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Reign: "Monsters"

Aaahh!!! Real conflicts of marriage and propriety!

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Reign

"Monsters"

Season 1, Episode 16

“Monsters” is a deceptive title for this episode. From all the pagan sacrifices, clawed silhouettes, and crazed hissing in the shadows that’s happened on this show thus far, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that this episode is going to be a hellish free-for-all of real, honest to goodness monsters. Now, there is some of that, between Henry’s unhinged power trip and the brothers’ hunt for The Darkness, but in a twist that ends up helping the episode, the driving action of “Monsters” ends up being the increasingly sticky web of the court’s romantic entanglements.

As Kenna reminds us with as impatience as she can muster, the only reason Mary’s ladies actually came to the French court was to find rich French husbands that would set them up for life. These ladies are of age and prominent in the eyes of court. It’s absolutely realistic that they’d be feeling the pressure to find a partner before gossip finds something to ruin them forever. Their mission’s only intensified now that Mary’s safely married, not to mention that Lola’s carrying a ticking time bomb of a royal baby. Lola’s been pretty stoic about the whole thing since Mary brought her back from their friendly woodland abortion clinic, but Lola can’t hide her desperation as her dresses get tighter, and the ticking of the clock on her secret gets louder. Anna Popplewell continues to play Lola’s desperation well, but it’s Adelaide Kane who shines this week as Mary somehow tells her both gently and firmly that Lola’s going to have to stick to the plan. Mary’s marriage (ergo the country, ergo Europe) depends on Lola squirreling away with this illegitimate kid as soon as possible.

While Lola’s preparing for the possibility of her reputation going to pieces, Greer’s actually does. We didn’t get enough time with her perfectly charming fiancé Julian to be too floored when he walks in on her and Leith making out (seemingly for the last time, but not even Julian’s buying that line). Still, Celina Sinden sells the hell out of Greer’s devastation when he walks out the door, ostensibly taking her reputation and chance at a happy match with him. Her debrief with Lola, Kenna, and Mary after the whole debacle is gut-wrenching. Equal parts shattered and resigned, Greer sighs through her tears, “Look where our hearts have led us.” Every one of them averts their eyes, like something inside them is breaking. It’s a perfectly delivered line that perfectly sums up the ladies’ conflicts. They’ve spent the better part of this season listening to their hearts, and in an unfortunate but predictable turn of events, their hearts totally screwed them over. Just ask Kenna.

Oh, Kenna, you beautiful starfish. You tangled with fire, and you not only got burned, but you got married off to France’s least favorite bastard. Not a great day for anyone, really. I want to be clear about this, though, because there’s been rumblings recently that Kenna’s deserved everything that’s coming to her because of how hard she pursued the king. This makes zero sense. Yes, she romanticized the idea of being his mistress, and yes, she decided to use her sexual chemistry with the king to secure a more suitable husband. None of this means she deserves the abuse and manipulation this new iteration of Henry has put her through. Period. It will be incredibly interesting to see how Kenna responds to this latest humiliation; as she says through a wail, marriage isn’t something he can just take back. Whatever game they were playing, the rules have changed forever. Whatever you think of the king right now, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of a punishment that forces two people he’s unhappy with to be together, ‘til death do they part. There was a scene early on in the series where Bash and Kenna get a little drunk and flirty, and I remember liking their chemistry, but I’m guessing it’ll be an uphill climb to get anywhere near that kind of fun after the “horror show” (h/t Bash) that was their wedding.

Then there are the titular “Monsters.” Last week’s foray into The Darkness was a weird interlude that felt out of place, like we had missed a couple episodes of Bash living and loving in the woods before they decided to feed him to He Who Must Not Be Seen. I assumed we’d get more answers this week, and I was right, but I wasn’t expecting as point blank of an answer as we got from Nostradamus. Just as Clarissa wasn’t a ghost, The Darkness isn’t a real monster, but a deeply twisted human who likes to file his teeth into fangs, and then sink said fangs into vulnerable young women. You know, like you do.

