And THAT is how you do a mid-season finale, folks. So many shows try to manufacture suspense for pre-hiatus episodes by putting one character in sorta peril or delivering up a macguffin, but Reign sent a major character to her death in a halo of blood, set off a dazzling chain of dramatic events like a world-class pyrotechnics display, and burned down its fairy-tale love story before sending its lead running off into the unknown with her heart breaking and a hot new guy by her side. "Fated" blew the roof off the barn and left a trail of fire in its wake. Talk about making the most of an audience’s anticipation! If I could make a single wish right now, I’d want a boxed set of the next six seasons of Reign on DVD (but being a responsible adult, I’d instead ask for World Peace, of course). This mid-season finale paid off every aspect of the Reign pilot’s premise in one fiery episode, letting viewers know this is a show not afraid to move forward. Oh, Reign has stories to tell you, children, come gather round.
The show picked up right where we all wanted it to, with young Mary and Francis blissfully canoodling in bed, tracing their fingers up and down each other’s bodies. Francis even dropped the atomic bomb of post-sex pillow-talk lines, “I hope you’re pregnant”—which, you know, considering this was Mary’s first time, WHAT A GHOULISH NIGHTMARE that would be—but also: Frances, clearly, is no longer afraid of committing to the Queen of Scots. Our princely dreamboat started talking forever with Mary in a way that made Edward Cullen look like a toot-it-and-boot-it manwhore by comparison.
These adorable touch-monkeys' cuddlin’ sesh was then interrupted by no less a personage than the Holy See,who apparently walked right past the gym sock dangilng from the French castle’s drawbridge—the international sign for ”Banging in Progress”—in his haste to share some very important news: Mary Tudor of England is dying and the Catholic faithful consider Mary, Queen of Scots to be the true heir to the English throne! Yes there is also that Elizabeth Tudor person but she is invisible in the eyes of the Lord as an illegitimate daughter. This was fantastic news for King Henry, but first he had to break some bad news to Kenna: He
had given her herpes was not leaving Diane and making Kenna his exclusive mistress, no matter what the tiles on their bedroom floor said.
His personal drama thus sorted, King Henry was looking forward to using Mary as a way to bring England under the control of France, via Francis marrying her—and since they’d already started practicing for the big “consummating this thang in front of viziers” moment, it was good timing for Francis and Mary. The news was not so great for Diane, because steamrolling Elizabeth’s claim to the throne based on her bastardy (lol yes these were once legal terms) meant Diane’s pet project of making sure Bash became a legitimate French Prince was now basically impossible. Diane, stirring the pot as always, apologized for getting Bash’s hopes up, reminded him to keep them way down and not to mention her legitimization scheme to anyone ever, and then told him he was playing it like a straight-up thirsty bitch when it came to Mary.
Moms, right? Moms who are royal mistresses. They are drama.
Kenna—who had wrapped her head in an afghan that your Great Aunt Frances knitted in order to conceal her herpes—was then stopped in her tracks by an Italian priest who confused her with Diane. Despite the fact that Kenna was visibly completely confused by everything he said, he kind of recapped their entire correspondence to her, revealing Diane’s treasonous plot to get Bash made legitimate.
Meanwhile Francis continued to make every pair of panties in the contiguous United States and Canada drop by promising Mary that he didn’t care whether she became the Queen of England or not. “I’ll pressure you, and listen to you, and argue with you, and love you until the day I die. Together we’ll decide what is right, as husband and wife. Marry me. Say yes.” Five years from now you’re going to be hearing those lines pop up in a lot of wedding vows, mark my words, because they are basically what Mr. Darcy says when you plan you your wedding with him like I know you do. Look at these two!!
You know, if this were a corny-ass show this is where the episode would have ended, but Reign is not about stretching its plot thin, it had an entire half-season's worth of great ideas to pack into the next forty minutes. After this ideal moment, things slid faster than a fat kid on a crocodile mile coated in Vaseline toward a completely bone-shaking, world-rattling conclusion. This chain of events kicked off with Kenna deciding there was no time like the present to scheme with Catherine about how best to oust Diane so that Kenna could take full possession of Catherine’s husband’s loins. At first Catherine, awesomely, was like “My husband’s junk is like Burger King: your way right away and below my payscale.” But then Kenna spilled the beans about Diane’s plot to legitimize Catherine, and obviously plots and schemes are Catherine’s thing, so this was a clear violation of the Queen-Mistress/Brains-Booty treaty.
