Welcome to the world of Reign, where Mary Queen of Scots is a sassy brunette, hunky Nostradamus prophecies trouble ahead, and the spirits in your wall are better than the best roofie detector.
Only Hunky Nostradamus Knows Whether Reign Can Maintain This Energy
Reign is by far one of the weirdest shows to premiere this season, and this season there is a show about sexy Ichabode Crane fighting the four horsemen of the apocalypse with the help of groundwork laid by George Washington. You have to work pretty hard to be weirder than Sleepy Hollow, and yet somehow Reign succeeds.
Reign is undoubtedly insane and it’s definitely the most ambitious thing The CW has ever tried. The show shouldn’t work, and for some people it definitely won’t. If the premiere sets up any one thing perfectly, it’s how little the show cares about actual historical fact.
The show uses anachronism much like Sophia Coppola did in Marie Antoinette. No one is running around in Converse sneakers in the premiere, but Reign sets up a world in which that could plausibly happen in the next episode and I would not bat an eyelash. The show is historical fiction all the way, and it’s historical fiction with a dash of Gossip Girl scandal and a weird pinch of helpful date rape-preventing phantoms.
It’s like someone wrote out a list of all the shows The CW has ever aired (sexy supernatural dramas! sexy social hierarchy dramas! sexy teens!) threw them all in a blender with a history book and out popped Reign. All this might sound disparaging toward the show, but in my opinion Reign is one of the best pilots I’ve seen all season, if only because it’s so ambitious in its pursuit of insanity.
There are political alliances, supernatural undertows, love triangles, assassination attempts, and Mumford and Sons. Also so many beautiful dresses that are hilariously wrong for the time period. I’m pretty sure Mary Queen of Scots wasn’t a hipster wearing Free People and I’m almost 100 percent sure that cheap glitter sequins didn’t exist in the 16th century. Mary’s ladies-in-waiting looked more like they were preparing for prom than a formal event at the French Court.
I must also admit I’m completely biased when it comes to Reign. Mary Queen of Scots is one of my favorite historical figures and I was always a huge sucker for teen dramas like Gossip Girl. This show is where the Venn diagram of my interests overlap, so I was pretty much predisposed to enjoy it. All this is to explain that when it comes to enjoying the weird potpourri that is Reign, your mileage may vary.
I just hope the show can maintain this balance of fun craziness for the rest of the season. Insanity like Reign is a tough tightrope to walk, and here’s hoping Mary and her sequin-bedecked ladies don’t fall off.
All Hail The Queen
The story starts with a teenage Mary Queen of Scots hanging out with all her nun friends, doing normal nun things like “sports” and “dying horribly of poison.” This assassination attempt gets Mary a one-way ticket back to the French Court, where a small child tells her to watch out for ghosts, because that kid is the worst.
At the French Court, Mary meets up with her four best friends. In reality, all four of Mary’s ladies-in-waiting were also named Mary, a hilarious Heathers-esque antidote the show spurned in an attempt not to confuse the audience. Of course, it didn’t exactly work because I couldn’t tell any of the girls apart by the end of the hour. There’s “skanky” friend, “Narnia” friend (The Chronicles of Narnia‘s Anna Popplewell, wisely given the largest part), “blonde” friend, and…”other blonde” friend.
Before Mary can plan for a mani-pedi day with her besties, she has to reunite with the French Court she left as a child. (Again, in reality Mary spent her whole childhood in France. But pointing out inaccuracies is a losing game so I’m going to stop.)
The first person she sees again is the King and his mistress, who he flamboyantly flounces around with in public like it ain’t no thang. Following is the steely Catherine de Medici, played by the great Megan Follows, and her BFF Hunky Nostradamus.
But obviously the two most important people are the sexy guys. There’s Bash, short for Sebastian, the king’s fictional bastard son with the real historical Diana de Poitiers. Then there’s the heir to the throne, Francis, who in reality was a sickly young boy but in Reign is a stone cold fox with golden tresses. Mary is suddenly not too bummed about leaving the nuns and their Children of the Corn charges to move back.
Trouble In Paradise
Of course it doesn’t take long for Mary and Francis’ meet-cute to get awkward, which probably happens when you haven’t seen someone since you were kids and also you’re engaged. Mary is all about bonding with her future husband, bringing him stones for his custom swords, while Francis is all about keeping Mary at arm’s length. Francis knows that political marriages can be called off at any moment and doesn’t want to get too emotionally involved. However, Mary is pretty cute, so he’s torn.
For her part, Mary is not down with Francis’ wishy-washy behavior and soon finds herself bonding with Bash. As another outsider in the French Court, Bash can really understand her. Also he’s handsome and he saves her dog from being eaten by French goblins in the woods, so he seems like a pretty solid guy.
Also complicating matters is Mary’s future mother-in-law Catherine, a tough-as-nails Queen who is none too happy about Mary’s arrival. She’s even less happy when Hunky Nostradamus tells her Mary will lead to Francis’ death. Is Mary’s superpower that she can cause killer ear infections? Because that would be incredible.
Sex And Violence
If you’re a network trying to reappropriate the magic of a show like Game of Thrones for teenagers, you need to figure out how to handle the sex and violence equation. Obviously you can’t show too much nudity or bloodshed, but the people want what they want.
Everyone knows when you turn on Game of Thrones at least one character is getting sexed or beheaded per episode. Sometimes it’s the same character. Sometimes it’s in the same scene.
Reign has no trouble getting sexy, as Mary and her ladies attend a marriage ceremony and then watch the couple consummate the marriage behind a screen. Entertainment wasn’t much different back then was it? Ye olde porn!
This leads to a few hilarious scenes where the horny ladies in waiting go to…let’s say work off some steam. Narnia friend goes to see her beloved fiance, who earlier took an ominous meeting with Catherine. Meanwhile skanky friend goes to an alcove of the castle alone to take care of business, if you know what I mean (and how could you not?), and ends up hooking up with the King of France. Get it, Skanky friend!
Of course romance wasn’t all fun and sexy games back then, it was also incredibly dangerous. Mary listens to the kindly spirit in her wall who tells her to indulge in a dance number at the wedding, but not any drinks. It’s a good thing she listens, because Narnia friend’s boyfriend shows up to rape her, thinking she drank the drugged wine. It was all a plot from Catherine as a way to make Mary unfit to marry Francis, which ends up backfiring.
Amongst all the twirling in feathers, the sexual violence of this near-crime feels almost swept along by the story to the point where the horror of it doesn’t really sink in. The story moves so quickly from this point, with Narnia friend’s boyfriend being neatly executed so he can’t pass along what he knows, that the audience doesn’t really have any time to think too hard about what almost went down.
But it’s extremely horrifying if you think about it for a few seconds and shows even though Mary has many awesome jeweled headbands, her royal status isn’t even remotely close to keeping her safe.
As the episode comes to a close, Mary thanks her mysterious savior, the Phantom of the French Court. “No problem. If you need me I’ll just be in your wall, watching you change.” And with a whoosh the Phantom disappears because sure, why not?
With a great deal of concern Mary looks out at the horizon, realizing she’s now living in a nest of vipers.
What did you think of the Reign series premiere? Did the mix of time period and modern day work for you? Are you shipping Mary with Francis or Bash? Sound off in the comments!
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(Image courtesy of The CW)