Reign‘s second season just ended with a bang, capping off an unfortunately uneven sophomore outing. The show has been renewed for a third season, thankfully, which means there is still time for the show to course correct and learn from some of its mistakes.
Below is a completely unscientific list of some of the best and worst things about Reign‘s second season. Obviously, your mileage may vary with these selections.
BEST: The Show Gave Adelaide Kane a Chance to Shine
Adelaide Kane is a talented actress who always does the best with whatever material she’s given, and has made Mary a complex and interesting figure. Throughout the season, you could feel Kane’s commitment to keeping Mary grounded, flawed, and realistic, even as she went through some of the hardest moments of her life.
The show worked to keep the rape storyline focused on Mary, and Kane hit every scene out of the park. While Mary’s characterization has been all over the map this season, it’s thanks to Kane that Mary continues to be a compelling and watchable queen, even as she falters.
WORST: Mary’s Rape Storyline Felt Mishandled
Speaking of that rape storyline, I initially gave the show leeway after the episode aired. It seemed like the creative team were taking the storyline seriously, consulting with RAINN and airing a PSA after the episode. The show handled the rape in a respectful manner, and kept the focus on Mary and the impact it had on her life.
Unfortunately, the rape also played a larger storyline role, and that role was to thrust Mary into Conde’s arms. No matter how respectfully done or how pure your intentions, using a rape to facilitate a love triangle is some pretty icky territory.
BEST: Narcisse was a Character You Loved to Hate and Hated to Love
Who is Narcisse? Certainly not an actual historical character, but he’s become something of a standout during season two. Played by the wonderful Craig Parker, Narcisse is an oily presence you can’t take your eyes off, probably because he’d knife you in the back if you did.
WORST: Mary and Catherine Didn’t Have Enough Screentime Together
In the first season of Reign, magic happened every time Catherine and Mary were in a scene together. Not only are Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows the show’s most charismatic actors, but they also play the most layered and compelling characters. So why on Earth did they share such a scant amount of screentime in season two?
If you have two great actresses who work so well together, why not use them? There’s nothing like watching Mary and Catherine bounce off each other, whether they’re at each other’s throats or having each other’s backs. The fact that Reign kept these two apart so often this year is season two’s biggest mystery.
BEST: Greer Leans In
After her Protestant husband, Lord Castleroy, accidentally funds an attack against the king (whoops!) and ends up in prison, Greer finds herself ejected from the castle and living on the mean streets. But something wonderful happens: Greer becomes the madam of a thriving brothel.
Words cannot explain how funny I find this storyline or how much joy it gives me. Greer going full #GirlBoss with her hooker-based startup has been one of the shining lights of this season. I could talk about how Greer as a commoner allows the show to go beyond the French Court and into the lives of the period’s everyday people, but let’s be honest, I just love this storyline because it’s hilarious. Greer + Hookers 2gether 4eva!
WORST: Catherine Spent Half the Season Chasing Ghosts
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Catherine and Mary spent so much time apart, the worst part of season two might have been how much time Catherine spent MIA, tangled up in dumb ghost plotlines.
Did anyone really need to see Catherine chase her dead twin girls or have ghost sex with Henry? Anyone? Instead of being involved in the political intrigue, Catherine was sidelined into lame supernatural storylines for half the season. And no one puts Catherine in a corner!
BEST: Narcisse and Lola Made No Sense Yet Were Oddly Compelling
If someone can please explain to me why I find the relationship between Narcisse and Lola so intriguing I would be much obliged. I have no idea why I’m so into them. They make no sense together.
And yet! Those baths! Those lingering looks! The way that Lola thinks Narcisse is a good guy, despite the fact that he’s never been a good guy on this show, not even for a minute! His sex ninja powers! Did I mention those baths? I have no idea why I like them, but it’s pretty impossible to hate any couple this into bubble baths.
WORST: That Blackmail Storyline was so Stupid
If you’ve read my recaps, you probably already know my opinion on the storyline wherein Narcisse blackmailed Francis about his father’s murder. The way the storyline was set up made little sense, and was clearly just a prop to drive Mary and Francis apart.
