This week on the midseason finale of Reign
, hearts are broken, lives are lost, Clarissa loses her favorite burlap accessory, and there are so many schemes it'll make your head spin.
Reign continues to get better and better, and this episode leaves us off in a new and exciting place for the show. While history continues traipsing forward, having Mary escape her marriage (and run off with Bash, no less!) allows the show to spin its wheels a bit. It also gets us out of the stuffy halls and throne room whispers of the French Court and into new settings.
Breaking Up The Status Quo
While the first part of this season has been extremely strong, just eight episodes in the show is already starting to develop a pattern. Mary gets in trouble, Catherine is somehow involved, the two majestic ladies square off, Francis is wishy-washy about his love life, and the threat is neutralized. With some minor tweaks, this formula could have effectively described any of the first run of episodes.
This big, dramatic episode does a lot of things to set up some interesting directions for when we come back from the break. First and foremost, it's pared down the cast. I've been complaining for weeks about how Mary's ladies-in-waiting have become virtually interchangeable. With the exception of Kenna, only noteworthy because of her affair with the king, most of the other girls haven't developed very well-defined personalities.
Poor Hipster Braids, who eats it this episode, was such a paper thin character I never even bothered to learn her name. By removing one of her ladies, the show has allowed the others more room for screentime and development.
The episode also puts the brakes on the Mary and Francis union in an organic and interesting way, while resolving Catherine's role as constant meddler. Now that Mary knows and believes Nostradamus' prophecy, she has a good reason to stay away from Francis. I would rather see the show take a detour like having Mary run away from the French Court than watch another useless love interest work as an obstacle to their relationship.
It also puts the other half of the love triangle in the spotlight, after focusing so heavily on the Mary and Francis pairing for so long. Having them on the run together will give us a chance to see what connection, if any, exists between Mary and Bash.
It's a big episode with giant dramatic stakes, and it manages to resolve some of the storylines set up in the beginning of the season, while moving us into new territory. Other people know about the prophecy, Kenna has got herself squarely on Catherine's hit list, Clarissa has become more dangerous than we ever knew, and Mary's on the run.
Shows that stay merely within their own status quo for too long quickly become boring. Reign is choosing to shake things up early in their freshman year and I, for one, can't wait to see what Mary and friends are up to when the show returns.
Mary vs. Elizabeth: The Prequel
The wider world of the 16th century begins to open up at the exact wrong moment for our favorite royal lovers, as the impending death of Queen Mary Tudor puts Queen Mary Stuart next in line for the English throne, at least according to the Vatican.
King Henri immediately starts salivating, like England is a juicy steak and he's Ron Swanson. Never Mary's biggest fan, suddenly he's doodling hearts around her name and insisting she claim Princess Elizabeth's throne.
He's also insisting she immediately marry Francis, a fate both young lovers are excited to embark on. Over in the corner of the throne room, steam begins to pour out of Catherine's ears and she begins shoving needles in her homemade Mary voodoo doll.
Because I am a huge history dork, the mere mention of Elizabeth Tudor made me incredibly excited. In reality, part of the bad blood that existed between the two cousins was probably because King Henri made Mary put the English seal all over her stuff, which would have been a big middle finger to Elizabeth's claim to the throne.
For those who didn't obsessively watch The Tudors and want to grow up to be Natalie Dormer's Anne Boleyn, here's the breakdown on why Mary could have been queen of England. When Henry the VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn, he used very shady grounds. Since the Catholic church refused to declare his union with Catherine illegitimate, he broke with the church and married Anne anyway.
He later beheaded Anne after declaring her an adulteress and traitor, making poor Princess Elizabeth a bastard. Of course, she eventually ended up getting added back into the royal succession, but the Catholic church was never exactly her biggest fan. Mary, as Elizabeth's cousin, was therefore the next best person with a claim on the English. And there's your regularly scheduled Reign history lesson. Now let's go back to discussing jeweled headbands!
Of course Mary's not sure claiming Elizabeth's throne is a good idea, since she accurately predicts the English probably won't be down with a Scottish Queen allied to one of their biggest enemies being their new monarch. Also, probably Elizabeth would shank her, prison-style.
But Francis, in a haze of love and floaty bedclothes, assures Mary they'll just hoodwink his father until after the wedding. Then it'll be all like, "You're not the boss of me dad!" Mary thinks this is the most intelligent plan she's ever heard, because that's the magic of sex.
