‘Reign’ Centers on Romantic Complications in the Compelling ‘Tasting Revenge’ (REVIEW)
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 16 – Tasting Revenge:
So things are getting romantically complicated on Reign, but “Tasting Revenge” has just enough palace intrigue to keep from feeling like a tawdry soap opera. There’s a political component to what’s happening here that extends beyond whether or not Mary (Adelaide Kane) or Condé (Sean Teale) can follow their hearts. Nations are hanging in the balance here.
And so it is that one of the more fascinating aspects of the episode is also one of the more heartbreaking: Condé is playing Mary, but not because he doesn’t love her. He’s doing it out of necessity, since Antoine (Ben Aldridge) is blackmailing him with an ultimatum — he can either break things off with Mary and wed Queen Elizabeth, or he can face execution along with Mary once Francis finds out about the affair. Of course, the irony here is that Condé makes his decision based off of Antoine’s threat to tell Francis (Toby Regbo) about the affair with Mary, yet Francis is apparently cool with it. Alright, “cool with it” misrepresents his attitude a bit, since he’s far from okay with his wife being with another man. But he forces himself to come to grips with it on the advice of Lola (Anna Popplewell), since there’s an inherent imbalance in a king being able to have as many mistresses as he wants while a queen would face execution for daring to stray from marriage. It’s a theme the episode hammers home a bit hard, as we get a tasting party in which the whole purpose is for highborn families to audition their daughters for service as Francis’s new mistress.
The Tasting Party is a bit ridiculous, but it also deepens the marital discord storyline, since Francis is so dejected over Mary that he allows himself to sleep with Antoine’s niece. And his downward spiral doesn’t stop there, as he actually makes a move on Lola once his romp with Lady Amelie leaves him unfulfilled. Essentially, Francis is a hot mess express, and Lola does a good job trying to help mitigate the damage by stopping him before he takes things too far. I found myself feeling awful for Francis this week, even as he made one impulsive mistake after another. He’s completely rudderless without Mary, and it shows in just how hard he’s struggling to move on. In part based on Lola’s advice, but also on his own foolish hope, he gives Mary his blessing to be with Condé on the notion that perhaps she’ll return to him once she explores whatever it is she might have with the Prince. But he doesn’t realize that Mary has no plans to return, as she’s employed an ally to seek out safe passage to Scotland for herself and Condé. It seems as though Francis and Mary are effectively over now, and all that remains is the parting.
And yet, Condé’s concern over possibly getting Mary beheaded is enough for him to agree to the marriage proposal with Queen Elizabeth. He keeps this a secret from Mary, because of course he does, but it speaks volumes of how, for all his talk of treating her with more respect than Francis, Condé feels like the choice to break Mary’s heart for her own good is a choice he should make without her input. I’m sure he values her opinion at some level, but it seems as though he’s got it in his mind that Mary is someone who needs to be protected, failing to realize that Mary is kind of tired of beating treated like a shrinking violet that needs to be saved by a big, strapping man. Worse still, he doesn’t really believe her when she says that Francis has given his blessing for their relationship, since he’s convinced Francis is going to change his mind and have them both beheaded. It speaks not only to the fear Condé has over Mary’s well-being, but also to the mistrust he has of Francis. Neither quality bodes well for his relationship with Mary, mostly because he isn’t treating her as a partner, he’s treating her as someone who needs to be saved. He doesn’t particularly discuss solutions with her, he just comes up with his own and decides that will be that. As bad as I felt for Francis this week, I felt about a thousand times worse for Mary, as yet another man in her life isn’t really treating her with the level of consideration she deserves. She’s still just a damsel to these people, and while I get that the rape is still fresh in everyone’s minds, Mary has made considerable progress towards moving on and regaining her formidable stature as Queen. And that ought to be worth something to both Francis and Condé. That said, despite how frustrating these developments can be, I’m not frustrated with the writing, I’m frustrated with the characters. As I should be. The writing is succeeding at eliciting the emotions it’s supposed to elicit, so I’m not that bugged that Condé and Francis are acting so impulsively this episode. They’re both in impossible situations, so it’s only natural that their circumstances inspire a certain cautious recklessness.
The rest of the episode is similarly interesting for how some characters are shortsighted in romance. Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) is still considering Antoine’s offer of marriage, but she can’t come to a decision until she can confirm, with her own eyes, that his wife is really as ill as he says she is. So she invites the woman, Jeanne, to court for the Tasting Party, and upon her arrival, it’s discovered that she’s not sick at all. Quite the opposite, in fact: she’s pregnant. Kenna is livid, especially since Antoine has muddied the romantic waters by laying a super passionate kiss on her. But just as Kenna has conclusively decided to reject Antoine, Bash (Torrance Coombs) discovers the invite to Jeanne, and demands to know why she’d want to meet Antoine’s wife. Kenna comes clean about the proposal, and her consideration towards it, even though she ultimately refused. But it’s too late, as Bash storms off, and it seems as though the marriage is effectively over. And if so, that’s a shame, since Kenna and Bash are one of my favorite pairings in the show. I’d be shocked if this weren’t building to a reunion between the two, as this is mostly depicted as a bump in their marriage (albeit a fairly significant one). That said, this breakup is basically what Antoine wanted, to leave Bash tasting revenge.
Stasey continues to be one of the highlights of this show, as she plays Kenna as someone caught between a good-but-unsatisfying marriage and a new possibility that could offer her what she’s dreamed of, but without the certainty of passion. And yet, I found myself siding with Bash in the argument. Sure, he’s away a lot as a result of his job as the King’s deputy, but it’s not as though he doesn’t want to be around Kenna. He simply has more pressing priorities. Lives hang in the balance, so he can’t put off investigations simply because she wants to go to a ball. But even then, I can see where Kenna is coming from, since Bash has seemed fairly dispassionate in recent weeks. However, it’s not much of an excuse for a potential infidelity. At the very least, her excuse isn’t as strong as Greer’s. Yes, Greer (Celina Sinden) hooked up with Leith (Jonathan Keltz), but only after learning that Lord Castleroy has been sentenced to life in prison. Again, infidelity isn’t great or anything, but it seems unlikely that Castleroy is ever going to see the light of day again (which is a shame. I quite liked Michael Therriault in the role).
Ultimately, “Tasting Revenge” is a strong return episode after the show’s short hiatus. We had a lot of significant developments (Mary and Condé finally kiss!) while the story moves incrementally further towards the introduction of Rachel Skarsten as Queen Elizabeth. I’ve gone back-and-forth on this season of Reign, but this kept my excitement alive over where the show is headed for the rest of Season 2.