Reign – Recap: Bourbons on the Rocks
Recap and review of Reign – Season 2 Episode 13 – Sins of the Past:
The Bourbons are in town, as King Antoine of Navarre (Ben Aldridge) arrives at French court to petition Francis (Toby Regbo) for funds to relocate several French Protestants who are cluttering up his kingdom. Of course, this quickly turns into a revenge mission of sorts, as Antoine decides to go after Bash (Torrance Coombs) for the perceived sins of his past. And so we have the theme for this week’s Reign, as “Sins of the Past” focuses on how people are judged for past misdeeds.
While this isn’t exactly a new concept, it’s an interesting one for the show to tackle, as the storyline has a host of hidden complexities underneath it. On the one hand, Antoine wants to get Bash for killing his brother Marcus in the Italian War. On the other hand, he’s also here to negotiate a deal with Francis to see what he can offer the kingdom of Navarre, since he’s already received an offer from Queen Elizabeth of England. It’s a political chess match, and not everyone has the mind for it. Like Claude (Rose Williams), who makes an arrangement with Narcisse (Craig Parker). If he teaches her how to play the game of thrones, she’ll be his lover. But this matter is complicated by Claude’s decision not to actually have intercourse with Narcisse, since she knows he’s a social climber, and could easily impregnate her in order to marry into the royal family. Realizing he entered into the arrangement under false pretenses, Narcisse shocks Claude by calling off their deal. As a princess, Claude assumed she’d be able to get what she wanted from Narcisse, since he’s now a man of low station. But Narcisse doesn’t like being misled, so he storms off — but not before imparting one important lesson to Claude, namely that there are two sorts of people: those who think they have power, and those who actually have it. And I bet Claude lacks the awareness to recognize which one of those two she happens to be, which is why she’s so lousy at this political game, and why she’s pretty much blown it with Narcisse. She judged him based on the sins of his past, and tried to play on her own expectations of him, only to discover he’s far more complex than his reputation suggests.
A similar situation pops up in the story with Bash, who is sent on another supernatural goose chase, as he must investigate the disappearance of a man who rose from the grave. Bash finds the “dead man” and learns that he’s a Greek who was rendered unconscious and placed in a coffin. He truly believes he died, and goes as far as to claim he was brought back to life by a mysterious lady in white. But whether or not he’s telling the truth, the villagers aren’t about to let him off easy. Believing him to be a cursed creature, he’s hunted through the forest and shot with an arrow, despite Bash’s best attempts to save him. It’s this vicious act that catalyzes Bash’s decision to try and fix his marriage. He tells Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) that seeing the ugliness and viciousness of the villagers shocked him. They essentially reduced a human being to his one characteristic, ignoring the humanity and personhood underneath it all. It was in that moment that he realized that he couldn’t simply dismiss Kenna as a person just because she ratted him out to Catherine a year ago. As he tells her, he’s in this marriage for life, and the hallmark of any strong marriage is forgiveness. So he promises to discover the truth of Kenna’s heart, and we finally get the pair declaring their love for one another. It’s a lovely storyline that further bolsters Kenna and Bash as my favorite couple on the show, at the moment. Stasey and Coombs have a natural chemistry, and that’s enough to keep their storylines interesting, even when the main thrust of the story (dead man in the village!) is kind of ludicrous.
Much of the rest of the episode is cluttered with morals about judgment, and while I like that the episode committed to its theme about characters being revisited by the past, not every storyline could be as interesting as those above. Catherine (Megan Follows) is treated for syphilis, only for Narcisse to be the one to discover that Catherine doesn’t have the illness at all — rather, she’s being poisoned through Henry’s Bible. Perhaps Narcisse forming an alliance with Catherine will be his path towards regaining his former station, but barring that, it should at least drive a further wedge between Catherine and Claude. Narcisse and Catherine are two characters who’ve been judged by their pasts, and so it isn’t all that surprising that they’d find a certain kinship in one another, even if it’s not necessarily romantic. At least it’ll give her a scene partner to talk to about the prophecy, as she’s begun to have visions of Francis bleeding out his orifices again. You know, since Catherine’s stories tend to revolve around the mortality of her children. Not that I mind, necessarily. Catherine is arguably at her best when she’s playing someone fiercely loyal to protecting her kids. Her wrath upon murdering Bash’s mother last week was a highlight for Megan Follows this season.
As for everyone else, we don’t get any follow-up on Greer or Castleroy, although we do see Lola (Anna Popplewell) begin to suffer the first pangs of jealousy, as she witnesses Narcisse making out with Claude. Kenna believes the jealousy indicates her interest in Narcisse at some level, but Lola insists that she could never be with someone as unpredictable — which means I give them about two or three more episodes before they’re sleeping together. As for Condé, he feels used by Mary, accusing her of using his affections for her to turn him into an errand boy. It’s an accusation that runs deep, as Mary is still struggling to overcome the lingering trauma of her rape. She tries to sleep in the same bed with Francis, but she ultimately can’t handle hearing another man breathing next to her. And while Francis is certainly willing to give Mary as much time as she needs, she doesn’t feel this is fair to Francis. In the cliffhanger, Mary essentially gives Francis permission to divorce her and find love with someone new, since at least one of them should be happy. But I sincerely doubt it’s something Francis would seriously consider, and if he does consider it, it would do a bit of damage to his character, in my opinion. Sure, this has been a bit of a tumultuous love story, but it just feels so arbitrary, the way this wedge is being driven between them. It’s as if they needed a reason to repeat the Francis/Mary courtship from season one, so there could still be some compelling “Will they or won’t they?” tension. But it simply feels so manufactured and inorganic. I can only hope that the season doesn’t end with these two leading separate lives, for a variety of reasons. However, I suppose the bright spot in all this is that the show pinpointed how the sins and traumas of our past can often irrevocably alter our present and our future. And that’s worth exploring, so long as the payoff matches the build.
All in all, I enjoyed “Sins of the Past,” an episode that featured some engrossing narrative moments (Francis and Mary vs. King Antoine! King Antoine setting his sights on Bash!), some very good performances (Kane and Regbo nailed the cliffhanger), and some welcome surprises (The royal court musicians playing “Chandelier”! The return of Mary’s big-ass dog!). Reign is a show that is still working out the problems that plagued the first half of its season, but it’s doing it far better, and with greater alacrity, than I expected it to. And that’s encouraging. If nothing else, I consider it a success, on the show’s part, that I’m looking forward to seeing how the story progresses next week.