As the storyline dragged and dragged and dragged, it became increasingly clear that there was no good reason for Francis not to tell Mary and Catherine what was up, except for how the plot needed him not to. The fact that Narcisse emerged from season two as one of my favorite characters despite being so heavily embroiled in this stupid storyline, is once again a testament to the skill of Craig Parker.
BEST: Mary Continues to be a Dynamic Lead Character
Let’s be honest: Mary’s had a rough season. Once the love triangle returned with a vengeance, Mary’s brain seemed to exit stage left. Yet Mary is still the heart of Reign and the show’s best asset.
We’re beginning to see shades of the impetuous and sometimes foolish decisions Mary will make later in her life; decisions that will eventually seal her fate. Yet Mary is also smart and strong and resourceful. She has flaws, and pretty epically poor taste in dudes, but that just makes her human. Hopefully next season the show can steer away from tedious romance storylines and show Mary’s strength and weaknesses in other aspects of her life.
WORST: The Mary and Conde Affair
Oh god, the Mary and Conde of it all. Here’s the thing, I might not have even been opposed to Mary having a torrid love affair. But the narrative twists and turns necessary to toss Mary into Conde’s waiting, weasley arms made this pairing off-putting long before they ever shared their first kiss.
Sean Teale did the best he could with a sometimes thankless role, but turning Conde into a romantic hero just made him the least interesting version of the character possible. If the show couldn’t realistically get Mary into a steamy affair without throwing the show into a torpor, it shouldn’t have attempted it.
BEST: Mary and Catherine’s Amazing Adventure
While Mary and Catherine didn’t share much time on screen this year, their scant time together was at least quality time. The episode where Catherine and Mary are attacked en route and have to use their wits to survive is easily the best second season episode. Full of sass, snark, and awesome ladies being cooler than everyone else, this episode was just plain enjoyable to watch. It begs the question why the rest of the show couldn’t be this entertaining.
WORST: Repeating Storylines aka You’ll Never Escape the Love Triangles
Last season much of the action on Reign revolved around the love triangle between Francis, Mary, and Bash. By the end of the season that triangle was buttoned up, and the creative team promised us it wasn’t ground they planned to tread again.
“Great! Who needs another love triangle?” I thought happily.
As it turns out, Reign very much thought we needed another love triangle. The drama between Francis, Mary, and Conde resembled the love triangle from the first season, only with more adultery, treason, and post traumatic stress thrown in. There was no reason to repeat a storyline that wasn’t all that original the first go-around.
BEST: The Clothes Continue to be Beautiful and Ridiculously Anachronistic
I don’t know if anyone on television has a wardrobe as beautiful or hilarious as the girls on Reign. One look at the outfits in which these girls parade around is probably enough to give any history-loving fan a major headache.
Yet watching Mary dress like a ye olde Stevie Nicks has become part of the appeal of watching the show. “Which character will be dressed like she’s going to Bonnaroo this week?” I often ask myself. The outfits might not be even remotely close to historically accurate, but they are gorgeous, and their anachronisms have become part of their charm.
WORST: The Show Became Too Dark
Reign can, and should, occasionally go dark. This was a tumultuous time in history. Unfortunately, Reign went a little too dark and depressing this season. A show where Mary Queen of Scots twirls to 21st century pop music in a Free People dress while Hunky Nostradamus looks on is not the kind of show I imagine will be doom and gloom constantly. Cheer up Reign.
BEST: There Were Still Some Great OMFG Moments
Nothing reached the heights of that time Henry sexxed a lady out the window last year, but the moment when Narcisse realized he was eating a steak made of his beloved horse was still pretty special. This season we’ve had hookers, poisonings, fake monarchs, baths, Mary cold-bloodedly killing someone with the plague, light incest, and even more baths. Also did I mention that horse meat steak? The Godfather has nothing on Catherine.
WORST: Remember When Bash was a Character on this Show? Me Neither
If anyone has gotten the short end of the stick this season, it’s been poor Bash. Being a made up character isn’t really an excuse, because look at how much time was devoted to Narcisse and his sex butterfly tattoo.
Bash just fluttered around the sidelines of the show this season, nodding wisely, dispensing advice, breaking up with his wife, hooking up with witches in the woods like a Hansel and Gretel cautionary tale, and getting stuck with all of the stupidest supernatural storylines.
