There certainly were a great many metaphorical bells to be heard in the third episode of Reign, Season 3. In fact, during the approximate 45 minutes comprising “Extreme Measures,” they were chiming all over the place. For the most part, I’m enjoying the direction the season has taken so far, but I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed, because if we’ve learned anything from this show, it’s that life in the Reigniverse, even for kings and queens (or perhaps especially for them), can take a turn for the worse in the blink of an eye.
A few subplot notes: I’ve officially switched myself from a Claude and Leith observer, to a Claude/Leith enthusiast. I hereby declare them Laude and have registered their couple’s name with the Shippers’ Guild of America (copyright pending). Meanwhile, Greer’s Dears have gone up in the world, seemingly knocking Catherine’s Flying Squadron of she-spies out of commission. At least this pulls Greer more squarely into the main plot, instead of on the fringes, though goodness knows where she’ll go from here. And last, but certainly not least, in a touching if ill-advised move, Mary and Francis patched things up to some degree with Catherine. By the end of the episode, it’s clear Mama Medici’s got her groove back, but will she spell victory or disaster for France, Frary and the Valois line? Lately, I’ve found my against-my-morals appreciation of Catherine tested to the max. I knew she was murderous and treacherous and all-around corrupt, but I thought I could rely on her not to target children; it seemed like her mama bear instincts gave her compunction on that score at least. Unfortunately, after her attempt to have the Bourbon royal family (including the infant prince and young princess) assassinated, it’s clear I was way off the mark. So now I’m having a harder time than ever rooting for our poisonous queen mother (though I always enjoy her confrontations with Mary). It’s clear Megan Follows will eternally steal any scene in which she has dialogue, but I don’t think I’ll be clapping as much as I used to.
But I digress, so without further ado, let’s get down to business and bells…
“R” is for Royal Pains
Good Ole’ Antoine, King of Navarre, is back, and he’s shrewd as ever. Frary is understandably concerned that the cheddar-sharp Huguenot ruler (with a strong claim to the French throne) will sniff out that Francis’ health is failing, and begin staging a takeover. Yet another inconvenient political distraction when all Mary and Francis want to do is spend their last days together dancing and eating oranges. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. In what has to be the most heartbreakingly lovely dance choreographed since Swan Lake, Frary takes to the dance floor to prove to Antoine that life at French court is still one big ball, and the royal couple becomes completely absorbed with each other –eyes locked, movements synced, as Francis relies on Mary to lead and Mary relies on Francis’s waning strength. Truly a superb moment in the episode, and Francis’ “We can do anything” line a few scenes before was a wonderfully nostalgic moment, rendered tragic when he collapses on the stairs. Time is clearly running out for the golden king, and death bells seem to haunt the future. But will these bells toll soon, or will the writers of Reign exercise their clever (albeit sometimes ill-directed) powers to buy us more time with Tony Regbo?
“E” is for Extremely Extreme
Much as I like this show, it amazes me how in the Reigniverse lives matter, right matters, …until they don’t. Many of our favorite and most celebrated characters radiate morals, but when it’s convenient these morals are bent or flat-out broken, and the show’s writers seem to expect us to understand or look the other way. I know Francis has done bad things in the past. He murdered his father, sanctioned the deaths of scores of innocent Protestants for what a handful had done, slept with Lola, etc. etc. But when he stepped in and slew Antoine’s thug to prove a point, I was more than a little disappointed. It was meant, I believe, to be a glorifying “man with nothing to lose, who’ll do anything for his gal” moment, but all it did was add to the rising tally on Frary’s list of sins. All to protect Mary and the Valois line (neither of which have been doing much to improve France’s economy, stability or life expectancy lately). This act left me cold. Yes, Francis showed he’s tough; he cowed Antoine, literally and figuratively getting blood on his hands in the process, killing an expendable nobody with absolutely no fan-base. But for what? To ensure the continuation of a line that has done its best to cripple itself and its kingdom through selfish and single-minded acts, acts that never seem to have the people of France as priority. Consider this (and here’ a BIG, BIG, BIG spoiler warning for those of you who don’t know your French history): in real life, Antoine’s son eventually becomes king of France after Francis and his 3 (he had more siblings than depicted in the show) younger brothers all die without producing heirs. Francis’ last surviving brother, Henry, declares Antoine’s son to be the next rightful king. So what does this entire dramatic tableau from our latest episode amount to? As Shakespeare would say, “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It’s disturbing when you stop to think how a country and the hundreds of thousands of lives therein rest in the hands of rulers whose frontal cortexes (the part of the brain responsible for understanding consequences, weighing better and best, worse and worst in decision making, controlling social behavior and so much more) haven’t fully developed yet. Mary and Francis certainly don’t prove science wrong. Our main characters’ weakly devised political and personal choices as rulers don’t make me like them more. It makes me pity them. Frary’s tale of love and forgiveness as a couple is inspiring. Their legacy as sovereigns almost, almost makes me want to go running to the opposition.
