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Reign S01E22: "Slaughter of Innocence"

The king is dead, long live the king! Oh man, I am going to miss King Henry so much. Alan Van Sprang’s infinitely entertaining king never stopped being likable, no matter how busy his fingers or sinister his plans, and his moments of partnership with Catherine were some of the series’ best. We saw a range of kingly emotions, from lust to rage to tender dad-ness, and I’m going to seriously miss both the character and the actor.

Although, insofar as the plot goes, talk about someone dying right on time. Scary as the vaguely death metal episode title “Slaughter of Innocence” sounded, it was the epic finale our bold new series deserved, closing out Reign’s stellar freshman season with a one-two punch of much-needed resolution for some ongoing storylines plus a flourish of cliffhangers to keep us twirling our side-braids until next fall.

The finale started with what felt like the last scene in a classic English country-house murder mystery: everyone in their pajamas as King Henry promised he was about to deduce who had tried to kill him in the previous episode. But he got bored and just stabbed Travis, and then told everyone to put on their party clothes.

Francis was like, “Yo my guys, Henry is not getting any better I guess.” But it was too late to try another assassination attempt; their best bet was to wrest power with a coup. 

Before Francis could go convince several generals to back him in a possible civil war against his father, he thoughtfully gave Leith some lands and houses and deeds, as promised. Very swag! Leith was off like a shot to tell Greer that now they could be married, but Greer took one look at the pile of papers Francis had given Leith and was like, “Eh, I don’t know... these holdings aren’t great. Orchards? Hmmm.” Her financial acumen deserves some applause here. I wish my mental math was that quick. 

Greer was basically like, “Girl I walked half-dead off a battlefield with you AND didn’t flirt with a cute redhead down the hall, and this is how I’m repaid. Eff this, I’ve got a mock battle to participate in.”

Henry was celebrating the capture of Calais by having the recently returned soldiers reenact a fake naval battle. Already this sounded like the most hellish experience imaginable for participants, but then poor Mary had the added indignity of King Henry sitting next to her, fawning over her, and actually reaching up under her fur throw to see how excited she was about the battle, all with Catherine giving them the side-eye. It was major Stranger Danger.

Also filed under Stranger Danger: Pascal and Kenna had their house broken into by the Darkness (the pagan man, not the band), and Kenna had to turn a pantry into a panic room, which she managed quite handily while the Darkness encouraged Pascal to spill her blood. 

Meanwhile, Bash and Nostradamus were off serving as unofficial ministers of Interior Affairs, because while Fronce was super eager to get its rule on in England, it hadn't figured out how to keep Pagans from butchering whole villages within its own borders. Bash and Nosty happened upon a whole village full of crime scenes with crude drawings on the walls that predicted a coming plague. 

Of course, predicting plague in the 16th century is kind of like predicting summer blockbusters in our current time. They popped up with regularity, is what I’m saying. 

But that naval battle! It turned into a legitimate nightmare when one of the ships got 100 percent blown up with a cannon.

Henry had insisted that his veterans reenact a battle with real cannons, sending a tide of bloody bodies up the shore, where Francis literally stumbled across them. After learning of both the mass-murdering bent his father’s mania had taken and the orders for 3,000 soldiers to despatch to Calais, Francis was like, “ENOUGH starring Jennifer Lopez I am SHUTTING THIS DOWN.” 

Back at the castle, Catherine and Mary called a Queen’s Qlub emergency meeting to discuss Henry’s pawing and his recent request that Catherine annul their marriage. The moment they both realized at the same time that this added up to the certain murder of Francis by his own father, I literally felt chills. 

In the castle square, a shaken Greer was going around peeking at the bodies pulled in from the disastrous mock battle and looking for Leith. She was just going around like it was NBD peering at the dead guys, and this knight came up to her like, “I have a list of the wounded and dead if that’s helpful," and she was like, “No no I’m actually kind of enjoying playing peekaboo with these horribly mutila—" and Leith was like, “I’m ALIVE!” and they embraced. It was genuinely delightful.

Still, even after experiencing the heartbreak of believing that Leith had died, and realizing how deeply she loved him, Greer was still not ready to take the plunge and elope. She had to think of her family’s debts, her sister’s happiness, her 401k options. Leith was incredibly frustrated that she was throwing away what they had, all, “What if I guarantee you that in 400 years none of this stuff—money, titles—none of it will make a difference!” and Greer was like, “Oh please Leith, socioeconomic hierarchies will always exist no matter how they’re defined, even in a future progressive society where democracy is the ideal there would still be a monied class monopolizing jobs and resources and functioning as de facto royalty but without any of the obligations to charity our current nobles are bound to via theocratic monarchy.” And then Leith pulled himself up to his full height and told her that for her jaded, cynical attitude, he was going to become the Great Gatsby.

