Reign was on such a hot streak going into its midseason hiatus. The last three episodes before the break gave into the show’s supernatural tendencies with beautiful abandon, threading the shadowy pagans and Nostradamus’ sinister proclamations in with Mary’s headstrong approach to love and politics without making it seem quite as forced as before. The hostage episode, with its secret passageways and poisoned chest of gold, was a much-needed jolt of totally bonkers energy. The midseason finale “Fated” then dealt admirably with the fallout, balancing fulfilled prophecies with the pretense of history (i.e. the growing shadow of Elizabeth Tudor). All signs pointed to Reign finally finding its footing, and it looked like a hell of a lot of fun.
If only “For King and Country” followed suit.
To be fair, it’s less a bad episode than a deeply disappointing one. When I unexpectedly had to step away from the show after November’s “A Chill in the Air,” I really wasn’t sure what kind of show I would come back to. The idea of Reign was so deliciously nuts—a teenage Mary Queen of Scots navigates life and love in a haunted castle!—that it was extremely frustrating to watch it flounder. All I ever wanted for Reign was to pick a tone and stick with it. Period drama? Fine! Coming-of-age soap? Great! A supernatural free-for-all that throws everything at the wall to reveal the hooded vigilante lurking just behind with a surge of dramatic music? The best. When I finally could watch the run of episodes I missed, I was floored. They balanced the absurdity of a dripping stag head and a woman in a burlap hood pushing a poisoned girl over a balcony with Mary growing into her crown, even as she nurses the sweet ache of teenage love lost. This show was everything I wanted Reign to be. The one show I never wanted to watch was an endless succession of people spouting exposition and recaps of the last few episodes’ events at each other, which is unfortunately the tack “For King and Country” decided to take.
It’s true that Mary running away with Bash at the end of “Chosen” necessitated both emotional and political fallouts, which “For King and Country” provides in spades. The main love triangle of Mary, Francis, and Bash spend this episode swinging somewhere between angry, lovesick, and confused, and the actors do their damndest to sell the fifty shades of brooding they’re called upon to deliver. In fact, this was the first episode I actually bought the Bash/Mary pairing (sorry, Tumblr). It’s been stated over and over that Mary and Bash have some illicit attraction, but as good as Adelaide Kane is, I had never seen it on her side; their kiss felt like a drunken fluke more than a starcrossed inevitability, and Diane’s insistence that Mary felt something for Bash was laughable when the bookending scenes were Mary and Francis gleefully pre-consummating their marriage.
But I finally saw a spark between Mary and Bash in their hideaway hotel room (I almost typed “log cabin” there—I really need to cool it with the romantic comedies). This only made it more annoying when the king’s guards almost immediately brought them back to the castle. We could’ve easily spent an episode following Bash and Mary on the run, and I have a feeling it might’ve been more interesting than watching Mary have another teary confrontation with Francis. (Though I have to give credit where it’s due to Toby Regbo, who doesn’t slack off on Francis’ emotional whiplash.) I know it technically makes sense for Mary to get around the prophecy and the King by dragging Bash into things, but all the political sidestepping and backroom dealings in the world don’t help that fact that the whole thing feels convoluted. Hopefully the next episodes give Bash a little more to do. I’m personally rooting for another pagan misadventure in the woods (though to be fair, there are very few situations in this world where I’m not rooting for another pagan misadventure in the woods).
Time will tell if the political chess match of “For King and Country” will yield more interesting results. At the very least, it proved once and for all that Mary’s come into her own, especially as she went toe-to-toe with a visibly frustrated King Philip (who, I’m sorry, definitely sucks as both a king and a person). Kane spitting, “I could give a damn about my reputation in France” with all the disdain she could muster was a thing of beauty.
But at the end of the day, “For King and Country” belongs to Megan Follows. I was ashamed it took me this long to realize that her increasingly twisted Catherine de Medici is the evil stepmother to Mary’s headstrong Disney princess, which admittedly isn’t great on a gender studies level. But Follows chews the everloving shit out of Reign’s historically questionable scenery with such wicked relish that even the most boring of exposition becomes captivating. She’s had some splashy scenes before, but if I ever have to explain why Catherine’s so much fun, I’ll only have to point to how she told her guard to kill Mary and Bash, complete with disgusting skulls in the ground imagery, but never took her eyes off Nostradamus—not even to dismiss the guard with a chilling twist of her hand. On the other hand, we’ll always have, “those bitches.”
- OH, and Clarissa totally stabs Nostradamus and makes a break for it. That was good, too.
- Many thanks to Genevieve Valentine for filling in for me when I had to miss a few episodes. I’m so grateful that I’m only very bitter she got such a good run instead of extremely.
- We haven’t had a modern musical interruption in a while, so the throbbing music cue into Francis kicking Bash into the dirt was a welcome one. Who can tell me what the song is, please?
- Oh, Bash. Don’t you know that sneaking a look after the lady doth say, “don’t look at me while I’m undressing, you brute!” is such a cliché?
- There’s so much back and forth in this episode that Mary and the Queen go from exchanging secret looks in court to spitting fire at each other. I’m a little sad to lose their brief alliance, but we do get more fun exchanges when they hate each other’s guts. (“Am I really that frightening?” “Am I really stupid enough to find out?”)
- Please rewatch Megan Follows telling Mary, “you grabbed a priest on the road, you said your vows in a cowshed” because the “no shit” shrug she does afterwards is excellent.
- “Long may you reign.” Hey, he said it!!