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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Reign: “Blood For Blood”

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Occasionally, the plot machine of Reign brings us an arc of twisty, pulpy delight with solid narrative holdover. Occasionally it tries to wrap up several subplots that have just enough thematic cohesion to hold together. And occasionally, Reign decides to tackle the Catholic/Protestant divide by having Kenna and Lola hunt for somebody they read about in a sex journal.

In fairness, the religious subplot is not a total wash, if only because, thanks to some intensely soapy plotting, Francis falls under Narcisse’s thumb again (Caroline, Best Nurse Actress of the Year, ruining my hopes that this would tip over into a fantasy element). Even better, Francis lies to Mary. Francis has been a bit adrift this season, which is fine: I welcomed Mary and Catherine hashing out their conflicting ideas of power in the season’s great early run, and during the blip of Mary’s pregnancy last episode, it was interesting to watch Francis in the Girlfriend Space—his concerns primarily about their relationship, while Mary and her myriad concerns were front and center. The lie that Francis takes on (that he despairs of her giving him an heir) rather than admitting he killed his own father provides a nicely awful marital sting (well done on Toby Regbo and Adelaide Kane’s parts). It will hopefully have consequences, and lead to a more involved arc that the actual pregnancy got.

However, this was a notably uneven episode even for Reign, with this personal and soapy supernatural plot sitting uneasily alongside the larger-scale rift between Catholics and Protestants, which gets short shrift here even given the ways in which the show plays hilariously fast and loose with history. If the season can recognize the power dynamics between generations, or between dictators and the powerful few who can dictate back, then there’s no reason not to handle religious conflict with something that carries slightly more narrative weight than two halfhearted torch-hurlings. (Having one of the victims be related to a character who has yet to establish himself except as Louis Who’s Around a Lot doesn’t count.) Historically, this divide defined the rule of several monarchs. Even in the significantly-lower stakes of Reign, Protestant thinking is supposed to be so momentous that Castleroy’s willing to risk being burned alive by extras just to follow its teachings; “Blood for Blood” barely managed to make it feel like a speed bump before the wedding.

The wedding itself was thankfully free of dramatic disasters, unless you count the dance scene, in which Celina Sinden and Michael Therriault have to have a touching conversation while doing some choreography right out of Top Secret!. That Leith alerted Greer to Castleroy’s religion was well-meaning (especially since he let Castleroy escape questioning), but as he clearly hoped she’d call off the wedding, it wasn’t exactly selfless, either, and only Greer and Castleroy’s generally-good history of open communication saved the day. I’m surprised the show got them all the way to the altar, but am honestly interested to see how this plays out. Hopefully Castleroy’s religion will be a thorn in everyone’s side once Francis inevitably backs himself into another corner. (There needs to be more Catherine in these episodes, if not to highlight her old-guard advice in action, to watch Megan Follows’ face as Francis and Mary fumble left and right trying to be better people than their predecessors and actually just being tricked by nursemaids into admitting patricide and then lacking the gumption to murder anybody who heard it as Catherine absolutely, inevitably, instantly would have.)

The thing that preceded the wedding that didn’t involve blackmail or roasting extras: Kenna coming across a pair of lusty castle maids and confiscating the anonymous sex diary that had apparently spurred them to passion. Though the best I can think to say about this subplot is that it didn’t appear last episode, when there was at least a semblance of thematic through-line, Caitlin Stasey tries her very hardest to make a sex-diary subplot fun. Sadly, it’s such a ridiculous twist, and so jarring a tonal mismatch with the rest of the episode, that no dice. Megan Follows, of course, has no such trouble, effortlessly explaining that she’s well aware of the diary and has made notes of the exploits within it. “Henry died,” she says, “I live,” and it’s oddly breezy for someone whose longtime lover had to pretend to hate her and move out of the country to avoid her complicated relationship with her husband, but it’s Megan Follows, so it’s both hilarious and fitting enough.

I’m not sure why frolicking in a fountain is part of discussing a sex diary. And since it did nothing to move anyone’s plot forward, one assumes some thematic tie, but I’m also not sure how a sex diary is supposed to thematically enhance the Catholic and Protestant divide; besides Megan Follows it’s not funny enough to be comic relief (and until the final scenes, there’s nothing dramatic enough for it to relieve). Narratively, all it does is alert us to the fact that Narcisse, while demonstrably a power-hungry jerk, is also apparently great in the sack. Wonderful news, I suppose, for Lola, who finds herself in his crosshairs. While the diary does nothing to get us to this point, I’m actually reasonably behind this idea; I mourn the lost chance for Catherine and Narcisse to play romantic power games, because that would be marvelous, but I welcome any opportunity for Lola to be angry, since that’s when Anna Popplewell is most interested (and interesting). The last thing this show needs is Narcisse strong-arming Lola as he has everyone else, but their scene last episode had decent tension, and this one had enough truth in it (Narcisse points out they’re both feared by men at court and might as well make the most of it…together) that Lola might take advantage of the opportunity. It’s my dearest hope that while Mary and Francis are absorbed in ruling, Lola turns into the new Catherine and end-runs everybody. Might as well start with Narcisse.


Stray observations:

  • Dress of the week: Greer’s new-money wedding getup was the big ticket item, but I dug Lola’s gown from the wedding, which has the look of pulpy SF bikini armor over a silk shift, reminding everyone that she might be the mother of a baron, but she’s still fabulous.
  • I’m not the biggest fan of Leith, but what I thought had potential to be an interesting subplot—how he and Bash would learn to work together when one of them was the beloved brother of the King and the other was being given a consolation prize after Francis capitulated to Narcisse—has apparently already happened in the background somewhere else. The wheels of plot on Reign crush everyone, don’t they?
  • “Perhaps you’re not your father after all.” “So long as I’m never given a reason to be.” Francis, whose approach to life often reflects Catherine, has never looked or sounded more like this father than in this moment.
  • Seriously, why is Louis suddenly around and involved in everything? Clearly his arc is going somewhere, but so far all he’s really done is replace Bash. Why is Mary his personal confidante so quickly? Why is he the one involved in the interrogation of his nephew’s alleged murderers when Bash is in charge of law and order? What are they planning that will make all this come together?
  • The Reign writers, having long ago named Castleroy Aloysius, are now forced to have Greer call him Aloysius casually, as if the name wasn’t intended to mark him as a huge nerd.
  • Celina Sinden had to do a complicated dance AND talk. Whom did she anger?
  • That is the least birthmark-y looking birthmark I have ever seen, Reign. That is a butterfly temporary tattoo. I don’t even know what to say.
  • “You may go, Marie. And please…your hair.” Any scene in which this show is not using Megan Follows is a scene wasted. This also applies to many other non-Megan-Follows-using shows.