For the past few episodes, Reign’s focused on political machinations and the sacrifices one makes for one’s country—or to keep one’s own standing on the political map. This week, we pull back a little on scope, for an episode that takes on more domestic fallouts of institutional power. It’s not subtle, and some of the setup is a little textbook (literally: Greer utters the phrase “access to money” when listing marriage’s advantages). And there’s definitely a strange rush in Mary’s subplot that feels out of place in an episode that’s already stuffed. But it’s nice to see the more personal political, in examining the ways the show’s women approach and negotiate relationships and social circumstances.
Most directly—and least politically—Greer takes control. Left by Castleroy in uncertain circumstances, she struggles with her attraction to Leith (via sexy dance scene, of course; this is the CW). But as someone not afraid to be uncomfortably direct, she rides out to Castleroy’s estate to square things with him. He doesn’t want to marry without passion, which is fair, even if he’s kind of petulant about it for someone so selfless last season. Greer points out that she’s genuinely not interested in Leith’s journey into the unknown because she doesn’t want a life of risk. It’s a pretty insightful remark, even if it gets thrown out the window later as these epiphanies tend to do on Reign. Even more practical, Greer suggests they learn more about their potential passion…instantly. It’s clearly doomed, but whether she’s doing it for the sake of her sisters or out of real fondness, it’s interesting to watch Greer do everything she can to make things work out the way she wants. (Hey, remember when Castleroy had muttonchops and only talked about pepper before he became a sexy pirate king? Just asking.)
For the rest of them, the political has already irrevocably intervened, and this episode’s no different, with the christening of Francis and Lola’s child. Catherine’s planning it, of course, with Lola’s resentful face in the background as Catherine picks godparents. Lola’s already vetoed Catherine, as she reminds everyone with much more restraint than can be expected: “We have a long history of reasons why.” Francis, meanwhile, stands beside his wife, listens to his mother, and has nothing to say on Lola’s behalf.
You know, I’ve often made fun of Mary’s tactical-mishap historical accuracy, but this reminds us how directly this situation is his fault. His determination to recognize his son and raise him at court—despite having Bash, the half-brother so often used as a pawn against him, as example—is incredibly selfish, even for Francis. And the benefit’s one-sided: the baby’s a threat to Mary’s rule, and we spent an entire arc learning just how little Lola wanted any of the royal entanglement currently happening to her. Now trapped at court and waiting for the shoe to drop with Mary, she resents being thought of as Francis’ mistress. Of course, since this is an episode about personal power negotiations, she also realizes that this perception has its uses. When Narcisse brings terrified Estelle to court as his wife, she begs Lola for help escaping: “You’re the most powerful woman I know. The king’s mistress.” It clearly stings Lola how little that’s the case. Not out of any love for Francis (the show’s been very good about preventing another love triangle there), but out of longing for any sort of honesty about a position that forbids it at every turn.
At least Lola, after several episodes of vaguely swanning around wondering what’s happening, finally gets an episode that lets her fight back. She’s even a little mean again, which is a welcome return to form; her case to Francis and Mary about Estelle’s plight doesn’t even pretend not to twist the knife in both of them. “She’s forced into a life she doesn’t want or deserve based on one moment of weakness.” And it’s no wonder she’s so relieved when she finally harsh-truths Mary into getting angry at last (and leveraging her political power to control the argument when all other retorts fail her, which seems more satisfying to Lola than anything has been in a long time). Despite Francis getting a pass here, too, the fight’s a lot more honest than most of their interactions since Lola’s been pregnant (some of which felt like actual slow burn, some of which seemed like overt plot maneuvers the actresses tried to power through). In fact, this tension is so good it’s almost a shame to have them reconcile so quickly, especially since we know this isn’t the end of this fight, and we’ll end up in this loop again soon. It’s all right to let bad blood hold over from week to week, Reign!
This same swift conclusion also happens to Mary’s incredibly brief pregnancy storyline; we learn she’s pregnant and watch her lose the baby within a few scenes. In some ways that’s a bold narrative move—a pregnancy’s a very easy plot thread to string out, and Reign cut to the chase. (Adelaide Kane also totally nailed the scene where she loses the baby, capturing a poignant mix of personal grief and queenly reserve.) At the same time, the cuddly spousal sweetness feels slightly at odds with the tensions the episode goes out of its way to create, and the dual reconciliations of only highlight how oddly swiftly each of them was dealt with. It feels rushed in both cases, even for a plot-chewer like Reign—and sadly free of any emotional reckoning for Francis, after three episodes so focused on consequences and complicated situations. But that same plot-churning makes me wonder if we’ve just temporarily sidelined these dynamics, to make room for something more like the three-episode arc that opened the season. Catherine’s seeing creepy ghost girls in the halls—someone’s going to be facing consequences, and soon.
- Bash, who in the absence of a romantic or royal subplot has become a one-man Ye Olde Law & Order, learns about a mysterious group of cultists who maybe induce a shepherd to kill his family. Francis, the skeptic on the fence, isn’t sure what to do, but Bash is concerned this is the beginning of another Darkness. I hope not. The Darkness skirted the trappings of fantasy last season with no real payoff; the ghostly appearances this season have been a more effective supernatural undertone. Not sure Bash needs another season of outdoor shoots running around after jerks in cloaks.
- So Narcisse wasn’t horrible to his three previous wives; he’s just unlucky in love, that’s all! Poor suicidal Estelle didn’t understand he was just trying to help her hold on to her property by marrying her against her wishes, that’s all it is. He’s just a boy, standing in front of an unimpressed girl, asking her for a redemption arc.
- Dress of the Week: Mary’s blood-red gown at the pre-christening banquet. Stood out even in a room full of red and gold. (Tied with Greer’s super-convenient single-tie gown.)
- Unintentional laugh of the week: “Can you please stop feeling guilty?” says Mary to the friend she slut-shamed mere hours earlier.
- “She’s probably drunk in Prague as we speak.” God, I hope we meet her, she sounds like a lot of fun.
- “Louis, save us from this dirge.” Megan Follows, delivering lines like they’re going out of style.
- Of course Catherine knows Mary’s pregnant before Francis does. Her climbing into bed to congratulate them—and immediately talk about how strategically advantageous the baby will be—was adorable. She’s so rarely happy it’s no wonder Francis and Mary seemed to be able to begrudge her.
- Greer calling bullshit on Kenna’s mythologizing of the history of her marriage was amazing.
- Louis had a hand in three subplots this week; they’re doing everything they can to make him a viable player. The question is, for whom?
- Not as amazing as the cherub butter sculpture, though.
- Today’s “historical orchestration”: “When We Were Young.”
- Celina Sinden has the most demanding choreography any of the main actresses has had yet! She did a great job.
- “I wanted to protect you from your mistakes” is one of the grossest relationship things that has happened on this show ever, and I am including Lola’s soap-trope husband who was impersonating his dead boss. Not like this, Castleroy! I thought the plague would take you! Not like this.