I actually found his speech to Leith rather touching, it put me in mind of this one Wyatt poem I adore, and I’m already slavering to see this storyline unfold.

And what of Lola? She had gone into labor next to the most unwelcoming household in all of Fronce. The baby had decided to arrive and the only shelter around was a sincerely dirty hovel and Lola was like, “This. This is the place. Put down some newspaper, this is happening.” The very alarmed woman living in the hovel was like, “Open your eyes, this place is an infection waiting to happen, are you crazy?” But Lola had already scrambled into the back room and heaped up some old rags to have her baby on. As she writhed with birthing pains, she dictated a letter to Mary, to be sent to the castle POST HASTE.

Mary had put her head together with good ol' Uncle De Guise and he proved to be something of a life coach. He pointed out that if King Henry was toppled in a coup, Francis would also be tainted by association, and so Uncle De Guise encouraged Mary to make some bold moves and position herself as the figurehead of any revolutionary-type action. Mary reacted by whipping up a statement dress at the Royal Joust.

A couple things here: 

First, I have seen feature-length movies that did not stage as convincing of a joust set-up as Reign did. The stands, the riders, the concourse—it was phenomenal. The show must've tucked away some extra budget for this finale sequence, and every penny was onscreen. Just fantastic. 

Second, Mary’s entrance in the English-themed dress and the crowd cheering at her political audacity was as dramatic as it needed to be, although considering some of the gems she’s catwalked across the court in the past, this sort of thing should have happened a lot sooner.

Her moxie was so moving that she inspired Henry to try to steal the spotlight by getting in on the next joust. And then Francis, in disguise, broke a lance on his dad’s face, murdering his father.

He was like, “SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE starring Diane Keaton.” And after Henry and Catherine shared a tearful goodbye, Henry revealed that he’d killed his own brother to take the throne, and warned Francis that killing someone you love is the worst—the WORST—thing you can do, even worse than blowing up a boatload of men who just returned from fighting in your name. Henry died without Francis understanding that his father had plotted to kill him, and perhaps that’s better—to feel like a loved villain, rather than to know your own father had plotted against you. It's hard to say which perspective is worse, really.

Bash, meanwhile, had somehow managed to break into his house, and he and the suddenly badass Nostradamus EASILY handled the Darkness. For a faceless legendary entity, the Darkness went down like a cup of berries in a blender. He explained to Bash that he was only doing what the gods demanded by killing children and dressing like a monster, to keep nature in balance. “It’s the Circle of Life,” he argued, but Bash wasn’t having it.

He put an ax in the dude’s head, which is one definite way to end a conversation, and he and Kenna went back to court, presumably, which is when we got to see this beautiful moment:

Perfect. Genuine chills. Shown not told, this scene was perfect.

Mary and Francis had a moment to unpack the major life events they had both encountered, Mary mentioned how she was kind of turning into a calculating badass and Francis was like, “We’ll work on it.” And then they had an opportunity to do so almost immediately with a letter from Lola. Mary revealed that the baby was Francis’s and begged him to go to Lola’s side, in case she didn’t survive the birth. Toby Regbo’s reaction was completely fantastic, Adelaide Kane did a good job of seeming both contrite and urgent, and really this whole scene was fabulous.

And then the twist: The plague had struck! If Francis left the castle, sure, he’d see his firstborn but he might also get the plague and die. At the very least, he could not return to the castle until the plague was over, lest he contaminate the whole royal family. This is very accurate; all of King Henry VIII’s court would move castles when the plague descended, folks did not joke around with the plague. Francis told Mary he had to go to Lola’s side, and she ordered for the portcullis to be lowered, signaling that while he was following his heart, she was determined to be the queen she had to be. DRAMA!

It’s thematically a beautiful ending to Mary’s transformation and the choices she’s had to make between her emotions and her rational mind. Plot-wise it’s incredibly compelling, and I can’t wait to see how Lola and Francis do with their baby now that they're cut off from the castle. It’s both closure and suspense, and snaps to that for real. ALL THE SNAPS TO THEE, OH REIGN!


... So is Greer going to end up being Leith’s mother in law or... ? 

... What should Francis have done? Was he foolish to leave the castle, or did he have an obligation to Lola and the baby?

... Is there any possible way to bring King Henry back, or his he officially history?

... Will Mary ultimately deny Francis a return to the castle?

... Lola’s baby: boy, girl, name, royal bastard, what will happen?

... What moment gave you the biggest chill?

What'd you think of the finale? What do you think lies in store for Season 2?

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