A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The art of realpolitik is an intriguing one, if terrifying and prohibitively uncertain at times. One of its most arduous tenants is certainly the delicate balancing act required in forging alliances with those one may not trust. In the world of politics, that figure is unfortunately a fairly considerable one. Reign remains intriguing largely because, ridiculous subplots aside, the politics of its queens are imminently watchable. The introduction of Elizabeth has been handled a bit shakily by the series, her politics saving her storyline from becoming hopelessly mired from the romance with Robert Dudley that has never felt germane or even remotely interesting. Elizabeth’s move in the previous episode of arranging Dudley’s marriage to Mary was by far the shrewdest move she had pulled in the show. It made sure that Dudley remained relevant and if he wasn’t that interesting as a person (he still isn’t), at least his narrative purpose has some substantial narrative consequences at hand. Mary acquiescing to Elizabeth’s proposal to make her the heir to Tudorian England made sense, even if she would be acknowledging that her claim to the throne was indeed inferior to that of Elizabeth. Here Mary and Dudley manage to form somewhat of a relationship over their own cursed romantic fates, a bit of a personal connection where neither of probably (and understandably at that) realistically expected one. They’re stuck in corporeal, transitory positions in life, locked between where they ought to be and where they find themselves at that juncture in life. The engagement doesn’t last long, no one expected it to, but there’s at least a significant plot development going forward that feels organically borne out of the junctures where they were and that’s certainly something.
Mary and Gideon began as a subplot where a bit of groaning was expected. Elizabeth using every tactic available in her handbook in order to ensure that her rival stayed her rival and didn’t wind up becoming her replacement is pragmatic thinking, but the whole “seduce her for England” subplot sounded far too clichéd to work well on screen. Thankfully the series took another route with it entirely and their relationship grow into a romance but not through some awkward seduction but one of a mutual respect and understanding of the positions they were being placed into by forces that were seemingly beyond their control. A romance borne out of mutual respect and understanding is significantly more intriguing than a tawdry romance (not that there’s inherently anything wrong with that), because it allows for the consequences, political and personal, to feel weighted and significant. The more seriously Reign takes its relationships, the more germane that feels with how weighted the characters are by those very relationships and subsequently the drama has real stakes to it. Add in the plot of the Vatican trying to pull the levers here and there’s a delicious recipe the show just revels in. As it turns out, the Vatican is none too happy with having female monarchs in power, regardless of their religious affiliation, as it portends to display an unwelcome contrast to the masculine power on display at the Catholic Church’s capital of influence. It’s one of Reign’s meatiest storylines throughout its entire run and it bears significantly intriguing fruits here.
Anytime Catherine de Medici on Reign makes a powerful man cower before her might is automatically a contender for a great episode and as she and Elizabeth are able to understand, the Vatican’s threat to Mary can easily be replicated towards the both of them (well, the danger to Elizabeth is fairly obvious in this immediate instance). The Vatican’s plot is essentially to use Mary to remove Elizabeth from the throne and once that had occurred, Mary would be taken care of as being someone who had killed Elizabeth to ascend the English throne herself. Once that had occurred, the Catholic Church had a prepared heir to the English throne ready in the elusive Joseph Tudor. It’s a little preposterous to a singular person to expect all of this would happen in such an occurrence (considering the fairly simple fact that the amount of political variables to count were considerably many). But if one considers the simple truth of the sheer amount of power the Catholic Church had in the sixteenth century, an argument for that cause could be made fairly reasonably. Gideon’s role in uncovering that plot, however, lands him in considerably hot waters with the Vatican and the only way out is to make sure that he’s exiled to England, thus avoiding prison and another separation from his daughter Agatha. It works, on account of Dudley being an advisor of good use for once, and Mary and Gideon’s resulting departure is far more emotionally hitting than I would have honestly imagined (in part due to the bond between her and Agatha). Perhaps they’ll see each other in the future, perhaps they won’t. But Mary is coming into her more so than ever before and these types of decisions are only going to become more ubiquitous and difficult to execute.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Not the only one. The cleanest.”
+“I may be retired. I’m not dead.”
+“That is a nice dungeon, just to make a note.”
+Torture simply doesn’t work
+“The blackmailer lectures me on morality?”
Episode Title: Strange Bedfellows
Written by: Shannon Goss
Directed by: Norma Bailey
Image Courtesy: CW TV