This week on Reign
, the castle is overrun by angry Italians, Diane plays Lady Macbeth to Bash, and a million people get stabbed in the face. It's hands-down the best episode of Reign
so far, managing to balance high drama and intriguing character development. Plus Mary literally shivs someone in the throat!
This was Reign
's chance to play with a bottle-episode format (where all the characters stay in only a few locations) and this format helped immensely to focus the action and develop the characters. In this case the show had a rather large "bottle," the entire castle, with which to tell it's singular story of a family under siege from within and without.
What made the story really work, however, was the narrowing of focus onto Mary and Catherine. It's hard to remember anyone else is in the room when these two butt heads.
Megan Follows continues to take what could be a one-dimensional villainness and turn Queen Catherine into a full-formed character. And the only reason Reign works at all is because Adelaide Kane is so likable in the principal role. When the two are thrown together, it almost always results in some of the best scenes of the episode. Perhaps realizing what magic they have in these two leads, the creative team structured the episode entirely around Catherine and Mary putting aside their differences to work together.
Also Clarissa the Friendly Neighborhood Burlap Monster probably ate Olivia and her confusing French accent, so you'd have to enjoy the episode just for that.
Too Much Danger?
The episode managed to racket the tension up by taking a very familiar theme at this point (someone is in danger!) and concentrating that danger into a very condensed timeline. It also fleshed out some of Catherine's back story, continued Greer's slumming storyline, and resolved some of the romantic tension between Mary and Francis.
I do worry about the show's over-reliance on the damsel-in-distress storyline. They flipped the script this week by having Francis in danger instead of Mary (although she was still eventually in danger anyway) but there's only so much mileage you can get out of constantly putting your characters in life-threatening situations.
Politics can be just as deadly as pagans or ornery Italian hostage takers. Reign needs to give the characters some room to breathe and develop into people we care about in between all the life-or-death situations. We've started to see the characters develop, so the audience doesn't always need flashy dramatic stakes to invest in the story. I'd just as soon watch a murder-free episode about Mary and friends dealing with problems which don't require bloody solutions.
Francis and Mary Make It Official
Catherine is positively glowing as the episode begins and she tells Mary that Francis has been frequently visiting bone-town with Olivia. "I don't want to be indelicate my dear, but Francis is totally tapping that," Catherine says as they watch King Henri stampede off with his royal army. Then she cackles and disappears into a puff of smoke to have another awkward conversation about her son's sex life elsewhere.
Unfortunately for Catherine's evil plan of seducing Francis with sexy French accents, Olivia is finding that Francis is still a little hung up on Mary. Like "calling her name out in the middle of sex" hung up.
Mary immediately goes to see Francis and yell at him for being a cheating dog. Francis' justification for hooking up with Olivia is hilariously paper-thin. "I was upset we couldn't be together, Mary! Also Olivia has this really mysterious accent! She keeps telling me it's "French," but how can that be when I'm the King of France and I have a completely different accent? I was just investigating the mystery!"
Mary points out that neither of them are any happier in this new, free-love arrangement. Francis persists that they need to stay away from each other to stay sane.
Of course, as soon as a little danger presents itself, the two are making out in every conceivable room and situation. They even make out in front of his little brothers. Francis refuses to let his mom throw Mary to the Italian invaders and bravely offers to go in her place. Smoke begins to pour out of Catherine's ears, but by then the Count has already accepted.
As part of their escape plan, Catherine and Mary decide to put the only person in the castle with a personal grudge against Mary in charge of saving her. "No way this could go wrong, right?" Mary asks Catherine. "No, it's fool-proof! Freeze frame high five!"
Of course, Olivia decides she doesn't want to wait around to rescue Francis' true love and bugs out before letting Mary and her ladies escape. Down in the tunnels, Olivia stumbles along blindly until her candle goes out.
I can only imagine that Clarissa the Not-So-Friendly Burlap Monster takes this opportunity to eat Olivia and make a decorative necklace from her bones. And now the amount of French accents at the French court is back down to zero, the way it always should be.
As the episode ends, Francis and Mary profess their love for one another and then get rather frisky in bed. They finally decide to throw "sanity" out the window and just be two crazy kids in love.
Francis and Mary's ye old Facebook relationship status: In a relationship!
Not All That Glitters Is Gold (Sometimes It's Poison!)
