There’s nothing like a hostage-crisis bottle episode to bring simmering subplots to a boil, is there? And Reign, which absolutely buys into its soapy setup at every turn, didn’t even wait until the back half of its first season before unrolling one.
They made the most of it in the first third, by using the Neapolitan Count’s crackdown as proof positive of the various power struggles among the classes and factions at court: Greer accidentally finds a crucial anonymity in the kitchens, Olivia instantly becomes inconsequential as the politics get hashed out, Francis realizes that this is one of those weeks he can’t live without Mary, and Bash begins to realize his mother was absolutely not kidding about her quest to have him remembered by history. Unfortunately, a combination of hairpin plot turns during a D-grade Great Escape and an hour of rape threats leaches some of the shenanigans-potential out of this episode.
Really, though, this episode exists to showcase Catherine, and Megan Follows makes the most of every arch minute in the spotlight as she struggles for control of the ever-shifting situation with which she’s presented. Her ruthlessness in defense of her son has been well-established, even if the casualness with which she suggests the Count take Mary shocks Francis (who’s always at his best when he’s concerned about Mary despite, rather than because of, his own interests). But Catherine’s defense of Mary and her ladies was genuinely surprising—there was even an unexpected standoff as Lola confronted the Queen about the sheer amount of grief Catherine has given them since their arrival. However, this time around, Catherine was as good as her word: By poisoning her gift of gold that the Italians scoop up, she eliminates nearly the whole room. (“Don’t make an enemy of a Medici” hadn’t caught on as a Thing yet, I guess.)
However, Catherine’s final feint is still to offer the women up to the soldiers, and while everyone drops from poison before things progress too far, Catherine admits she wasn’t sure the poison would work in time to actually rescue them from anything, which is a remarkable callousness from someone who acknowledges she’s also a rape survivor. I honestly don’t know where they’re going with this; I’ve never had a problem with Catherine’s antipathy toward Mary, given this show’s fantasy-universe prophecy about the danger she poses to Francis. But this isn’t the first time she’s allowed—even encouraged—Mary’s rape, not even counting the independent sexual threats Mary’s received. For someone whose value is nominally as a personification of her country and who has a lot to lose on any number of other fronts, I really wish they’d examine some other angle of vulnerability than her sexual person. (Remember back when the English disapproved of her Catholicism? We could go back to that!) Follows does manage to make Catherine just sympathetic enough on all fronts that her villainy remains believable on behalf of her sons, but I’d like for her methods to shift a little if we’re going to keep trying to understand her.
As one would expect from a bottle episode, there are revelations left and right, though some of the crucial ones feel slightly unearned. Bash’s revelation was a straight line, leaving him as opposed to his mother’s interference as he was before, and with no more particular insight into his feelings about his brother (though this arc is definitely being set up as a battle between two women of absolute focus and nearly bottomless resources, which is all to the good). Greer also had no epiphany about her simmering class issues, though she knows a lot more about her ability to snap a guy’s neck than she did this morning, which is something. And Mary and Francis gaspingly declared they couldn’t stay apart any more, in a beat that feels like such a dictation of the on-again-off-again checkerboard that it’s hard to find any real satisfaction in this payoff. Full marks for the staging, though; this show’s such an unabashed soap that as the camera pans away from Mary and Francis making out and whispering sweet nothings about Mary’s swiftly-vanishing virginity and slides along the stone wall, I was honestly surprised there wasn’t anyone standing there watching it all. Maybe it was Olivia, still in the corridors; with this show, anything’s possible.
- I assume Nostradamus was in the middle of some masterclass Hide and Seek when the Italians showed up and just opted to play the long game. (You can always tell a Milford man.)
- Forks are a plot point. That’s so Sleepy Hollow of you!
- Speaking of which, Mary stabbing the Count was oddly glossed over, perhaps because nobody could stop laughing at the FX of Francis chopping the Count’s knife hand off in some suspiciously Monty Python action.
- Perhaps as an homage, given that it aired during the live broadcast of The Sound of Music, a lot of the scenes this week seemed particularly stagey: the awkward blocking in the initial standoff with the Count, Greer in the kitchen, Diane visibly waiting for someone to call “Action” in her first bit with Bash.
- Does everyone keep ornamental, secretive hourglasses on their banquet tables, or…?
- True love is slicing a guy’s throat so your girlfriend never has to know if she killed him or not.
- Olivia abandoned Mary in the tunnels; given the way in which she literally and figuratively vanished, that was probably a tactical mistake on her part.
- Diane’s excited about the idea of getting her son legitimized and rattles off a few examples: “The bastard Elizabeth might take the throne in England.”