Reign – Recap: A Girl In This World
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 12 – Banished:
It’s tough being “a girl in this world,” as Kenna so succinctly puts it to Bash this week. But that’s exactly what “Banished” explores, as Reign digs into the inherent unfairness of gender politics in this age, where men of influence can wantonly do as they please, while women have little power in their circumstances beyond what affect they can have on those men. It’s a fascinating thematic starting point, and it’s wrapped around a series of very twisty, shock-driven storylines.
The story here centers on the disintegration of the relationships that have helped Mary (Adelaide Kane) feel less alone in this world. It’s been some time since her rape, but she’s no closer to accepting Francis (Toby Regbo) again than she was before. Meanwhile, Condé (Sean Teale) has been growing increasingly frustrated with, in his mind, how Francis has failed, not only as king but as husband and protector to Mary. It’s certainly risky enough that he feels this way, but what pushes this over the edge into dangerous territory is his inability to conceal his angst in public. Not only does he openly refuse an offer of lands from Francis — as Francis is redistributing Narcisse’s lands following the Lord’s downfall — he also lets some spiteful words fly about how Francis wasn’t there for Mary when she needed him most. Before long, the two men are pulling out staffs and sparring with each other right in the middle of a royal ball. It’s an awesome scene, not just because of the swift fight choreography, but also because of the heated emotions behind it. So much of Francis and Condé’s anger pours through in their body movements, and in their facial expressions. Francis looks like white hot rage personified, while Condé’s attitude towards Francis is one of disgust. Mary is able to break up the fight, but the rest of the court quickly deduces exactly what Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) does in that moment: the two men aren’t feuding over lands, they’re feuding over Mary.
And suddenly, Francis has to have a heart-to-heart with Mary in order to explain why she can never have any sort of friendship with Condé again. Mary is disdainful of how Francis approaches her, since she feels he’s using his argument not to help her, but rather to keep her in her place. She has a point when she notes that it’s not as if she encouraged Condé’s affections (I mean, she pretty pointedly turned the guy down). Yet Francis also has a point with his argument: when Mary bears him an heir, they can’t afford for there to be any question of the child’s legitimacy. Sure, nothing has actually happened between Mary and Condé, but the nobles don’t know that. As Francis explains, wars have been started over questions of legitimacy. If their subjects believe the heir to the throne is not legitimate, there could be an uprising. Francis says he understands how unfair this is, and how there’s a double standard at play when it comes to how women are expected to conduct themselves versus how men are allowed to have any woman they want. But, as Francis tells Mary, this is just how it is. If nothing else, Reign earns marks for at least addressing how problematic the gender politics of the age were, even though it made a certain kind of sense for why women were required to act so strictly. There could be no question of impropriety when the fate of nations hung in the balance, so while Francis isn’t exactly wrong in his argument to Mary, our sympathies remain with Mary, who now finds she has one less friend to offer her comfort.
Well, actually, make that two less friends. A witness turns up with claims that Lord Castleroy funded the attack on the castle that resulted in Mary’s rape. Mary approaches Greer (Celina Sinden) and pleads with her to come clean if there’s even the slightest possibility that these claims can be tied back to her household. But Greer keeps the secret, siding with Castleroy by claiming he had absolutely nothing to do with funding the Protestant attack. Greer comes close to confessing that Castleroy did supply funds, but only because he thought he was funding a school. But she decides against it. Ultimately, this proves to be a mistake, as Castleroy’s ledger is found and the evidence points to his guilt. In the eyes of the crown, it doesn’t matter what Castleroy thought he was contributing to, he’s a guilty man who must be punished. And, as somewhat complicit in the lie, Greer must face that punishment as well. Although Mary is able to keep Castleroy and Greer from hanging for treason, she is unable to spare them from destitution. All of their lands and titles have been stripped away, along with their position at court and with Mary. In effect, they’re banished. It’s a devastating scene, with Mary tearfully explaining what will happen and why it must. The most heartbreaking part: when the guard bangs on the door for Mary to hurry up, she asks for one more moment, prompting a fearful Greer to ask, “One more moment? Is that all we have?” She gradually comes to the crushing realization that this is it for their friendship, and for the life she knew. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t actually do anything wrong. Her husband is guilty — therefore, so is she. Mary and Greer share one last hug, as if in understanding of the struggle of being a woman in this world. But that’s all they can share anymore. But if there’s one silver lining in Mary’s hardship, it’s that she and Francis are in the process of working through their problems, as Francis offers to spend the night watching over her, and she accepts. It’s a sweet scene depicting the beginning of the healing process.
