Sometimes an episode of Reign actually tries to engage with the material. Even when it’s misguided and tonally iffy (Mary’s rape) or a theme that peters out (Catherine advising the youngsters on their rule as they slowly become mired in the same problems that turned their parents into monsters), there’s a sense of awareness about narrative arc and thematic ramifications.
Sometimes, you get “The End of Mourning,” which might be competing for soapiest episode of this show yet. It doesn’t have a plot so much as it lines up a bunch of turn-to-the-camera-and-twist-your-moustache moments designed to set up the last arcs of the season. The Duke of Guise is back! The Bourbons are scheming against the Crown! Guise is going to court Catherine…or IS he? Mary tricks Conde into staying, but it’s a lie!…or IS it? Narcisse can be trusted!…or CAN he? The Bourbons are innocent!…or ARE they? The Duke of Guise poisoned that Bible!…or DID he? Narcisse is working for Navarre!…or IS he?
The answer to all of them is yes.
Now that Reign has ditched its ghost babies and rediscovered plot, it’s determined to burn through as much of it as possible, so the poisoned-Bible discovery in ‘Sins of the Past” doesn’t linger for long. The poisoner is sought, confronted, discovered, covered for, and blackmailed in a single episode, which is a daunting amount of machinations even for someone as well-smarmed as Antoine of Navarre. Sadly, the soapiest-possible outcome – him shouting “STOP!” as Conde picks up the Bible and spoiling it all – was avoided, mostly because Francis tipped his hand. Instead we got a three-prong soap system deployed over the course of the episode. Goodbye to Guise, who had to know he was a goner as soon as he showed up again; welcome back to Narcisse, who now gets to decide where to hide a sack of gold and the goodwill of the King of Navarre while trying to keep Catherine close. I am genuinely excited about this last bit, only because watching Craig Parker and Megan Follows compete to chew scenery is all I can ask from this show these days.
There are some feints here to attain the cohesion of the beginning of season two. Antoine himself utters the big one: “It was another generation who forced your hand. We must not be stained by the crimes of the dead.” Everyone in the room knows it’s a lie, of course, which might be poignant. There’s even a hint of avoiding old mistakes as Catherine keeps Guise at arm’s length, reluctant to get seriously involved with a man after what Henry put her through. But in an episode as free from thematic resonance as this one, it’s just a nice break for Antoine between rounds of sexually harassing Kenna, whose characterization pendulum has swung back toward Gilded Balloon in terms of tactical acumen. It offers Bash a great chance to face his complicated feelings about his wife! (He doesn’t – there’s no time, as Kenna points out, since “Bash is working tonight anyway” – but it offered him a great chance.)
Francis has had a rough season. Sidelined at first, then reactive and secretive far beyond anything that made sense, he’s now stuck in the wake of Mary’s rape trying to alleviate guilt on so many fronts it’s impossible. (While the show’s hints of connection with Lola don’t get much emotional traction – there’s no spark there and never has been – they let Toby Regbo take a break from the frowns of failure, which is nice.) And in the wake of Mary’s rape, he’s been markedly honest in ways that would have behooved him back when he was being blackmailed. When Mary confronts him about asking her to detain Conde, she says, “It is betrayal. Deception.” Francis, making no bones: “Yes it is.”
And where has Mary been during all this? Mostly with Conde, unfortunately. (All the mournful ocarina riffs in the world could not sell me this love triangle.) It’s a shame, actually, that the show keeps feeling the need to introduce new characters for drama rather than relying on the old ones – in the same way that the show ditched one love triangle, which sounded refreshing, only to introduce another that has even less traction than the first one. There’s still enough history with the Bash love triangle to make use of that here, if they’d wanted to. Unfortunately, these days Bash is relegated to delivering detective exposition and occasionally remembering Kenna exists, so any of the many vectors of tension that could be mined from Mary going to Bash for help – putting Bash on the outs with the King, Kenna on the outs with Mary, and maybe even Bash on the outs with himself for having so many emotional loose ends – instead become an endless feedback loop of Conde liking Mary and Mary swearing that they mustn’t!…or MUSTN’T they? (I’m long past being clear on where this story’s going week-to-week.) But Conde, whose scorned-Nice-Guy shtick is rapidly cooling, can’t even let Mary explain that being married to a King usually means you can’t be seen to be unfaithful. His only concern, based on information he’s been getting from the servants on the sly: “You’re not really a married woman any more, are you?” Holy crap, Conde, give it a rest!
With such seriousness on the one hand, Greer’s subplot seems even stranger in its distinctly Xena madcap-adventure flavor: she gets wasted on stout, fired as a ladies’ companion, and accidentally becomes a madam. (I was torn on the chances she’d give in to the likely reality of prostitution; when she long-sufferingly accepted her cut of the takings, I cracked up.) While there was never any chance she’d be headed to Hungary when the show clearly wants to keep her close, this C-plot asks as many questions as it answers. Is this going to be the new genre-skip comic relief, supplanting Gothic Ghost Children with Hilarious Prostitute Adventures? How long before she runs into Leith (or Castleroy) and things get awkward? And – iffy, based on a character whose practicality comes and goes depending on what the plot needs, but possible – could this business actually be the making of Greer? It’s not a real soap until you have a madam, right?
- “If you did anything other than work, things like this wouldn’t happen.” Careful, show, this is getting awfully meta.
- Good job to all the actors trying not to look utterly, miserably frozen in the Canadian winter during the outdoor party. Usually only Torrance Coombs and day players have to deal with that!
- She’s not in it much this week – just long enough to get wooed and suggest to Narcisse some heights of romantic ecstasy he can only dream of – but I appreciate that Catherine gets to pluck sugar off the croquembouche and eat it mid-line. She’s literally chewing scenery. The show knows exactly what we’re here for.
- “I’m of noble birth!” Is she? I’m honestly asking. I thought Greer’s whole thing was that she was new-money merchant class trying to lock down a title.
- Lola keeps up her streak of being the only handmaiden with a regular grasp of statecraft, as she insists she and Kenna park the coach on the edge of town and walk to the inn where Greer’s staying to avoid anyone making the connection and putting Mary on the spot.
- Lola also breaks off another relationship that never had much tension to begin with. I hope the show just lets her settle in as a schemer without trying to wedge in romance as her main plot. She was at her best when she was reading Francis the riot act and playing Narcisse; just let her keep doing that! She definitely has something to discover now.
- “Even the wind in the trees reminds me of you.” If this is a secret fart joke, I respect it. If not…it is now.