Reign – Recap: Never Been Kissed
Recap and review of Reign – Episode 3 – Kissed:
While Reign isn’t exactly historically accurate account of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), the show doesn’t really purport itself to be a history lesson. This show is pure soap, and occasionally excessive in that regard, as I don’t think the series needs to lay it on quite so thick, quite so soon. But there’s still a solid foundation here on which to build. “Kissed” is equal parts silly and incisive, overdramatic and understated. It’s an episode of stark contrasts, and it makes for a pretty enthralling hour of television thanks to a conflict that is both compelling and easily digestible.
The conflict that drives the episode is an urgent one, and that urgency makes the episode feel far more purposeful in execution. Here, Mary learns that England is making its move on Scotland’s border, and her terror over the potential invasion of her country prompts her to demand that King Henry (Alan Van Sprang) send companies to Scotland’s defense. However, King Henry has no intention of actually helping out, since the potential loss of those companies could send a message to France’s enemies that they’re weak. Couple this with the inability of Francis (Toby Regbo) to convince his father to help out, and Mary has very few options on the table to get aid to her country. Enter Tomas (Manolo Cardona), an illegitimate son of the King of Portugal and the man Greer (Celina Sinden) hopes to marry someday. He first spies Mary in a tree, attempting to retrieve a ball that had been caught among the branches, and since Mary looks like Adelaide Kane, he falls in love with her almost instantly…despite her falling out of the tree and crashing on top of him.
Tomas doesn’t waste time getting around to declaring his intentions, as he offers to provide her the troops she needs to defend Scotland, provided she accepts his proposal of marriage. While accepting the proposal would essentially solve her problems, she still has developing feelings for Francis, in addition to how it would look if she broke the alliance with France — an alliance that’s been fairly strong for over a decade. And so she asks time to consider his proposal, and pleads with Tomas to be discreet. But he’s a bold sort of guy, which makes it difficult for him to keep his feelings under wraps. In a dance sequence that’s fairly ridiculous considering the period and their respective positions at court, Tomas does a provocative Portuguese dance with her during a ball, drawing the ire of both Greer and Francis. Greer feels Mary is trying to take Tomas away from her, ignoring that he was never really hers to begin with, while Francis simply wants to know what Mary’s deal is. She explains the situation, and her lack of options, and it’s this confession that prompts Francis to get a bit more inventive around his father.
King Henry spends much of the episode brooding about Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) continuing to rebuff his sexual advances, as the lady-in-waiting begs for more time to consider. She goes to Bash (Torrance Coombs) for advice on how to handle Henry, and he basically explains that the thrill is in the chase for his father. It makes sense that King Henry would be the sort of man who’d privilege the journey over the endpoint, given how he manipulates Francis throughout the episode under the guise of teaching him a “lesson” about kingship. He and Francis have a sparring duel and wager toward the outcome: if Henry wins, Francis will stop bothering him about helping Mary; if Francis wins, Henry will provide military support to Scotland. It’s an interesting scene for how it illustrates the contrast between father and son, where honor is concerned. Francis wins, yet Henry refuses to honor his word, saying that it’s the job of a king to make many promises. And with that, Francis gives up…until the aforementioned scene with Mary springs him to action. Francis learns that Henry has been messing around with Kenna, and essentially blackmails him into helping Scotland by threatening to reveal the affair to both Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) and Henry’s volatile, jealous mistress. Surprisingly, instead of being furious with his son, Henry overjoyed that Francis is showing the sort of cutthroat attitude he feels a king should have, and so he agrees to have Francis send the fastest ride in the realm to signal the ships to set sail for Scotland. Of course, the fastest rider is Bash, and the decision to send him on the errand places him directly in harm’s way, since they’re all unaware that English forces are already present.
The presence of the English fits in with Nostradamus’ (Rossif Sutherland) vision at the start of the episode, in which a mysterious figure is stabbed with a sword, and a shirt is peeled away to reveal a blood-soaked wound. Nostradamus warns Catherine that the vision means that the cost of war will soon find its way inside the castle walls, and this terrifies the Queen. However, Henry isn’t nearly as convinced of the seer’s power, and so he forces him to tell the fortunes of Mary and her ladies-in-waiting at the ball. After pressed to tell their real fortunes instead of the generic platitudes he offered before, Nostradamus tells Greer she’ll fall in love with a man with a white mark on his face, and then responds to Aylee’s (Jenessa Grant) question about whether she’ll see her father again by saying “Never go home,” a phrase neither understands at that moment. Yet it’s what he tells Mary that holds the greatest significance: The lion will fight the dragon on a field of poppy. It’s clear that he’s likely referring to royal crests, yet Mary doesn’t figure it out, nor does anyone else. Bash is sent off on the mission and is brought back wounded, having been the person in Nostradamus’ vision. His life hanging in the balance, Bash reveals that by the time he got to the ships, the English were already on the attack, obliterating their forces. Francis begs his forgiveness for putting him in danger, an act that sends Henry into a furor, saying that a king never apologizes. He tells Francis that he can’t ever hope to rule with his emotions, and it’s a lesson Francis takes to heart. Of course, what Henry doesn’t explain to his son is that there’s more than likely a mole within their ranks, as there was no way England could have known about their plans to send ships ahead of time. Yet Henry thinks it best to conceal that secret from Francis, lest he spoil the lesson.
Naturally, the lesson sticks. Francis chooses to let go of his emotions to avoid seeing any more people he cares about get hurt. Mary tries to comfort him outside the castle, and in a fit of desperate emotion, Francis kisses her — her first kiss. It’s a moment that somehow manages to be both passionate and chaste, and it builds to Francis pulling away and telling her to marry Tomas, since he can’t help her. In essence, the kiss was a goodbye, and although Mary clearly doesn’t want to take Francis’ advice, she really doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. She accepts Tomas’ proposal, and as the Portuguese ships depart for Scotland, with their flags bearing the dragon, Mary recognizes that Nostradamus’ vision has come to pass. But hey, at least Tomas seems sweet enough, promising to make her happy. He lays it on a bit thick though by talking about his late first wife, who died as a result of influenza, saying that he never expected he’d love again until he met Mary. Just seemed a bit heavy-handed. Try a more subtle approach, man! (Although I suppose his “Hey, I’ve got lots of ships” approach worked just as well)
Ultimately, the episode gets its strength from putting Mary in an impossible position. She has to decide whether she should follow her heart and potentially doom her country, or adopt the pragmatic approach at the cost of whatever she might have with Francis. As a Queen, the choice is relatively clear, but as a girl, it’s a bit more muddled. Tomas is handsome and all, and he has a legitimate claim to the Portuguese throne since his father has put in the paperwork with the Pope to legitimize him, yet Mary is breaking an alliance that’s been fostered since she was six. And at the urging of the man she was set to marry! It’s a completely unenviable position, yet one Mary must tackle with some semblance of grace, since she can’t appear to be weak or indecisive. That internal struggle is what makes the episode so frequently compelling, even when the episode stumbles a bit, such as when we profile Greer’s first kiss with the castle’s baker boy (the man with the white mark on his face — in this case, flour). But even beyond the narrative, there’s something sumptuous about the production. The costumes probably aren’t period accurate, but they’re alluring, all the same. And the use of contemporary music is growing on me, since it fits far better with this this setting and this story than I ever thought it would. All in all, this was a very encouraging episode for Reign, as “Kissed” illustrates that the show has clearly defined character arcs, and a visual aesthetic that’s arguably the most sophisticated of any show on The CW. Reign isn’t perfect, but it’s compulsively watchable. And at this early stage, that’s just as good.
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