Reign – Recap: Rumour Has It
Recap and review of Reign – Episode 11 – Inquisition:
Well, this episode isn’t really going to thrill the shippers for Francis (Toby Regbo) and Mary (Adelaide Kane), as Regbo is nowhere to be seen for the second consecutive week. The show has been suffering from the threat of boycott from fans who don’t approve of the show’s decision to pair Mary with Bash (Torrance Coombs), prompting Kane to come forward and plead fans not to boycott, since a lack of ratings will condemn Reign to failure. And then Mary won’t be with anyone at all. So why bring this up? Well, it’s mostly meant as a plea to fans to keep watching even if the couple of your choice isn’t the one getting pushed forward, since it would be a shame to lose the show after an episode as strong as “Inquisition”. Reign has always operated as a game of court politics, where the story is as much about the cultivation of power and influence as it is about the actual use of that power and influence. Rumors fly left and right throughout “Inquisition,” and the story posits that this is every bit as harmful as an actual, verifiable scandal would be, since rumor is as good as proof in the court of public opinion.
The episode primarily centers on the war of rumors between Mary and Catherine (Megan Follows). Members of the Medici family arrive to meet with Catherine, but there’s not really a whole lot they can do for her. As she learns, Henry (Alan Van Sprang) plans on having her beheaded for treason, having cooked up stories of an alleged infidelity with Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland). And so, in order to save her own head, Catherine decides to use her connections to get the goods on Bash, in the hopes of discrediting him in the eyes of those who would be his subjects. To this end, she pokes around and ends up discovering that Mary and Bash have been secretly meeting in the wine cellar as of late, although the purpose of their visits remain unknown. But it doesn’t take long for Catherine to find out about Isobel’s baby, or that the child is a product of a heretic, thanks to the mark on the baby’s heel. Mary and Bash send the baby away, but Catherine is quick to send her men in search of the child, as the baby represents her only chance of exposing Bash as a heretic.
However, Catherine has secrets of her own that Mary is all too willing to exploit. When Catherine comes face-to-face with Clarissa (well, face-to-sack………okay, that came out wrong), the Queen confronts the imprisoned Nostradamus (none the worse for wear from the stab to his neck, apparently). She demands to know what that “ghost” is doing in the castle, and this prompts Nostradamus to tell the child’s sordid, tragic backstory. Nostradamus recalls that a child was given to his father, and the wine-colored birthmark on the baby just below the cheek was something that his father could not abide. And so he set about trying to surgically remove it, only to horribly botch the procedure. He sent Clarissa away to live with another family, but the child was picked on mercilessly at her new home, to the point where her new foster parents couldn’t take it anymore. And so Nostradamus took her in, sheltering her in the castle in secret. Catherine’s face is drenched with tears by this point, half-sad and half-furious at Nostradamus for bringing her here, although it’s hard to tell why, at this point. At least, it was for me. But it probably should have been obvious why Clarissa’s story touched Catherine so deeply: as we learn, Catherine actually did have an affair — with Richard, a friend of Henry’s who was banished from court for calling Catherine “an Italian mule.” Turns out, his banishment was a cover to keep Catherine safe from suspicions of infidelity, as she and Richard were neck-deep in passion. So deep, in fact, that they conceived a child together: Clarissa.
Catherine apparently believed that Clarissa had died, and never looked into the matter further. But her emotions all come flooding back upon hearing Nostradamus’s story, and Mary realizes this is something she can use when she learns the truth about Catherine’s secret child from the peasant who’d taken in Isobel’s child. And so the pendulum swings back in Mary’s favor, as the pagan mark on the child’s foot has faded, leaving Catherine without evidence of Bash’s pagan connections; meanwhile, the mark on Richard’s cheek, underneath his beard, confirms Mary’s story in Henry’s eyes. He realizes Catherine has been having an affair, and is now more resolute than ever to seeing her dead. It’s a startling turn of events, particularly since so much of the episode is dedicated to establishing that, once upon a time, Catherine and Henry were actually deeply in love. In a private moment in Henry’s bedchambers, Henry claims that he genuinely tried to make their marriage work, but her coldness and distance gave him no hope of a happy marriage.
Catherine, however, remembers things differently. She claims Henry was the distant one, and that he’s never made their union easy. Yet Henry confesses that he never would have harmed her, since he was so deeply in love with her. Megan Follows and Alan Van Sprang are terrific here, suddenly taking a relationship that’s been antagonistic since Day One, and selling the idea that there was once something real here — and that there still might be (hell, Catherine even admits to Richard that a piece of her still loves Henry). Catherine and Henry sleep together, and it seems as though Catherine has bought herself a reprieve, but that was before the whole nasty business with Clarissa came to light. And so Catherine launches her last ditch effort to save her own skin by removing a pagan artifact from Diane’s room, revealing that Bash’s mother/Henry’s mistress is a heretic. But Henry has pretty much had it with the rules of politics. While Mary and Catherine use more subtle forms of strategic influence, Henry is blunt and violent, murdering the guard who’d seen Catherine take the artifact (a guard who was prepared to testify that Catherine in no way doctored or planted the evidence). In essence, Henry doesn’t play fair. But when the Pope has just denied your appeal for a divorce, and an alliance with England hangs in the balance, you don’t really have time to play the Game of Thrones.
