There are so many things to welcome back with this week’s episode, which uses everyone’s past against them in a largely fun fashion. I say “largely” because while “Sins Of The Past” relishes the juicy interpersonal court drama that’s been missing for a while now (Mary’s perpetual tiresome love triangles don’t count), it also gets stuck in the swamp of politics. Like most period shows, Reign has always had trouble delving into historical semantics without dumping exposition bombs left and right, and that certainly holds true tonight.
See, Conde’s older brother Antoine (Ben Aldridge) comes to court asking for money to help the French Protestant refugees that have flooded Navarre in the wake of Francis’ religious crackdowns. No one trusts him—he’s far too dashing to be trusted—and that turns out to be the right call, since he’s also been cooperating with Queen Elizabeth of England to set Navarre up as a staging ground for a potential conflict with France. We find all this out because Francis put Narcisse on “what’s up with Navarre?” duty, but not because we actually get to see Narcisse do any real spying. In Claude’s words, he mostly just lurks about the castle being slimy until he gets his cue to sweep in and inform Francis that he’s heard confirmations of Antoine’s treachery somewhere offstage. Antoine, meanwhile, is convinced that Bash is the French soldier that stabbed his brother to death in the Italian wars, and goes about trying to charm Kenna into betraying some kernel of information on this aspect of Bash’s life that none of us had ever heard about before this episode. It’s a valiant effort to actually use series regular Narcisse and to bring Aldridge’s charming Antoine more firmly into the mix, but it’s hard to get invested when so much of the meat happens in long expository monologues or long ago offscreen.
Once you discount all those pesky attempts at historical accuracy, though, “Sins Of The Past” is a stronger episode. Mary and Francis try to keep up with their rule while continuing their rollercoaster of trust and trauma. This week’s edition is far more believable and touching than previous episodes. They go from trying to sleep in the same bed, to Mary crying in Francis’ arms, to spinning around on the dance floor with wide grins, to crying in front of the fireplace as Mary insists Francis try to move on because “one of [them] should be happy.” Every beat but that final one lands. The episode does such a lovely job portraying their hurt and determination that the moment when Mary seems to resign herself to an unhappy life is particularly brutal. Let’s hope the next episode doesn’t find Conde seizing his opportunity to sweep her off her vulnerable feet, because that would—to use a technical term—be disgusting.
Speaking of Conde, his spurned lover act is starting to look dangerously like Nice Guy behavior. He knows Mary is in a fragile state, and yet he still tries to play games with her head by flirting with Lola and pouting in corners. I understand that he’s frustrated, and doesn’t want to turn on his brother, but his snippy little speech followed by an even snippier, “your Majesty” is not a very flattering look for him.
Elsewhere, Detective Bash is trailing the case of the Mysterious Living Dead. Apparently some woman in white is lifting dead men out of the ground for…some reason. I never know what to make of Bash’s supernatural-ish affairs in the woods, because they have never really had satisfying resolutions. So, I’m keeping a wary eye on them for now, and casting the other more enthusiastic one on his relationship with Kenna, which at least looks to be on its way to the mend.
And then there’s Catherine.
If anything, this episode wins major points from me for finally resolving the mystery of why Catherine had become one of the most annoying features of the show, when she used to be the demented reason to tune in. Better yet, it’s an explanation that goes back to a prop we had actually seen onscreen before, so there was no need for a long explanation about who killed what cousin on whichever battlefield millennia ago. Catherine spends all episode making humiliating attempts to get rid of the syphilis everyone assumes Henry gave her; Megan Followes rips into her frustration at that moment when she realizes Henry might have left the most awful, fitting parting gift. Then, Narcisse walks by and wanders in to help—awfully convenient, but they’re a fun pair, so I’ll let it slide. They then figure out together that Henry’s Bible was poisoned long ago, ergo her madness and also, Henry’s. It solves two annoying mysteries in one with a bonus flourish of hissing acid, which hopefully means we can finally move on from Poor Mad Catherine to some far jucier storylines.
- I was totally on board with the Narcisse/Claude pairing until he had to go and ruin it with, “if you need a parental figure…” No. No thank you, sir.
- I’m also willing to buy that I was briefly hoodwinked into accepting Narcisse/Claude because of that gorgeous string version of Sia’s “Chandelier” in the background.
- Toby Regbo still crushes Francis’ expaseration. His entire scene with Narcisse is gold, but I especially liked, “Narcisse, just shut up and do as you’re told.”
- Mary, to Catherine: “Enough about the prophecy, it’s exhausting.”
- Catherine trying to bite the doctor’s tongue depressor, on a loop from now until forever, please.