A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
No Way Out is one of the most shrewd, entertaining episodes Reign has ever crafted and certainly one of the most enthralling in recent memory. Thematic constructions are always welcome and if the title in this regard is a bit too blunt, its meaning permeates through the hour with an intelligent and shrewd mind. Characters are boxed into various corners by their past, present, and future, trying to whittle out of those corners that happened upon them at moments they felt the most comfortable with where they were in life. But life in the midst of French court politics is never consistent and to settle into a pattern of calm is in many ways an invitation for further conundrums arriving in far greater force, let’s say, in the middle of a play. The Medici family rose to prominence primarily through their banking systems but once they began to rise in Florentine social circles, they had to play the game as if they had inherently belonged there. Those games involved patronage of the arts, the practice of sponsoring artists to display one’s wealth and habits of philanthropy. This might be the first time that habit made its way into the French court and despite Reign existing as an almost alternate version of this specific history, it’s nice to see the show once again acknowledge in a historically accurate way that Catherine de Medici does belong to one of the most powerful families of the time and bringing a theater troupe to French court is a neat way to integrate that history into the plot without trying to be too overtly obvious about it. The demon mask is less subtle, but it’s a ridiculous development that is a significant improvement over the show’s previously misguided attempts at the supernatural, primarily because it digs into the characters’s pasts in a manner that isn’t wholly idiotic.
Catherine de Medici’s greatest crime in terms of documentation and sheer openness of it was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which is dated to be approximately August 24th of the year 1572. The massacre occurred five days after the marriage between Princess Marguerite de Valois to the future Protestant King Henry IV of France (at that moment a Protestant named Henry III of Navarre), an interfaith occasion that allowed for a swelling of wealthy and influential Huguenots (French Protestants) to arrive in Paris. The massacre’s quantity of victims ranged from five thousand to over thirty and in some cases seventy thousand. The primary effects of the massacre were to significantly mitigate the Protestant threat to Catholic power in France but it also proved to be a wedge that drove a massive stake through any idea of reconciliation during the age of avid religious wars. The Thirteen Red Knights appearing before Catherine during the play pivoted towards the unsavory aspects of her reign that the show has largely eschewed (perhaps they’re playing with timelines here, but that’s another issue) and even here for a moment it looked like Catherine might have been responsible for massacring these knights but the show pivots that decision towards Henry, adding another despicable item to his repertoire. I love Megan Follows’s Catherine de Medici and never more in that moment when she takes Narcisse’s wine, drinks it in one gulp, and then shoves the empty goblet back into his hand. But the show seems to be afraid of making Catherine too unlikable at times and this was one case where they could have written her closer to her historical counterpart that ordered a Protestant massacre through Charles and they missed it. But using Christophe as a tool against Catherine’s enemies? That’s a masterstroke and it may help rectify some of the whitewashing of Catherine’s character.
The developments between Mary and Elizabeth continue to be fascinating in a way I never thought they would be. That lack of interest primarily rose from the reality of how undramatic England in the show tended to be, how frustrating it was to see the historical Elizabeth looming so much over her Reign counterpart. The opening scene deals with what every monarch finds to be their greatest headache at some point or another: naming an heir. Elizabeth, wanting to avoid marriage altogether if possible, performs a masterstroke of naming Mary, Queen of Scots as her successor. If Mary accepted, then she would be securing Scotland but also ensuring that her claim to the English throne would be seen as being secondary to that of Elizabeth. If she refused, it would weaken her already weakened position, especially with the Protestant inroads made in Scotland. Mary contends with this position after a tryst in Rome (sadly occurring off screen) where the Vatican offered her her support. Her lying to Gideon is a fantastic turn for Mary and a logical move as she wants to avoid sabotaging her own chances of garnering the Scottish crown, but the Vatican has its own plans at play, wanting to assassinate Elizabeth after Mary accepts her offer. Catherine jumps on that wagon if Mary wanted to go that route, noting hilariously that her own liking of Elizabeth meant nothing if Mary needed to dispatch her for political expediency. Mary notes, however, that her doing so would only ensure that the Vatican’s hands remained clean while she would garner the blame of grabbing the English throne by way of blood. But she simply can’t ignore the Vatican’s orders, either. As a potential Catholic monarch, turning against Rome in that day and age was almost certainly a fatal move to play.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I’ve missed you, Greer.”
+“I liked her. But she is your foe.”
+“A man would be their preference, don’t you think?”
+“Guns are terribly unreliable. They often misfire.”
+“I am a Queen without a country.”
+“That’s not a successor. That’s a replacement.”
+Gideon committing murder. Never say this show doesn’t find new ways to off people.
+Elizabeth ordering Dudley to marry Mary as she had accepted her offer. Reign’s Elizabeth coming into her own is finally starting to pay off for the audience.
+“He lied to me and I deplore him.”
+I am really loving Lady Lola’s development as a shrewd political operative. Her relationship with Elizabeth really blossomed this episode. This exchange in particular was pure gold:
“Despite your heartbreak, I must warn you. I show no mercy.”
“Lady Lola, I expect no less.”
Episode Title: No Way Out
Written by: Wendy Riss Gatsiounis
Directed by: Fred Gerber
Image Courtesy: Fangirlish