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Reign S01E20: "Higher Ground"

Guys “Higher Ground” was like the opposite of my student loans because everything got PAID OFF! We finally saw Leith again, Lola confronted Julian, and Mary got one over on Catherine in a milestone that signals a definite sea change for her character. “Higher Ground” was one of the highest points of the season to date, and maneuvered all our characters into place for what is sure to be a devastating finale.

So we’re back at the castle with Mary, Francis has taken her army to win Calais back from two centuries of English rule, and it’s no time like the present for a little soccer, which Kenna was game enough to play in platform heels.

Seriously I am impressed with her dexterity, and also this scene looked completely effing freezing.

These dudes were legit frolicking around in a five-alarm blizzard, and for that I salute them. Finally the baby used his little heels to drum out “Dudes I’m freezing!” in Morse code in Lola’s tummy and she was hustled back inside for some bed rest and real talk.

Meanwhile on the field of glorious battle/a little wooded area, Frances was attempting to conquer a castle with five guys. Commanding men for presumably the first time in his life, he and a handful of soldiers were headed toward a key stronghold they'd need in order to secure the path to Calais. The lack of horses felt a little Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but before I could even so much as pretend to clack two coconut halves together, another legion of soldiers came through and carved their handful of men into a mere pinch of soldiers. And in the heat of bloody battle, Leith totes saved Francis’s life.

I want to seriously applaud Reign for using strategic writing here in place of bloating the production budget for a full-on battle scene. A strategically critical skirmish between 12 soldiers and a cannon is a realistic-enough premise, and keeping the action small kept the scene purposeful and clear, while the cannonballs tearing down at their meager forces splashed enough gore around to keep the tension high. 

Back at Fronch court, more of Catherine’s relatives had arrived. Once again, she seemed thrilled to see her family, despite the fact that once again, one of them acted like an A+ #1 buttmunch toward her. And then Mary made a beeline for Catherine and begged her for a loan because her mom was very close to getting beheaded by the Scottish Protestant faction. Catherine not only refused, she gave Mary a harsh lesson in what it means to be a queen: Don’t beg. This is just a great rule in general, but it’s especially true when projecting self-possession and confidence is literally the only power you have. 

Mary mentally rolled her eyes right through the condescending lesson in Queenliness because she was already planning to steal Catherine’s nest egg anyway; she’d hired no less a mercenary than Battlestar Galactica’s Tahmoh Penikett, one of the handsomest men in any time, be it the 1600s or the very early dawn of humanity on planet Earth. (BSG ref, don’t sweat it.)

When Catherine disappeared halfway through a jaw-dropping confession and Mary received a Van Gogh Love Letter (dismembered ear), we knew this guy was legit and that Mary had done something far more sinister than any of her previous attempts to gain leverage at court.

Lola, meanwhile, had learned that her husband had successfully deposited her dowry, and he did not sound at all interested in attending the birth of their child—maybe because it was a radically progressive notion for the 16th century, maybe because he was intending to be somewhere else!? Lola feared the latter, and Kenna begged Bash to go sort out what Lord Julian’s deal was. (“IS HE A MURDERER?! My friend wants to know.”) Bash was appalled that he was being asked to stoop to court gossip and gave Kenna the old “least meddled soonest mended,” but she pulled the Wife card, and we all know how Bash feels about his husbandly obligations. He’s maybe the only truly chivalrous character on this show. Also, Queen Catherine was chained up in a farmhouse. The Mercenary had SKILLZ.

One of my favorite parts of this entire episode was how Catherine immediately knew it was Mary who'd kidnapped her. Reign’s characters always play at the height of their intelligence, they’re never conveniently dumb to make a plot unfold more easily, and that’s something you honestly don’t see a lot of on network TV. Catherine sussing out Mary was characteristic of Catherine’s intelligence and it raised the stakes: Now Mary didn’t just need money, she needed a fall guy to frame for Catherine’s kidnapping. Catherine was willing to pay twice her own ransom to the mercenary for the head of her kidnapper, and the mercenary suggested that Mary pick a head and put it in a bag so they could take the money and run.

And so Mary was faced with this watershed moment. Sure, men have died in her service before, and yes, she bashed Clarissa’s head in with a piece of shale, but that was to protect a child. She’d never contemplated taking a life because it was politically convenient to do so, and now it was her only option. In a quick alcove meet-up with Bash, he told her to be really really super-duper sure, and I’d say it’s significant that Mary turned to Bash in a crisis except I don’t want to emotionally cheat on Kenna and Bash, who are important to me. Anyway, wouldn’t you know, on the same night that Mary had to take a hard look around her and figure out who the world would be better off without, this bitch put her snazziest beaded hula hoop around her neck, marched up to Mary, and threw more shade than a beach umbrella during an eclipse:

Oh Hortensa was not long for this world, children. Sure enough, the mercenary showed up back at the farmhouse with Hortensa’s head. He also doubled down on being great at his job by planting a blackmail note in Hortensa’s room, because obviously Catherine had Mary and Hortensa’s rooms searched in case her suspicions that Mary had been behind her little ordeal were correct. The fake blackmail note assauged her fears that Mary was reading ahead in her HQIC (Head Queen Hn Charge) textbook. But in fact, Mary had totally absorbed all the toxic behavior of court and was allowing herself to be as ruthless as she needed to be: She hired the mercenary to go even further and take the same soliders who had slaughtered her countrymen to go rout out the Protestants who were threatening her mom. “They’re monsters, but they’re my monsters,” she said, implying that she no longer holds individuals entirely accountable for what the grinding gears of international politics compel them to do—including herself.

Also Bash came back all, “Word on the street is that Lord Julian is taking a ‘hunting trip’ for the rest of his life and leaving Lola behind,” so Lola laid all her cards on the table: She suspected that Lord Julian might leave her, but she didn’t need a lot of money, she genuinely just wanted him to be beside her. Lord Julian was also totally feeling it, and he let her know he was virtually penniless, despite his very tight goatee game. The fact that two people in a marriage of convenience fell very much in love is endearing, and what I’m hoping is that Julian’s finances are just the tip of the iceberg. During a screening of this episode that I attended earlier this week, it was hinted that Lord Julian might have some more secrets up his sleeve; let's hope that means some very, very kinky Christian Grey vibes. Fingers crossed!

Also with Frances essentially promising Leith that he will pave the way for Leith to marry Greer if Leith just LIIIIIIVES, perhaps the storyline I’m most interested in is how Greer will reconcile the excellent start with Castleroy and her feelings for Leith. I love that Castleroy is not being made into some jerk who she can cast aside, he’s a great, forgiving, amazing person. There are no bad guys in this scenario, it’s two right choices and Greer has to figure out which one is more right, and that’s actually quite an honest take on how relationships play out. Can’t wait to see what she does! Meet you back in the 16th century next Thursday.


... Will Lola reveal the father of her child?

... Aare you like, “Hell yeah!” about Mary getting all hard and tough, or are you like, “Oh no!”?

... Bash and Kenna: Are you fully on board or... ?

... Leith vs. Castleroy, Greer obviously loves Leith, but will Castleroy lose his chill when Greer actually uses the agency he’s allowed her against him?

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