Grains & Crowns
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
This is the best episode this show has ever done, hands down (okay, maybe it’s up for debate). But this was an hour that revolves largely around the pursuits of power and its condensation within the hands of Francis and Mary, which is ostensibly what this show does best. It’s a further indication of how strong this second season is, getting right down to business without a single moment to waste. Gone are the silliness of the superstitions, the dressing montages, the flirty romances that are way too obvious, the general CW-ness. And it all benefits the show tremendously. The specter of the Black Plague still stands over the entire proceedings as the reality of starvation knocks louder and louder and louder. It’s a true threat to the legitimacy of the new king. Starvation amidst a lavish coronation is no positive indicator for any king and or queen. The religious factions between the Protestants and Catholics become louder, indicative that the Worship Wars (as I call them from time to time) are being foreshadowed to become a legitimate threat to our new monarchs. The superstitious elements are back, but they’re in the form of King Henry II’s ghost (sort of), a logical move to literalize Francis’s guilt over killing his own father.
The opening shots of the episode are stunning, immediately selling a sort of scale the show has struggled with in the past (primarily due to budget concerns, I’m sure). And Trevor Morris’s score just adds an impeccable layer of gravitas and opulence that’s hard to match. It’s an expansive opulence worthy of a French king’s coronation. But the timing, as everyone is keenly aware of, is anything but worthy of celebration. The terror of the plague is still ringing about the air, having decimated so much in its frigid grasp. The destruction left behind wasn’t kind to the survivors of the plague, either. There’s simply no food. The specter of starvation was raised quite large last week, but it is within this hour that we truly get a sense of how an entire empire can be brought to its knees for some grain. As such, the expense of the coronation isn’t, shall we say, in the best of tastes (the expensive military campaign at Calais doesn’t help the situation, either). Mary notes that they should tone down the celebration to reflect the realities around them, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable conclusion to arrive at. Catherine rightfully points out once again that the power of the throne comes with the strings of the nobility attached. The bleaker the coronation, the more apparent it becomes to not just French nobles but also visiting dignitaries that the throne is weak. The display of power is more often than not as important as wielding it.
If the gravity of the starvation had to be sold in a single sequence, it’s when a thief runs into the royal procession to steal a box with bread and a live chicken. He’s slaughtered within about a minute of his theft, which logically makes sense. But a man dying just because he was trying to feed his family mere steps away from the new royals makes for a somber catalyst. Mary, being Mary, manages to find a solution to the entire situation that doesn’t involve relying on Narcisse and his supreme villainy (the guy did lose his son, but still). A German Protestant official arrives to make a bargain, fully aware of the French famine problem. His demand is for Protestant prisoners who were jailed by Henry II to be released seemed reasonable, more so if the prisoners hadn’t actually committed a crime beyond methodology of worship. Francis is frantic throughout the hour, trying to ensure that Mary doesn’t go openly above his head and inadvertently challenge his own legacy and legitimacy. But time is running out. Mary gives the go-ahead for the prisoner exchange to happen and despite a snafu later, it does work out. The prisoners are found and released and the grain is delivered, much to Narcisses’s chagrin. As importantly as Narcisse being ticked off, the deal signals at the very least an olive branch being extended between Catholic France and Protestant German kingdoms (Germany as a country won’t exist as a unified nation for a few more centuries). And with the emphasis on religion, it seems that this olive branch will become more important than ever.
The specter of the supernatural takes a much more believable and logical turn with Francis’s guilt over his act of patricide following him incessantly. It makes sense that he would feel guilt over what he has done, no matter how logical and or necessary it was. Perhaps this will prove to be his undoing, in the cruelest twist of ironies. Speaking of Cruel, Narcisse is a vengeful noble arse whose cunning is matched by Catherine’s, who doesn’t take his comments about her being irrelevant kindly. As the episode closes, it’s revealed that she used the famed Medici funds to buy grain and give it around villages with her name attached to it. Sure, Francis and Mary are the new royals with a new outlook on how to rule. Catherine understands that, respects it, but also acutely understands that she isn’t going to allow herself to be erased from history, either. The coronation proceeds and as the elegant couple take their throne, the specter of tension and history hangs above them. How perilous and how joyful those moments will be remains to be seen. But for now, Francis and Mary are reveling in their balanced, equal relationship of power as they consummate their relationship. But even that act of love is fraught with the expectation of an heir. On to next week, my fellows.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+There was no dressing montage. S*** got serious this week.
+Trevor Morris is such an amazing composer and I wish the show would just let him loose and roll back the modern music.
+Megan Fallows is a gift. I will say this every week until this show ends.
+The dresses and suits are stunningly gorgeous
+I do like how they had extras of multiple ethnicities to sell this as a major event attended by nobles and royals from all over the world, which the coronation of the next king of France should be.
+Louis Conde was used well and I look forward to him returning.
+Next week’s episode is titled The Lamb and the Slaughter. Oh dear.
+“Nobles are like geese.”
+Bash as the King’s Deputy is a great choice and I love how him and Kenna are evolving into their roles. But will there come a point where they aren’t able to dispense justice, as much as they would like to? My heart says no, but my mind says yes.
Written By: Harley Peyton
Directed By: Holly Dale
Image Courtesy: TV.com