Reign, Season Two (2014)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
History informs us that Mary Queen of Scotts had a short-lived marriage to the boy-prince Francis of France, before his death brought her Scottish-French alliance to a rapid end. From there, she embarked on a series of disastrous marriages until she was imprisoned and eventually executed by her cousin, Elizabeth I. Reign throws out history and invents a complicated web of deceit, betrayal, kingly affairs, and angst in pure soapy fashion.
The young and ambitious King Francis (Tobey Regbo) has abandoned the castle to go in search of Lola (Anna Poppelwell), who is about to give birth to his child, despite the threat of plague in his kingdom. In his absence, his mother Queen Catherine (Megan Follows) and his wife, Mary Queen of Scotts (Adelaide Kane), cease their petty bickering for the present, to reassure the nobles and present a united force in the face of the terrible illness sweeping through France. With hundreds dying around them, all fear for their lives and pray Francis will survive. But as the plague fades away, new threats begin to arise, in the form of Lord Narcisse (Craig Parker), a French nobleman intent on blackmailing Francis into surrendering to his high demands, by withholding his resources from the crown.
In the meantime, members of the royal household are fraught with ghostly visitations... Francis believes his father may be attempting to communicate with him through possessing the body of the royal nursemaid. Catherine has seen her dead twin daughters on multiple occasions, and short on their heels comes the return of her bitter, deceased husband. Their intention seems to be to unsettle her, and cause her to do harm to her newly returned daughter, Claude. A lavish party girl intent on thwarting all her mother's intentions of marrying her off, Claude soon falls into the company of Lord Narcisse, whose focus lies in Lola's direction. Mary's friend Greer (Celina Sinden) enters into an advantageous marriage that soon backfires; and Bash (Torrance Coombs) struggles to maintain order, seek out those who would do his half-brother harm, and find a balance of affection with his beautiful wife, Kenna (Caitlin Stasey). But as Protestant-Catholic factions take up arms against one another, France is thrown into a situation with no easy solutions.
I have mixed feelings about this series, for a variety of reasons; not only does it intentionally push the envelope with what can be shown on primetime network television aimed at teen audiences, it also has no real sense of history whatsoever, to the point where it might as well be a fantasy set in an alternate timeline... which is how I have decided to view it. The acting is wonderful. The costumes are beautiful, even if they are not remotely authentic to the period. The characters are nothing if not interesting and the addition of the brooding Narcisse this season is a stroke of genius. But... it also becomes quite absurd at times, and it does not help that Mary has become such an unlikable character. Last season she was at least doing things "for the good" of her realm and her people; now, she is defending her irrational behavior with absurd explanations, and leaving her doting husband high and dry while she recovers from rape trauma in the bed of another man. Yes, you read that correctly. Mary links her marriage to her rape, even though Francis had nothing to do with it, and has an affair in the show's attempt to "spice things up." Actually, every marriage falls apart this season... because the show runners seem to think that marital angst makes for good storytelling. It doesn't. Good storytelling makes for good television.
Historically (you knew I would go there, didn't you?) barely anything resembling real history remains. Yet, I continue to watch. Why? Part of me is curious to see just how crazy the story will become, and part of me is merely appreciative of the show's real high point, the scheming, bitter, manipulative, and utterly enthralling Catherine Medici. Like most girls, I grew up watching Megan Follows embody Anne Shirley, and to see her in such a dramatic turn-about is pure joy to me. I live to see what Catherine will do next, and she never disappoints me.
The court is full of sexual intrigues and affairs; Narcisse sleeps with both Claude and her mother, while intending to seduce Lola. He tries to convince Lola to take a bath where he can watch her, and she pays a servant to do so. Greer winds up running a whorehouse. Mary has an affair. Francis has an affair. Most of the scenes are moderately tasteful (kissing, undressing, lying down together) but a few become more graphic. In one intense scene, Mary is held down and raped (she screams and fights, and there is some movement); another man intends to rape her as well but she fights him off. In a weird story arc, Catherine is sexually stimulated by her dead (ghost) husband (out of frame) on several occasions.
Murders, violent attacks, executions... most are not overly graphic but a few do involve blood.
Some mysticism; healing people through black magic, spells undoing things, the presence of ghosts.