Do Not Let Them Win
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“I know you don’t want to be touched, that’s alright. But, you’re safe. I don’t know how you managed to escape but you did. You are alive. You will survive this. I know this because I survived. You know that. They try to destroy you by taking your pride and your strength, but those things cannot be taken, not from you. Not ever. They tried to diminish a King tonight by degrading a Queen and they will not succeed because the world will never know what happened to you. These next moments of your life will either define you as a victim or as a powerful Queen, untouched by failed a assassination attempt. They will define who you are perceived to be, your place in history. Do not let them win. Trust me. Trust me and let me help you. Trust that I can get you through this because I swear to you that I can.”
Power manifests itself into a plethora of ways, some subtle and some not so. It’s about asserting control, asserting power and ensuring one’s own dominance at the expense of another. Sometimes it manifests itself into a game of chess, or a religious schism, or perhaps warfare outright. Sometimes it manifests into rape. The act of rape is a simple one, an act that imbues absolute inhumanity and horror within it. For some reason, rape is still shady in its reality and more often than not even in this day it is the victims who bear the brunt of that assault for the rest of their lives while their perpetrators go free. And no matter what the time period, station of birth, or amount of power, victims of rape still exist. In Acts of War, there’s multiples acts that threaten to bring all of France to the brink of outright warfare, the most egregious of which is Mary’s rape at the hands of the dead minister’s father while his companions held her down. It’s a horrifying act that will have severe repercussions for the rest of the series, if the showrunners are to be believed. From the previews for next week, that certainly seems to be the case, but even there I have a bit of reservations.
Before we get there, however, I’d like to make a note of the other eventful narrative strokes this episode painted. The Protestants vs. Catholics brawl set off in large motion at the beginning of the season has become murkier and murkier to the point where it’s become a full blown crescendo of absolute mayhem. Mary and Francis, largely at loggerheads this season, come to a resolution that is tenuous at best. Louis of Conde’s purpose finally is revealed here and I’m glad the show actually gave his heavy presence an actual purpose. Mary proposes that Claude marry Louis for an interfaith marriage to ease tensions in France and despite Narcisse’s best efforts, Claude agrees at Francis’s behest. Their engagement spurs a plethora of shocked reactions, primarily from Lord Narcisse, who prepares to have Francis dethroned in response. As it remains, the full brunt of this decision will no doubt be further explored next week. Pertaining to Claude, however, this episode marks the first time where Claude has proven to be an actual character in her own right, not just a cipher meant to represent women’s sexual liberation and essentially nothing else. This week, Claude openly discusses having an open relationship with Louis, firmly marking the case that she will not in any way, shape, or form be his inferior. She still keeps her sexual proclivities intact, pulling one over on Narcisse as she does so. When he overtly threatens her death over her marriage with Louis, she replies with a calm and sharp “At least my family will cry at my funeral.”
Francis, meanwhile, had finally begun taking some agency that comes roaring down on his head at the episode’s end. United with Bash, his character is growing tremendously as the two position Narcisse in a fashion where he would have full grounds to take Francis’s life. As a diversion, Francis leaves in secret with Bash to remove the proof that Narcisse has incriminating the entire royal family. The proof is removed successfully, courtesy of Bash sticking a knife through Lord Montgomery (the original knight who was going to ride against King Henry). Yet his departure leaves the castle in a difficult position, saving Francis’s life but placing Mary firmly within the hands of the radical Protestants. The rape scene itself was difficult to watch, as any scene of sexual assault is. But Mary, horrified by what had just happened to her, still has some fight left in her, knocking one of the guards cleanly cold.
Immediately she runs out into the corridor, finding Catherine and her guards. Within a nanosecond, Catherine becomes fully aware of what had just happened to Mary. “Oh my dear child,” she begins softly, seeing a younger version of herself breaking apart. Catherine in that moment understands the compassion and reality that Mary needs. “Take control of who you are,” she says quietly and in that moment this entire relationship takes on an entirely different layer. It’s an intensely emotional moment between a survivor of sexual assault who sees a new victim lying right in front her. Catherine could have taken advantage of Mary in so many ways, considering her volatile state at that moment. But she chooses instead to protect her, to be by her side and give her the strength she needed. She is family and despite all of their power plays to give themselves the upper hand, they have a responsibility towards one another that neither eschews. For Catherine, that means being there for her daughter-in-law in her most vulnerable moment and becoming more human then than perhaps she’s ever been. For all of their ruthless power plays, these two women have an indefatigable bond of understanding and when Catherine kneels down besides Mary and becomes the mother she truly needs at that moment, my heart is torn asunder like little I’ve ever seen. Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows have perhaps never been better, playing that sequence beautifully and not leaving a dry eye in the house.
It’s heartbreaking when Catherine quietly and understandably makes Mary realize that in this moment, she either will become a victim or a survivor. There’s simply no other option available to her. And to see Mary sitting on the throne, bottling in all of her emotions and being the true leader she is, truly leaves nothing of my heart behind. “They will die for nothing,” she announces imperiously to an audience, her face barely keeping from breaking apart. When Francis comes back, a shell-shocked Mary tells him the truth, making him promise that he will find the men who did this to her and kill them. Reign has given us many strong moments to latch onto emotionally and the one between Mary and Catherine perhaps, of two women who have suffered the terror of sexual assault reinforcing strength in one another, may be its strongest. For everyone involved, I sincerely hope that the show does not take this lightly and doesn’t merely look at it through Francis as has been suggested. Rape so often has become a mere plot point and has rarely been looked at like the traumatizing horror that it truly is. As Adelaide Kane addresses in the wonderful PSA above, rape is not a small thing and I certainly hope the show can address its ramifications in a mature and understanding fashion.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Francis and Louis at the marketplace
+Louis: “I have a creeping feeling of unease.”; Mary: “Because you know me.”
+Louis on Mary: “You could sell an ocean a cup of water.”
+“Then we are indeed in dire circumstances.”
+Good violin music
At least my family will cry at my funeral
+Nice overhead direction shots
+“To what might have been.”
+“It’s like forcing food down a duck’s throat to make foie gras.”
+The scene between Narcisse and Lola was fantastic and intriguing, with Narcisse’s best line to date: “To rob people of hope is a great mistake.”
+“I can hardly bear to have you look at me.”
+Greer and Castleroy becoming embroiled in the assassination plot that led to Mary’s rape is a fascinating direction into which to take their storyline
Title: Acts of War
Written By: Laurie McCarthy & Nancy Won
Directed By: Fred Gerber
Image Courtesy: Spoilers Guide