After several weeks of Louis being the Hawley of Reign’s second season, everything’s coming up Condé! He gets an episode named after him, and he reveals his true function, which is what most of us have assumed for a while: He’s a hunky wedge between Mary and Francis. (Since Bash is married to the reasonably-popular Kenna, he’d look like a heel for gazing at Mary, I guess; Louis is single and free to stare moonily all he likes.) Then again, this is an episode in which almost everyone gets the thin end of a wedge, as the season hits the one-third mark and continues its slide from the soapy rollercoaster of the first season into increasingly murky narrative territory. Luckily, this is one of those episodes that handles every wedge pretty well, except its central one.
Francis hardly needs an outside wedge at all, it turns out, since he’s doing a pretty spectacular job of driving everyone away all by himself. Narcisse’s blackmail over Francis’ regicide continues with a law to eradicate Protestantism from the land. Francis struggles not to sign, and while it leads him to try to frame Narcisse for treason with a rare stab at statecraft, there comes a point at which even this very liberal history becomes more trouble than it’s worth. The real Francis’ anti-Protestant views were all his own (and would have gotten plenty of support from the historical Mary). This complicated blackmailing setup—which included a nurse pretending to be the ghost of King Henry in order to get Francis to admit his guilt, based on information Narcisse obtained essentially through reading scripts from last season—exists to make Francis look like a tolerant progressive forced into bad decisions.
There’s some impressive follow-through on this arc that Francis’ action still shadows his footsteps. And the show can do as it likes; it owes so little to the actual history by now that it could go anywhere. But from a story standpoint, keeping Francis constantly on the defensive makes him look cowardly to us and cruelly capricious to everyone who might actually help him. (Narcisse flat-out tells him that Francis’ wife and mother also conspired to kill Henry. What’s the benefit in lying to Mary when she’s already operating openly against him and the truth could only help? How is his next move not an immediate visit to Mama Catherine and her poison room to take care of Narcisse?) Given that the show’s fairly open that most of the support for the crown was explicitly Catholic, why is the show unwilling to let Francis be active within the story, rather than reactive? Can he not just make an anti-Protestant decision that has consequences? It might make him less sympathetic, but it would make him a lot more interesting.
In fact, the most interesting thing he does this week is both active and pretty shady: he gives Lola a treasonous cipher to plant in Narcisse’s house just in case he ever needs to frame Narcisse for treason. For her part, Lola recognizes exactly how she’s getting trapped between these two men and their agendas, but is too excited at the idea of a decent subplot to complain. (She has more of a connection facing off with Francis about spycraft and trustworthiness than they did their entire evening of semi-romantic soul-searching last season: she’s fairly alight when she delivers, “Well, one of you used me, and it wasn’t him.”) Statecraft has always been the dynamic Lola enjoys most; she’s never been excited about a romantic interest the way she’s been excited about the power games of politics. Besides giving her an actual personality, this particular facet of her character has the potential to make her a rival to Mary in an arena she isn’t when it comes to Francis.
As such, she handily understands the dynamics involved in dealing with Narcisse (including a prim but pointed, “The risk is always greater for the woman”), and fully recognizes the power of the secret Narcisse shares with her, though the confidence seems to bowl her over. Luckily, she doesn’t let that translate into some illusion of a deeper connection just based on his say-so: that resounding slap and “Do not think to take before I give” is one of her most satisfying moments ever. In a show that doesn’t hesitate to stick people in a destruction/repair holding pattern, she seems to be considering Narcisse’s claims of sincerity in a way she should know way, way better than to do. But even with that repetition looming, one of the episode’s most exciting twists is that we don’t know whether or not she left the insurance at Narcisse’s house. She could be lying or not, and even that amount of intrigue is more than Lola’s had to go on for a long time.
Bash, who’s been even more underserved than Lola, gets brought back into the fold this week, as Princess Claude returns to court as an agent of chaos—and his ex. (Yo, Bash. Buddy.) There are some slut-shaming overtones here, since she sleeps with both Louis and a priest, but Catherine’s disdain for her seems to be Claude’s most immediate problem. (Catherine’s own ghostly daughters have to threaten Claude’s life before we get any hint Catherine loves her little wild card at all.) But so far, Claude’s eyes are on Bash, and she gets to bring up the big reveal with a relish Bash doesn’t appreciate nearly as much as we do. (She’d convinced him Henry wasn’t his father, apparently, to give him tacit permission to go for it; he and Francis share a tendency to believe whatever suits them just at the moment, don’t they?) It’s a big, soapy step to take in an episode that also features Catherine chasing ghosts around the castle, but anything that brings Bash back inside the castle more often is a welcome change, and Kenna’s off reading sex diaries. Vengeful incesty ex? By all means; gotta get your soap somewhere.
- Dress of the week: Claude’s sickeningly bright pink ball gown isn’t my favorite gown of the week, but if you’re a historical party girl out to cause trouble, that dress will announce it.
- Catherine line of the week: “I don’t need this. Not today.”
- The presence of the ghostly girls could go wrong at any second, but for now, I’ll take those ghosts over Clarissa. It’s more satisfying to watch Catherine slowly subsumed in her own guilt over the past, a one-woman Gothic mystery in which it’s her whole house that’s gone haunted. (That said, I miss her so much as a political player; doesn’t anybody need someone poisoned?)
- Odd that Castleroy didn’t make any sort of appearance in an episode that dealt so overtly with the Protestant/Catholic divide.
- In this week’s most plotcakes drive-by, Bash forgave Francis for killing their dad faster that I have forgiven people for taking my leftovers out of the office fridge.
- “Unfortunately my husband isn’t giving me what I want, so I’ve come to ask you instead.” I see!
- “You seemed so tall in those days.” I’ll take my historical references where I can get them.
- This show is overtly feminist enough that the only phrase necessary to cast aspersions on a woman’s character is, “She doesn’t like other girls.”
- “On behalf of France, I’d like to apologize for the plague, famine, and religious violence.” Is this meta? I genuinely can’t tell.
- “A bath? Again? Are you serious?” Okay, don’t get too meta, show, that’s going to backfire on you.