A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Reign’s greatest asset is also its greatest weakness. The adage of “the double-edged sword” is a fairly clichéd one but it applies aptly here. Reign has always fashioned itself as a high-strung melodramatic soap centered around a loosely-based account of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. That is fine. Historical dramas always face the problem of the audience getting imminent spoilers off of Wikipedia (let’s be real here), so often they’ll dramatize certain elements for the sake of dramatic suspense. That is fine. In spite of the dramatizations, the looseness of certain historical markers, and the anachronistic stylizing choices, Reign has one of the most inherently thrilling settings in world history. The French Court as a whole (regardless of the century it was in) was always full of intrigue and the period when Catherine de Medici was in power was in direct correlation to the Renaissance period, a period where political maneuvering became immortalized with Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. There’s absolutely no reason to let that go to waste at all and the show has done that time and time and time again. Part of me understands that every single political development can’t be thoroughly played out as the show needs to be centered around its core characters and every political development simply can’t be thoroughly played out. Another part of me nevertheless is fairly annoyed that we can’t see developments actually play out over the course of several episodes. For example, Claude’s forced marriage is an interesting point for the character and certainly not that far out of the norm for a member of the nobility (although marrying the Princess of France to a random noble of wealth is rather unfeasible). Her escape within about five minutes of screen time, however, is not.
An aspect of character understandings that Reign has capitalized on well for the most part is the idea of the inescapable specters of the past, present, and future that constantly attach themselves to one’s being. The scars, metaphorical and in the case of Claude and her husband, literal, are very real and it can be significantly difficult to overcome them in a true fashion. When Reign addresses those complications, it for the most part does so successfully but when it plays them off quickly, it creates a dearth for character development when there was ample opportunity to fill it in. That Claude’s marriage would go poorly was a foregone conclusion. That she would be struck by her husband was an unsettling possibility from the beginning and certainly one didn’t expect Claude to not respond in kind. That she does is a great moment for her and the episode rightfully plays it off as a triumph. But it happens so quickly that the vast majority of the emotional register the episode reaches for falls flat. But at least it’s triumphant for one character in a logical sense, which is more than can be said for the travesty that is known as the traumatic (for the audience) love affair between Elizabeth and Dudley. There, Amy kills herself to put Dudley into a thin position but honestly, if Elizabeth suddenly flies into a psychopathic rage and murders Dudley for impairing her rule, I would be okay with it. At least that dreadfully dull chapter would come to a dramatic close.
The entirety of Narcisse’s handling of his regency of France makes absolutely no sense and not just from the basics of Ruling France 101. Narcissi is a character (in a sense like Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones) who is so beyond shady that it is astonishing that anyone trusts him at all (even Lola finally comes around and gets that bit of character development that she’s been missing ever since her marriage to Narcisse). Case in point is Charles, a young prince who assumed logically that he would never sit on the throne. Nevertheless, you are groomed to do so in most cases just in case untoward things happen to the monarch and the first and foremost understanding a young French royal would acquire is the delicate balance of power between the monarchy and the nobility that functions as its feudal power structure. Elizabeth, in the one proper display of her ruling acumen so far, walks through the people and graciously accepts their gifts. Charles meanwhiles fluctuates so frantically between trusting people that it seems like he may be deliberately doing so in order to pass himself off as being a far greater genius than he truly may be. With that extremely distinct possibility, it takes the scars on his sister’s face for him to come to the truly brilliant conclusion that his regent may in fact be the untrustworthy, mustache-twirling narcissist that essentially his entire family has been warning against. At least he’s finally taking charge of the situation in a decent fashion, much like Catherine in the episode’s final moments. That relationship between Catherine and Mary forms the strongest backbone through this ring of episodes, testing their bonds over and over again to find a deeply rooted connection that doesn’t betray either of their characters. That love needs to spread a bit.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Our Undoing):
+“I can’t have another dead monarch on my hands.”
+“Secrets don’t remain secrets.” Really? There’s a royal shocker.
+“To run is an admission of guilt.”
“To stay is an acceptance of death.”
+“That is a small sacrifice for a colossal victory.”
+“They are children, not points to be made.”
+“It must be so difficult for you to see my head resting so comfortably on my shoulders.”
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Wedlock):
+Elizabeth recalling Anne Boleyn’s beheading
+“Poverty takes its toll.”
+Mary looks gorgeous in her gold and scarlet gown
-Delphine and another murder. Spare me.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Bruises That Lie):
+“I would like to report that, Your Majesty, and that you are a woman of your word.”
+“Your cryptographers are breathing too much of their ink.”
+“What address would I use? ‘The middle of the Mediterranean?’”
+“Choose because of what you think, not what others might.”
+“We should get to the kiss quickly before the building collapses under the weight of my misfortune.”
+Lola realizing Elizabeth’s pregnancy?
-The tribunal deadlocked off-screen
Episode Title: Our Undoing
Written by: Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts
Directed by: Lee Rose
Episode Title: Wedlocked
Written by: Wendy Riss & Drew Lindo
Directed by: Norma Bailey
Episode Title: Bruises That Lie
Written by: P.K. Simmons
Directed by: Megan Follows
Image Courtesy: Spoiler TV