Reign Report: “Acts of War”
So, most of this week’s Reign was like Catherine’s face, but the last ten minutes were more like Claude’s face, because in the midst of more plot-churning “historical” shenanigans, and without any kind of “graphic content” title, the show decided Mary should get raped in a pretty explicit scene.
And then the showrunners suggested it was intended to raise the stakes…for Francis.
I had heard rumors this might be coming, but I didn’t realize how bad it would be. Luckily, Caroline was on the case; she’s back recapping Reign at AV Club, and her entire recap, well worth reading, breaks down why the rape scene doesn’t sit well, and her reservations about how it will play out mirror my own.
For me, it particularly didn’t sit well because this is the THIRD TIME the show has used rape as a threat to show that the situation’s serious. (In the pilot, Catherine was the one planning the rape, and though they corrected that aspect of her characterization slightly by the second time rape was a threat, it is definitely not something the show has handled with any kind of skill or good faith.) Even in this episode, in which they try to have Catherine reach out to Mary in the immediate aftermath, there is a lot of “you can only win by pretending it never happened,” and while they try to equate that specifically to Mary’s role as queen requiring her to deny her humanity, they do not do a good enough job, honestly, and it ends up just a mess. “They tried to diminish a king by degrading a queen,” Catherine says at one point. I see. Welp, fuck you!
It’s a shame, since the season had been on something of a pulpy roll, and now you’re stuck in the aftermath of a rape plot with a show that thinks it’s a good way to punish a dude. (Uuuugh.)
You know what, let’s just look at some clothes.
Mary wears black about 70% of the time. You can’t tell me this virginal white wasn’t intentional, show. There is just not one aspect of this that was handled well, was there?
Otherwise, this scene is one of those reminders that this show is actually better the farther away it stays from historical influences. Lola is probably not supposed to register quite so close to Claude visually given how different they are, but that’s what happens when you have so many silhouettes to choose from and repeat two of them at random, and Greer looks like a cruise ship settee. No wonder Kenna’s so smug. She might not have a subplot going, but she knows right now that’s for the best. (Greer’s subplot this week is that she’s thinking of converting, presented with all the dramatic import of trying to parallel park, and then the discovery that Castleroy thought he was funding a school and was instead funding the assassins that tried to kill Francis, also presented with all the dramatic import of trying to parallel park. Kenna is THRILLED not to have a subplot right now.)
The rest of the episode is the usual courtly intrigue: Louis agrees to marry Claude to create a union between Protestants and Catholics in the royal family and keep the Protestants from revolting, which is a good idea on Mary’s part, and Catherine tries to forbid it because it brings Louis, as a Bourbon, too close to the throne, which is a good reason to forbid it, so that had all the trappings of the better subplots of the season. (Claude and Louis are mostly excited to sleep with people outside the marriage right now, but I suspect that will change as Claude is further menaced by tiny ghost siblings who want to kill her and Louis tries to somehow protect her from that.)
One of the things I was most looking forward to in season 2 was Catherine getting some action, and when they introduced Narcisse and the pair of them could not stop innuendoing directly at one another, I was so thrilled. Then they threw him at Lola, who has been pretty completely done about him for a long time. (“You starved the peasants to make a point and then threatened my kid.” “Well, yes, but you’re really pretty, sooooo…”) I wanted Catherine and Narcisse instead! Craig Parker kept giving interviews about how he also wanted Catherine and Narcisse instead!
His feelings have not changed.
The usual party scene going on around them, in which, also as usual, couples are doing about three dances at the same time.
Lola’s face, later, when Narcisse confesses that he was concerned for her during the raid on the castle and he still has feelings for her and he’s beginning to suspect that maybe that edict he passed putting all Protestants in terrible danger might have made them a little desperate and he’s beginning to suspect people will think of him as a bad guy:
Perfect. I really, honestly love how Anna Popplewell agrees to show up and say the lines you want her to say, but her internal characterization is going to be whatever she feels like. “I’ve never held a bow before.” :Queen Susans it: And this week’s face: “Oh, you care for me despite your vengeful temper and are feeling a lot of self-pity from all those horrible bullshit things you did? That’s a real shame for you, I guess. Real shame.”
Anyway, all of this was its usual delightful nonsense, interrupted by a serious issue I am not sure the show is equipped to responsibly handle. It will depend entirely on how things go next week as to whether I keep any faith with the show on this point.
The good news is that Adelaide Kane seems to be taking Mary’s psychology seriously, which is a good sign, and that Catherine is running interference for her without a victim-blame in sight. This actually isn’t a good cap for Megan Follows here, since her queenly mask here looks sort of Dynasty, and there was a lot more steel in it than that:
On the one hand, this is not Catherine’s event to process, and framing this scene in this particular way can skew a little like she’s going to leverage this situation for more power, which, oh my god, please don’t. Just please don’t. On the other hand, Megan Follows is also playing this as her being drawn back into her own memories and trying to grapple with that. I hope so, but at this point, this show has no benefit of the doubt with me on this entire subplot. We’ll just have to see.