A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
To the Death and Safe Passage feel like episodes that are taking Reign into a significantly new direction. The show still has some ridiculous subplots and slips of anachronisms but generally speaking Reign has matured significantly and the promise of season two that had bogged down in the middle has been revived well in season three and as the characters grow towards different destinies, the series likewise does the same. These two episodes feel like the series truly transitioning towards something different than what it was before while retaining the elements that are quintessentially Reign at heart. These two episodes are especially noted with the thoroughfare of farewell as characters shift towards new directions, new horizons. But before they make those transitions, they have to say farewell to those characters, places, memories, and even entire segments of their lives. All of the journeys these characters embark upon are imperiled in one form or another, because such is the nature of drama, but it’s the harkening of new opportunities on the horizon that nevertheless create exciting paths for Reign to travel down. With Mary leaving her long home of France towards her unknown destiny and home, those avenues ought to become more exciting than ever before, the show’s long-running promise of delivering the Queen of Scots to her homeland paying off at last. It won’t be an easy road, to be sure, but it looks to be a sufficiently rewarding one nevertheless. That being said, plots on Reign don’t always make sense nor do they often last long enough to be considered full-fledged plots in their own right but if these two episodes are to go by, with a few exceptions, things look quite rosy going forward.
Elizabeth’s understanding of her family’s rather tumultuous past is of considerable interest to contemporary historians and it arrives to Reign in a contextual fashion that serves to deepen Elizabeth’s character in a way that harkens closer to the historical Elizabeth than ever before. Largely eschewing her romantic entanglements with Robert Dudley has allowed the show to focus more concisely upon her rule, her shrewd calculations that constantly allow her to remain even with her enemies, if not one step ahead. To the Death opens with a literal framing of this device as Elizabeth walks into the courtyard, witnessing the beheading of her mother Anne Boleyn. She screams at the top of her voice, issuing commands, but there is no one to listen to her. Her using Lola to entrap Lady Beatrice Somerset (whose real-life counterpart is Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester) was a terrible plot move, but it did give her the slow understanding of what the reality of her mother’s life was like. King Henry VII wasn’t exactly a phenomenal monarch by any means and Reign sticks to the debunked notion that Anne Boleyn slept with her brother George so she could have a son, so desperate was she to retain her head. It’s more historical reworking from the show and one that I don’t think was quite necessary (for a neat correspondence to these events, check out BBC and PBS’s excellent Wolf Hall), but it does bring a powerful note for Elizabeth where she realizes that no matter how much she may have despised her father, embracing being her father’s daughter was the route power lay.
Catherine finds herself in the dilemma of needing to pay off her military so her best soldiers don’t desert France for a Greek prince who had a greater pursestrings attached. The plot is a bit of a stretch but it makes enough sense with the debacle of the Red Knights that has reared its ugly head in French court once more. Narcisse makes a promise of garnering the necessary funds, but he does so in a manner that makes the circumstances hardly any better. Catherine takes Charles to ride to the generals to announce that they would be paid as good news ought to always arrive with the king himself. Messengers existed otherwise. Narcisse, however, pulled a move aristocrats always pull and ends up raising the tithe on peasants whom had already been taxed in the first place. The peasants don’t take kindly to this when the royal carriage garbles through a nearby town and Charles ends up taking up literally gambling with Naricsse in tow to raise the appropriate funds. That Catherine is a notable political whirlwind is true to the show and to history itself, but even with a significant aging up of Charles (similar to Tommen in Game of Thrones), he’s proving his ineptness. When Narcisse suggests that he take his winnings right then and there, he loses the entire hand and Narcisse is forced into a death ring match to garner the winnings back. It’s all fairly predictable with the whole angle of an unbeaten opponent and all but it serves quite neatly to continue to make Narcisse into an interesting figure while underlining how Charles alone on the throne would be a disaster.
Catherine, while presumably not counting on her son being this much of an idiot, also did not count on Bash discovering Christophe’s secret after he murdered Delphine. Bash is furious, killing Christophe for good and revealing her secret to Charles and Claude. That Catherine would go to extreme lengths to keep her regency intact is something Bash knew from the very beginning. That she would protect a serial killer who continued to kill innocents in order to do so crosses a serious ethical line in his mind. Except that it isn’t the only line. Someone finally remembers that Diane de Poitiers was a person (that person being her son makes sense) and the news of her murder at Catherine’s hand breaks Bash’s seemingly everlasting patience. Bash was no stranger to the reality of his mother being a fairly terrible person and he knew quite adroitly that once Catherine discovered that Diane had murdered her children, that Catherine was hardly the type of person to let something like that go. He proceeds to choke in her in a fairly dramatic moment and despite the show’s seemingly numerous mistakes in regards to Bash’s character development, the drama here works. He resigns from his position after sparing Catherine’s life, saying farewell to the life he had always known to join Mary and Narcisse on their path to Scotland. It’s easily the most forward plot development Bash has had in ages and that it arrived on his the crux of his emotional self being so hurt is a cherry on the top.
Mary leaving France is by far the biggest development here. Lola, whose presence in England has proven to be the best path for her character yet, writes a wonderfully cryptic note that would make Catherine proud, noting that the North Sea for the short moment was free of English ships. Mary has a quick choice to make and noting Narcisse’s words, she departs for Scotland. Her entire life had been in that country, every facet of her existence had seemingly been tied down in the kingdom and now she was off towards a new horizon, leaving that entire segment of her life behind. The theme music playing at those key moments was a brilliant touch as Mary leaves the palace after a notably emotional yet terse good-bye to Catherine. The relationship between those two has always been delightfully complex, two women in power wrestling with that very power in a heavily patriarchal society. Catherine and Mary, after a significant amount of time, developed acute feelings for one another with mutual respect at the center. Catherine notes that saying good-bye to Mary was like saying good-bye to her son all over again and she couldn’t bear to do that for long. Mary offers to stick by Catherine when the knights of her military look to rebel, but Catherine furiously tells her to go and take back her throne. She has always come up with some plan to save her own skin and this time wouldn’t be any different. The two women embrace for the last time and Mary goes off on her way. But Mary is loyal to a fault and she rides back with her mercenaries, delivering a rousing speech in defense of Catherine while wielding the sword Francis had left behind for her. It’s a much better farewell between the two women who have stuck together through so much and even if Mary notes that she may never see France again, I certainly hope that these two will.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (To the Death):
+Catherine’s expression when the Vatican claimed to be lacking resources
+New wardrobe from Catherine
+“Like a queen men would die for.”
+“Those memories are a part of me, Greer, but I am stronger than they are.”
+“My life is once again the sum of my choices, not someone else’s crimes.”
+Greer and Castleroy being given a future by Mary. She’s truly moving forward on her own
+The murder of the generals was a nice bit of shocking plot development
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Safe Passage):
+“Go take back your country.”
+“Avoid a decision he can rail against.”
+Francis’s letter with Mary’s sword
+“That is the most flattering thing you have ever said to me.”
+“France, I think I shall never see you again.”
Episode Title: To the Death
Written by: Lily Sparks
Directed by: Michael McGowan
Episode Title: Safe Passage
Written by: Drew Lindo
Directed by: Stuart Gillard
Image Courtesy: CWTV