The Dueling Thrones
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Mary, Queen of Scots has arrived home to the shores of Scotland. It’s not a rousing welcome, but as the theme song from the Lumineers thunders over the beautiful shores, there’s nevertheless a powerful note of hope that lies on the horizon. A shipwreck had metaphorically and literally dashed and “dampered” Mary’s hopes of crafting a strong entrance and claim her throne. Her and Narcisse huddle together for warmth in the cold drafts of the Scottish beach, wary of pirates that were stabbing off the survivors from the shipwreck. They couldn’t do anything about the mercenaries that had run off, but Mary wasn’t going to allow Bash to be killed upon the beach. As Bash was being lifted by what seemed to be a band of pirates, a horn echoes across the Highland beaches and a band of Druids show up. The pirates run and the Druids take Bash with them, presumably for the purposes of healing. There are inevitably strong undertones of Outlander throughout the episodes and the show takes a much more direct approach with the Druids than its Starz brethren. The Druids are, as one would expect, victims of a highly superstitious society that saw anything that didn’t fit in with their puritanical notions of Christianity as being unworthy of existing. The unfortunate universality of that condition helps the audience to gain an understanding of what Mary’s circumstances are and the state of the country she is going back to rule. Narcisse has a stereotypically English understanding of Scotland and the barbarism he thinks it inhabits, noting the tradition of the Wicker Man (on the nore, the show has gotten better at its use of foreshadowing). Mary doesn’t understand Scotland as much as she thinks she does, that much is true, but she understands it enough to know that’s a lie spread by those who fashioned themselves as being more “civilized.”
The Druids are the people Mary expected them to be, kind and on the run not because they wanted to, but because of the fatal superstitions the Clansmen embodied. They simply had to become nomads to literally survive and one imagines that this Mary will remember their kindness, even thought they were slaughtered en masse by members of the Clan McFie, whose leader had tried to assassinate Mary but had ended up killing Francis instead. The slaughter itself was a bit predictable, but the emotional heft of how brutally they were wiped out was some of the most gruesome, hard-hitting stuff this show has done and it has tackled the plague in its past. Knowing full well that they would be slaughtered as well if they were found freely wandering about, Mary and Bash come up with an ingenious idea to hide within a Wicker Man, pretending to be prisoners of the Druids. The gambit works and to sweeten the deal, Bash and Mary pretend that they’re siblings and he’s headed to marry her off to a rich wool merchant. Clan McFie, as far as Mary remembers, has a real penchant for greed and that plan, with the twist of Mary becoming a hostage so her husband will pony up money keeping them relatively safe until they arrive at the Clan’s village and meet their leader in John Barrowman’s fantastic Munro. One would assume that murdering the leader of a clan, no matter how generally disagreeable, is not a great idea in the long run. But in that moment, seeing Mary stab Munro in the neck with her necklace and then gut him so thoroughly was incredibly satisfying, knowing one of the most painful memories of her existence was resolved at least in some fashion. One imagines that Catherine would be quite approving of this, but in the show’s repertoire, that counts as a complement.
Lola and Elizabeth may not give the screens the run for their money that Mary and Catherine provide, but their relationship is inherently interesting and certainly for the both of them a lot more eye-opening than I would have imagined. Prince Magnus of Denmark arrives with his retinue and as is the traditional case, his attache is more attractive than he is. It’s a neat bit of statesmanship and a lack thereof in a single narrative, but the most revealing moment came when in an innocuous turn Lola takes the blame for Elizabeth’s angry outburst at the Danish Prince’s arrogance. It’s a moment that Elizabeth takes an ingenious reading of, one that is hardly that surprising in its surmising, but surprising in the sense that it came about at all. In Elizabeth’s mind, there was a strategic value in Lola being kind to her captor. Why would there be any necessity to do otherwise? But why would there also be a necessity for Lola to be so quick to defend her? Elizabeth’s mind immediately jumps towards the next obvious connection and that was the presumption that Lola had given Mary valuable information. When she receives word of a shipwreck off the Scottish coast where no cargo had been found but items that strongly hinted at valuable individual cargo, she quickly comes to the conclusion that Lola had tipped Mary off to the lack of ships in the North Sea at that moment. Lola acquiesces to her subterfuge, but Elizabeth is surprisingly not angry. Perhaps a part of that lack of anger comes from her assumed belief that Mary is dead in the waters off the North Sea as her body was never found, knowing that Lola would feel immensely guilty. But a greater deal of her lack of anger comes from, as she acquiesces, is knowing that Lola stayed loyal to her friend until the very end. That loyalty is something she knows she doesn’t have and she’s intelligent enough to see the value in such friendship and loyalty. To boot, Lola’s brilliant and with Narcisse bringing the information that Mary is alive, she has the power to tip the scales between Scotland and England and that should be fascinating to see play out.
The most irritating subplot, not because of execution for the most part, but due to character traits is Charles’s continued insistence that somehow he has the intelligence to challenge Catherine’s political acumen (excuse me while I go and laugh for a couple of hours). His and Claude’s anger at their mother is completely legitimate (well, Claude’s is considerably more than Charles’s, to be completely fair), but if you are going to oust your mother from power, Charles, you have to be intelligent about it. It is an intelligent move for a king to have a network of spies to collect information for him, but that only works is your entire network isn’t glued to who’s actually in it and what your entire plan is. Catherine succeeds at espionage because she isn’t stupid enough to go and announce to her entire spy network (which, keenly, does not consist of her four childhood friends) what her plan is. That’s how espionage works. Otherwise, you’re Charles and you get kidnapped and then your mother has to come and rescue you with her own intelligence. While Charles is proving to be a rather disappointing monarch, Mary as a monarch has learned greatly from Catherine’s tutelage, including the all too important art of dramatic entrances. John Knox is wielding his undue influence over the Scottish council and he is as slimy in person as everyone had imagined him to be. He is moments away from completely abolishing the Scottish throne, using Scottish sovereignty from England as his excuse and then suddenly the door bursts open. A woman is a bloodied outfit comes riding in on horseback. “I am Mary, Queen of Scotts and I have come for my throne.” All the men quickly bow down in front of their queen and the new chapter of Reign has a thrilling start.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Clans):
+Lola’s description of Naricsse to Elizabeth: “Morally corrosive and very sexy.”
+“Denmark is the best!”
+“Allow me to charm you some more while I work on the next part.” Damn, that’s smooth.
+“It’s a fate worse than death, apparently.” Lola, you crack me up!
+Lola noting that perhaps Elizabeth might come to see Mary as something other than a rival
-Wolvers. No thank you.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Intruders):
-John Knox. Ugh, so slimy.
+“Honestly, Mother, how many people have you killed?”
+“Your Mother’s not going down without a fight.”
+“My Queen. My Light. My Love.”
+Bash drowning a Clan McFie solider to bagpipe music
+The shot of Catherine looking through the woods, shrouded in an immense fog was beautiful
+“I will peel the flesh off of your bones.”
+Mary’s castle is GORGEOUS
Episode Title: Clans
Written by: Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts
Directed by: Fred Gerber
Image Courtesy: The Nerdy Girl Express
Episode Title: Intruders
Written by: April Blair & Drew Lindo
Directed by: Lee Rose