Wow, I have been away from this show for a while! (So long was I gone that the show had an episode about a wine tasting called “Tasting Revenge,” which means this show feels way too safe without me. That’s a Xena title, show.)
As it turns out, three at a time is the perfect dose in which to watch the show; the plot machine eddies once or twice and ends up actually moving a step ahead almost by accident! And, while I was gone, turns out the show was trying to woo me back by giving me the two things I have asked for the most! It’s very exciting!
Sadly, not everyone is having a good time. In fact, it’s fairly obvious the sort of time everyone’s having
Mary is losing her mother to illness, trying to get an heir to secure the throne (politics! Great!), but she’s also still trying to handle the godawful love-triangle rape-recovery plot, which is going more and more poorly for the show, since Conde is about as exciting as a burly cardboard cutout and in these three episodes alone they had seemingly identical conversations based on Francis’ flip-flopping while he treads water in his own subplot. It’s not great.
It’s so not-great that Mary wears dagger earrings to ask her husband if they can lead separate lives, so she can be with the man she loves. (Mary, sartorially read a room.) Francis, who is occupying the 16 th century, points out that queens are actually not at liberty to do that before they have popped out a couple of heirs whose lineage is not in question. Mary, whose presence in the 16 th century comes and goes, is appalled by this, but also wants to make an heir so she can secure the Scottish succession, but also thinks love is the most important thing, and has, I guess, totally forgotten that whole thing last season where Catherine was almost beheaded for infidelity with Nostradamus. (REMEMBER NOSTRADAMUS? I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN. SWEET LORD, WHERE HAS HE GONE?)
Mary, who has not exchanged a word with Bash this entire season that I can remember, could maybe consult Bash about all of this, but no show has ever dropped a subplot as coldly and totally as Reign has dropped Mary and Bash. They now vibrate at such different frequencies that, should they speak, they wouldn’t be able to hear one another. Which is too bad, because Bash’s marriage to Kenna is going about as well as Mary’s marriage!
(Wow, is Kenna done. She is dooone.)
Kenna, of course, wants to plan parties and have fun and be rich, and Bash hates all those things. It takes Kenna all three of these episodes to realize the King of Navarre, an overtly untrustworthy skeezy person, is actually untrustworthy, which sounds about right for poor Kenna. But she figures it out on her own, which I suppose is a big step forward, even if her marriage to Bash has turned into trust-platitude soup in the meantime.
The shoulders on this doublet are so sad that I honestly thought he was in line to die. That’s a background-actor-level doublet.
As it turns out, Bash does not actually die, thanks to his quasi-nun mystic friend:
Spoilers, she’s young and hot. Ye Olde Thorn Birds, let’s just admit it right now.
(I preferred this lady below, who has a great face, and gamely attacked this cauldron of soup and/or laundry while delivering some truly expository dialogue about a lady in the woods who healed one son and blinded another, because Consequences.)
The upshot of this: Kenna and Bash are separated, they are still both adrift in the narrative, and for reasons we will get into, Bash is about to get some crying scenes big-time.
Greer, of course, has no time for tears. She has no time for anything. She can’t even comb her HAIR any more, that’s how bad thing are for her! LEITH comes back, THAT’s how bad things are for her!
As it turns out, all my dreams for her are coming true; she’s using her exile to become a madam, and she’s very good at it! She’s polishing up the neighborhood ladies and sending them to fancy parties to ply their trade, and it’s apparently working a treat, because she’s accidentally recruiting!
Look how unhappy she is to see Leith! Hang on to that feeling, Greer. (Note that despite wearing a silhouette that Lola will be wearing in about three more caps, Greer’s music-festival blouse makes her look markedly poorer than the fancy gown on Gigi [yes] and underpinnings on Charlene [yes]. Also note that Greer has somehow been unable to find a comb this ENTIRE TIME. It’s such a terrible hair situation. Someone let this woman find a comb.)
However, she’s not just taking her cut. She’s also ditching any shame about her new station by setting aside the past (Castleroy succumbs to off-camera imprisonment with no hope of parole, because of course he does), and taking her new responsibilities seriously by publicly shaming jerks in defense of her girls. Basically I’m totally into this and hope she becomes the new conduit for all low-level espionage that will get funneled up to the palace.
And to whom?
We all know to whom, and she’s super into it. Actually here she’s high as a kite, but she’s still pretty cheerful about things. And why not? After being sidelined with pregnancy and baby and castoff-boyfriend stuff, she’s finally getting clear of the bullshit underbrush and moving forward as a woman whose political ambitions and moral compass are getting more at odds, but in a believable 16 th century way and not the way that often happens to people on this show where the king’s brother can suddenly decide to live in one tiny room with no trappings of station or fame and nobody thinks that’s weird until Kenna objects a full season later. For example.
When a Hapsburg daughter is suggested as a wife for her infant son, Lola is thrilled, because they’re an established family who can offer support even if things in France continue to be politically dicey, and that is all a perfectly period-accurate response! It comes to nothing, because a high Lola is a tactless Lola, but I was strangely relieved that she wasted no time worrying about whether her son would love his wife. Who cares? Safety family!
