So, I am recapping Reign at AV Club this season, which is very fun for analytical purposes, but I missed talking nonsense about the dresses and Catherine’s facial expressions enough to come back and check in.

As usual, a lot has happened! I actually sometimes forget how much plot goes into an episode of Reign until I watch another soap-paced show—even Scream Queens (which I watched as a sub-in on AV Club; it’s essentially an essay on manufacturing camp, because that show is trying to do it harder than any show has ever tried to do anything) doesn’t hold a candle to what Reign can do. In the season opener, it launched and torpedoed an English plot against Mary, established Elizabeth’s court politics and her romance with Dudley, reconciled Francis and Mary’s marriage just in time for him to admit he’s dying, tried to make fetch happen with Lola and Narcisse, had Greer woo and get dumped by a hot pirate, called Francis’ brother Charles back to try to be king, tried to make more fetch happen with Claude and Leith, brought the exiled Catherine back to France in chains, and cut off a priest’s penis in a freak mill accident while he was having sex with Catherine’s exile doppelganger. That is a single episode of television, and I left out an entire subplot in that list. (I also left out a screencap of this show using Papyrus to note England, because dear god.)

So, a quick visual primer before you go read the AV Club recaps for actual plot (and you should, it’s kind of amazing how much they’re wedging into 43 minutes):

This is Elizabeth and a very hunky William Cecil (pronounced O-nee-ders). You can tell Elizabeth trusts him because of that look she shoots him. You can tell she’s competent at ruling because SHE has a neck ruff like an untouchable monarch should.

It’s okay. Co-conspirator/weird mommy Catherine will solve everything. All this golden competence light looks great.

Even in a Pre-Raphaelite neckline, she’s still got this. She’s currently ordering a lifelong friend imprisoned without a second thought for vaguely threatening Eizabeth with shit she knows. Listen, friend, don’t blackmail Elizabeth, what do you think, this is the French court and you can get out of this? You wish.

How IS Mary’s statecraft doing?

Yeah, that’s about right.

The good news is that Francis’ death has revitalized the show where both of them are concerned; it lends pathos and meaning to their plots, and even the visuals seem to be taking them more seriously.

I even dig this moody mandatory party (and Mary straight up looks amazing, like a really fancy ghost, that’s what Marchesa will do for your character design):

Yes, that’s Lola feeling the icy, unwelcome stare of Narcisse. They’ll be married in two episodes, after he plants a rat in her bathtub to scare her into seeking his protection. Burn it all down.

Mary, of course, is channeling this costuming improvement into new confidence now that she can help Francis hide how sick he is. Look at her enter that throne room to fight with Antoine of Navarre!

And in a frankly masterful move, the costume department dyed a season-one bodice black for this sad dance between Francis and Mary, which had so much emoting in it that once I stopped laughing at the orchestral arrangement of “Stay With Me” as Mary whispers “Stay with me,” it was actually a nice callback to their early days. The series has done sooo much telling-not-showing with the two of them that it was nice to just let them have this beat between piles of plotposition.

The subplot I left out earlier was Bash’s, which is: barely reacting to his half-brother’s imminent demise, because he’s distracted from the results of being magically bound to a creepy witch!

He’s thrilled.

And how’s the half-sister he slept with and now doesn’t even acknowledge because this show burns through subplots so fast it can’t ever circle back to half of them?

The Leith parts of her subplot look exactly the way this gifted shirt makes you imagine they are going. The parts of her subplot where her younger brother is poisoning noblewomen accidentally with opium and she knows they have to get Narcisse to help because if anyone has ever been in the presence of a chick who’s OD-ed, it’s that scuzzbucket?

I mean, that’s a great face, and she finally got a designer piece they photographed from the waist down in the scene, so she’s really coming up in the world! (The kid is Charles. In three episodes, he’s considered marrying Mary, agreed, declined, agreed again, and she declined. They would have gone through a whole other cycle except he was busy drugging a guest star.)

This screencap of Narcisse has more intensity and sensual hair touching than his sex scenes with Lola, of which there have been too many this season. I like to believe neither Craig Parker nor Anna Popplewell buys this arc whatsoever and they’re just sort of mumbling through it and waiting for three episodes from now, by which time one of them will have spontaneously combusted and then instantly gotten better offscreen but annulling the marriage by accident anyway.

The only good thing about their marriage is that it gave Catherine a chance to Maleficent the shit out of them:

They fucked up. They know. It’s over.

She’s back and out of prison (they imprisoned her, don’t worry, five plots have happened since then) and already intimidating the English ambassador into dropping his Navarre bullshit or she’d singlehandedly bring Rome down on Elizabeth’s head:

She’s telling him she’d die on charges of treason rather than let Elizabeth pull shit on her kids. Those bruises are left over from her imprisonment, where she rammed her head against the wall until she passed out.

She doesn’t tell that to Ambassador Nicholas, but part of him knows.

And finally, after a lot of weird agita about it, Francis admits Charles will need a regent, and Catherine is the best for the job.

Was there any doubt? No. Is she both baring her teeth in anticipation of ruling and crying a little at how bittersweet this moment is? She sure is. How long will this last? Five minutes. It’s fine, it’s Reign. Stay tuned at AV Club for more!