I am going to have to open an investigation, because it appears someone stole a rough draft of a novel I wrote at age 13 called like “The Quickening Tide” or some silliness and turned it into a waaay better series called Reign. Not really but sort of? You can’t have ever been a teen and NOT feel a visceral connection to some element of the adolescent fantasy that is The CW’s audacious historical fiction teen drama, which was essentially a perfume commercial with a plot, and an actually good one. It would be hard to overstate the visual lushness of Reign, which is much more than just a pretty face. Mary Queen of Scots spent the hour swishing around in prom dresses like they were sweatpants, she has a spooky guardian ghost-angel with a ruined face, and she almost kissed a breathy, moody prince. Let’s all braid a little side-braid into our hair and talk about this show in a breathy English accent.
First of all, I’m very impressed with how Reign sidestepped so many of the errors that plague historical fiction on TV. At no point did anyone sidle up and whisper “Dear, dear brother!” or whisper “My Queen, be patient. For you know the plot to unseat thy blahblahblah.” The pilot got through the exposition quite gracefully, and by the end of the first 15 minutes we knew who was who in our love triangle, the basic premise, pretty much everything except what this lady had been about to say before her brain melted.
It says a lot about where I am now vs. where I was at 13 that I related to her the hardest out of the whole bunch. She thought she had such a sweet gig taste-testing the porridge and bloop, suddenly she’s bleeding out into her burlap habit. We’ve all been there.
As an inciting incident, an assassination attempt is just a great choice, and the fact that Mary was no longer safe at the convent meant it was time to put on the first of her many, many hair crownlets and slip out of the frying pan and into the fire: the hot, lusty fire of the French Court, where legendary bitch Catherine de' Medici was waiting to become her mother-in-law.
Meet the worst family of in-laws ever: a super horny French King, his moody son Frances, his bastard son Sebastian, and his rich and scheming Queen Catherine, who likes to get together with Sexy Nostradamus and huff spray paint out of goblets (a cherished royal tradition, just ask Kate Middleton) and talk shiiiiit on Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary, we learned, has been engaged to Frances since age 9, when Queen Catherine shipped her off to the nunnery—and now the royal family is not so sure if they want to actually go through with the marriage or investigate other options (maybe Italy or Spain is DTF!). Mary’s only support group in this overdressed viper’s nest comprises her four best friends Kenner, Greer, Peaseblossom and Lola, who I think she just met? (They sure weren’t at the convent.) These Scottish noble ladies talk in English accents somehow and are so into side-braids it’s not even funny.
Like there is not even another place to put a side-braid on this girl’s fool head.
I am going to mention this once and then leave it at that, because this ain’t the History Channel and actual Tudor-era clothing is kind of the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, but the gorgeous parade of prom dresses these girls would spend the rest of the episode wearing would not even pass as sufficient underwear in the 1600s. Not even on prostitutes. They would all be required to wear this sort of thing, especially the headgear:
And Mary, Queen of Scots looked like this :
Make of that what you will. I would much rather enjoy the dresses these legit fashion models ended up in after their makeover scene, where they acclimated Mary to her new life at court by making her put pink Vaseline on her hand and line her eyelids with burnt twigs. Cosmetics used to be HELL! Thank GOD for Wet N’ Wild and MAC and all the things that don’t involve grinding choke berries and chicken period into rabbit fat or whatever they used to use for lipgloss.
After changing into a dress so beautiful it made me all but roll around on the floor and molest myself (Kenner knows what I’m talkin’ about), Mary sought out Frances, her betrothed. Another great move the series made was to scatter in a few little flashbacks to their childhood friendship, which helped us feel as puzzled and taken aback as Mary when she actually got to talk to Frances and he was terse and tetchy. He was very territorial about his special blade-smithing room, something we would not understand until we realized it doubled as a skank-smithing room. Natalia is such a skank but I already like her for some reason? I agree with Frances: skanks are just good company.
When Mary returned to give Frances some pebbles he could use to decorate his knives (??? Great idea). Frances got twitchy and ordered her to leave because Natalia was probably, at that very moment, like, licking his ankles and Mary was like “Arrgh!” and ran outside and threw the pebbles at the cold, indifferent sky and her dog ran off (probably the random burning pyres and flying pebbles put him on edge).
Mary needed a vacation from this vacation and it was only day two. When she tried to follow her dog about four feet toward the woods, she was confronted by Frances’ half-brother and full-bastard Sebastian. And so our love triangle is in place! The cold prince she wants to love, the charismatic non-prince who is already way too concerned with her welfare. Oooooh weave it into my brain’s side-braid.
Meanwhile, Lola was surprised in her bathtub (no, they didn’t have those kind of bathtubs then shhhh just go with it) by Colin, a fresh-faced Aberdeen dude. Of course they asked Catherine de’ Medici’s permission to marry and she was like “I’m sorry, who the hell are you people again?”
Then a ghost gave Mary some sensible advice.
I seriously loved this scene. I loved the overdramatic stage whisper and the hand shadow and the secret passage behind the panelling! What I especially love about it is that it sort of leaves the supernatural element in question: Be this spectre a ghost or mortal?! Some benevolent spy? Some less fortunate half-sister?
