While in weeks past it would have been tempting to frame a Reign review by coopting Antoine’s succinct parting line (“I’m finding this French court a bit…trying”), “Tasting Revenge” is the first episode in a while that actually feels like it makes something approaching progress. This season started off slow, mired in the muck of Narcisse’s neverending blackmail and Francis’ boring anguish, before taking a turn into violent and disturbing subject matter it couldn’t really handle with a Protestant raping Mary to register his discontent with the crown. There’s been a perceptible shift in the past few episodes as Reign tries to right the ship and recapture some of what made its first season so addictive, and while it still has a ways to go, “Tasting Revenge” felt more familiar than the show has in ages. No, Catherine doesn’t poison anyone, but at the very least, there is dancing, seventy plots careening around the castle with varying degrees of nonsense, and a whole mess of beautiful young people making out.
So let’s take things one at a time—or more accurately, kiss by kiss.
While Bash has been off pretending to solve supernatural crimes—for all his unblinking intensity, he really isn’t very good—Antoine puts the moves on Kenna to the point where he talks about their headstrong children and kisses her, hard. Antoine is a dirty little sneak, but there’s no doubt that he understands Kenna when he promises that marrying him would mean both parties and independence. Caitlin Stasey can handle anything the writers throw at her, which is good, because over the course of the series Kenna has swung wildly between her original socialite ambitions and her post-Henry bid to be taken seriously. It makes perfect sense that taking charge of the castle’s social calendar would suit both these competing desires. This perceptive move combined with Stasey and Ben Aldridge’s chemistry makes it easier to understand why Kenna might be tempted to take him up on the offer—not to mention that Bash has been exactly as angry or as loving as the scripts need him be to really mess up his chances with her. Bash has made so little sense this season, from his stabs at playing the French court’s Veronica Mars to his apparent past as a royal murderer, so the only reason I’m sad at him walking out at the end of this episode is because Stasey is great at crying onscreen.
Meanwhile, in the part of town the royals would rather not think about lest it upset their delicate stomachs, Greer decides to just go ahead and be a madam. This storyline looks terrible on paper, but Celina Sinden’s sharp performance and the easy chemistry of her girls make me want a spinoff just for them. (The Madam And I? Lady And The Tramps? Les Miserables: Before They Were Miserables? What’s that? These are all terrible? Okay, great.) Greer could very easily be written out of Reign, since her story really isn’t connected to anyone at the castle anymore, but her “fuck it” attitude (and hair) are too much fun for me to care. I can take or leave Leith; he’s been so annoying in the past, but he does have a good moment here when he declares he wants Greer no matter what filthy things she does to survive. I also laughed out loud when he solemnly told Greer that Castleroy has been locked up for treason, for life. It’s not that I dislike Castleroy—quite the opposite, in fact—but it’s such a huge piece of information, and the only way the show could get it to Greer was to send Leith. If the two continue to see each other, there will be some interesting areas to explore regarding their reversal of fortunes, but mostly I just want Greer to be happy.
The kiss with the weight is unquestionably Mary and Conde’s—and it’s also the most disappointing. To be fair, most of the season has been working its way up to these two smashing their faces together, but at some point, it tipped beyond building anticipation to dragging the thing out. Oh, “Tasting Revenge” tries to wring the most romance it can out of Mary and Conde finally giving in to their attraction, what with the secluded cabin in the snowy woods and all. But much to my surprise, even the brilliant Adelaide Kane and very appealing Sean Teale can’t fake chemistry. Their first kiss is set to a swelling soundtrack that triumphantly booms, “at last!” while their faces read more like, “one Mississippi…two Mississippi…”
There’s also the fact that the episode makes it just about impossible to root for Conde. I’ve liked him in the past (again, Sean Teale is very appealing), but his insistence on taking things slowly and delicately with Mary is startling opposite his refusal to tell her what is happening with his brother and the British envoy. He knows Mary is being completely honest with him now; he has insisted she do so almost the entire time he has been at the French court. But now, as she is opening herself up to the possibility of being vulnerable with another man, Conde is knowingly sneaking around behind her back with the very people who threaten Mary’s rule. If Mary’s anger at Francis is justified—and I believe it is—there is no way she can believably accept Conde’s betrayal here, either.
As for Francis…well, I still don’t like him much, but I finally can muster up the kind of sympathy for him that I think the show has been expecting from me all along. His relationship with Mary has always been sold both to them and to us as inevitable. Conde presents a real, tangible threat to that certainty, and Francis doesn’t know how to fix it. Toby Regbo does the best he can with Francis’ constant brooding. In lesser hands, Francis’ blank stare after having sex with Narcisse’s niece would have been eye-rolling, but as it is, it really does feel like Francis is realizing how close he is to becoming his father through and through. This doesn’t stop him from also falling for the woman who had his illegitimate son*, though, and so he finally makes his move on Lola, as his longing gazes have suggested he’s wanted to for weeks now—and it’s the only near miss kiss of the episode. Lola, sporadically full of motherly wisdom, gently rebuffs Francis, points out that he might have “let Mary go” to be with Conde as she currently wishes, but they both know that Mary would never forgive them—and Francis still believes Mary is his destiny. Also, the last time they kissed they ended up with a baby. That probably has something to do with it, too.
Speaking of Diane: did anyone ever give a shit that Catherine recently bludgeoned her to death with a fireplace shovel? No? Cool.
Historical ? Corner: It was announced this week that Fifty Shades of Grey’s Rachel Skarsten has been cast as Elizabeth I. Mary famously never met Elizabeth I. So…that’s something. Also, if the show were still pretending to be historically accurate, Francis would be dead by now, so let’s see how long this good health and sex stamina keep up, shall we?
If Narcisse isn’t going to team up with Catherine as Craig Parker’s sneering scene chewing has suggested he inevitably would, I’m going to need him to take several thousand steps back. His leering at the court’s teen girl offerings has officially surpassed even Pretty Little Liars levels, which is saying a lot.
Mary and Conde running away together is a lot more convincing when it’s filmed as beautifully as their getaway in the snow.
For all my talk about how much Antoine understands Kenna, him saying her lack of shame is what makes men crazy (but not him!) just did not deserve her reply of, “those are lovely words.”