The show didn’t know what to do with Bash this season and it wasn’t much interested in his new role as boy detective either. Poor Torrance Coombs and his piercing blue eyes deserved better.
WORST: Not Enough Kenna
Throughout the first season, Kenna slowly became one of the most fun and scandalous characters. Her frank talk and sexuality made her stand out from the other girls, as did her ability to admit she was hoping her Prince Charming would come along with a title and position. Unfortunately, Kenna was mostly sidelined this season along with Bash, stuck with a series of dud suitors who were mostly using her. I want to see more of the fiery, ambitious girl we got to know in the first season.
WORST: Killing Off Historical Characters for no Apparent Reason
This season saw the death of two characters who were prominent in history, if not exactly on Reign: Diane de Poitiers and the Duke de Guise. Neither of these characters would have been dead at this point in history, which begs the question as to why they were killed off.
Historically, both were fascinating and influential characters. The Duke de Guise and his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, largely nonexistent on Reign, were gigantic figures at court. They butted heads with Catherine de Medici and they manipulated Mary and Francis to their own purposes. That sounds like interesting, compelling stuff right? Not to Reign apparently, which made the Duke barely a blip on the radar before shuffling him off our mortal coil.
WORST: Are We Ever Getting to Scotland?
Dramatically speaking, Scotland is where the action is in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. Yet we’re still stuck in France, and who knows how much longer the show will stay there.
This perhaps wouldn’t be such a problem if the action in France were more original or compelling, but that hasn’t been the case in season two. Our time in France should be drawing to a close, as clearly the show has run out of storyline there. We can still check in with characters like Catherine when the show moves to Scotland, but it’s time for Mary to move on.
WORST: We Got the Amboise Conspiracy, but in the Most Boring Way Possible
There are so many ways the show could have played the Amboise Conspiracy, when the Huguenots tried to assume power by abducting Francis and arresting the powerful Duke de Guise. Obviously Reign wasn’t much interested in how things really went down, because it never is, but their version of the conspiracy took way too long to get to the point.
Before Conde went all Black Swan, we had to sit through numerous doomed love confessions. Was there not a more interesting way to get to this historical signpost? Perhaps something that actually focused on religious tensions?
It seemed like the show was setting up solid motivations for Conde’s actions, as Francis was forced by Narcisse to become more and more restrictive of his Protestant subjects. But then the show threw this character work out the window, because love triangles are sexier I guess?
WORST: No One is Expecting Historical Accuracy, but Why Not Pull More from Actual History?
This is Reign and I don’t expect it to be historically accurate. I don’t expect, nor do I demand such a thing from this show. When everyone is dressed like they just came off a mushroom bender at Burning Man, I hope that no one really expects historical accuracy here.
But when the storylines they choose are this repetitive and plodding, one starts to wonder why the show doesn’t borrow from actual history, which is usually quite interesting. For instance, why can’t we learn more about Catherine de Medici’s “Flying Squadron” a bomb ass name for a bunch of pretty lady spies Catherine employed to seduce prominent nobles for information. Wouldn’t you rather watch Kenna become head of the Flying Squadron, sexing her way to the truth, than almost anything that happened this season?
Another problem is that the show seems to be cribbing from the later chapters of Mary’s life to pad out her time in France. By the time Mary gets to Scotland, will some of her historically-based dramatics seems a little repetitive?
What Do You Think?
So that’s all I’ve got and if you’ve made it this far you are officially to be commended. I love Reign and, truth be told, I loved the show before it even aired. As a history buff who loves Mary Queen of Scots and is also a huge fan of overly dramatic teen television like Gossip Girl, I am literally the nexus of Reign’s target audience.
Plenty of shows stumble in their second season; that’s why the term “sophomore slump” was invented. I hope the creative team takes a hard look at what worked and what didn’t in season two and regroups to put together a really great third season.
What did you think of Reign‘s second season? What do you think the show got right? What did it get wrong? Was I wrong about everything? Share your thoughts in the comments while we wait for season three!
Catch Reign on Thursdays at 9pm on The CW
(Image courtesy of The CW)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV