Reign – Recap: Prince Condémned
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 11 – Getaway:
Reign is back after a very mixed first half of Season 2, and what “Getaway” offers is one of the more emotionally complicated episodes of this season. In fact, I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m supposed to think about where each of these characters are, psychologically. The only person who appears to have any clarity is Mary (Adelaide Kane), despite having been through one of the worst things a person can endure.
On the one hand, I’m glad that Reign‘s renewal for Season 3 means the show won’t end up concluding on such a strange note, as I’m not sure this marital distress storyline between Mary and Francis (Toby Regbo) is entirely working. But, on the other hand, I can appreciate that the show is trying to work out the kinks of its soap opera trappings. It isn’t enough to simply be an “historical drama” (whatever that categorization might entail on The CW). It has to also have its over-the-top elements, with breakups and love triangles and the like. So it’s no surprise that we end up with a love triangle between Francis, Mary, and Prince Condé (Sean Teale), since we had the same sort of story last year with Mary, Francis and Bash (Torrance Coombs). However, Reign manages to overcome the limitations of this sort of storyline by couching it in a larger, more important narrative. It isn’t simply that Condé has feelings for Mary, but rather that his feelings for Mary put him in conflict with his own brother, Antoine, the King of Navarre, who wants Condé to inform on Francis for him. And on that note, Condé’s feelings place him at further odds with Francis, a person he respects less with each passing day, noting that the King is “hand in glove” with the Vatican in its persecution of Protestants. Basically, Condé’s feelings for Mary complicate an already-difficult situation, but in an interesting way, since this isn’t just a story about politics of the heart, but of nations. Sure, Mary doesn’t reciprocate Condé’s feelings at the moment, but it’s clear she carries some affection for him. And that compounds what is a difficult, and uneasy relationship for Mary and Francis.
Here’s the quick-and-dirty on tonight’s A-story: Condé is accused by Cardinal Perazzo of being a traitor, due to having been branded with the mark of the Dark Riders. This carries the penalty of death, so Mary helps Condé escape to his brother’s nearby estate (where sex games are being held, because of course they are). Unfortunately, the inquisitors catch up with the group, forcing Mary to improvise a solution with Leith (Jonathan Keltz) by heating up a sword and cauterizing the mark off of Condé, so that the Cardinal has no evidence of Condé having been marked. That’s the long and short of it, but what’s interesting about the story isn’t so much the action itself, but the introspection it prompts. Mary finds herself confessing to Greer (Celina Sinden) that she’s pretty much been living her life in a fog ever since the rape, and that she and Francis have reached a point of insurmountable distance. In essence, they’re strangers to one another, and it’s simply not something she can overlook, no matter how much she wishes she and Francis could go back to the way they were. Meanwhile, Condé is dealing with having his feelings rebuffed by Mary, who pretends not to have received his letter once she learns he tried to have it retrieved. But they can’t help confronting the situation, and it’s one of the more awkward moments of the episode, as Mary doubts Condé’s motives in advising her about Francis.
Condé spends the better part of the episode working through his feelings with Mary, first with his brother, then with a beautiful stranger at the sex party, and later, with Mary herself. Although his and Mary’s parting is inevitably interrupted by the inquisitors, it’s a fact that Condé was planning on parting with Mary for good, noting that if they were to ever see one another again, it’d likely be from across the ballroom at a stuffy old gala. It’s almost kind of sad, the way these two friends are separated by a gulf of awkwardness caused by their own respective circumstances (for Mary, her emotional fragility following her rape; for Condé, his divided loyalties between Mary/Francis and his brother/country). However, their connection is renewed in the closing moments after Mary’s plan to save Condé works. It’s almost as if they’re as close as they were before. Hell, even Mary’s optimism is restored, as she learns that Francis has managed to negotiate the release of the Protestant prisoners with Cardinal Perazzo. Of course, little does she know that he did this by having Bash forcibly brand Perazzo’s lover, Randall, with the mark of the Dark Riders.
Realizing that he can no longer enforce the inquisitors’ witch hunt without Francis ordering the death of the man he loves, Perazzo relents, but not before condemning Francis as a man who uses love (“the heart’s noblest virtue”) to manipulate others. The words seem to stick with Francis, but he’s already lost Mary, so he’s in complete “IDGAF” mode. At least until he goes to visit Lola (Anna Popplewell), who is exhausted from trying to keep their baby from having a fit. Once he’s in Francis’s arms, the baby falls right to sleep…and so does Lola…and also Francis. The result? Mary walks in on Lola, Francis and the baby asleep in bed together, the picture of a perfect family. And suddenly, all optimism she had about possibly working things out with Francis goes flying out the window. It’s an emotionally stirring story, and it’s this A-storyline that anchors the episode and makes up for some of the weirdness on the fringes of this midseason premiere.
Case in point, Catherine (Megan Follows) is still hallucinating the ghosts of the twins and, more importantly, King Henry (Alan Van Sprang). Her plan is to slowly kill Claude (Rose Williams) by giving her poison soup. It’ll look like she succumbed to a sudden illness, and it’ll be a relatively peaceful death. Of course, she’s doing this at Henry’s suggestion, as the ghost of the late king suggests that this will be a more merciful death than if “the twins” got their hands on her. I’m not sure what, exactly, Catherine is expecting the twins to do to Claude, but it leaves her with the peculiar ambition to have her eldest daughter killed so she can go to Heaven and escape the murderous ghosts of the sisters she killed. Or something. Really, this is just a weird storyline for Catherine, who’d previously been shown to be someone forthrightly committed to her children. Here, she’s murdering Claude for something she allegedly did when she was five-years-old. Hell, Catherine herself acknowledges that Claude was probably too young to really understand what she was doing.
Even more perplexing is when Claude confronts her mother about the poisoning, and Catherine suddenly goes from wanting Claude dead for merciful reasons, to wanting her dead as revenge for having killed the twins. It’s such a baffling character turn, and it can only really be explained by Catherine having suddenly gone insane, as she sees hallucinations of Henry and the twins throughout this confrontation with Claude. Catherine tries to prevent Claude from killing herself by drinking all the poison in one go, perhaps having seen the error of her ways. But I feel like the damage has already been done to Catherine’s character. It’s such an emotionally inconsistent storyline that I just couldn’t get into it. That said, it did bring us to some interesting character moments for Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), who plays detective and proves to Claude that her mother is poisoning her. Kenna also discovers that Claude and Bash were lovers, having had one drunken night together years ago after Claude briefly convinced Bash that Henry wasn’t her father (and that, as a result, they were not related). Kenna’s anger over Bash keeping this secret prompts him to open up to Kenna about having framed Randall, an innocent man. This results in Kenna and Bash’s marriage becoming more fraught with complication, as all their secrets are out in the open. Sure, Randall ends up getting released, absolving Bash of having nearly caused the death of an innocent man, but now Kenna knows her husband has some darker morals than she might have suspected before.
Ultimately, “Getaway” is a strong midseason premiere episode, even while parts of it were utterly confounding at a character level. The show seems to be course-correcting following what I felt was the unnecessary development of Mary’s rape. It’s enough to give me cautious optimism in where the show is headed for the rest of 2015, as the show begins to dig deeper into its ensemble. Even if it’s not always consistent, I can at least appreciate that the show is being driven by character and not plot, and that it’s peopled with such strong performances Kane and Regbo continue to be excellent, and Follows is the saving grace of her storyline. So even when Reign isn’t firing on all cylinders, the actors are usually enough for a thumbs up. Again, cautious optimism, but “Getaway” is a step in the right direction.