Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On Reign, everybody wins big, loses big, and storms off

Illustration for article titled On Reign, everybody wins big, loses big, and storms off

“Too many terrible things have happened today.”

Reign really, really loves to put Catherine in trouble. Partially, it’s because Megan Follows can bring Catherine from arch to desperately sympathetic on a dime, which is exactly what you want when your monarch’s in peril. Partially, this is because she’s the easiest vector for the show to examine consequences. (For all the the import of their decisions, Mary and Francis just hadn’t done enough yet for things to haunt them.) In “Safe Passage,” a bunch of things from Catherine’s past—some deserved, some still bearing the factory sheen of a newly-concocted threat—land on her all at once. And it’s Mary who gets to save her.


Much of “Safe Passage” is a blend of comeuppance and coincidence. And that’s fine. The Red Knights plot is so thin that the faster it can be churned through, the better; as soon as Christophe starts making demands of Catherine, he’s a dead man. It’s smarter to dwell on the ridiculous things that show everybody off to advantage, because honestly, Reign is best when it’s quietly acknowledging its own hilariousness. Catherine’s being framed by a mysterious and powerful figure with a grudge? A dozen murders that will put the very realm in jeopardy? Must be Tuesday. Bribe the servants, cut to England. It doesn’t even waste time keeping people in the dark unnecessarily; there’s a certain charm in having Narcisse, Mary, and Bash working together to plan the fallout. (Charles’ first murderous cover-up! Now, he is truly a king.) It’s even blocked like a kitchen mishap in a holiday episode, except with more corpses.

It stands in sharp contrast with Catherine’s other secrets. Diane’s murder—one of the series’ best high-camp achievements—comes as a surprise, as much to me as to Catherine. I honestly wasn’t sure the show would ever mention it again. But it’s the best way to get Bash angry enough to leave France, and pays off some of that long memory. What surprises me more is that at the very last, Bash gets back some of the subversive streak that made him such a player in the first season. He saves Catherine from nationwide humiliation, but doesn’t let her keep it from the family. (One of this series’ subtler through-lines was that for all their mutual enmity, Bash was more like Catherine than Francis was. Knowing how to make an exit—nearly throttling a queen, tossing his sword on the ground, and spilling the family secrets on his way out—is clearly first among them.)

But despite a few moments in this episode that stretched credulity even for Reign, Catherine’s low place is personal, and not public. The Red Knights fail (this time), because it turns out Mary loves Catherine enough to dismiss the tide, show up with her mercenary army, and defend what must be history’s most framed-for-murder monarch.

This isn’t the first time Mary has laid herself on the line to help Catherine. I’ve talked before about how shows like Reign balance on a knife’s edge, hoping to surprise and satisfy in equal measure. Most of an episode’s emotional quality time is luck of the draw; characterization has to drive the plot or find room for itself outside the action. But one thing the show has always centered is the idea that, whether as enemies or co-conspirators, Mary and Catherine’s relationship is the driving engine of the show. It’s Catherine, not Francis, who’s taught Mary the privileges and responsibilities of ruling, And the realm has relied on Mary and Catherine’s alliance as much as it did on any of Mary’s romantic accords. “Safe Passage” offers one last, satisfying reminder of that reciprocity between two people who won’t get a chance to have a lot of heart-to-hearts in the near future.

It’s about as cool a goodbye as Mary could have hoped for, though it did seem a little abrupted by a lack of…well, goodbye. Sure, the episode burned out its parting speeches before that big standoff and didn’t have any time left when it was time to actually depart, but it’s still a little unfortunate that Mary’s last look at France was so brisk. Her wistful (prescient?) goodbye to the shores of France was sweet, but it seems the episode didn’t want to give us time to dwell on her farewell. It even manages to put Mary in peril again before the episode ends. The show, quite literally, must go on.

But if Reign really is moving on, and the Scottish years of Mary’s life have begun in earnest, then we should take a moment and think about what that means. Structurally, it means a certain amount of opening up, both geographically and in terms of character spread. Mary has taken Narcisse and Bash with her to face an uncertain situation in a place none of them has ever seen. The French court is now down to Catherine and two resentful Valois children; Catherine has perhaps never been more alone. And Elizabeth is marshaling her supporting-cast forces in England, just waiting for everyone to reveal their torn loyalties. The show has previously gone out of its way to connect its three queens however it can. Catherine was part of Elizabeth’s introductory subplot, Lola’s being held captive at English court, Dudley and Gideon each crossed the Channel to pay their attentions to Mary. At this point, everyone’s closing ranks at a distance.


Emotionally, though, the field’s wide open. This new separation allows for three queens with the possibility for direct parallels on several fronts. Politics are uncertain, and every queen is standing alone; it’s no wonder we end the episode on a shot of stormy seas.

Stray observations

  • Lola listening at doors and successfully writing letters in code to help Mary while also offering relatively sincere advice to Elizabeth is Peak Lola, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Let her be a political force behind-the-scenes! Let her not end up too fond of Gideon! (She has this show’s single worst track record as the romantic also-ran. Just let her be single and spy on everybody.)
  • Related: I fear whatever anyone has planned to get Lola out of there. Don’t they know how close to the end of the season we are?
  • Bash has largely been squandered as the huntsman of the French throne; it was nice to see him knee-deep in family tangles again.
  • “That is the most flattering thing you’ve ever said to me.” Sure, Catherine was being sexually blackmailed as of twenty-four hours ago, but that was twenty-four hours ago! Narcisse’s marriage is already iffy and only getting iffier! Life is short, and she’s the Regent; no moss is gonna grow on her flirting skills.
  • I try not to compare this show to Game Of Thrones often. Aside from royalty in a quasi-historical setting with fantasy elements, they’re fundamentally doing different things. But bringing back Delphine just to have her killed off and resurrecting Diane after a full season were both distinctly Westerosian wrap-ups.
  • Dress of the week: Mary wears the same cloak to leave French court as she did in the pilot when she first arrived. Nice touch.