Reign / Screen

Mary Advances Amid Some Shaky Exposition in Reign‘s “Higher Ground” Means Well

There’s so much going on in Reign, but we’re seeing so little of it. Its small scope has never been a problem before, when the show mainly concerned itself with the happenings of French court and referred to England every once in a while. The shady mentions of England and its dying queen were pretty well done, since the absence of the English in the show felt like a deliberate choice on the part of the writing team with the promise of eventually bringing the whole thing to a head eventually. Now it’s sort of there, but we’ve also got unrest in Scotland to deal with, and Reign isn’t as good at managing the unseen as it thinks it is. Some shows can do fine with limited viewpoints, but Reign seems unable to find ways of telling its stories effectively without being able to actually show everything going down. As the situations in England and Scotland get more complicated, Reign just piles on more and more wooden dialogue which doesn’t exactly demand my attention so much as instantly lose it. This was a problem originally had by things and people offscreen, but it’s beginning to seep into the people we’re actually seeing on a mostly-weekly basis, bogging down their stories, too.

At the castle Mary searched for a new way to secure her mother’s safety and turned to a mercenary (a distractingly accented Tahmoh Penikett) for help, and his solution was to kidnap Catherine. Since Reign began, Catherine and Mary have been in obvious contrast to one another, with Mary only possessing the promise of rising to Catherine’s level of ruthlessness. But “Higher Ground” is Mary’s first step in that direction as her plans end with someone else taking the blame for her actions against Catherine and ending up dead while Mary gets an army of her own. Watching Mary’s evolution has been one of the best parts of the show thus far, but this episode was so full of insignificant elements being presented as important that it was a chore to wade through all of them to the center of Mary’s story.

As soon as Catherine’s cousins arrived for a visit, it was clear how the episode would end even before Portenza and Catherine referenced their tense relationship. Their arrival at the castle was so convenient that it sapped any suspense “Higher Ground” could have achieved, and it was obvious Portenza would somehow take the fall for Mary’s plan, especially as she only got more and more terrible, threatening to kill Mary in a major overreaction. Besides the convenient cousins, much of the twists and turns of the storyline, as Mary tried to decide whose head she’d turn over to Catherine in place of her own, all happened offscreen with little to connect to anyway. From Portenza’s men (on loan to Catherine) being the ones who carried out the massacre at the brothel to Portenza’s apparent feud with one of Catherine’s Flying Squad and some weird situation with Portenza’s husband, the background information meant to explain the events of this episode didn’t land.

“Higher Ground” managed better with Mary’s arc as Catherine shrugged off her suspicions of Mary’s involvement because of her inability to imagine Mary resigning herself to murder while Mary rationalized said death to her mercenary. It’s interesting how Catherine inadvertently has contributed a lot to Mary’s growth this season, being Mary’s primary adversary since her arrival at court. Mary’s quick arrival at a place of unrepentant (for now) killing has been so quick because of her especially difficult time at court made mostly difficult by Catherine’s various schemes, culminating in the murders of Mary’s countrymen. And now Catherine, who has always been more powerful than Mary because of her willingness to exercise her power and do whatever it takes, has a more dangerous adversary than she realizes. But Mary was only so comfortable killing Portenza because of Portenza’s promise to kill Catherine’s maid, therefore trading one life for another, so Mary’s not at a place of easy murder yet, but she’s well on her way.

This overabundant exposition even followed Francis to war.  Reign‘s apparently a graduate of Teen Wolf‘s School of Unnecessary and Ineffective Slow Motion as it followed Francis into a battle where slow motion abounded in a snowy woodland fight. Reign gave it its best shot, and the effects were better than anticipated, but there was never the sense that anything was in jeopardy. This show’s like a Disney movie that way sometimes. One minute Reign can pull out some really dark stuff, even sprinkle some BDSM here and there, and the next it’s channeling the mountain scene from Mulan and everyone’s going to be just fine. It didn’t help that Francis got some horrendous dialogue endlessly explaining why they were doing what they were doing and what they would gain by achieving it which weighed down what should have been the episode’s most action-packed sequences.  It was a little exciting when Leith turned up to save Francis’ life and thereby gain his favor (and the promise of lands and a title to make marrying Greer possible), and the beginning of their friendship could be a good source of storytelling possibilities in the future.

“Higher Ground” did well with making all of their characters interact with one another from Francis and Leith to Kenna and Bash insinuating themselves into Lola and Julian’s relationship. This worked especially well for Kenna who’s felt unconnected to the other ladies for awhile now, since Reign saddled her with the thankless storyline of being Henry’s mistress, and since the show seems to be finding its way toward more consistent characterization for her, her concern over Lola and Julian felt earnest and sweet. It was compounded by the married cuteness of her insistence that Bash put himself to good use and figure out what Julian’s up to (and Bash eventually agreeing to do it).

While Reign‘s done a decent job showing Bash and Kenna gradually growing into allies who think the other one is hot enough to bone (they’ll be in love eventually I’m sure), Lola and Julian suffer from the same telling and not showing problem as the rest of Reign. Their relationship has apparently progressed to full-blown love on both of their parts since we last saw them, and we’re supposed to believe this even when our last impression of Julian was that he was sketchy (and Lola thought so, too).  Reign‘s done nothing to change that so Lola’s anxiety after Julian got her dowry and was obviously less interested in her didn’t ring as true as it should have. The apparent clearing of the air between them, as Julian confessed to having no money and originally planning to abandon Lola and take off with her dowry, was punctuated by his profession of love. Though Julian’s intentions have always been questionable, I can no longer tell if Reign‘s keeping them this way (hence the minimal development of Julian and Lola’s love) or if we’re really supposed to believe it.

Considering its small budget and tiny scope, Reign‘s taken on some ambitious things, but the strain is showing and hopefully it’ll either find a way to live up to the magnitude of the stories its trying to tell. I can see that Reign is building up to things, but I wonder how satisfying it’ll be if it all happens somewhere else, like in Scotland or in England, and we just hear about in the dialogue Reign‘s grown so accustomed to.

Stray Observations

  • Catherine describing Mary as having “long had it in for me” was positively laughable. Because Mary’s certainly been to blame for all of their clashes.
  • Julian’s still sketchy, but Greer made a good point that Lola didn’t have the purest intentions when marrying Julian so maybe it’s okay if Julian had ulterior motives, too. But that being said, Lola was up front about what she wanted Julian for so he could have returned the favor.
  • Why isn’t Bash away fighting?
  • And does Bash’s chat with Mary about his guilt after killing mean that Reign‘s going to revisit that time he shoved a man off a cliff?
  • Francis has been pretty isolated with no other friends besides Bash, Mary and the occasional girl he had sex with early in the season (and Lola that one time) so giving him a real friend in Leith could be kind of cool.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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One thought on “Mary Advances Amid Some Shaky Exposition in Reign‘s “Higher Ground” Means Well

  1. I found Francis to be likeable in this episode, which I usually don’t. However, I am liking this development for Mary because no matter how she feels about her mother she still wants to protect her. And she’s been taking a passive role in her role with her own country. So I want to see her go back to her earlier self. She even admitted she’s let too many things slide. I am glad she made Francis stop with the promises.

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