Even the characters are disappointed by Nostradamus’ reveal. Quite understandably, Olivia believed she was scarred for life by some fantastical Freddy Krueger creature so she didn’t have to face the fact that any one person she meets might be capable of such cruelty. Even Mary’s keener to believe supernatural explanations, thanks to that whole thing where she delayed her marriage to Francis and tried to marry his illegitimate brother because of a prophecy. When Bash and Francis go out into the woods to find this Darkness character, Bash knows they’re looking for a person, but the Darkness’ screeching whistle sends him off into a panic, anyway. It’s amazing what a legend can do to the psyche, even after it’s been proven false. Then again, Nostradamus has been known to go back on prophecies even while he’s saying them, so really, who knows.

For now, though, the most pressing monster in everyone’s life is the increasingly manic King Henry. Everyone at court is convinced he’s ill, and maybe he is (my copy of last week’s episode was missing whatever reference to black urine the comments section was buzzing about). But the possibility remains that Henry’s realized what a thousand monarchs before and after him realized—as king, he has absolute power. Royals were told over and over again that their reigns were ordained from on high, so it’s not really that much of a leap for Henry to take that and run full force into lawlessness. After all, who’s going to stop him? He is the law. If he wants to drip hot wax into a Marquis’ ear, he’ll do it and laugh all the way, because he is God’s chosen ruler, and as such, he can do whatever the hell he wants.

But even as Henry tests his infinite power, he leaves just enough room for France’s newly crowed Queen of the Bean to strut her way in and set up shop. As Terrence Coombs somewhat defensively pointed out on Twitter, the “Queen of the Bean” tradition is actually based in the tradition of Twelfth Night, where the person who found the bean in a slice of cake would rule the evening’s festivities. I have a feeling, though, that Reign’s Queen of the Bean is a whole lot wilier than your average Tudor lottery winner. Thanks in part to the dynamic actress Kathryn Prescott (Skins), servant girl Penelope has a spark in her eye that catches the king’s attention beyond his usual carnal desires. Catherine recognizes that she could be useful, but makes the mistake of assuming that Penelope’s lower station means she’ll be happy to follow her lead. When Catherine tells Penelope she could think “long term,” Penelope’s eyebrows raise just slightly. She doesn’t have much to lose—why not go for it? And so instead of gaining a loyal foot soldier who will poison her husband into a coma at her bidding, Catherine tips her hand to a worthy opponent. Penelope watches as everyone tip-toes around the king’s temper, including Mary, who bolts when Henry tries to get her to be with Penelope for his benefit. Instead of running with them, though, Penelope senses that there’s room to be something different to him. If no one will stand up to him, she can—and she can couch it in sex. Penelope flipping Henry’s usual sexual script to become his dominant is such an inspired choice that I really do hope she sticks around for a while. Penelope’s fearlessness might just be useful in the coming days.

Stray observations:

The show’s clearly trying to make us believe The Darkness is Henry, but I say that’s too obvious, so I’m going with Leith. (I have no idea.)

So Greer is engaged to Castleroy, and Lola is well on her way to be engaged to Julian. This is all well and good, but if Julian’s not a fan of attracting gossip, he better not hear about this whole thing where his prospective bride is carrying the Dauphin’s son, because that might bum him out.

It was cruel, but I laughed pretty hard at Henry gleefully congratulating Greer on her indiscretion, because "that nasty gossip is the first interesting thing I’ve heard about you." So catty, that Henry.

Henry’s pitch to Mary “Pretend she’s Francis, I’ll watch.” I almost wish Henry had just gone full creep and said, “Pretend she’s my son, I’ll watch.”

I don’t have much to say about Nostradamus and Olivia’s tender moments except that they are very sweet, even if their children would probably speak in completely incomprehensible faux-French rasps.

Catherine Appreciation Corner: it’s been a slow couple of weeks, but between her seventy-sixth poison attempt and sotto voce, “you stupid kitchen whore,” I think it’s safe to say that the bitch is back, baby.

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