Faced with utter ruin, Catherine’s family members give her a poison that dissolves in water, allowing her a painless, dignified end. As they explain, they aren’t disappointed in Catherine for having affair, they’re disappointed in her for “losing”. Apparently, Medicis don’t lose when they set out to scheme, thus Catherine has become a blight on the family name. With no other choice ahead of her, Catherine decides to go through with ending things, and this climax is setup in a solid bit of visual storytelling that contrasts the two Queens, as Mary undresses for her bath while Catherine dresses for her suicide. Both processes are meticulous, and regal, in their own ways. But more than that, it illustrates that while Catherine is the clothed one in the shot, she’s never been more naked and vulnerable than she is in this moment, weighted with the desperation of a woman facing her end.
Yet while Catherine does plan to end things, she doesn’t plan to go alone. She intrudes on Mary’s bath and tosses the dissolvable poison into the tub. The fumes enter into the air, and Catherine holds Mary at knifepoint, forcing her to inhale the fumes along with her, so that they die together. It’s a chilling scene, with Catherine gloating all the way through, insisting that this is the only way to remove Bash from the equation and assure the ascension of Francis. But just as the poison is about to take hold, Clarissa bursts in and pulls Mary up from the tub, while attempting to rouse Catherine. Calling her “mother,” Clarissa tries to help Catherine escape, but it’s no use. Catherine awakes to see Clarissa’s face (which we also see, in full, for the first time), and the Queen is positively horrified. She commands Clarissa to stay away from her, and the poor, devastated “ghost” has no choice but to disappear before the guards arrive.
Bash comes in and pulls Mary from the tub, and orders Catherine arrested and chained “like the animal she is.” Catherine tries to condemn Mary for her choice in siding with Bash, and this is the moment the Frary shippers probably aren’t going to like, as Mary declares that she has made the right choice, and that together, she and Bash have won by essentially assuring her death. “I know who he is,” Mary says of Bash. “And I’ve made the perfect choice, because together, we have killed you.” Catherine is hauled away, and Mary and Bash embrace. It’s the close to the episode, yes, but it’s also the culmination of the Bash/Mary romance drama that permeates the episode. It’s strange that I’m only getting to it now, at the very end of the review, since so much of the episode has to do with Bash asking Mary what she would have thought of him if he had been the future Dauphin since birth.
It’s kind of a strange line of inquiry, since I’m not sure what Bash is trying to get out of her by asking. He pleads with her to have an “open heart,” but I don’t think anything she’s done or said in the past two weeks has implied she doesn’t. And, as expected, Mary confirms that she chooses Bash by admitting that while he’s not like Francis, he has his own qualities that she admires. “My heart is open,” she tells him, and they kiss. Naturally, this is before all the craziness goes down with Clarissa and the poisoning, but it very much informs the conclusion of the episode, as now Catherine’s attempt on Mary’s life has bonded the two betrothed youngsters even more significantly through their hatred of the current Queen. It’s a smart way to take the plot, building up the relationship between Bash and Mary, so that once Francis returns, he’ll actually be breaking up something with substance behind it. Because a love triangle is only as strong as its individual pairings. Francis and Mary is already the stronger pairing, but by building up Mary’s feelings for Bash with each passing week, and strengthening her commitment to him (and not just to keeping Francis safe by avoiding the prophecy), the Bash/Mary pairing ends up being on equal footing. And that’ll make for some damn fine drama in the coming weeks, even if you don’t agree with the pairing they have going now.
“Inquisition” is a terrific episode that focuses on how rumors can harden into truth, and how scheming meant to tear people apart can ultimately end up bringing them together. I love me some court politics, which is why I routinely enjoy Reign as much as I do. “Inquisition” is packed with such plotting, and it’s as nuanced here as it’s ever been, even though some of the developments are awfully convenient (the mark on the baby’s foot serving as a thematic parallel to the mark on Richard’s face; Isobel’s secret baby serving as a parallel to Clarissa). Ultimately, while I don’t think the show has delivered its best yet, it never fails to completely entertain me. I know this isn’t exactly an accurate history lesson, nor does it purport itself to be. In short, Reign just does it for me, hitting that perfect sweet spot of salacious primetime soap, and saucy historical drama. And really, that’s all I’m asking for.