling Catherine the Scot slaughter is unforgivable would be a much more powerful moment if she hadn’t spent most of the season saying she’d never forgive Catherine for trying to kill her/her friends/Bash/etc.
  • "Welcome to being a ruling queen, Mary. Men will trust you, and die."

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