It is very difficult to grade Reign right now.
Mary’s rape jolted the show firmly out of the campy soap it had been indulging, as such a traumatic event necessarily should. Like I said last week, though, the severity of Mary’s situation confused the show in a big way. Reign had found its groove in Catherine’s bombastic scheming, Mary’s struggle between right and wrong, and in as many secrets, betrayals, and surprise deaths as a soap can hold. “Banished” has all of these things and then some, which sounds fun, and it can be. Very often, though, the episode is so crowded that it just reads like a frantic attempt to get back to what Reign knows best.
First and foremost, there’s Mary. Adelaide Kane hasn’t had much to do in terms of scenery chewing, so it’s easy to tell she relishes the opportunity to spit some fire in Narcisse’s general direction (hey guys, remember Narcisse?). But she’s otherwise caught in an endless push and pull between Francis and Conde, which echoes the early Francis versus Bash days in an unflattering way. Francis ignores her request for space (“I know you want distance but”—the unspoken here is, “I don’t care”). Conde trash talks her husband to her face. Both of them become whiny and petulant, and Mary’s right not to take either of them very seriously. At the very least, though, we get Francis and Conde winding each other’s pride up to the point where they whip out their penises—I mean, staffs. I mean…giant wooden sticks? There’s just no decent way to describe their duel, but there’s a reason for that; it really is an excuse for Francis and Conde to prove how great and manly they are. Again, it’s déjà vu, and it’s boring. Francis has been on a slow descent to tedium for a while now, but slotting Conde into the Tall Dark and Mysterious mode Bash used to occupy makes him far less interesting than he has been. Pairing him off with Lola at the end of the episode is written as purposefully random, and Conde even pokes fun at the idea that Mary thinks she can distract him so easily, but it still feels far too convenient.
But see what I did there? I started talking about Mary and ended up discussing Francis and Conde’s uninspiring rivalry—just like the show.
Francis does end up with a rather interesting final scene in “Banished,” though. After the…whatever you want to call it fight with Conde, Mary nurses his wounds and he lets himself be frustrated with the distance. He says that living separate lives will weaken their rule, that rumors regarding Conde will invite rumors regarding any of their future heirs, and that it’s not fair that women rulers have these burdens to bear, but that’s the way it is. Mary fights back with a biting, “You sound like a man who wants to tighten his grip on a woman.” I have to say, though, that I might not be loving Francis this year, but this speech from him is one of the more historically accurate scenes this show has ever had.
The one affecting storyline Mary has largely to herself this week is having to let Greer go. The second Greer lied to Mary, saying Castleroy certainly did not fund those Protestant assassins he definitely did fund, I knew it was over for poor Greer. It doesn’t matter that it was a misunderstanding; it matters that Mary tries to give her an out, and Greer decides to risk the lie. She just had no chance—especially since the only person helping her was Leith. Seriously, what’s the point of having Leith as a regular right now? Francis is already handling the role of “broody blond skulking about the shadows after his lady,” so Leith either needs to get a new thing or find a new farm. I’d be impressed if the show wrote Greer off just like that, but I doubt this is the last we see of her.
So, let’s move onto Kenna and Bash. In the attempt to give Bash more to do now that he’s done pining over Mary, Reign has bequeathed unto him the role of the castle’s resident detective. First, he uses his newfound Super Sleuthing powers helps Claude track down the nanny that was around when the twins died. Detective Bash plays good cop to Claude’s bad cop, nodding patiently as they listen to the poor woman sob through a story about how Henry raped her with the help of “Turkish smoke.” Detective Bash then dashes off to the woods to find Catherine right before she freezes to death (and more on that in a bit), and finally, figures out before anyone else that his mother is the one who killed the twins, because he saw Diane smash a window just days before they died. If this all sounds a bit too convenient (a theme in tonight’s episode), that’s because it is. But try as I might, I can’t be too mad about this latest development with Bash’s intelligence, because it’s he most interesting he’s been in ages. It’s too bad, then, that he has to go and end his hot streak by writing off Kenna when he finds out she told Catherine that Diane wanted to legitimize him. Not only was this way before he and Kenna were married, but him self-righteously sniffing that her willingness to gamble lives for her “own petty interests” doesn’t mean much when we know Bash has actually killed for less.
Speaking of killing: let’s talk Catherine.
I’ve made no secret of how much I’m confused by Catherine’s recent stories. The ghosts versus madness plots on this show give me whiplash, and I’m particularly sensitive to anything that threatens to dilute my precious Queen Catherine. For weeks now, Catherine’s been stuck playing house with her dead family’s ghosts, hallucinations, or some combination thereof. The twins have had nothing of use to say, and while Alan Van Sprang throws himself into this latest piece of diabolical theater as hard as he ever has, Henry’s renewed presence in the castle is nothing short of disturbing. Even before we learned of his plotting to rape the nanny (Bash calls it “seducing,” but make no mistake—it’s rape), Henry ended his time on Reign as an abusive serial murderer. I want Catherine to be happy, but damn, not like this.
So it’s a relief when Catherine finally decides to take her life back. Megan Follows has done everything she could with this story, but there was only so much she could do with, “mentally ill woman chases spectres of her dead children.” There’s palpable relief when Follows gets to rip into the juicy monologue where she expels Henry from her life once and (maybe?) for all. Follows growls that Henry is “just dust and bile” like she’s delivering Shakespeare on a stage with terrible acoustics, and it’s just so much fun. I thought that would be the end of it, seeing as Catherine’s plot has been crawling along, but no—this time, the show accelerated so rapidly I barely had time to absorb what was happening. Before I knew it, Catherine was whipping Diane de Poitiers in the face with a fire shovel and choking her (possibly to death) with her own pearls. It’s absurd—the real Diane de Poitiers leisurely lived out her days in an obscure chateau somewhere—but goddamn if it isn’t the kind of absurd I missed from the show. If Reign has one constant, it’s that it’s better when this Catherine is in control.
- Apologies for the late review. My neighborhood got stuck in a prolonged blackout, so I dealt with it by lighting candles and drinking plenty of fluids (wine). I like to think Catherine would have approved.
- Henry saying, “is it me, or does Diane look worse for the wear?” is a pretty solid indication that this Henry was always just in Catherine’s head.
- To that point: how did no one call Catherine out for talking to no one in that hallway when that scene was a solid five minutes long?
- Francis, deadpan: “Conde. Yes. Why not.” (The character might be annoying, but Toby Regbo is a consistent delight.)
- Diane, gasping: “I did it all for Henry!” Catherine, not caring: “Well, perfect! He did it all for Henry, too!”
- “You don’t know what it’s like to be a girl in this world.” – Kenna, every woman on Reign ever, every woman in the world ever.