Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.
- Somehow, despite the usual speed of this show, “A Better Man” still manages to skip over about four episodes’ worth of material before it even tackles the day’s business. (It’s one of those episodes where you wonder why anyone plans anything in the top five minutes; this show has never been great at the slow burn, and when everyone has to introduce their current subplot by explaining all the things that have happened in the intervening month, it’s a red flag.)
- But when the through-line of everyone’s subplots is Men Being Tiresome, I suppose you have to line everything up, and that’s what we get this episode: Women stymied by men for an hour. Some of these instances are minor (Gideon balking at Elizabeth’s pragmatism), some well-meaning (James and his backfiring espionage and/or “It’s complicated” response to Greer), and some frankly kind of funny (Narcisse is not built for regretful monologues, even in the service of statecraft). But this is also an episode in which men love a taste of power. John Knox doesn’t even appear, but has apparently banished his wife to eat with the animals. Darnley is still trying to flex his influence over court affairs. Lord Hamilton is so hungry for power he chastises his queen and actually unloads his dastardly plan directly to Darnley at the first opportunity. (That plan is to block all Darnley’s ideas and advice, which seems like something that would be a perfectly reasonable and even productive long game if you could keep it to yourself for two minutes.) Even Charles is beginning to enjoy the power of everyone cheering for him—and naturally, Henry shows up to go to second base with the empty French throne just in case you were worried things had settled down there.
- (Luke Narcisse, the world’s nicest man until they unearth his horrible basement full of corpses, is noticeably absent from all this.)
- “Yes, if one enjoys the dampness of sweat.” The casual disgust in this line means a lot to me. Thanks, Jane.
- I largely appreciate the machinations by which Mary was backed into this particular corner; it’s always satisfying to watch her try to get out of a problem that other people made. That said, Mary sending Emily back to John Knox was particularly pointed, and one imagines that, depending on how far things descend with Darnely, there might be some parallels waiting for her here.
- “How many more people will you sacrifice? Is there no other way?” What a fascinating question from Greer, who has been with Mary since the beginning of all this and has witnessed first-hand the amount of moral compromise necessary to hold on to a throne and the number of people Mary has herself lost—including, arguably, James. (I understand but do not buy that this is meant to be related to Greer’s feelings for James, which must have developed in that four-episode skipover since we’re already at the point of turn-around-in-the-hallway kissing. And I could accept this chastisement is James’ banishment was more directly related to Mary’s plan to take England, but James had just murdered the heir to an extremely powerful Scottish family on palace grounds based on bad intel; that is a very present problem.)
- Catherine has been called on to silently distrust one of her own children almost innumerably often; Megan Follows is an old hand by now at cradling someone she’s already developing plans to murder.
- Dress of the week: I know it’s supposed to be Elizabeth’s gala dress, but I can’t support anything that was happening from the waist down. I prefer the parallels between Mary’s Don’t Touch Me doublet and Catherine’s Holding On To French Sovereignty With Bloody Fingernails epaulets.