The entire ball scene… just yes. Yes to everything. Yes to Mary’s black dress, and to her pulling all her friends onto the dance floor and all of them kicking off their shoes for a rousing folk dance.
Yes to the breathless, lingering glance between Mary and Sebastian and the breathless, lingering glance between Mary and Frances. To the white feathers floating onto black hair. I’m not ashamed to say that I am all about this and can we all just vicariously spin around at a ball wearing all black? Yes. Then it was off to the sexual consummation of the bride and groom! [Record scratch]
Yes this was a real thing that actually happened back in the day. Isn’t history a nightmare?What’s so compelling about this period is that life was incredibly fleeting, the life expectancy was somewhere around 29 years of age, and people did the bulk of their living and made their most significant life decisions in their teen years. The whims of horny teenagers literally ruled the world and a lot of their natural hormonal wildfire was held in check by incredibly rigid laws concerning sex, with an intact hymen being a woman’s passport to basically everything. So yes, it was customary at important ceremonies for the wedding guests to follow the couple into the bedroom (and sometimes even crawl under the sheets with them) to make sure sex happened. King Henry VIII had a he-said she-said thing with Queen Katherine of Aragon about whether or not she was a virgin when they married that brought Europe to the brink of war: It was better to just be certain, and there was no “pic or it didn’t happen.”
So Mary, her ladies and four frowny middle-aged perverts watched the newlyweds don approximately 12 yards of muslin each and then get into a heavily canopied bed and more or less do the nasty.
It was so hot that Kenner had no choice but to flee the room, get to the top of some stairs and polish her ring finger, if you know what I mean.
Guys, real talk: They are in a winding, twisty-ass royal castle. How many tapestries and dark corners and private chambers did she pass by on the way to measure herself for bowling gloves at the top of a well-lit staircase? And then the KING HIMSELF happened along and literally gave her a hand.
Where will this lead? Were your parents watching when this happened? Dudes if I was watching this show with my parents during my teen years I would have sunk into the floor faster than the Wicked Witch of the West at Six Flags Ragin' Waters.
Anyway. Mary meanwhile learned that Frances was not completely 100 percent sure about marrying her, stomped off to her room, lit 48 candles, and tried to get some sleep.
Guys, attempted rape scenes are the worst. They make me sick no matter how subtle they are. The moment I hear a belt buckle jingle, I just start like clenching my shoulders. So this seemed pretty disturbing, Colin climbing onto the bed and unbuckling his trousers and then clapping his hand over Mary’s mouth when she woke up. The ghost had warned her, this dude totally roofied her wine. Ghost you are the best.
So this was the part I sort of had trouble with: Lola totally defended him. We would learn later that Catherine de’ Medici FORCED him to roofie Mary’s wine so he could have sex with her while she was unconscious and thus make it impossible for Frances to marry Mary, which yikes, Catherine is now an unforgivable villain and so too is Colin. That is RAPE, yo. That Lola even tried to apologize and guilt-trip Mary about it, and that poor Mary (who I'm starting to think may have self-esteem issues) even tried to defend Colin is sort of insane and ridiculous. "I may have given him the wrong message in my happiness of the wedding"??!! I’ll forgive Mary because I think she just wanted to talk to him to figure out who had supplied the roofies, but Lola is officially a garbage person. She doesn’t just have bad taste in chartreuse prom gowns, she is a terrible person and if I were Mary I would demote her to chamber pot duty immediately. Yet Lola burst into tears and all the noble ladies gave her a group hug and Kenner thought it was so hot she had no choice but to flee the room, find a very well-lit staircase and moisturize her hangnails. I assume.
After what had truly been a bummer day, Mary left her royal ladies and walked smack into a very cute guy and her dog. Sebastian had found Stirling! And he was waaaaay too concerned with how Mary was doing. Oh Sebastian. Later we found out the dog had been attracted by the blood in the woods. The blood in the woods!!! Oh this show.
In another exceptionally well-framed shot so gorgeous that Kenner had no choice but to flee the environs and, well, you know, Mary stood atop a turret in a dark cowl and thanked her ghost guardian angel. I got chills, I’m a sucker for turrets and cowls and howling winds.
And the episode ended with a breathy almost-kiss between Mary and Frances, which Frances stalked away from like the tortured, brooding soul he is. To be continued next Thursday!
I really don't have any complaints here. I earnestly hope and pray that Lola falls into a hole that goes all the way to hell, but I genuinely like Mary. Adelaide Kane is tremendous and likable and restrained. I want to see her be happy with one or both of these dudes. Catherine de' Medici seems like a devious and sinister opponent, and I want to see Mary win Frances over and make him squirm a little, too. I am interested in the king and Kenner, I'm even interested in Peaseblossom and Mirthseed or whatever their names are. The pilot set up a dangerous and beautiful world that I want to return to. Will you be attending Queen Mary next week?
… Be the mysterious bag lady ghost or mortal?
… Do you feel like buying a whimsical headband?
… Frances or Bastian: Who would you rather have at your consummation ceremony?
… Does Lola need to stop?
… Would you ask Kenner to wash her hands before sharing a bag of popcorn with her?
… What are your thoughts on the premiere?
AIRED ON 6/20/2016
Season 3 : Episode 18