Francis, after releasing Mary to go stand around with Conde professing their feelings in the frigid Canadian outdoors, suggests he still fondly remembers their night together.
Lola shuts that down so hard her shoulders draw all the way up to her ears. (Also, though Lola often gets florals for no reason and there’s nothing I can do about that, I object to a rose sequin applique. I strongly, strongly object.)
While high as a kite, she runs into Narcisse and makes out with him, because why not!
But she manages to shut this down, too, by pointing out that sex with him will never be simple and she probably doesn’t want that. She is more astute when she’s wasted than Kenna and Mary put together sober.
Free of men at last, Lola is free to pursue her true passion of not taking shit from people! She begins with Marie of Guise, who calls her out on sleeping with Francis, which is fair enough (it has been so contrived from the beginning that Marie’s assumptions all land), and then starts claiming Lola’s betrayed Mary and is tainted forever, which gets her this face:
That’s the face of a woman who is going to lead the Crown by the nose anywhere she wants, for the rest of her life, and only her still-existing morals are going to keep her from instantly becoming Catherine. (It will, instead, take about two years.)
Speaking of which:
IT’S ALL HAPPENING.
Costume-wise, I enjoy that in the span of one episode, they move so much closer. I do not care for Lola in pastels (first of all she’s beyond that innocent thing by now, and secondly she looks lovely in jewel colors, please just give pastels to Kenna so she’s not stuck with hippie caftans and leopard print, we all know she’s not my favorite but honestly, must Kenna go through life with literally NOTHING nice?), but I like that the Catherine-colors bustier in their first scene has turned into almost identical silhouettes in complimentary colors in the space of a single episode. Nice touch.
And them together is exactly what you’d expect: statecraft discussions between the only two women on the show who seem consistently aware of logistics! Dialogue in which Lola instantly grasps 1) the reason so many women are angling to be the official mistress and 2) why Catherine would prefer to keep Lola as his mistress since she’s already tangled in the family and has reasons to put the throne’s well-being ahead of her own! They are going to team up in the wake of The Big Event and they are going to be unstoppable until the first time Catherine makes herself a nuisance in the baby’s life, at which point we’ll see how much Lola has learned from the master.
Left: The master. Right: Me, probably. (I am in a quasi-houppelande. Catherine is in some straight up Flash Gordon number. There is a crushed velvet cape attached to that neck sparkle. She’s not missing a trick.)
Though Nostradamus is long gone (the show has forgotten him almost as completely as it forgot Bash and Mary used to talk about stuff), and Catherine’s on a poisoning hiatus in the wake of The Claude Subplot (it’s for the best), she’s still looking good and being awesome. Whether comforting her son from underneath a tulle collar that would strangle a lesser woman:
To reminding Narcisse about all that ruining-him-sexually business while wearing enough fake-jewel trim to sink a puppy:
That last thing is suddenly paying off, which I genuinely didn’t expect because the show ignored it when Megan Follows and Craig Parker were trying desperately to make it happen, and have suddenly come back to it after some really weird investment in Narcisse/Lola weirdness that Anna Popplewell has staunchly refused to give any chemistry to whatsoever. (You can make her stand in the woods while Narcisee talks about wolves, but you cannot make her find it interesting. No one is paying her that much.)
Instead, and for the better, we suddenly have this:
A panicked Catherine; a Narcisse who is always hanging around waiting for his moment to become indispensable again; a crushed velvet cape. Sublime.
You can tell me this is not a deliberate callback to Mills and Boon romance novel covers, but I will not listen to you. This is the cover study for “To Bed a Wicked Queen,” and you will never convince me otherwise.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. I am thrilled Catherine finally gets a kissy scene with somebody who’s not her husband (it’s lovely to see her considered both hilarious and desirable, since that doesn’t usually happen to grownups on CW shows unless one of the young people has been seduced by somebody’s mom), and I was all about this when they were all about this, but just at the moment it feels like they needed to give Catherine a foil for what’s coming and hoped Doped Lola had given Narcisse a definitive enough brushoff that he wouldn’t look like a shithead. It doesn’t work – and I wouldn’t mind Narcisse trying to play all angles, except that if Lola and Catherine end up fighting over a dude, I will be so sad. We have bigger fish to fry, show.
Much bigger fish.
The biggest fish.
Yes, this is the ear infection of great renown! (IT’S ALL HAPPENING.) However, since I guess we now exist in a universe where nobody remembers Nostradamus’ huge, season-spanning prophecy from last year, because just before this, Bash agrees to let Thorn Birds lay her healing hands on him even though he knows it will kill someone else. I am fine with Bash doing this qua this – his bouts of selfishness when up against a wall are in character, as much as he has a character left. And honestly, the very last thing this show can afford to do is suggest that it’s Mary’s fault at this point, because that would be victim blaming on a level that would utterly scuttle this entire show. (As it is, she’s off having sex with Conde while Francis is collapsing from Death Ear, which already feels pleeeeenty blamey.)
But the entire premise of the first season has suddenly been cast aside in favor of a character we’ve barely met helping a character who’s barely around and maybe magically causing this but also maybe not because this show will literally never commit to its speculative elements. Does that sound like a mess? It sure does. But if Catherine and Lola put their heads together, I know everything will be all right.