“I” is for In Your Face
I’m sorry, but Antoine’s completely justified dress down of Mary’s past actions was gratifying to watch. I was baffled when Mary actually tried to pull the whole “your brother was a traitor,” card. Mary’s been a traitor (in both the political and secular senses) about 4 times over on this show (for crying out loud, she had Francis deposed as Dauphine in the first season!). The only reason she’s not been executed? Nepotism y’all. Yet Mary plays the righteous, right-hand-of-Francis role like it’s Golden Globes nomination week. Don’t misread me, I’m glad she’s back in that role, but to pretend she wasn’t 100 kinds of treacherous and dumb last season is a little too “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for my taste. This scene reminded me of Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam [Ring Out Wild Bells]” which says “Ring out the false, ring in the true.” It also goes on to say, “Ring out false pride in place and blood/The civic slander and the spite/Ring in the love of truth and right/Ring in the common love of good.” While I’d hardly say Antoine is the type to “ring in the love of truth and right,” Mary has indeed fallen further and further from her love of truth and right, choosing instead to focus on “false pride in place and blood,” believing that her blood and birthright as queen must come at any cost. This belief may be reinforced by the idea that she has to protect the religious freedom of her people, but in truth, neither Mary nor her husband have been able to do much to protect religious freedoms in France, so why should it be any different in Scotland? If Mary doesn’t begin to examine the truth about her past failings as an individual and a ruler, instead of looking regally surprised and offended when people cast them back at her in judgment, she is not going to get far.
“G” is for Greedy Guzzling Girlfriends
Cue the curfew bells. Well, our dope-stealing dauphin, Charles, got more screen time this episode, as he snatched some of his brother’s pain medicine and snuck away for a session of sips ‘n’ strokes with a young lady of the court. When the prince’s overeager paramour threw back the stolen opiate faster than a Scrapbooker on Instagram on a Thursday, I knew exactly what was going to happen. But I didn’t foresee what would come of it or how much I would enjoy watching it unfold. When his laudanum lady keels over from a bad batch, Charles has a perfectly normal teen response. He goes to his big sister Claude for advice, and she in turn goes to Uncle Narcisse (of course!). For we all know there is no one in France more capable of handlin’ the scandlin’. No one above dungeon-level anyway. However, something happened to Narcisse’s character as he surveyed the Duke’s doped up daughter, something I like to call not-so-subtle, but oh-so-needed character development. Instead of helping the Prince and Princess C sweep the languishing lass’s corpse under the rug, Narcisse goes into worldly-wise hero mode. Suddenly it was “Leave it to Beaver, French Court Style!”, and we got to see Responsible Narcisse, Avuncular Narcisse, Mentor Narcisse. I’ve never been so proud of our Rascally Roué, and for the first time, I felt that he and Lola actually stood a chance. That, along with the simple misadventure of this scene and the Brady Bunch vibe, had me giving this subplot a thumbs-up. And of course, Narcisse’s responsible actions in this escapade ultimately lead to…
“N” is for Newlyweds
I guess Cinderella was right. If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish really do come true. But in my wildest dreams I never saw the Nola wedding happening 3 episodes into the season. Even more surprising, their wedding was not some furtive elopement or dark secret. Nope, the wedding bells were sounding proudly (metaphorically) to celebrate the nuptials. Lola and Narcisse were fairly glowing with love and happiness, while everyone else looked on with joy and approval. Lola’s dress was lovely; the music was so apropos; Narcisse looked so proud. Everything was so perfect…
Then came the alarm bells.
“Psycho” music rang down the castle halls, the Dementors of Azkaban flew away screaming in terror and Catherine de Medici emerged from the shadows looking like a kid in a candy store. I realized with a sickening “Eeeeek!” that neither Mary nor I had quite thought Catherine’s reinstatement through. If this show proves one thing (other than that wimples didn’t play as big a part in French Renaissance fashions as historians would have us believe) it’s that a wedding in the French court does not guarantee a happy ending, but is, in fact, often the deathwatch beetle for most relationships. Is this the doom of Nola, or will our newlyweds find a last minute reprieve from the Wrath of Cath? Did they have Wit-Sec in 16th century France? Is it too late for the honeymooners to register for it? Let me know your thoughts on these questions and the ones I’ve listed below. And as always, thanks for reading!
- Who believes that Kenna is going to pop back onto the scene any day now, and that Caitlin Stasey’s absence is no more than a plot teaser facilitated by the actress’s desire to spend a few weeks in Bora Bora?
- Are Narcisse and Lola doomed? Seriously, I want to know. Your guess –what is going to happen to them? Are the writers setting the stage for a quick Mr. and Mrs. Narcisse exodus from French Court so that Mary will have some company on her future adventures? I hope not, you guys. I’m a serious skeptic about whether this show can be pulled off as well in Scotland, and plopping Nola (or Kennash or anyone but Mary, really) there would be like eating your French Fries with mayonnaise –it’s just a weird combination and, though fascinating, not anywhere as good as the original pairing.
- Is this Masked Heart-eater/Delphine Prophecy plot-line going anywhere, or are the writer’s dangling a sub-plot carrot in front of Bash and us to distract from the complete lack of direction his character has had since…well, pretty much since he figured out his mother was guilty of infanticide and banished her from France (side question: when is Bash going to notice a complete lack of news from or about his mother? Will her death ever come to light?). The strong storylines and character-developing moments have been shamefully few and far between for a fellow who has the troubled past, unique social perspective and piercing blue eyes to pull off amazing scenes.
- Did Leith actually try to float the old “I slept with her because I care for you” excuse past Claude? Did it actually just work? I know I’m club Laude now, but I have to call that the worst dialogue on sex and feelings I’ve heard outside of Grey’s Anatomy.
- It says something that I didn’t miss Queen Elizabeth in this episode (“didn’t miss” meaning I neither noticed her absence nor was saddened by it). The queen of England was rubbing me the wrong way last episode. What do you think? Do you want to see more or less Elizabeth I this season?