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Reign S01E17: "Liege Lord"

One of the many reasons I adore Reign is episodes like “Liege Lord,” which took a break from teen romance to focus on a plot steeped in Tudor politics and nuanced statecraft. While the show makes savvy concessions to the tastes of its demographic—the covetable dresses, the cute boys, the contemporary music—it admirably never talks down to its audience. It assumes we’ll keep up and stay invested and know enough history to appreciate the ramifications of the schism between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century, and yo, I'm on it. I lapped up Wolf Hall like a body shot off Kellan Lutz's abs and I happily scarfed up this episode as well. SCOTS AND FREEDOM AND SCOTTISH ACCENTS!!!!

On top of ALLLL that, Mary’s character development this episode, her avowal that she would always choose Scotland over Francis, it was enough to make me curtsey to my television like a Proud Fronch Prince.  I wish more shows were like this, especially shows for teens. I wish more dramas gave our heroines stuff this cool to worry about and engage in, besides just making them wallow in boys and inner turmoil. Mary spent the episode juggling national intrigue, sovereignty, and sex spies. So many people were doing sexy stuff to get information! Sometimes it takes a Mata Hari to uncover a hairy matter. Forgive me for that wordplay.

We opened on Kenna and Bash in their first scene as a married couple, and while they both were very busy openly listing each other’s shortcomings, at least they’re being open. I actually really liked their dynamic: honest, candid, and infused with a begrudging respect.

Lola is trying to get her own loveless marriage all sewn up, and she has her sights set on Lord Julian. But just when it was looking likely that she could tip him from skating instructor to wifey-maker, he told her he intended to never, ever have children. BWURP. Two of his wives had died in childbirth, so no, he was never going to have kids ever. And then immediately after throwing that heavy stack of baggage at her, he announced to the room they were getting married! How is Lola going to get out of this one? She is literally 45 minutes from having a baby bump!

Across the room, a cheeky sex spy (part of an elite group of ladies who have affairs with powerful men to relay information to the Queen of Fronce; they're called “The Flying Squad” because “Hoez Who Knowz” was deemed too obvious) dumped half a goblet of wine down Mary’s exceedingly fine frock, and then gave her even more bad news: She needed help getting out of the country. Surprisingly, instead of immediately agreeing, Mary asked what was in it for her—a small but very telling character detail. Mary isn't so eager to reach out and help these serving ladies anymore.

The Captain of the Flying Squad/Red Baron of Giddyup Times explained that Mary’s extremely long marriage contract had a super secret clause that gave Scotland to Fronce if Mary died before a male baby was born. That made Mary’s throne about as secure as a seat on Mr. Bonestripper from Nothing But Trouble. And court has perhaps never been more volatile than now, with King Henry coming down with that bad case of Homicidal Mania; he's shacked up with Bean Queen and seeing handsome tennis players where no tennis players actually be. 

Mary sent Kenna into Henry’s chambers to snap up the marriage contract, Kenna protested that she was trying to give the whole “married to Bash” thing a good 24 hours before she stomped it to pieces, and Mary was like, “I’m not going to tell you that you have to. I’m just going to say the entire fate of our country rests on whether or not you do this.” So Kenna, being a patriotic Scot at heart even if she has an English accent, pulled some sex-spy moves and shimmied into Henry’s chambers. Unfortunately, he popped up with crazy eyes and wandering fingers. Poor Kenna!

Alas, Kenna’s perhaps wholesale destruction of her marriage was for naught: The contract was an unsigned copy. So Mary decided to go with Plan B: telling Scottish Protestants that her mother had sold her out in such a way that Mary de Guise was forced to contradict such accusations and burn her copy of the contract. Complicated? Edging very close to Scottish civil war? Possibly. But for a first brainstorm I was very impressed. Not to mention her plan involved inviting guys with actual Scottish accents to the castle! And... Scottish dance moves!

