B+

Reign: "No Exit"

Mary Queen of Scots vs. The World

B+

Reign

"No Exit"

Season 1, Episode 18
B+

Reign

"No Exit"

Season 1, Episode 18

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For a while there, it was easy to forget that Mary and Francis are monarchs. Everything was first kisses and masked balls, stolen glances and whispered gossip, rogue brothers and evil stepmothers.  Reign felt like any other CW show, right down to the ladies’ sequined headbands and Francis’ Free People peasant blouses. But as the show got more invested in murder plots, court politics, and Megan Follows’ brilliant Queen Catherine, the stakes skyrocketed. Practically every CW show features privileged teens that got everything too fast, but Mary and Francis didn’t score a Porsche; they inherited the fates of entire countries. They will form the identities of their courts and their people as long as they live. For every petty little squabble in their marriage, Mary and Francis will have a thousand more disagreements whose outcomes could change the face of nations.

So after last week’s “Liege Lord” pulled at the edges of their marriage, “No Exit” rips it apart. “Liege Lord” hinted that this conflict would blow up, but ultimately gave them an out when it made Catherine the villain so they could rally against them together. “No Exit,” however, won’t let Mary and Francis escape from the power play that is their marriage. Instead, it forces Mary and Francis to confront each other—and it’s devastating.

It’s taken almost a full season, but Mary finally hits the nail on the head when she whirls around to face her husband in the jail cell he threw her into, wild with fury. “You love a girl,” she spits. “You don’t love a queen, or you would allow me to be one.” Francis’ response here is incredibly telling. He avoids her glare, turns his back on the closing prison door, and says, “I’ll be back when you have a chance to calm down.” I don’t know about you, but as the camera left Mary behind bars and followed Francis down that hallway, I felt her fury so acutely that it actually hurt. Mary’s spent this entire season trying to make everyone at this foreign court take her and her country seriously, and when she finally thought she had an ally in her husband, he used his home field advantage to put her in jail lest her hysteria get out of control.  It’s an astonishingly condescending move. As Mary said, she’s a queen. She’s going to make some decisions he won’t like, and if he can’t accept that, their marriage will never work—even if he justifies it with love. Yes, Francis is afraid she’ll get killed, and yes, he goes out of his way to find out whether it’s a possibility, spending much of this episode righteously angry that anyone would want to harm her. But it actually doesn’t matter whether the English plot to murder Mary on the way to Scotland would have actually succeeded. The most important takeaway from Mary and Francis’ back-and-forth in “No Exit” is that Francis can’t – or won’t – accept that Scotland will always mean more to Mary than he does.

At this point, it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about Francis locking Mary away for her “own protection,” because it’s hard to tell how the show itself feels about it. The fallout will be incredibly revealing. In the meantime, though, I’d point to this week’s installment of The Odd Couple starring Bash and Kenna as a welcome contrast. They’re also feeling out a new marriage, though to be fair, they were forced into a nightmare wedding while Francis and Mary agonized for months to find the moment they’d both be happy to go through with it. Still, Bash and Kenna realize that they’d probably be happier if they don’t spend the rest of their lives resenting their spouse, and so they actually try to make it work. Now, Bash has had his fair share of condescending “chivalry” in the past (see: returning from the woods to save Mary from her marriage when Mary was by all accounts happy to be with Francis).  In “No Exit,” though, he realizes that Kenna is capable of handling herself. This isn’t to say that he’s going to give up on trying to protect her—his indignation at Penelope stealing Kenna’s wedding ring was a great moment—but he recognizes that protecting a woman doesn’t necessarily mean shielding her from any possible threat. It’s a flattering new light for Bash. His younger brother would do well to take the note that not all concern has to end in patronizing and/or imprisonment.

And then there’s King Henry. It’s been weeks of this “madness,” and I’m still not sure what the show’s trying to do with it. So he’s embraced divine right to the point where he thinks he’s invincible, but he’s also having periodic hallucinogenic trips, and I guess his kinky side proves once and for all that he’s nuts? If the latter is true, I’d have to take issue with it. First of all, someone liking BDSM in no way indicates that they’re unhinged, and second of all, I don’t believe for a second that Catherine’s never tied someone up in the bedroom before. While we wait for these answers, though, Alan Van Sprang is selling the everloving shit out of Henry’s downward spiral. The moment when the string quartet version of Lorde’s “Royals” (of course) swells to reveal Henry tied up is already great, and then he turns to Catherine and beams, “The waiting is horrible, I love it!” His gleeful turn reminds me of when Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned David Boreanaz’s brooding character Angel into Angelus. After spending a season as the show’s resident Debbie Downer, Boreanaz got to let loose and be really, truly wicked, and the difference in acting was startling. I don’t know what Henry’s deal is, but Van Sprang is making whatever it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Stray observations:

  • So Julian might be a literal ladykiller, huh? I hope for Lola’s sake that that’s not the case, but it sure looks like she’s right to be wary of her new ex-widower husband and his fake sapphires.
  • Greer spends another week on the backburner. I’m not happy about it, but I truly madly deeply love the way Celina Sinden says “Loh-lah,” so at least there’s that?
  • Francis and Bash’s fencing session could be read as a generator for earnest Tumblr gifsets, but their back-and-forth on their relationships with Mary is deftly written. The key is that they don’t focus on who loves Mary more, but who loves Mary best – and there’s no conclusion either way.
  • Oh, and Nostradamus sees something ee-veel happen to Olivia in his dreams and sends her off to the New World. It’s pretty hard to take this at all seriously when we know he kind of sucks at prophecies now, but maybe Clarissa will show up soon and then he can be kinda sorta useful again, maybe.
  • Catherine Appreciation Corner:  “It does involve sex. And rather a mess of it.”
  • Lola is having none of your patriarchal nonsense: “Heaven knows what foolish things women might do with their own money. Gambling, prostitutes...”
  • Kenna, crushing it: “I’m too high-spirited to be a widow. People will talk.”
  • Mary, Queen of Motherfucking Scots: “My country and I are one and the same. Forget that, and you’ve forgotten who I am.” Game on. 

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