Reign 1×08 ‘Fated’: Poisoning the well

Source: The CW

I’m glad that Reign is getting more comfortable with its universe. This episode finally felt like it didn’t have any extraneous stuff going on, like the various primary and secondary characters didn’t need some contrivance to get them to show up today. Clarissa, the pagans, and Nostradamus are still basically known quantities with opaque motivations or concerns, but otherwise everything seems to be falling into place.

Which is great! We can look forward to a glorious future where dumb stuff isn’t what separates Francis and Mary, but instead it’s Bash and like, prophecies or whatever. Where, you know, Diane is obviously a bad guy, but so are Catherine and Henry, really. Where sly and snarky Lola is not just a delightful treat, but a fun way to bookend any discussion. Where Kenna maybe learns to not be so open-handed. Where fun and interesting plots fall pervade the land and sexual chemistry rains down like…whatever, like rain.

Source: The CW

Source: The CW

It may feel a bit like I’m bagging on the show, but honestly I appreciate all these developments, even if it took long enough to get here. The show finally feels like it knows how seriously it needs to take history, and this episode it pretty definitively decided to take a swing more towards 90s romanticism than 00s costume dramas. I like to put some history into the Stray Thoughts section of these reviews, but Reign‘s decision to stick any historical motivations proper into the paper shredder frees it up a lot. I’m not going to stop writing those, but that’s more because I’m a pedantic asshole than anything else.

Mary deciding to run off (with Bash!) makes absolutely no sense from a historical perspective and is absolutely the right way to define this character in the short term. It speaks volumes about her, and about her development as a leader. On a personal level, there’s the ironic twist that she’s running off with Bash for the benefit of Francis, but inside that decision there’s a pretty hard rebellion. Most of Mary’s decisions so far have been finding external, personal reasons and excuses to bend to political necessity. It’s hard to view a renunciation of the English throne that way, though.

There’s also an idea here of the kind of leader Mary has turned into at this point, and more pointedly, what she still needs to learn. This rejection isn’t just renouncing England, but also France, at this point the only real ally Scotland (you know, the people Mary is actually supposed to lead) has. They’re parallels at this point: Mary is protecting Francis by rejecting safety, rejecting England to protect Francis. Having no part in this decision is the conception of Francis as France or Mary as Scotland.

Source: The CW

Source: The CW

Now look: the Marxist historian in me wants to point out that these decisions probably wouldn’t matter, that the alliance of Scotland and France has nothing to do with Francis and Mary and everything to do the political expedience of the Catholic world (if Mary doesn’t want to do it, Scottish nobility will find someone who will). But the lover of CW teen soaps in me doesn’t really care, because this is the kind of thing Reign needs to do if it wants to accomplish anything. And anything in this case means using the tropes and tricks of high school dramas to explore late renaissance politics.

What else? Oh yeah, Aylee, the girl who didn’t really do anything but spy in a rather half-assed manner and then she turned out to be rich. Not a lot there because Aylee didn’t really demonstrate what she was, if anything, but it did lead to something I really appreciated about the episode, which was a semi-serious discussion of the nature of fate. Nostradamus uses a shield of heavy metaphor in his prophecies, as has been used since time immemorial to make sure that prophecies can never be proven to be absolutely false, and this leads to Clarissa’s admittedly weird decision.

It isn’t fate to say that someone’s going to die soon when you’re aiming a gun at them, and in a way that casts our view of the series into doubt. Francis and Mary get married in April of 1558, we know this. Francis dies in 1560. We know this. It’s an exceedingly strange situation we’re in, to judge the capriciousness or skill of writers in such a show.

Source: The CW

Source: The CW

Stray Thoughts:

  • “Kenna, you knew when you started this that I had a wife and a mistress.”
  • Um, no one noticed during production that it looks like Kenna has the herp?
  • Oh man, this is hilarious. Elizabeth was still alive, guys, and England lovvvvved protestants after Bloody Mary. She was called Bloody Mary for a reason.
  • History Fun Times: A lot of this ranges from patently untrue to slightly untrue. While Rome and the rest of the catholic world didn’t recognize Elizabeth, they also hadn’t recognized Edward. Both Edward VI and Henry VIII as well as Parliament’s Third Succession Act gave Elizabeth a claim after the death of Mary (bypassing Jane Grey, obv). Elizabeth’s status was actually trickier in English church law as well, since Henry had had his marriage to Anne Boleyn annulled days before her execution for treason and boning mad courtiers in 1536, making Elizabeth’s illegitimacy exactly the same as Mary’s at the term of her ascension, as well as one of the few things Anglicans and Catholics could agree on. Either way, England did support protestant reformation at the time.
  • So this would put the show sometime between early March and April 24th, 1558, between the end of Mary Tudor’s false pregnancy and beginning of her illness and Mary and Francis’ marriage.
  • Lol, this is ridiculous, but well played almost, Kenna. I mean, Catherine this can’t be a shock.
  • It is really hard to get a handle on sexy Nostradamus. Seriously, what’s his deal?
  • Francis is such a non-entity these days.It’s still disturbing that Bash looks the same age as Diane.Clarissa and Nostradamus, best budsssss.So Aylee’s death means that the ladies-in-waiting aren’t meant to be direct analogues of the four Maries.

John M.

works for a legal newspaper in Baltimore and lives within three blocks of Tilghman Middle, the alley where Omar and Brother Mouzone have their showdown, and Pearson’s Florists. He enjoys putting his liberal arts degree to good use by watching a lot of TV and reading a lot of internet. He occasionally blogs (about Dawson’s Creek) on tumblr.

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  • Eric Pharand

    Cohesive but poor execution. Casting is very poor. Anna Walton is 3 years and 7 months years older than Torrance Coombs! I would have preferred Clarissa staying in the background. I’d prefer a scene of Clarissa pulling a dead Olivia into the woods and throwing the body on a pyre.