The Killer Crown
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Reign returns from a long hiatus and with it, all of its excitement, its frustrations, it ridiculous dialogue, and Megan Follows chewing up the scenery so effortlessly it evokes nothing but jealousy. The show knows why we’re her whenever Catherine de Medicine is on screen but in some other cases it doesn’t. The dialogue remains more perfunctory than it really ought to, considering the caliber of the actors delivering the lines but the drama is so thrilling that it sometimes makes up for that. There’s an air of aloofness and a disregard for dramatic conventions that is a selling point for the show but there are times when I wish the show would tighten its scripts, turn its pen towards more clever arenas, and lower down a bit on its obvious foreshadowing. Succession is a solid return for Reign, with some significant plot momentum and a ridiculous twist that makes absolutely no sense the more you think about it, but one ridiculous plot twist is acceptable for the rest of the hour, which unfolds with a relative quickness as it splits its time between Mary in France and Elizabeth in England. Elizabeth has been a problematic character since her introduction and a part of it is that the show has struggled to make the character make complete sense on a character and plot level. Bringing in Mary’s “arch nemesis” when she is arguably at her weakest as an individual makes for great drama. But Elizabeth on Reign has been overshadowed by the magnified presence of her historical counterpart to the point where the character on screen felt marginalized herself. Perhaps the writers figured it out during the hiatus, but Succession provides the first Elizabeth towards whom I’ve had a genuinely interested reaction.
Part of the problem of the English plot is that it is simply far less built than the French ones. A similar problem exists when the show forays into Scotland. Either all of the Scottish action happens within the French court or it happens off-screen. At this point, if James fell off of a swaying bridge while dueling to save his life I wouldn’t care. Nor are the characters in England, to be perfectly honest, that interesting to begin with. Robert Dudley got a smattering of interesting moments but he mostly just existed there to exert pressure on a love story that never entirely worked. When the crux of your love story can be encapsulated without emotion by the following exchange: “Should I banish him? But I love him!” and “I should leave to protect my station and wife! But I love you!”, there’s a significant problem. Thankfully Dudley looks to be now out of the picture and Elizabeth is left with her most trusted advisor William, whose duplicity is uncovered by a sharp Lola and a maidservant. The revelation that William was behind the poisoning was thrilling, but less so was his reason of loving Elizabeth and wanting to protect her rule (at this point, I expect everyone on this show to fall in love with everyone else at some point or another). Elizabeth breaks down but even in her vulnerable moment she displays a remarkable amount of strength is taking down the man who robbed her of the choice that was hers and only hers to make. Rachel Skarsten is great here and for once Elizabeth’s character gets depth and dimension as her personal and professional lives clash with devastating consequences.
The French court is of two halves in quality. The bits with Mary were fantastic, as she goes with Gideon and his young daughter Agatha to the fair. Gideon struggles mightily with connecting to his daughter, a daughter he had been kept apart from for years by Elizabeth. There’s a recognizable human quality in Gideon’s desire to be there for his daughter and for Agatha to believe that he, too, has an equivalent role to play in her life. She just doesn’t feel that connection, but it’s Mary who is able to get to the child after a woman presumes that she is Agatha’s mother (how she doesn’t get that Mary is the former Queen is another issue entirely). Agatha notes quietly, in a brutally honest way that only children truly manage to do, that if Mary were really her mother, then her father would never have gone away from her. Queens, after all, could be told by nobody what they could and could not do. The look upon Mary’s face is heartbreaking. She has lost so much by virtue of her position, or truly a lack thereof because she was a female royal. Her gender is, by the nature of patriarchy, a double-edged sword. Mary’s advice of opening one’s self as being difficult but necessary is a nice thematic construct that deepens the complex character relations in a quiet, understated fashion. Mary and Gideon’s friendship really does pay off here, so when Mary arrives at the plan that the only true option left for her was asking the Vatican for help, it sows a potential path of discourse between her and Gideon and it completely works. Elizabeth would never tolerate Catholic armies on Scottish soil but if that’s the decision that Mary has to make, then that impasse might just come forth and it should be fantastic to see it play out.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Bread and wine to every town
+The sequence where the Minister of Finance brought it was great
+“The world through a child’s eye is a marvelous thing.”
+The set decoration
+“You had no right!”
+“We are kings and queens and vagabonds.” Nice song choice from Ellem at the end.
+“Hold the scepter tight.” Wise literal and metaphorical advice from Mary, there
+“I will be forced to strike you down.”
-The Christophe and Catherine subplot is complete nonsense. The notion that Catherine de Medici would be afraid of a guard she’s fucking because of a secret letter is nonsense, sorry.
Episode Title: Succession
Written by: April Blair
Directed by: Charles Binamé
Image Courtesy: Fangirlish