The hostage situation that drives the narrative this episode comes about thanks to an Italian noble from Naples. Count Vincent isn't very happy with the French Court, especially after they kidnapped and ransomed his son. The worst part, obviously, was that his son died of disease on the way home from his captivity.
So Vincent and his men take the whole castle hostage until he can get restitution for his lost son. No amount of gold or fine jewels or even offers of the Queen of Scotland can really entice him to give up the castle. That is until Francis offers himself up in Mary's place for kidnapping.
Of course, everyone knows Francis will never make it out of the hostage situation alive. And things get even more perilous when Count Vincent decides to take Francis' two younger brothers along as well.
Knowing there's at least one person who knows how to get in and out of the castle at will, Mary goes to see Clarissa. Since our favorite friendly burlap monster lives in the walls and underground tunnels and in the corner of your eye when you're not paying attention, Mary suspects she'll know a safe way out of the castle. Clarissa comes through, marking a path in the chalk Mary provides so Francis and those left in the castle can escape to safety.
Mary takes her plan to Catherine, who is so desperate she figures it might be crazy enough to work. They decide to have Francis lead the servants out to freedom while Catherine, Mary, and the minions-in-waiting attend dinner with their captors.
Then Mary and the minions will excuse themselves and escape the castle, with Catherine left behind so no one gets suspicious. Mary reasonably doesn't quite trust Catherine, but Big C argues she would go to hell and back to protect her son.
A Dangerous Game
One of the most sinister undercurrents to the episode is the constant threat of sexual violence. Kenna is immediately accosted by the soldiers, who aren't impressed with her title as the King's "special friend." Only Mary manages to save her, although the men seem far from trustworthy and Vincent's promise that he's an honorable man seems less than sincere.
To explain she knows how the girls feel, Catherine tells the story of her own captivity as a girl when she was in a very similar situation. There were soldiers at the door demanding to deflower her and eventually she was saved by the Pope and his army.
Most of my knowledge of the historical Catherine de' Medici comes from her time in France as Queen consort, so I was interested to see if this was entirely fabricated to fit the confines of the story. Surprisingly enough it turns out there is some historical truth to the stroy. From the little I managed to dig up in a quick search, it looks like Catherine really was held hostage and there really was some talk of handing her over to the troops for their pleasure. Whether any of this came to pass, as is heavily implied in this episode, remains to be seen.
Still it's always nice to get more back story on Catherine, and Megan Follows always does great work giving Catherine more layers. She mentions that history is written by the survivors, which seems to be the meta-textual operating principal in this show in regards to historical accuracy.
But it's also a good description of most of the characters in the show, especially the older characters. They're all survivors because they learned to play the game and they learned to be better than their opponents. From that view what Diane did might not have been evil as much as shrewd. Catherine learned early that if you wanted something done, you couldn't wait for a knight on a white horse to save you. You have to save yourself. Although poisoned gold always helps.
This gold manages to kill all of Vincent's men, thankfully before they can assault Mary and her ladies too badly. Only Vincent is left standing alive, and Mary handily stabs him in the neck with a knife. You don't want to mess with someone who finds herself fighting off bloodthirsty pagans every other day.
Elsewhere in the Captured French Court...
-- Diane is trying to convince Bash she can make him legitimate so he can usurp the throne. Bash is still loyal to Francis, but Diana is probably not wrong about his precarious position at court. Down in the dungeon during the coup, he puts two and two together and realizes his preferential treatment is because Diane had a hand in the hostage situation. Overall it was a fairly Bash-light episode, so I suspect we'll be seeing more of him in the weeks to come.
-- Greer and her peasant boyfriend are still being cute down in the kitchens and I continue to have no idea what his name is. She's dressed like a poor when the coup takes place (how embarrassing!) and spends the whole episode as a regular serving girl to stay safe. Down in the kitchens "Peeta" gets into a fight with one of the guards and Greer comes to the rescue. Then they romantically group-murder him, which was probably like second base back in the 16th century.
-- Poor Lola has gone from being the most prominent minion-in-waiting in the pilot to receding further and further from view. Meanwhile Greer and Kenna get defined, although idiotic, personalities. At least I still like Lola better than Hipster Braids, who is still entirely useless.
-- Mary's dress this episode is actually insane. I'm pretty sure streetwalkers in the 16th century had more demure necklines than the push-up halter on that black dress.
What did you think? Did you think this was the best episode so far? Sound off in the comments!
Reign airs Thursdays at 9pm on The CW. (Image courtesy of The CW)