Reign: Acts of War (2×09)
Synopsis: Mary tries to soothe France’s religious tensions by arranging a marriage between Conde and Claude, while Francis and Bash put an end to Narcisse’s blackmail. Protestant assassins attack the castle during Francis’ absence – the palace guard defeats them, but not before they rape Mary.
So Reign got real this week.
I’ll admit, I’ve been getting a bit tired of this show. It’s hard to care about Protestant/Catholic tensions in France because our characters are largely insulated from the violence and the consequences. Sure, Greer’s carriage got ransacked by bandits and Mary and Francis’ marriage has slowly been disintegrating at the seams for the past three episodes, but the stakes were never real. I never feared for the life or emotional well-being of any of the main characters. Greer was always going to live, Mary and Francis were always written in the stars. Everyone was going to be all right.
But we’ll get to the last five minutes or so of the episode near the end. Let’s hit this week’s plot highlights before we talk about what happened to Mary.
‘Twas the Feast of St. Nicholas, and all through the town, not a skirmish was fought, and Francis held tight to his crown. Well, for now at least.
Francis and Mary are performing acts of goodwill across the kingdom to smooth over the death and crucifixion of the Protestant minister from last week. Even though the villagers may be lining up for the crown’s charity, it’s clear that there’s still an uneasy tension between Protestants and their Catholic royalty.
To that end, Mary decides to solve the situation diplomatically – she proposes a political marriage between Princess Claude and Louis Conde of the Bourbon line. The match between a prominent Protestant prince and French Catholic royalty would serve as a gesture of goodwill to the divided kingdom.
Francis initially vetoes the match, but later approves it as part of a larger scheme to end Narcisse’s blackmail. After a few scenes laden with innuendo, and some matchmaking by Mary, Claude and Conde agree to be wed – only to have Narcisse swoop in and offer Claude a counter-proposal: marriage to him. After a heart-to-heart with her brother about fulfilling her family duties, Claude rejects Narcisse’s marriage proposal and gets engaged to Conde.
Meanwhile, Francis’ scheme-of-the-week to get himself out from under Narcisse’s influence is to find and kill all of Narcisse’s witnesses against him. He and Bash concoct a plan to play the unfit ruler troubled by his actions in dividing the nation – he sells the scene in part by allowing his sister’s marriage, sending Narcisse scurrying for his witnesses to remove the addled king.
With witnesses lured out in the open, Francis and Bash abandon the castle to eliminate them. They execute their plan flawlessly – but they leave the castle exposed in their absence. Which leads us to the last few scenes of this episode.
I want to preface this discussion with the fact that I have a lot of problems with how rape scenes are typically portrayed in media. Using these emotionally difficult scenes as background decoration or local color cheapens a very real and very traumatic experience for a significant portion of viewers. Thankfully, in the last five minutes of Mary’s screen time, so far that has not been the case.
Protestant assassins snuck into the castle to kill Francis and Mary – with Francis gone, the assassins hold Mary captive and rape her. The way the scene is shot, the audience questions what happened, but after Mary escapes, the situation becomes clear.
Mary flees to Catherine, who immediately understands what happened to Mary even when the viewers aren’t quite sure. Catherine dismisses her guards and stays a distance away from Mary. Catherine clarifies once and then promises never to ask directly again about Mary’s experience.
Was Mary raped?
Then she tells Mary that this is the moment where she has to decide. Mary has to choose whether to be a victim, to let this define her, or to show France and Scotland that she is a queen untouched by an assassination attempt. Catherine tells her all the right things, and tells her she needs to fix her hair and her clothes for public perception if she chooses to remain queen.
Which is precisely what she does.
Mary walks out in full regalia to tell the kingdom that she was not touched. That the assassins failed. That nothing happened. That they will die for nothing. The scene is incredibly powerful-the close up of Mary’s face during her speech is the most striking image of this entire season thus far.
Francis returns, learns of Mary’s rape, and blames himself. While Mary thought he was talking to the Vatican to arrange his sister’s marriage, he was foiling Narcisse’s blackmail plot and leaving her unprotected.
For now, Mary doesn’t know about this – and she’s going to be dealing with the aftermath of her rape for the foreseeable future, especially since the assassins may have been accidentally funded through Lord Castleroy’s misplaced charitable donations. We might also see the return of the Lola/Narcisse ship.
We’ll also have to wait and see if Reign’s writers can handle the subject tactfully and realistically while staying true to the experience and aftermath of victimization – and thus far, I trust that they’ll do that extremely well. I’m excited about watching Mary and Catherine’s relationship take on a new dimension, especially when actresses are consistently nuanced and flawless in the execution of their roles.