I have not spent years in Scotland, just weeks, but I can still say with complete authority that it is the most fun country on the planet. Somehow every person I came across in Scotland was a perfect candidate for Lifetime Best Friend, and every place I visited was made out of literal magic. I dream perpetually of moving there and appreciating the culture on a full-time basis. And these characters totally reflected that! From Mary’s dad’s battle buddy to the suave Scottish charmer who immediately started wooing Catherine. 

Catherine deserved a little me-time/naughty maid role-playing fantasy after all her weeks cleaning up Henry’s bodies and getting bossed around by the Bean Queen. I loved her escapade with this smitten Scot. And when Mary got her father’s old battle buddy away from the dance floor and gave him the rundown about how they may take our lives but they will NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM I got chills. The Scottish warriors could only bow before her line delivery and epic tartan evening gown.

Frances was looking at Mary like she was the 16th century Beyonce. He was beyond impressed. But just when it looked like maybe everything was going to work out like Walker’s shortbread, the Scots took a last-minute detour to a brothel and got totally slain by Les Assassins Royales. (They would have probably died of syphilis anyway, don’t feel too bad.)

Adding real-life insult to fictious injury, before the slaying started we saw one of them endure a fate worse than death: a face massage via foot! Don’t tell me extras don’t have it hard. 

Catherine’s sweet fling had let slip Mary’s daring gambit to secure her throne, and it cost Mary 12 countrymen. It also cost Catherine a cheek’s worth of foundation. 

It was very hard to see this death-knell of the Catherine/Mary truce. But while Mary looked furious, she seemed in no way surprised. Mary dropped the hammer: She would trigger word of King Henry’s madness to spread worldwide if Catherine did not burn the marriage contract. She swore she would see the Valoir dynasty trampled like so many grapes at a winery, and Francis too, who cares! She is Mary, Queen of Scots not Mary, Queen of Thots.

Speaking of thots, poor Bash had to listen to his dad talk about his own sweet fling with Bash’s newlywed wife, vividly describing Kenna’s rump in terms Keats might have rejected as “too lyrical.” Luckily he heard Kenna out about it and she explained she hadn’t had sex with his dad again. She was just doing spy work, like you do, which seemed to also impress him. The guys on this show are continually impressed by the women showing strength and character, and I love it.

Lola also revealed to Lord Julian that she was carrying an anonymous man’s baby, and he was like, “Phew! Now I don’t feel so bad about my ridiculously heinous past.” And she was like, “What do you—" and he was like, “Shhhhhhhhh, let us make the foundation of our lives out of secrets, ma cherie.” Now, I see it as a GIANT red flag that Lord Julian’s past was so troublesome that he WELCOMED the thought of Lola carrying a mystery baby. But that’s what keeps this show exciting. Is he a brutal sadist and lady-killer? Lola will have to wait to find out! Still, Lola continues to gain nanometers of credibility with me by at least being “annoyingly direct” with Julian. And if Julian secretly regretted breaking faith with Greer in favor of a woman carrying a baby whose father she refused to reveal, he certainly kept it politely to himself.

So, two huge emotional developments at the end of the episode: Bash came to the rescue of Kenna, who was sitting around in court in what looked like a negligee I need to buy. He totally saved her! Guys I am on board with Benna.

And Mary totally existentially dissed her husband by letting him know she HAD sent out three riders with news of Henry’s madness. Her threat to topple the King of Fronce had been real, and she would have enacted it no matter what it cost Francis. Of course, if she was really slick she would have just told him the riders were a bluff. Mary is learning to be hard without being duplicitous, and the transformation is fascinating. Can she be a strong Queen without turning into Catherine ? The way this show is organically growing her as a character, I have no doubt we’ll see every step of that struggle.


... Tennis guy: What is his deal?

... Kenna and Bash have a surprising amount of chemistry, just me? Is anyone else already rooting for them to fall in love or at least be a ride-or-die power couple whose relationship is so true it almost TRANSCENDS romance?

... Were you relieved that Lola revealed her pregnancy to Julian?

... Should feet be left as far out of sex play as humanly possible or... ?

... Have you ever used physical intimacy/your tootsies to gain crucial state secrets?

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