After watching the premiere of Reign, I wondered if the show would focus on the history, Mary’s coming-of-age in court, or the prophecies and nefarious ghost creatures that may or may not exist. After watching the second episode of Reign, I can officially say it’s going for… all of them? Probably?
It’s not that straddling between genres is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that Reign is throwing everything at the wall without fully committing to any of it, and the end result is rather vague.
On the historical front, we have Francis and Mary bonding over the new and hostile English presence at court. Mary is understandably shaken over that whole thing where someone tried to blackmail her friend’s boyfriend into raping her, and even though that particular threat came from instead the house, she knows the English pose just as big a threat. English spokesman Simon (an appealingly rakish Luke Roberts) is perilously close to twirling a villainous mustache when he asks Mary, “How’s the porridge at the convent? We thought it needed a little seasoning, something to make the flavor of our intentions clear.” Cue flashback to the nun bleeding over breakfast, to make the flavor of Reign’s intentions clear. Owning up to the porridge incident combined with the fake poison dress make it clear that at this point, the English are kind of just fucking with her. They could kill Mary if they wanted to, but for now, they’re content to scare her until she packs up and hightails it back to the highlands from whence she came.
With both Colin’s blackmailer and Simon out for her head, Mary isn’t ready to trust anyone beyond the mysterious voice that warned her away from the wine, but she somehow still decides to confide in Francis. “Snakes in the Garden” often feels more like a continuation of the pilot than its own standalone episode, and it’s no more obvious than in these Francis and Mary scenes. If we’re in for a full season of Francis hedging on a wedding date and Mary reminding him that he promised to marry her, we’re in for a very long season indeed. But we might just make it if we get more scenes like Francis swooping in all faux-drunk and flirty to help her from a nasty Brit, or Mary insisting with patient conviction that Francis needs to put his mother on the list of suspected assassins. There’s still not much romantic tension between the two, but Adelaide Kane and Toby Regbo are noticeably more at ease with each other this week. And as they both agree by the end of the episode, friendship is a decent place to start.
As far as the more fantastical elements go, “Snakes in the Garden” presents a mixed bag. While there is talk of visions, and the woods are apparently feared for the so-called “heretics” who sacrifice humans by stringing them up by their ankles, I was surprised at how disappointed I was that the supernatural and strange are sticking to the fringes of the story. There’s an undeniable spark of something greater when Reign strays away from the laborious historical setup that comes with court and towards the mystery lurking around the edges. Bash gets something resembling a personality when he wards off the “vagrants” that strung up Colin by reciting a chant in a language Francis doesn’t understand; clearly, we’re not the only ones in the dark here. Catherine folding back her blanket to find a giant red X on her sheets was a nice touch, made more surreal with the aerial shot looming just above. Then there’s the excellent scene with Mary in the secret passageway, appealing to the anonymous woman protecting her (now identified as “Clarissa,” thanks to a particularly helpful bout of exposition from Francis’ younger brother). The marble guessing game they play perfectly captures Mary’s desperate but determined attempt to figure out what’s happening around her, and more importantly, whom to trust. It’s the best scene of the series so far thanks to a combination of Kane’s performance, the hair-raising thrill of knowing someone’s just around the corner, and an urgency the other exposition-heavy scenes lack. Turning the castle into a haunted house would be a neat hat trick for Reign to pull, and it still has time to pull it off.
- Okay, so about that poisoned dress: Who else burst out laughing when she crumpled to the ground? I’m relieved to know it was a fake-out, because the way she yelled, “It’s POISONED, STAND BACK!” was so perfectly awful that I lost several notches of respect for Mary when she ran screaming away. Then again, there is the probability that it was meant to be convincing, so…
- Anachronism of the Week: Mary’s Lana del Rey flower crown (runners-up: sheer sleeves, Kenna’s fur capelet)
- Queen Catherine takes all her leads from Queen Mother Cersei Lannister, right?
- King Henry, you had me at, “I want a woman, not a maiden.” (Just kidding, that’s totally gross.)
- “They fear the woods.” “Why?” “Much to fear.” Oh, okay.