Reign – Recap: Queen of Hearts
Recap and review of Reign – Episode 6 – Chosen:
One of the key strengths of Reign as a drama series is in its unique setting for a primetime soap. Many primetime soaps tend to explore metaphorical notions of politics and power, of betrayal in the name of social advancement, and love triangles for which the stakes aren’t really all that high, since things of consequence are rarely on the line in the grand scheme of the protagonist’s choice — at least not anything more consequential than the character’s own life. Yet Reign gets to explore all of these elements on a more literal level. Politics and power are part-and-parcel of the story of Reign, as is the nature of social advancement, and, perhaps most importantly, the international stakes of one woman’s romantic choice. Nations hang in the balance if Mary’s (Adelaide Kane) alliance with France falls through, and she risks fracturing her relationship with Francis (Toby Regbo) through her kiss with Bash (Torrance Coombs). It’s a love triangle with more at stake than the hearts of three people, and it’s this reality that makes “Chosen” compelling.
“Chosen” centers on the dilemma faced by Bash once it becomes apparent that the heretical cult he ticked off last week has targeted Mary. In essence, he has to find some poor sap to offer as a blood sacrifice, or the heretics will sacrifice Mary. And they waste no time in proving they can get to her, as Mary awakes to find a deer’s head over her bed, blood dripping from above. She also discovers a burn mark on her hand, the result of some kind of poison the heretics scalded her with, which properly freaks Mary out. Bash confronts his mother, Diane de Poitier (Anna Walton), a former heretic herself, for information on what he can do to repay the debt without having to compromise his soul. But it looks like he has no choice, and Francis is all too quick to goad him into fixing the problem by any means necessary, since he’s not about to lose the woman he cares about just because Bash felt like being noble and saving some innocent kid from death, even if it was a choice Francis would have made himself in that situation, he admits.
In a weirdly obnoxious choice, yet one that makes sense when you consider he’s a teenager, Francis decides to remain passive-aggressive with Mary and Bash, hinting that he’s furious at them for something, but never actually saying what that something is. He could have just called them out on the kiss, but instead he just gets brusque with both of them, which is arguably more torturous to Bash, and to Mary, whose apology Francis doesn’t really want to hear. The love triangle is in a peculiar space this week, as it’s both front-and-center, yet oddly periphery to the main story at hand, as so much of this centers on Bash’s hunt to find a sacrificial lamb, and the question of whether he can bring himself to go through with killing another person. Meanwhile, Mary teams with Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) to ascertain the identity of the mole at court who drugged Mary, slipped into her room, burned her with poison, and left a deer’s head over her bed. No one comes forward when all the servants and subjects are brought before Mary and Catherine, with promises of protection for those who come forward to name names.
However, this all changes when Sarah, one of Mary’s maids, comes forward to admit that she saw one of the Queen’s guards leaving Mary’s room at the time of the incident. This thickens the plot in interesting fashion, as it now seems as if Bash is going to kill an innocent person when there’s actually someone perfectly guilty whom he could bring to justice to settle the debt. By this point, Bash has already settled on his victim, a lowly thief who steals to provide for his young, impoverished family. The thief cuts an incredibly sympathetic figure, and tearfully pleads for his life, arguing that he was a newborn baby girl who will starve if he isn’t around to provide for them. Bash regrets the necessity of what he has to do, but claims he has someone he needs to look out for as well, and so he strings the man up while he waits for the Blood Priest, saying that he needs a witness to the slaying or “this will all have been for naught.” Yet, in a wonderful little twist, it turns out Bash intends for the thief not to be the victim, but rather the witness…for when he slays the Blood Priest.
The episode touches on themes of resistance against being defined by one’s family, and forging an individual path, and this theme is clearly explicated here with Bash. The heretics insist that, whether Bash likes it or not, his mother’s past with them means he’s one of them as well. But Bash resists this and slays the Blood Priest, offering him as the sacrifice and repaying the debt. When he cuts down the thief and sets out on the road with him to return to the castle, Bash learns that despite what he’s done, he’s still seen in something of a negative light. The thief astutely comments that while you can’t choose your blood, you can choose your faith, and your own path, remarking that if you fail to do either, your King will make the choice for you. This mirrors the division between Francis and Bash, as Diane de Poitier is fearful of what Francis will do to Bash once he’s king if Bash doesn’t get his feelings for Mary under control. Bash has already been fighting against a bastard’s stigma his entire life, and he gradually comes to realize just how little his noble demeanor has meant. In a fit of unsettlingly quiet rage, Bash pushes the thief over a cliff to his death, embracing his baser nature and perhaps confirming the Blood Priest’s words after all — Bash just might have a darkness residing inside him.
Yet the matter isn’t settled yet, as the mole still needs to be outed. However, that doesn’t take long: Sarah, Mary’s maid, reveals herself to be one of the heretics, pulling a knife on her Queen and threatening to kill her as a message to Bash against disobeying them in the future. Luckily, Mary’s guards enter just in time to stop Sarah from inflicting any harm, and Mary, in her mercy, asks for Sarah’s death to be quick before she’s placed on the pyre to burn with her co-conspirator. Unfortunately, these instructions go unheeded, and both Sarah and her accomplice are burned alive, prompting Mary and her ladies-in-waiting to remark that these royals not be the people they thought they were. It’s a sentiment reflected in Diane’s speech to Bash, as she now fears for her son’s life once she learns that Francis has threatened him. After the mole is outed and the debt is paid, Francis recognizes that he doesn’t really have a claim to Mary’s heart, and breaks off the engagement, telling her that if she finds a better offer for her hand, she should take it for Scotland’s sake.
However, he adds that while she’s free to see whomever she wants, he’s pretty much forbidding both she and Bash from being together. He even goes as far as to directly threaten Bash if he doesn’t keep his feelings in check around Mary. Mary is, naturally, devastated. She asks if he’s breaking off the engagement because of Olivia (Yael Grobglas), and he insists that she has nothing to do with his decision. “We have positioned ourselves for the worst sort of pain,” Francis says of his and Mary’s untenable romantic situation, since they’re both monarchs without the freedom to really choose the person they want. They must do what’s best for their respective kingdoms. Of course, I say this, yet Francis immediately turns around and sleeps with Olivia anyway, in one of the more shocking moments to close out the episode (although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given that Mary interrupted him in the pilot while he was trying to get down with another random girl. Dude’s a player). So Catherine’s plan to have Olivia seduce Francis actually works, although whether the goal of getting her to conceive an heir is iffy at the moment. But hey, Catherine has to focus on something more productive than King Henry’s (Alan Van Sprang) trysts. Henry does a lot of juggling this week, trying to satisfy Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) by swearing that things are through between him and Diane. Yet while he wins her back by writing her name in fire on the castle courtyard (in an act that’s kind of silly for a period drama, but again, this show isn’t really trying to be a history lesson anyway), he turns right around and sleeps with Diane again. Like father, like son.
“Chosen” is a solid episode that keeps a tight focus on the love triangle while also advancing the question of what’s best for each monarch’s respective kingdom. It certainly makes sense for Mary and Francis to be together, but there are a lot of intense feelings clouding everyone’s judgment. And again, these are teenagers, making an already troublesome process even more complicated with the addition of youthful uncertainty. Reign isn’t a perfect drama, but it’s a compulsively engaging primetime soap, of melodramatic interest. And I couldn’t really ask for anything more.
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