Reign has painted itself into a bit of a corner. Ever since Mary’s rape, there’s been a noticeable struggle to take her trauma seriously while still dishing up the soapy moments that helped the show find its footing. Now, two episodes past the event itself, the tonal disconnect between those instincts is more jarring than ever.
In the soap corner we have Catherine, who’s very busy hallucinating all the dead members of her family as she prepares to kill her last remaining daughter. First she saw the twins, and now she’s haunted by King Henry, who eggs her on to kill Claude in between lusty sighs. (Between this scene and a similar one in Empire, it’s a big week for men coaxing women to do their bidding mid-seduction.) My love for Catherine is well-documented, so I’m never going to turn my nose up at a gorgeous line like Hallucination Henry’s admiring, “my God, I’ve missed the way you mix garlic with arsenic.” So have I, Hallucination Henry. So have I. But Catherine’s descent into sexy escapades with murderous ghosts is just the latest in Reign’s storied history of confusing madness plotlines. Is she going mad? Can we trust her insistence that a 5-year-old Claude killed her twin sisters? And as I’ve been asking since the beginning, are there actually ghosts in this castle? It’s all kept purposefully vague, and as Claude’s guilt or innocence hangs in the balance, it’s all getting a little less cute and more just frustrating.
At the very least, Catherine’s spiral brings Kenna back into her orbit. I’m always in favor of more Kenna, if only because more Kenna generally means more saucy asides and cheeky plotlines. So for a while, that’s what we get: Kenna interrupting Bash mid-kiss to worry about his sister, Kenna playing nurse to an unamused Claude, and Kenna catching Catherine talking to Hallucination Henry about her ass. Catherine, in an increasingly rare moment of clarity, even manages to snap back, “Not everything is about your ass, Kenna.” It’s the kind of exchange we saw much more of at the peak of Reign’s rollercoaster ride last season, and I forgot how much I missed it.
More Kenna also means more Bash, which is going to be a theme for the back half of the season if we can trust the newly retooled promotional art. I’m less excited about this, if only because Bash and Francis plotting together almost always results in me rolling my eyes clear to the back of my head, but hey, they do a decent job using an innocent man to blackmail his Cardinal lover this week. Also, Bash’s cold confession to Kenna that he “kills when it’s expedient, lies when it’s expedient” for whatever “greater good” needs him to is a significant moment. Kenna and Bash have been in the honeymoon phase of their whirlwind marriage for some time now, and if Mary and Francis have taught them anything, it’s that marriage requires more than goodwill and sexual chemistry. At the very least, though, Kenna asked Bash to come clean and he did so right away—very refreshing after Francis consistently favoring a slow, slow burn.
Finally, there’s the King of Navarre. Conde’s older brother rules the space between France and Spain with less of an iron fist than a smirk, and as he’s responsible for the moment that made me laugh harder than Henry’s garlic and arsenic remark, he’s one of my new favorites. As it turns out, Conde’s dalliances with married ladies still don’t make him the most sexually adventurous member of his family, because his older brother’s a swinger. He pairs people off regardless of their marriages, and thus the new centerpiece of an otherwise tame dinner party becomes a live sex show set to servants flapping sheets of fabric like ribbons. It’s exactly as absurd as it sounds, which makes it great fun.
But when the freewheeling noble sex romps come up against Mary’s pain, the soundtrack might as well include a record scratch. Mary, trying to get physical and emotional distance from her rape, sits just upstairs with Greer and tells her in a hollow voice that it feels like she’s sleepwalking, and she doesn’t know how to wake up. It’s a devastating scene that Adelaide Kane and Celina Sinden play beautifully, but it’s disorienting against the rest of the episode’s camp—not to mention Conde getting it on with a woman roleplaying as Mary in the very next scene. And while we’re at it, I understand the instinct to create new love triangles, but it feels particularly gross to set Francis and Conde against each other for Mary’s affections regarding how they’re dealing with her rape. It’s not that Reign needs to pick between heightened soap or straight drama. It’s that Reign set itself a very complex challenge when it decided to incorporate a rape storyline, and it’s just not clear whether it can pull it off with the appropriate subtlety.
- Mary’s dresses.
- I laughed when I realized that the first gay male couple on Reign would be members of the clergy (“it’s the worst kept secret in France”), but I do hope we get another one from a less cliché background soon.
- Sometimes I take real notes. Other times, I write down lines and write “ugh dudes” afterwards, and tonight, those notes were Francis immediately calming down the baby when he holds it, and Leith instructing Greer to put her jealousy aside “in respect for me.” Ugh, dudes.