Catherine also charmingly confessed to Nostradamus that she completely shipped Frary but she even moreso ships Francis with “Being Alive and Well.” Once again this is perhaps my favorite thing about this series: Catherine’s motivation is not ill-considered or even selfish. It’s completely plausible (for its time) and relatable. But I was not prepared for the awesome writing choice of Catherine appealing to Mary’s better nature and laying all the cards on the table that their marriage could cost Francis his life. I really thought the show as going to do a multiple-season Victoria Grayson/Emily Thorne dance of deception around this issue, but building off the character development last week, Catherine now was certain that Mary would do anything to preserve Francis’s life, and she gave Mary some new pertinent information. YO OTHER SHOWS CURRENTLY ON TV: THIS IS WHAT ORGANIC CONFLICT LOOKS LIKE!!! THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE WHEN LARGER-THAN-LIFE CHOICES ARE PRESENTED BY AN EMOTIONALLY GROUNDED NARRATIVE IN A WAY THAT FEELS NOT JUST NATURAL BUT INEVITABLE!!!! HELLO ONCE UPON A TIME, ARE YOU WATCHING?!?!
Phew, sorry, I just really loved Catherine (and to be fair Nostradamus) giving Mary this kind of agency. And Mary was seriously shook and went directly to the source and earnestly tried to investigate whether there was anything to Nostradamus’s predictions, cutting short her cozy wedding-planning session to do so. Gosh that girl-talkin’ looked fun. Even Clarissa sort of got in on it.
But yeah, she traded this for Nostradamus assuring her one of her best friends would die before the frost melted. Creepy! Meanwhile, Henry was making sweet love to a woman who was completely clear of the Herpes Simplex virus to some highly erotic music. Across America moms watching this with their daughters started giggling wildly and those same daughters cringed and went “Moooom” and the Catherine came in and stopped all the embarrassment in its tracks by throwing more shade than a beach umbrella during a time lapse video of a sunset.
She told Diane thanks for having nasty sex with my gross husband you have been the dirty gym sock that’s saved me a lot of sleepless nights (BURN) oh yeah also some priest confused the herpes-scarred, exhausted-looking Kenna for a hotter version of you (BURN) and that also my son is officially his daddy’s favorite now(BURN). Then she topped things off with the worst deal imaginable: skedaddle the hell out of court by cover of night and kill a bitch on your way out. Diane could be forgiven for feeling rather miffed at Kenna in the circumstances, however we would learn later she ultimately smashed the poison against the wall in a very Scarlett O’Hara “Fiddle dee-dee I’ll kill who I damn well want to!” gesture.
Knowing Diane had been instructed to poison Kenna with a fragrant liquid, we smash cut to the next scene where Kenna was surrounded by all the braidies who were handing a fragrant cup of very sketch herbs. And then we watched in abject horror as Peaseblossom was chased by CLARISSA—our dear, wonderful Clarissa!!!—down a staircase to her doom!!
So reasons the way this happened was brilliant: I was genuinely confused for a moment if Clarissa or the poison killed Peaseblossom, ultimately it was Clarissa (who used a poison to slow Peaseblossom down) that killed her to fulfill Nostradamus’ prophecy so that Mary would refuse to wed Francis and thus be saved from Catherine’s poison. Once again: twisted criminal logic, but with a basis in something kind of earnest and sad. Clarissa is always trying to protect Mary, and while it was solid writing it is unfortunate that we won't have Jenessa Grant’s glowing presence in the show. She continually had the best side braids and was the least bitchy to Mary, and for that she shall be missed.
It’s also another way to keep Nostradamus’s powers somewhat ambiguous: His prophesy was fulfilled but by mortal means. (Also: Is Clarissa perhaps the illegitimate child of Nostradamus? He did say specifically that she was “nothing” and that she’d killed a “Child of God.” Considering the breakdown we got earlier in the episode about how the Church viewed bastard children, this seemed particularly significant.) However, to Mary Peaseblossom’s death was just jarring proof that Nostradamus could be right about her marriage dooming Francis to an early demise, and she decided to pack up and get the heck out of there. Needless to say her loyal waiting women did not help her in any way, shape, or form.
Determined to protect Francis at any cost, Mary announced that she would not seek the English throne so that King Henry would not pursue the alliance. She then gave a brilliant speech to Francis that was all double talk about protecting her country, but actually she was talking about protecting him and feels were had by all.
Then she and Bash ran into each other in the stables and realized they were headed the same way: the hell out of there.
And so we came to one of the most dramatic images in the series so far: Francis watching the love of his life running away alongside his illegitimate brother (who he was already super jealous of) and falling to his knees in despair.
Mary, of course, is basically dying inside, but those of us who are all about Mash were turning cartwheels in our living rooms. I honestly do not know where we’re going to pick up when the season returns in January with “For King and Country.” Obviously the royal house is in disarray, the brothers are torn apart, the lovers are torn apart, and Mary and Bash are barreling into entirely new territory. This felt like a season finale, and that’s seriously the best kind of mid-season finale you can ask for.
... Clarissa: Have your feelings changed toward her? What’s her relation to Nostradamus?
... Are you broken inside about Mary and Francis, or super excited about Mary and Bash?
... Kenna: duplicitous or naive?
... Mary: pregnant for sheezy?
... Will Catherine come for Kenna again?
... Best mid-season finale you’ve seen this year?
AIRED ON 6/20/2016
Season 3 : Episode 18