Reign – Recap: A Woman Grown
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 15 – Forbidden:
“Forbidden” is an aptly-titled episode for Reign, since its primary focus is how the characters attempt to achieve things forbidden to them. Part of good drama is in the pull between what a character wants vs. what is expected of her. And so it is here with Mary (Adelaide Kane).
Mary essentially comes to the realization that, despite the attempt in recent weeks to begin mending faces, things are pretty much dead between she and Francis (Toby Regbo). I’ve stated over the past few months that I’ve kind of hated what they’ve done with Mary and Francis, largely because it feels like such an artificial way to create drama. “Hey, let’s have Mary get raped and then have her blame Francis for it!” It just felt like the story was crafted because it wouldn’t be believable that she’d ever leave Francis otherwise. But while I still didn’t agree with the rape storyline, I can sort of see what the intention was with it. Now there’s this irreparable damage that exists between Mary and Francis, and because of it, Mary feels free to begin exploring other options, both romantically and royally. Through this story, Mary comes to recognize she’s more alone than ever before, and it’s a realization that gives her the strength to take charge of her own royal destiny, since her life has been decided by other people for far too long. Her mother, Marie de Guise (Amy Brenneman), is desperate to see her pregnant with an heir to stabilize her power in Scotland, and although we learn that Marie’s one-track focus is motivated by the fact that she’s dying of a terminal illness, it does little to change Mary’s resolve to leave Francis for Condé (Sean Teale). “I am more than a marker to hold an alliance,” Mary declares to her mother. “Or a breeder for the next generation or the next. I am my own person, a woman grown. And tonight, I realize I am utterly and completely alone. But when I look at you, I feel I am better for it.”
It’s a declaration of independence, for Mary. She plans to take charge and make certain no one dictates the trajectory of her future for her. In fact, despite Francis outright forbidding her from seeing Condé, Mary still visits him in secret and asks him to run away with her to Scotland, where she plans to finally take control of her throne after she ends things with Francis. It’s an attempt at damage control, since Queen Elizabeth is planning to make a play for the Scottish throne. A strong Scottish queen, one who rules in person and not from a faraway castle in France, would inspire confidence in her people, and could help keep the Elizabeth threat from escalating. “I am done being a vessel for other people’s wishes and fears. I will not wait for a child or anyone to secure my life and future. I am seizing it,” Mary declares to Condé before asking him to run away with her. And yet, Elizabeth remains a very real threat, not only to Mary’s crown but to her heart as well. In the show-closing cliffhanger, Antoine (Ben Aldridge) reveals to Condé that Queen Elizabeth has asked for him to come to court so that they may begin courting. She’s in the market for a husband, and who better than a Bourbon? It’s kind of crazy to think Condé would actually consider the union, considering how hard he’s worked to win Mary’s heart, and yet, he risks the wrath of his brother and the wrath of England if he refuses the meeting. I love this twist, even though it feels overly manufactured and convenient. There’s a lot here worth digging into, from Mary’s attempts at seizing power, to her sketchy relationship with her mother, and even she and Francis’ awkward attempts at conceiving a child. There’s a lot of character development going on here, as Mary attempts to reclaim agency over her own life, no longer a powerless victim. It’s powerful stuff, and makes for a gripping A-story.
That said, there were also some interesting developments in B-story territory. I actually found myself surprised at how invested I became in the slow destruction of Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) and Bash’s (Torrance Coombs) marriage. It was obvious to both of them just what Antoine was up to when he offered Kenna an obscene amount of money to help him plan a party in celebration of the new Valois/Bourbon alliance. And yet, Kenna went along with it anyway, because she wants more than to remain stuck at home, waiting for a husband who’s never home. It’s possible to both sympathize with Kenna’s plight while also getting pretty angry at her being too blind to recognize 1) that the letter she asked Antoine to send to Bash about meeting her at the party instead of waiting for her at home was NEVER going to reach its destination, and 2) just how shady and inappropriate it would look for her to allow Antoine to dress her in his dying wife’s clothes/jewels.
Bash was right to be mad, just as Kenna was right to be upset about being judged for wanting more from her husband than he seems willing to offer. Granted, it’s not as if Bash is galavanting around doing nothing when he isn’t at home, but he does seem to value work above the maintenance of his marriage, so it’s understandable why Kenna would be upset. And yet, it’s that emotional turmoil that leads to her considering Antoine’s proposal the next day, as he states that his wife will be dead within the month, and he needs a new queen. I don’t expect Kenna will take him up on the offer, but it’s an interesting narrative prospect just the same, since Antoine frames it less as a proposal inspired by revenge against Bash, and more an offer based on emotions and the desire to offer her more than she has already. And, as Antoine explains, getting Kenna’s marriage annulled would be easy enough, considering it was imposed upon her by a mad king. Basically, it’s one of the few Kenna plots that has independent intrigue, as it’s engaging even without Bash involved. After all, Bash has his own thing going on with the Woman In White, a mystical healer who prophetically predicts that Bash will lose someone close to him…and soon.
As for the rest of the episode, I wasn’t that gripped by Greer (Celina Sinden) essentially becoming a full-time madam by helping Sharlene (Linzee Barclay) and the other girls meet rich johns. I also wasn’t crazy about Lola (Anna Popplewell) accidentally drinking drugged wine and letting go of her inhibitions. On the one hand, I did enjoy her playful interaction with Francis, in which she lets him know, among other things, that he’s a great kisser. On the other hand, it seemed to clash with the more serious nature of the rest of the episode. That said, I did love Popplewell’s performance, as she was utterly delightful as the ridiculous, overly-exuberant drunk (“She smells of ointment!”). I love seeing a different side of Lola, even if I didn’t think it fit the tone of the hour. I was also impressed with the nuanced characterization of Narcisse (Craig Parker). When the drunk Lola finally makes a move on him, he stops her because he realizes she obviously isn’t in her right mind. “Though you are heartbreakingly tempting,” he says, “Were we to come together, I would want the real you.” He then sends her on her way to her chambers, telling her maid to watch after her and send the physician to check on her. It’s essentially the most gentlemanly thing Narcisse has done, showing that he’s more than just a social-climbing, scheming court politician. He has his own moral code by which he abides, and it almost makes him honorable, in a certain way. Much like Catherine (Megan Follows), Narcisse is more than the sum of his parts, and it’s a nuanced depiction I can appreciate.
“Forbidden” is an excellent episode, hitting all the necessary markers for a solid Reign. It had drama, tension, heartbreak, and a hell of a tease for the future, between the Woman In White’s vision to the cliffhanger of Condé’s decision. This wasn’t a perfect Reign, but, for me, it was pretty damn close.