Recap and review of Reign – Episode 2 – Snakes in the Garden:
Reign is one of the more interesting coming-of-age stories on TV right now, and one of the most intriguing The CW has done. Mary (Adelaide Kane) is in an untenable position, having to negotiate the complicated politics of the French court on her own. This would be difficult enough for an adult, bred and raised into the complex system of monarchy, yet Mary (well, this Mary, anyway) had a largely sheltered upbringing. She’s undoubtedly aware of the ire she provokes from her enemies, yet she isn’t really in a position to do anything about it, try as she might. She’s almost entirely at the mercy of outside forces. It’s this conflict, between Mary’s suspicions and her powerlessness to do anything about them, that makes “Snakes in the Garden” such a compelling episode. Mary is still a fairly strong female protagonist with an iron will about her, but there are limits even to what a Queen can do when she’s marooned in foreign territory with enemies at every side.
We learn pretty early on that Colin actually hasn’t been beheaded after all. The man tasked with spoiling Mary’s virtue has escaped, thanks to the “ghost” that helped Mary last week by warning her about the wine. With Colin on the run, Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) risks having her campaign against Mary coming to light. But Mary has more to worry about than the machinations of Catherine. Simon (Luke Roberts), an English envoy to the French court, intimates that England is aware of the weakness of her alliance with France, even going as far as to confirm that England was behind the porridge assassination attempt from last week. Naturally, Mary is as terrified for her country as she is for herself, as England is making no bones about their intentions to turn Scotland to rubble the moment an alliance with France is off the table. Realistically, the potential of incurring the wrath of the French army is the only thing preventing England from mounting a full-scale invasion of Mary’s homeland, and she recognizes that she’ll need to find some way to manage the numerous threats she’s facing.
Enter Francis (Toby Regbo), who tells her they must play up their romance for the sake of the Englishmen at court, so they’re none the wiser of just how weak the French-Scottish alliance truly is. This is a fairly clever way to advance the romance between Mary and Francis: it’s clearly something they both want, even if neither is all too eager to admit it, yet by placing it in the context of doing their monarchical duties, they don’t have to address the very real feelings developing between them. The storyline also has the added benefit of giving Mary an opportunity to tell Francis just what his mother is up to. It’s an interesting direction for the plot to take, given the close relationship between Francis and his mother. The dauphin’s immediate inclination is to distrust Mary’s suspicions, since he can’t imagine his mother would try to have Mary killed. Francis has a certain inherent faith in his family, and in the honor of the royal station, such that he can’t conceive that Mary would come to harm while under their protection, much less from those tasked with protecting her. Yet the evidence is piling up, as one of Mary’s maids is presumably killed as a result of a poisoned dress intended for her. When the body disappears, the certainty of Mary’s accusations are thrown into question.
All this palace intrigue is complicated by the uncertainty of Colin’s whereabouts. Bash (Torrance Coombs) is tasked with finding him, and for a while, it appears as though the man has escaped. However, it doesn’t take long for Bash to discover his corpse strung up by the feet from a tree. And this is where the double-dealing comes full circle: Bash employs Francis’ help in retrieving and returning Colin’s body to Mary (presuming that Mary will want a proper burial for her subject), but in the process of doing this, Francis astutely observes that Colin has been hanged by the feet, and not by the neck, as is the M.O. for their soldiers. This means the English were responsible for silencing Colin — but to what end? We learn as much when Mary confronts Simon after receiving a letter that leads her directly to his bedchambers…where he’s cavorting with the maid who’d seemingly been poisoned by the dress. Turns out it was all a ruse, a campaign meant to terrorize Mary and prompt her to abandon France and return to Scotland. Simon attempts to intimidate Mary with threats of what England plans to do to Scotland, acknowledging that their primary concern is the country potentially winning the allegiance of France’s army, adding that England simply wants to put an end to Scotland before it becomes a threat. Simon also adds that Mary is technically next in line for the English throne after her cousin, the future Queen Elizabeth.
Yet Mary doesn’t want the English throne, she simply wants to protect Scotland as best she can, a task that will prove challenging, since the threats are domestic as well as foreign, as we learn in the last big reversal of the episode: it wasn’t the English who killed Colin after all. It was Catherine’s men, who committed the act and made it look as though foreigners had committed the deed. It’s a genuinely interesting turnaround, although not altogether unexpected. However, I’d argue that Francis’ decision to cut ties with his mother should she continue in her campaign against Mary was fairly unexpected. I like that Francis is being given his own agency as a character, a clear-cut sense of honor that goes well beyond what’s required of him by the title he holds. It’s as much a matter of genuine affection as it is a matter of principle with Francis. He wants to keep Mary safe, not simply because his family is tasked with protecting her, but because he cares about her far more than he’s willing to admit. He commits himself to Mary and adds that they should at least try to start out as friends, and Mary happily agrees, because while an alliance such as this doesn’t require any real affection between the two parties, a little goes a long way.
The episode has several other points of interest, however, such as King Henry’s (Alan Van Sprang) continued seduction of Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), or Catherine realizing she’s been marked for death after discovering a red X painted on her bed. But the most noteworthy development is Mary learning that her “ghost” actually has a name. As a young monarch explains to her, the girl’s name is “Clarissa,” and while we still don’t really know who she is, or why she’s decided to help Mary, we engage a bit more with the mystery than we did in last week’s premiere, and that’s a choice I found myself enjoying. It isn’t always easy for a story grounded in history to interact with the paranormal like this, as Clarissa has an almost supernatural ability at seemingly being both everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. Of course, the show attempts to explain how something like this would be possible, since the castle has a myriad network of chambers. But she’s still as elusive as an actual ghost at this point, and the mystery surrounding her is only intensified once Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland) calls her out for her ambiguity, saying that no one would trust her anymore if they knew what she was. Is it a bit hokey? Sure. But it’s pretty engrossing stuff, just the same.
“Snakes in the Garden” continues the trend set by last week’s premiere, as the series not only has strong central performances from Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows (and also Toby Regbo, who really impressed me this week), but some solid writing as well. The show veers away from history in most measurable respects, but the show remains an engaging drama, thanks largely to its role as a sort of embellished history lesson, dramatized for the consumption of soap fans. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when it’s as well-executed as this.
Thanks for reading my recap and review of Reign – Episode 5 – “Snakes in the Garden”! What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!
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