I still…don’t know.
I think I like how Reign is handling Mary’s rape. I think. But I also hate it.
I hate it because by the end of “Mercy” it looks like a very easy way for the show to go a love triangle route between Mary, Conde and Francis, like Mary’s rape and her subsequent blame of Francis is just how the show plans on finding a way to facilitate some kind of relationship between Mary and Conde. That being said, before the letter and the unfortunate hints of this soon becoming all about Francis, “Mercy” does okay.
Adelaide Kane gives a strong performance as a still shocked and horrified Mary coming to terms with her rape. Moving back into her old chambers, she confesses to her ladies that she raped, and the scene is terrible and sad. Mary holding back tears while she announces that it must be kept secret so it doesn’t weaken the crown is particularly tragic. She focuses her attention on finding her rapist and his accomplices, demanding retribution and thinking that will make her feel better about what happened to her. When she finally finds them, letting out an impassioned vow that she’ll be remembered forever as a queen and her rapist will be remembered by no one, it’s powerful and heartbreaking because it doesn’t change anything. Not even killing the men responsible, not flinging a lantern onto her rapist and burning him alive, helps her.
Mary’s search fMary, and Kane, are easily the strongest part of the show as a whole, but at times it seems as if Reign doesn’t realize this. Mary’s hunt for justice being all about Mary is the best way to go, watching her figure out who she is after this. Sometimes “Mercy” realizes this as well, Mary insisting on going after her rapist herself and taking Conde along for the ride, Mary moving back into her old chambers and telling her friends what happened, telling Francis she doesn’t want to be with him anymore after learning the truth about what he did. And other times it doesn’t, and these times are when the show seems to really want to make Francis the center of all this and can just barely stop itself from doing so.
It works because it makes sense that Mary, already feeling the strain of hers and Francis’ marriage would take this massive deceit and its consequences as a final straw. It makes sense that it’s difficult for her to look at Francis as her husband any longer, compounded by her difficulties being around people (men in particular) following her rape. It’s irritating when Mary announces that her feelings are irrational and she knows this but can’t help them since it immediately puts a neon sticker on their situation that declares that Mary’s being unfair and is therefore wrong, while Francis is a victim of her grief and pain.
It doesn’t give me much confidence in how the show plans on working with Mary’s rape when it already looks as though it’s leaning toward making it all about how it affects Francis. It would be unrealistic for Francis not to have a reaction to what’s happened, but the show keeps toeing a line between allowing Mary’s feelings to be her own and valid and morphing them into a story for Francis. Until this moment, even Francis’ story is impressive if only because it sees him being more active than he’s been all season, hungry for revenge on the people responsible for the castle’s siege including Narcisse.
The second season has been touching on how Mary and Francis are going to rule, and how this rule is going to differ or parallel the rule of Catherine and Henry. Despite Mary and Francis’ best intentions, it’s much harder than it seems to be an objective and fair royal, especially when things become as personal as an attack on the castle and the people inside of it. This is compounded by Francis’ guilt at allowing this to happen by being stuck under Narcisse’s thumb for so long. Still Francis as a Medici is way more fun than him as a Valois, and Toby Regbo is more believable barking orders to let the rounded up Protestants freeze and to hang prisoners involved in a riot than he is usually. The thing about being a royal is that everything has lasting consequences, and as Catherine says this is going to be a defining moment in Francis’ and Mary’s rule. His heavy hand is going to be remembered, and for Francis, that’s the goal.
The resolution of the Narcisse drama is, quite frankly, a relief. Going from a scheming noble to Francis’ pawn is a nice look on him since it adds a new dimension to the show and the season that’s been lacking thus far. We can only watch Craig Parker sneer his way through villainy for so long, and now that he’s under Francis’ control, maybe we’ll get some different things from him. Still, it’s nice to know that Narcisse hasn’t lost all his bite. His scheme to keep himself alive by promising his lands and money to Protestants, thereby giving them a significant advantage should they choose to take on the crown, is so Narcisse. And with Francis on a warpath after Mary’s decided they’ll be king and queen in name only, he’s going to have a harder time than ever.
Which brings me back to Mary and Francis. Or rather, Mary and Conde. As a shipper of these two, I’d like to see them happen (of course), but I’d rather it not be done as cheaply and sloppily as using Mary’s rape as a way to have her lose interest in Francis and be intrigued by Conde’s profession of love. Done well, this could work I suppose, but only if this is about Mary going there herself. I want to watch Mary’s journey, wherever it may take her, but I don’t want to see this used as a way to jump off another love triangle. And I definitely want it to be used to create angst on Francis’ end, though it surely will. Not to mention how it’s going to make everyone feel when they learn Conde is a spy on his Protestant brother’s behalf and was sent there to get close to Francis.
The Protestant vs. Catholic struggle has been ramped into high gear with recent events, and Reign‘s luckily taking advantage by using Greer’s connection to the Protestants. By the end of the episode that connection is gone and away, as Castleroy leaves France altogether. He and Greer have become, strangely, more substantial than whatever it was Greer and Leith were having. Most of this is due to Leith dropping out of sight for long periods of time, to the extent that I question why the actor was ever made a regular. It’s hard to see if the potential for Greer and Leith is still there, when Greer can admit this episode that she feels more for Castleroy than just gratitude. And when I very nearly forgot about Leith altogether.
Reign works best when it’s using storylines that are going to affect everyone and the Protestant vs Catholic conflict, ramping up in the wake of the infiltration of the castle gives almost everyone (except Kenna) something to do. Unfortunately this means Catherine’s haunting by her two dead daughters feels out of place in the episode even as it seemingly reaches its climax with Catherine poisoning Claude. It’s unclear what this is really trying to do. It seems to imply in some areas that Catherine’s losing her mind since her resolve to kill the daughter shes been trying in vain to protect hardly seems natural, but when exactly did that start?
The supernatural and the political have rarely, if ever, collided well on this show, and “Mercy” makes that apparent. It also doesn’t help that it’s the midseason finale and therefore has to be bogged down with lots of moving pieces to set the stage for its return in January. Catherine’s struggles with her dead twins are beginning to lose steam, which the show may have been aware of when someone made the decision to bring Alan van Sprang back to reprise his role as Henry and pay Catherine a late night visit in her bed, apparently to reward her for poisoning Claude.
- It’s unfortunate that Catherine and Mary don’t interact more this episode when Catherine was so important to last week’s.
- I assume the show is forgetting the pilot episode in which Mary was the victim of a near-rape orchestrated by Catherine, a near-rape Lola was very not sympathetic to. I assume it’s just one of those things that happens in a pilot that later falls to the wayside, but thinking about it now makes me feel strange with Catherine arguably being Mary’s biggest ally following her attack and Lola leaping at the chance to hand Narcisse over to Francis after learning of Mary’s rape.
- Apologies for the lateness. I’ve been busy with finals.