One of the things the first season of Reign struggled with was the delicate balance between delightfully gonzo plot and total mess. No moment of the show has made me a prouder viewer than the time Clarissa returned from the grave and took revenge on foster brother Nostradamus by hiring someone to hum at him at the royal wedding (just typing it makes me happy). But though it was amazing, that was also the last we heard of Clarissa all season, as Henry’s guilty brain fever took over and the Darkness sidled in for one last disappointing rally.
It was one of many plot casualties that could be ascribed to a mix of teen-soap expectations and a sudden increase in season order that required the writers to scramble: the merry-go-round of Francis and Mary’s on-again-off-again engagement, Nostradamus and Catherine’s friendship, and especially the out-of-nowhere hookup between Lola and Francis, with a pregnancy that felt forced, played out in what seemed like real time, and left her on the sidelines for most of the action at the end of last season. However, “Drawn and Quartered” suggests that this season has its eye on consequences, and it works out beautifully, as everything that got set up in “The Plague” gets even more tangled, and even the specter of Clarissa returns(!).
Thematically, Lola coming home to roost carries the weight of the season through-line, as the new generation makes the same mistakes as the old one; Francis and Catherine discussing his illegitimate son in his father’s crypt isn’t subtle, but it’s making its point. Despite their friendship this episode (I welcome the return of Lola remembering people can forge handwriting!), it’s clear that the tension between Mary and Lola will only increase as Lola gains influence she didn’t even want through her son; Mary’s distrust of any conversation between Lola and Francis is not going to end well. And while Mary’s right about the King’s recognition keeping him safer, there’s clearly shaky ground ahead—and not just in the family. Though it’s all part of the plan, there’s the ring of truth in their staged argument in front of Narcisse, and you can bet this one will come up again: “I am not just your wife!” “You are not King, either!”
But the wonderful surprise this episode is how differently the fallout from Mary’s execution of Narcisse Jr. compares to, say, how things played out last season when Mary had Catherine kidnapped the same week a conveniently visiting disliked relative was around to play scapegoat. This time, Mary spends the episode being faced with the consequences of exerting power thinking that the moral upper hand was sufficient reason to act. It works out, of course—this is only the second episode of the season—but things are both impressively tangled and refreshingly direct: they rescue Nostradamus from execution for the death of Narcisse Jr., but only by bribing Narcisse with Leith’s own lands (and that guy did not need another reason to be bitter). Now Leith has to come back to court and Narcisse’s grudge is only momentarily assuaged. Francis and Mary working together is certainly handy, but for once the temporary fix also highlights the problems that still remain, and the whole affair is succinctly summed up by Catherine: “Your actions spared no one, saved nothing, and cost us all dearly!”
Their actions did spare Nostradamus, to be fair. And here it’s Catherine who has the past visited upon her (Clarissa is alive, you have no idea how excited I am, her subplot last season was all over the place but I honestly wasn’t sure she was ever going to come up again). Her fight with Nostradamus was great stuff—Megan Follows and Rossif Sutherland have an oddball chemistry that works perfectly for them—but while his anger might be justified, he shouldn’t have underestimated a woman who imported France’s first python just to prevent him from leaving the country with his girlfriend. And for all her ruthless pragmatism, Nostradamus really is as close as Catherine has to a friend; there’s hurt swallowing her fury as she devolves from faux mourning into raw feeling: “If you had stayed loyal to me, Edward would still be alive, none of this would have happened!” His swift departure will be more of a blow to her, in the long term, than the death of her husband; there was a time she trusted Nostradamus. My favorite beat of the episode was Catherine, backed into a corner and for once powerless to intervene (her face when she says, “There is nothing I can do,” is one of my favorites ever from Megan Follow), picking her cuticles bloody worrying about Nostradamus’ impending doom—and, of course, her son’s.
Given this new commitment to through-lines, this week’s whodunit becomes more interesting than just a talking-head hunt for information. The idea of anti-Catholic sentiment at a time of high superstition (so high even Francis is a believer) suggests that we might be veering toward a previously-unknown level of historical accuracy. Of course, at the same time, the supernatural angle has also gotten serious traction after a season finale that did a pretty big shrug about the Darkness. The idea of vengeful ghosts is as old as storytelling, but that’s because it works, and there’s nothing that fits more snugly inside a story of a new and uncertain rule than the previous tenants coming back to haunt you. Hats off to the nursemaid and her amazing King Henry visitation that, quite rightly, gives Francis chills. I really hope the show sticks to this, because this is a far more effective threat than the shadowy monster in the woods, and there are a lot more meals to be made out of a prophecy like this: “There’s a door between the dead and the living and the plague kicked it down…the door is open.”
- Dress of the Week: Greer’s mourning cape. She’s worn some Technicolor messes; this is better.
- And speaking of Greer, Lord Castleroy has contracted Plot-itis that requires him to leave town to try to get over his jealousy of Leith, despite Greer reminding him of some actual facts: “I chose you. And you chose me knowing that I loved another, that I had done ruinous things for that love.” Still, she likes him enough to be concerned for him: “Will you be back?” Depends on fan response, I suspect!
- There is a perhaps-unintentional but totally fascinating motif in this series that no matter how great Mary’s political power and symbolic influence, as soon as she’s alone with an angry man she’s in the same peril for her life as any woman would be. It’s never overplayed peril, but it’s Mary’s most direct line to Catherine,who can poison people all day long and still had to tremble whenever an armed man took violent offense, husband or otherwise.
- Another dance scene! Their dance extras are some of my favorite extras on TV.
- Greer apologizing to Leith:”I pray the day will come that I no longer regret that I loved you.” Solid burn.
- “Ask your statue.” Nostradamus with the winning burn of the week.
- Mary’s role as accidentally-historically-accurate screwup is one of my favorite things about the show; that said, Adelaide Kane is clearly enjoying this darker and more active turn of events, and maybe my favorite moment of hers in the whole series so far is the way she delivers, “This was my mistake, and I’ll fix it.”
- The haunted-house music of the Francis-Narcisse-Conde faceoff was hilarious.
- The dungeons got more dungeony this season!
- Castleroy angstily punching Leith was lovely. Thank you, show.