The quickest way to explain Reign is to explain Clarissa. Oh sure, you can say it’s a show about Mary Queen of Scots and the boys who love her, or mention the pagans in the woods, or even slip in the fact that Anne of Green Gables is all grown up and spitting fire as Mary’s evil stepmother. But it’s not until you mention the illegitimate daughter who lives in the walls, wears a burlap sack with eyeholes, and pushes drugged girls off balconies that someone can truly understand how gloriously unhinged Reign has become. She’s been responsible for some of the series’ most chilling moments, like the slow pan from Mary on her bed to Clarissa lying underneath, eyes blank and staring out from her the eyeholes she crudely cut out of her burlap mask (God bless this show for letting me type that sentence). She’s also been responsible for some of the most baldly nonsensical twists, like when she stabbed Nostradamus in the neck only to have everyone including Nostradamus conveniently forget about it the next day. The problem with “Royal Blood” is that Clarissa doesn’t work nearly as well when she’s wreaking havoc out in the open as she did when she was a silent instigator of chaos lurking around in the shadows.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Clarissa donning Richard Harrow’s half-mask, spying on servant sex, stealing her estranged royal mother’s keepsakes, ripping a chunk of her own hair out so hard that it brought a bloody chunk of scalp with her, holding a knife to a child’s neck, and straight killing a girl with a neck snap that Damon Salvatore would envy, because I did. What self-respecting Reign fan wouldn’t? But at the risk of sounding callous, it’s a relief when Mary manages to knock her out with a rock. There really isn’t much more to explore with Clarissa, especially after the series decided to make her a willful serial killer. On the other hand, that lengthy final scene with her hasty burial didn’t manage to convince me that she’s dead. I’m not opposed to that being the twist, but after burning through so much character development with Clarissa, the show just needs a break from the woman of the walls. Now, I had no problem with “Inquisition,” which gave us about 50,000 different shades of Catherine at a breakneck pace, but the show is so obviously using Clarissa as a means to an end rather than as a character it finds worth exploring, so Catherine’s story is just more compelling. This week, Catherine pretends to hang herself and gets Nostradamus to break her out. In Catherine’s words, “it’s all very thrilling,” but it’s undercut a bit by the fact that Nostradamus manages it by rasping about the Bible at the only guard in the castle on duty for the King’s most dangerous threat. Nostradamus can sling the queen over his shoulder and wear leather pants all he wants, but he’s hardly a swashbuckling hero. To be fair, though, I might be the only one who instinctively imagines what his scenes would be like if he were as old as the real Nostradamus, which tends to make leather pants look rather ridiculous.
Meanwhile, Mary and Bash have long abandoned pagan babies and bloody graveside makeouts for courtside politics, and may I just say, it is a bummer. Their pairing can be a lot of fun when they’re venturing outside the confines of the court, but teaching Bash to be a prestigious regent is quickly wearing thin. We already went through the thing where a French prince tries to be worthy of Mary with Francis, and that was tolerable at best, so we don’t need to see it again with Bash. It does look like there’s going to be some swift forward motion on this plotline with next week’s wedding extravaganza, so we’ll see how it plays out. For now, there are much more interesting things to focus on than whether Bash lied about his intentions when building a mad tea party winter wonderland.
Incredibly, one of these more interesting things is Francis himself. To use a royal brother analogy (because when else do I get to use such a thing?), Francis has decided that if he can’t be Prince William with his title and perfect wife, he might as well be Prince Harry with his wicked grin and questionable choices. I outright cackled when Francis stepped out as the high bid for Lola’s honor, since it was the first time I was surprised by something he had done. So yes, the scenes where Lola tries to navigate her brother out of an Elizabethan casino are wholly ridiculous, but part of the fun of this very fun plotline is that every single beat corresponds to teen drama. Any teen soap worth watching has a ne’er-do-well brother with a gambling addiction, or throws its rich kids into an Unsavory Environment that may or may not include vague orgies writhing in the background. If you’re lucky, you may even get a rebellious lead that drinks out of the bottle, gives a heartfelt, “I’m a poor little rich boy who just feels so empty” speech ™, and then makes out with an unlikely heroine. Reign has done an excellent job throwing curveballs this season, but sometimes, it pays to play it by the genre’s book.
- Programming note: you may have heard that TV Club is cutting some coverage, and that Reign is in contention as a cut. This is all true. If you’d like to keep coverage of this deliciously weird show going throughout the season, the best thing to do is share the reviews on the social media of your choice (though Snapchat might be unhelpful).
- I actually do hope Clarissa’s alive, because it would be a shame if she and Nostradamus never got to team up their unintelligible voices and open a School of Rasp.
- It’s hard to buy Mary and Catherine’s heartfelt moment in the woods after Catherine tried that whole murder-suicide thing last week, but hey. It was nice.
- Cool with the show forgetting Kenna and King Henry. Less cool with the continued absence of Greer’s beautiful baker boy.
- Points to Bash for “make me the luckiest bastard in the world,” but I was getting really excited about Mary proposing to him when he cut in with, “that’s not how it’s done.” We get it. You’re the man. Now go play with your swords while Queen Mary gets shit done.
- Lola: “Don’t worry, I’ve known a man before. And I want this.” Francis: (whips off tasteful peasant blouse at the speed of light)