A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The specter of Francis’s death hangs over Reign considerably and that makes sense, considering how vital Francis was to the show’s narrative. The cliffhanger to the regency drama alone proves that, with his literal organs being brought as evidence of poisoning and thus regicide. It’s one of the best twists Reign has pulled, in large part because it gives active agency to the tug of war over power between Catherine and Narcisse. Fight or Flight begins with a noble in Lord Grenier cozying up to Charles and Bash sees right through it, which might be the most prescient thing he has ever done. Mary and Catherine, who truly makes the best duo and make me wish that’s all this show was about, see right through Lord Grenier’s cozying and arrive quickly at the conclusion that he was trying to install himself as the frontrunner for the regency position. This war between the royalty and the nobility is a thoroughly fascinating one, with the royalty’s power being readily kept in check by an oligarchy of aristocrats who often joined hands to protect their own station. When the monarch is powerful, the nobility’s paths lead to the palace of power, an understanding that their power can be eradicated when they threaten to diminish royal power. At times such as this, however, when the monarch is dead and a young child is taking the throne with a regency required, the nobility can function as a predator smelling a chemical cue telling it to strike. That’s an extremely simple presentation of the power balance between the two forces, but at its core it is a fairly accurate one.
Catherine seems the natural fit to be regent, but her actions in the past haven’t exactly endeared her to certain nobles and a woman in power isn’t exactly the most enthusiastic notion for patriarchal nobles to consider. They’re all well aware of how Catherine has executed the power of her station, but giving her the front seat is a different matter, entirely. The notion of undercutting a powerful woman couldn’t be discounted, either, and thusly it’s not that surprising that Catherine has to work extra hard now to convince the Privy Council that she should be the one to hold the mantle until her son comes of age. The French Privy Council is so much more interesting than its English counterpart within these two episodes alone, it’s not even funny. The English one suffers from a complete lack of tension, but there the back and forth is fantastically accomplished. A significant part of that is that the audience is so much more invested in Mary and Catherine than Elizabeth. Another part is that almost no one on this show comes close to Catherine de Medici in writing and performance. Watching her squirm before nobles who are sure to be eradicated in some form or another is a lot more entertaining and intriguing than Elizabeth being told off for not marrying yet and notably the word “Dudley” is also missing. The regency fight thusly is one of the strongest narrative thoroughfares Reign has ever explored and ending it with Narcisse being declared regent is a brilliant, brilliant move. I don’t care for Narcisse and Lola as a couple because Lola’s character is digressing as a result , nor do I particularly care for the romance between Catherine and Narcisse. What I do care for, however, is them doing their best to tear each other apart for power with the occasional sex thrown in. Watch out, Narcisse. Catherine is dangerous but Catherine losing power and the charge of poisoning her own son is surely going to increase her brutality.
The English court is a mess and it’s not just because the Privy Council has yet to make a decent impression. Elizabeth was not the glittering monarch of England’s Golden Era as she is often depicted but nor were her meetings full of inquiries as to her affair with a councilman. Her rule was plenty chaotic and the only two decisions of consequence she makes in these two episodes are to attack Mary’s hometown of Linlithgow in Scotland and send in a new ambassador to France. Those alone would be fine, but the rest of it (the majority) is full of sequences relating to her affair with Dudley. The show has cycled on the “will-they-won’t-they” so often that this entire plot line has become more insufferable than a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Every single time they go apart, something drags them back together and it sure as hell isn’t destined love because the only way this would work is if Dudley and his wife Amy simply vanished from court and never appeared again. It seems that way at the end of the episode, but I don’t trust the show in this specific regard, so if Elizabeth and Dudley are having sex in the next episode, I’ll have learned to temper my expectations. Amy at least got some agency this episode, even if it was sex-related, playing out her ruse so she could keep her husband to herself and away from the Queen of England, who surely has better things to occupy her time with. But then again, there’s Lola, who used to be the brains of the show until she became the anxious wife of a robbing noble and somehow was okay with that.
Mary’s pursuit of a marriage alliance is the other thoroughfare, forming the backbone of a thematically sound The Hound and the Hare. Prince Don Carlos of Spain appears to be a remarkably kind suitor, considering Mary’s options, but his luggage seemed to suggest a much scarier option at hand. Except that it really isn’t. Catherine, despite all of her Machiavellian machinations (to use a general but not completely accurate phrase) and devious calculations, is genuinely touched that Mary would sign away French protection of Scotland to help her secure the regency. She vows to keep France as an ally of Scotland but also presses Mary to secure Spain. A man’s worth to a queen is buoyed considerably by the riches he holds and the Spanish at this juncture are at the top of their game. Mary would have the protection of the two most powerful Catholic monarchies in Europe and Catherine notes that she would be a fool if she didn’t grasp that opportunity. It turns out that the prince’s desires resulted in his potential Austrian Archduchess being appalled and Mary is less appalled than she is concerned. Don Carlos is a masochist and his contraption (which looks like it doesn’t meet safety standards) would have been be half-stripped while his lover whips him. Mary is unsettled but Catherine offers to help her. Don Carlos’s sexual kinks are frankly fine in the grand scheme of things (anyone remember Henry?) but this solution is not. For a show that spent a lot of time ruminating on Mary’s rape (with mixed results), the presentation of this sequence is especially tactless. Mary is uncomfortable with the idea of whipping her potential husband and she shouldn’t have to engage in any sexual behavior she doesn’t consent to. Mary reluctantly agrees with Catherine to give it a go and it’s hard not to sympathize with her in this regard. Having Catherine whip Don Carlos instead of herself is not a solution but sexual abuse, straight out. It’s a blatant violation of Don Carlos’s consent and his fury is perfectly understandable. It’s not funny in the slightest and the circumstances required an honest conversation between how the two of them from both perspectives, not violating someone’s sexual privacy. The writers should know better than that, frankly, and the cliffhanger of a bloodied Don Carlos in the hallway doesn’t validate that decision.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Fight or Flight):
+“How can I pray to a God when I’m certain he does not hear me?”
+Elizabeth capturing Linlithgow
+“Either I’m a fragile wilting female meant only to mourn or a power-grabbing harpy.”
+Nobles owning mercenary armies
+“Let me stop you before you waste your breath insulting me.”
+Catherine admiring Mary and her persistence in helping her despite her loss was a great moment
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (The Hound and the Hare):
+Catherine and Christophe
+“Are you wearing mink-lined boots?”
“Well, if I have to run, I’m going to look good doing it.”
+It is nice to see Mary smiling once more
+“Stations mean too much to too many.”
+/- The sequence at Greer’s brothel was well done (the misdirection with Greer in the street was particularly sharp), but I still find Bash and Delphine to be an incredible drag. Who gives a flying **** about the supernatural at this point? I know I sure as hell don’t.
Episode Title: Fight or Flight
Written by: Lisa Randolph
Directed by: Charles Binamé
Image Courtesy: The CW Television Network @ YouTube
Episode Title: The Hound and the Hare
Written by: Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt
Directed by: Anne Wheeler