Reign, on The CW
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This 2013 series is set in 1557. The show is fairly interesting and dangerous and dramatic; it's not just a 16th century soap opera full of eye candy. It is that, in addition to the more intriguing bits, and that doesn't hurt. (Mary and her ladies in waiting, as well as Catherine, Diane, and any number of other women are all very easy on the eyes.) But if the show was just about that, I wouldn't be interested. And I definitely think it's interesting, well-acted, and... you know, generally a quality production. Oh, and it has lots of good (modern) background music, as well as a good theme song ("Scotland," by the Lumineers). And I really dug the fact that in one episode there was an instrumental version of "Royals."
Anyway, the main character is Mary Stuart (Adelaide Kane), better known as Mary, Queen of Scots. When the series starts, she's been in hiding at a convent since she was 9 years old. The show doesn't say how old she is now, though if it's following real history at all, she's 15. (She definitely doesn't look it, considering the actress playing her is 23, but I'm pretty sure the character is meant to be a teenager, even if she's possibly older than 15.) Anyway, she's been betrothed to Francis, the Dauphin of France, since she was 6, and they're old childhood friends. At the start of the series, an assassination attempt on Mary fails, so she moves from the convent to the Royal Court of France, where she sees Francis for the first time in years, as well as being reunited with her old friends (and ladies-in-waiting), Lola (played by Anna Popplewell of the Chronicles of Narnia movies), Kenna, Greer, and Aylee. (They're all Scottish, and I think they arrived at the French court not long before Mary, though I'm not really sure about that. Like Mary, I should say they're all probably teenagers played by actresses in their early 20s.) But the main reason I was interested in checking out the show was because of Megan Follows, who's been one of my favorite actresses ever since she starred in Anne of Green Gables, way back in 1985. Here, she plays Queen Catherine de' Medici, mother of Francis and wife of King Henry II of France (not to be confused with any of the King Henrys of England). (Henry and Catherine also have a couple of younger sons, of relatively minor importance to the plot.) Henry also has a mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and they have a son named Sebastian ("Bash"), who is Francis's half brother.
Before Mary leaves the convent, a young girl named Rose warns her about ghosts in the French castle, and a girl who hides her face. Meanwhile, Catherine consults with her advisor, Nostradamus (I assume you've heard of him). He warns the queen that he's had a vision that Mary will cost Francis his life, if they marry. So, Catherine is determined to do whatever she can to prevent them from marrying, even if it means innocent people must die. So, there will be a great deal of intrigue in the series. Her initial attempt to thwart the marriage is averted by a warning Mary receives from a mysterious girl named Clarissa (Katie Boland), whom she doesn't actually see; obviously, she's the one Rose had mentioned. (Mary ends up trusting the mysterious Clarissa for a large part of the season, though that... ultimately turns out not to be a great idea.) Anyway, it's unclear if Catherine really needs to do anything to prevent the marriage, because as much as Francis might like to marry Mary, he's concerned that an alliance with Scotland- the whole reason for the betrothal- may not be the best thing for France, right now. And even though Mary and Francis love each other, Mary and Bash also develop feelings for each other. And Diane has hopes that Bash might be legitimized as Henry's son, by the Pope, so that he could become the next king of France, instead of Francis. And... well, there's lots of other stuff going on in the series, including Pagans who live in the woods and make sacrifices and stuff. And it turns out that Diane was once a Pagan herself, though she and Bash are now both Catholic. And... each of Mary's ladies-in-waiting have their own subplots going on, especially Kenna (who becomes Henry's new mistress).
While England wants to claim Scotland, Henry wants to use Mary to claim England (whose own queen, Mary Tudor, is dying, with Mary Stuart as a possible successor). There's all sorts of historical stuff going on in this show that I'm afraid I don't fully follow, since Europe just has too damn much history to keep straight. (So it's a good thing I can look stuff up online.) Of course, I'm not sure how closely the plot of the show follows actual history (but I'm assuming a fair amount of dramatic license is taken). A great deal is made of the struggle between Catholics and Protestants. While Mary is in France, her mother, Marie de Guise, is ruling Scotland, but she eventually faces rebellion by Protestants. And I think England was going through a Protestant phase of its own, though that's not really clear to me. By the end of the first season (in 1558), Mary Tudor (whom we never actually see in the show) has finally died, but not before naming Mary Stuart's cousin, Elizabeth I, as her successor. Not that that stops Henry from plotting to use Mary, Queen of Scots, to claim England for himself (and for Catholicism).
But I'm getting ahead of myself. So many things happen, it's hard to keep the events of a single year of this show straight, let alone the history of France, England, and Scotland. For a few episodes, Henry was planning to have Catherine executed, but that didn't end up happening. And Mary eventually becomes an ally of Catherine, sort of, after Nostradamus tells Catherine that his visions of Francis's death have changed. But the two queens are still often somewhat antagonistic toward each other, to say the least. And um... Mary eventually does marry Francis. And toward the end of the season, Henry goes mad, and does all kinds of crazy things, including forcing Bash to marry Kenna. (Remember, this is a time when Catholics would have considered divorce absolutely unthinkable, so regardless of the circumstances, this means they are married for life.) They didn't even like each other at first, but luckily, they do rather quickly come to love each other. And Bash spends the last few episodes looking for "the Darkness," a man (or monster) to whom the Pagans have been making sacrifices. He finally finds and kills him, but not before the Darkness explains the reason for the sacrifices (which vaguely put me in mind of The Cabin in the Woods). So that leads into a major plot point for next season, which I'll hold off on spoiling, for now. But I do need to spoil one thing: Henry dies in the season finale, and Francis becomes king.
I have left out a ton of plot points, especially about each of Mary's friends. I'm sure there are a great many things I'll never bother mentioning, but some season 1 developments I may need to spoil later, when season 2 rolls around.
In the fall of 2014, my internet had gotten so slow I decided not to bother trying to watch my CW shows on Hulu anymore. It was a painful decision, but I could live with it. Then a little over a month after the season started, the internet sped up. I have no idea why. But I decided I'd give my shows a try, after all. Unfortunately, I just barely missed the window of opportunity to catch Reign's season premiere, so... I added it to my list of shows I've been missing. Someday I'll catch up, hopefully, but I have no idea when.