‘Reign’ Review: Divided Loyalties Take Center Stage in the Compelling ‘Abandoned’
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 19 – Abandoned:
Power is an illusory concept. You’re only in power for as long as people still believe in your reign. Once you start to compromise your subjects’ faith in you, power begins slipping away at an alarming rate. “Abandoned” is a solid episode of Reign that explores the difficulties of maintaining power, while also illustrating just what a difficult concept loyalty has become.
For instance, Mary (Adelaide Kane) is following the letter of her agreement with Francis (Toby Regbo), remaining by his side as Queen, if not as his wife. But she’s not really honoring the spirit of the arrangement, since her heart is committed to Condé (Sean Teale). Francis feels Mary is being disloyal, because she’s planning on abandoning France with Condé to return to Scotland. He essentially put his, and France’s, neck out for Mary and for Scotland, committing 2,000 troops to protecting her country. By doing this, he infuriates the rebels, who take a monastery full of boys hostage in retaliation. This would be bad enough, but some of the boys in danger are the sons of rich noblemen, further jeopardizing Francis’s tenuous hold on power, since he needs the trust and support of the nobles to maintain his authority as king. To make matters even worse, Francis discovers that Condé has married Queen Elizabeth using a proxy, and while a rogue third party voids the union by destroying the documents and killing the priest and proxy, the fact of the matter is that Mary still knew Condé was being courted by Elizabeth. And yet, she never brought it up to Francis. Now, Condé could potentially find a foothold in England, which would, in turn, give Elizabeth a foothold in France. As Francis laments, “This could mean the end of our reign!” And he’s right. One of the big themes of this season has been that monarchs can’t enjoy the freedoms of regular people. Mary loves Condé, but she simply can’t afford to follow her heart on this one. She has a responsibility to France, and abandoning that responsibility means plunging the country that has been her second home into chaos. Francis rakes her over the coals, and he’s not unjustified in doing so. And yet…I see where Mary is coming from.
After last week, Mary came to the conclusion that, before she could leave France, she needed to leave the country with some semblance of stability. She recognized what bailing on Francis would mean for the country, and while she wasn’t unsympathetic to that plight, her role as Queen of Scotland demanded swifter action. Yes, Mary should maintain loyalty to France, but she has her own responsibilities as a Queen. This is part of the issue with political alliances, as one country’s needs must come before the other, and it must go on a case-by-case basis. Last week, Mary needed troops to send to Scotland. This week, it’s France that takes precedence, as the rebels run roughshod over the village, causing chaos in defiance of Francis’s rule. That conflict between monarchical responsibilities is partially what made this such a compelling episode. Hell, the business with Condé is similarly fascinating, because it touches on the same themes. He accepts Elizabeth’s marriage proposal for political reasons, yes, but also for protection. He expects he’ll soon be a dead man, since he’s being framed as a part of the insurgency, and he doesn’t trust that Mary will be able to protect him. Once again, necessity trumps desire, and Condé is forced to do forego his wants and desires in furtherance of responsibilities, both to himself, and to his country as a Prince of Navarre. He might be back to square one now that his marriage has been nullified by whomever murdered the priest and proxy, but the truth remains that he’s a marked man. Unless he escapes France, it’s only a matter of time before his affair with Mary catches up to him. And once it does, where will Mary’s loyalties rest?
The rest of the episode is fairly standard fare, but not without its intrigues. Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) continues her flirtation with General Renaude, while Lola (Anna Popplewell) is still being pursued — albeit passively — by Narcisse (Craig Parker), who admits he isn’t even sure why he still cares, considering he’s got a pretty good thing going with Catherine (Megan Follows). In fact, his romance with Catherine might actually be in danger, since she seems leery of his flirtations with Lola, and suspects some longer con on his part. And, honestly, I don’t blame her for being suspicious. Sure, Francis and co. are able to quell the insurgency and rescue the young boys thanks to Narcisse’s army — and Bash (Torrance Coombs) — but there’s always a catch when Narcisse is involved. Even Francis notes that he’s most suspicious of Narcisse when he’s doing the right thing, presumably because there’s typically an ulterior motive involved. I do, however, like that Narcisse is playing things close to the vest. Maybe he’s not as bad a villain as he once was, but there are still shades of a darker morality beneath him. I think he’s one of the most interesting characters in the show, because he’s such a study in contrasts. For example, he cares deeply for Lola, even recognizing that it’s not in his best interest. Yet he commits acts she’s unlikely to find palatable. Narcisse is not a good man, but he’s not as bad now as he was, and I feel like that’s worth pointing out. At the very least, it’s more interesting than the deteriorating state of Bash and Kenna’s marriage. I’m still rooting like crazy for that couple, but each passing week makes it seem less and less likely that their union is going to work out, although I admit it’s pretty amusing to see Kenna get jealous over Delphine (she grills him on several points about his new “friend,” such as whether or not she has a vagina. Because of COURSE Kenna would ask that question). I’m still holding out hope for the two, but this is a season of romantic hopelessness, as nothing seems to work out the way it should in love. But hey, that’s life, in a lot of cases.
“Abandoned” is an engaging episode that explores the responsibilities of royals, and how loyalty is an ever-evolving concept. Duty is one thing, but commitment is something else entirely. You can do your duty without being truly committed to doing it. Mary is staying with Francis, but her heart isn’t in their union anymore. It’s simply a job, at this point. It’s depicted as a tragedy, of sorts, and I agree that it is, since the deterioration of the marriage is the fault of neither party (neither Mary nor Francis are really to blame for her rape). As we near the end of the season, I’ll be intrigued to see if the narrative leaves us with any hope of reconciliation, or if this is really the beginning of a schism in the royal court. Divided loyalties often make for good storylines. And when it explores these sorts of stories, Reign often makes for good television.
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