Catherine vs. Diane vs. Kenna
Speaking of sex making people stupider, that's pretty much Kenna's whole deal. After getting assaulted last week, she's mad as hell at the King and she's not going to take it anymore. Once again, Kenna never got the memo that a high maintenance mistress isn't all that fun.
She wants Henri to give up Diane, while Henri is proposing more of a Sister Wives situation. "Kenna, this might seem strange now. But in hundreds of years from now it's going to be reality television gold. We could be pioneers!"
Meanwhile, Diane's scheme to get Bash legitimized has hit an understandable snag with the whole England situation. As she notes to Bash, the Pope can't exactly legitimize him when they want to use Elizabeth's bastard status to get the Protestant Gloriana off the throne. Unfortunately for Diane, an earnest Cardinal mistakes one mistress for another and Kenna takes the information straight to Queen Catherine.
Proving the maxim that every scene is improved with a little Megan Follows, her scene with Kenna is absolutely hilarious. Later, her scene with Diane is equally as compelling, mixing a little sympathy and companionship in with the threats. She uses the information to blackmail Diane into leaving the French Court or risk being executed as a traitor.
More importantly, she decides Kenna is both too stupid and too duplicitous to live long enough to start plotting her dumb schemes against Catherine. She gives Diane the poison she originally intended for Mary and tasks her with taking out their mutual idiot enemy. Despite evidence from last week's hostage situation, Diane isn't actually as down with murder as you might think. She leaves the French Court, but she refuses to poison Kenna on the way out.
Since the pilot, Nostradamus' prophecy about Francis' ultimate fate if he married Mary has been a huge bone of contention with Catherine. It's lingered over every interaction Catherine has with the young Scottish queen, and helps explain her otherwise inexplicable hatred for the generally likable Mary. However, it was getting a bit tiring having Catherine mention at least once per episode that Mary would bring about Francis' doom.
This episode brings the prophecy out in the open, as the speeding marriage arrangements don't leave Catherine with much time to plot and scheme. Nostradamus convinces her not to poison Mary, but to give her a chance to change fate herself.
What's interesting about Megan Follows performance is that Catherine, even in the moments when she's preparing a poison for our protagonist, is never a wholly unlikable person. She's always had a soft spot for Mary, it's just that letting her affection for her former young charge get in the way meant the death of her son. She finally explains to Mary why she's been so cold and homicidal, but Mary doesn't quite believe it.
Mary's happy and in love and finally about to get what she always wanted. Now is not a great time to find out Hunky Nostradamus says you'll end up killing your future husband. But still, Catherine's complete trust and desperation get through to Mary, who begins to think of all the other times Nostradamus has been right.
Nostradamus doesn't exactly help matters when he tells Mary that not only is she going to kill Francis, but that one of her ladies-in-waiting will die as well. Nostradamus must really bring the mood down at parties.
She's soon playing Nancy Drew to find out how right Nostradamus usually is, while in the walls the eavesdropping Clarissa starts to make some plans of her own under her favorite burlap accessory. Mary goes to see Bash, who uses his bastard lion sword to confirm that Nostradamus is always right.
Meanwhile Clarissa, far from explaining it all to Mary, sneaks into Nostradamus' rooms to get some of his handmade artisan poisons. In another lifetime, Nostradamus' penchant for beards and brewing his own concoctions would make him an excellent hipster.
She slips it in the tea meant for Kenna, but it ends up taking out Hipster Braids instead. Since the poison is taking too long to kill her, Clarissa finally just pushes Hipster Braids down the castle steps. Talk about overkill. Our favorite friendly neighborhood burlap monster isn't looking so friendly after this episode.
RIP Aylee, just for this last recap, I actually looked up your name. We'll miss you and your braids and the negative zero you contributed to the plot. Nostradamus manages to figure this out quickly and rips the burlap sack right off Clarissa's head for the wicked thing she did in order to convince Mary of the prophecy. That's way harsh, Nostradamus.
Meanwhile Mary, suitably freaked out and convinced of this whole "fate" business, breaks off the engagement with Francis. She tells him she loves him but they can't be together, then she and Bash ride off into the sunset together on horseback. Ouch, poor Francis!
Mary and Francis' ye olde Facebook relationship status: Single.
What did you think of the midseason finale? Are you excited to see where the show takes the characters when it returns? Are you sad Mary left Francis or excited that she left with Bash? Sound off in the comments!
Reign airs Thursdays at 9pm on The CW. (Image courtesy of The CW)