As for the rest of the episode, I found myself really enjoying the story intersecting stories of Bash (Torrance Coombs) and Catherine (Megan Follows). Bash is investigating the death of the twins in an attempt to exonerate Claude (Rose Williams), while Catherine is off having her hallucinatory trip with Henry (Alan Van Sprang). It’s clear to use that it’s all a hallucination, but Catherine wants to hold on to the facade, mostly because her imagination has created a family that needs her, that loves her, that wants her. And so she clings to it like grim death, since her guilt is gradually overcoming her: if Claude did kill the twins, she raised a monster; if Claude is innocent, then she’s punished her daughter her entire life for no reason. This emotional self-flagellation is surprisingly compelling, and I say “surprisingly” because I feel Megan Follows, as a talent, is above this sort of storyline. It just seems so hokey for Catherine to be having these sorts of ghostly visions, much less giving into them. But the episode does an excellent job of explaining why that would be, as Catherine admits that these visions are a manifestation meant to assuage her guilt, to help her cope. This second family with Henry and the twins represent a second chance for her to be a better mother. When she finally realizes this, after Bash proves Claude innocent, she casts Henry out of her life by forcefully telling him, “Return to your hell, and leave me to mine!” She knows she won’t have peace, necessarily, but at least she now knows she can attempt to put the pieces of her life back together. And so can Claude, now that Bash has proven her innocence. But the story is far from over…
Bash proves that the twins’ nanny indirectly caused the twins’ death: she was a mistress of Henry, who seduced her into trying drugs with him on the fateful night. She left the window to the nursery open, and when she came back, the children had frozen to death. Case closed, right? Except…well, the windows had latches. So the wind couldn’t have blown them open. Human hands had to have opened them. Bash quickly deduces that his mother, Diane de Poitiers (Anna Walton), had spitefully opened the windows to kill the twins, as a means of punishing Henry for cheating on her with Catherine to conceive them. Horrified, Bash banishes his mother and resolves never to see her again. But before parting, Diane drops a bombshell on her son: Kenna was the one who told Catherine last year that Henry was planning to legitimize him. It was a move that could have gotten both Bash and Diane killed, and this is enough to horrify Bash further. Not only has his mother been lying to him, but his wife has been dishonest as well. Of course, Kenna makes a decent point when she notes that it’s not like she and Bash even knew each other back then. She loved Henry, in her own way, and was acting out of a combination of fear and love. She tells him he can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a woman, with no power but what affect you can have on a man. However, Bash doesn’t want to hear it, saying he can’t love someone who would throw away lives in furtherance of her own ends. It’s a powerful scene, and both Coombs and Stasey deliver it with a sense of conviction.
Yet the scene pales in comparison to the big shocker at the end: Catherine is able to figure out Diane’s complicity in the murder of her babies, and arrives in her bedroom to bludgeon her and then strangle her to death with her own necklace, all while shouting that she can have Henry to herself in hell. I suppose calling it a “shocker” is a bit of a leap, since we knew Catherine had this sort of cold-blooded action in her (hell, she’s been trying to kill her own daughter), but Follows makes it shocking through the force and intensity of her performance here. Never has Catherine seemed so angry, or so vitriolic. This is a woman reclaiming power through motherhood. She couldn’t protect her babies in life, but she can avenge them in death. Maybe motherhood was the primary source of power for a woman in this age, after all.
“Banished” is a poignant episode in its exploration of gender, and the issues women face in attempting to exert their own influence in their world. Power is hard to come by, even in the world of Reign, where it seems as though everyone wields some sort of influence. Sometimes, there’s so much focus on how hard it can be to maintain power, that we overlook how hard it is just to have it at all.
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