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'The Tudors' season finale: Swan song

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Tudors_l_2And then she came to her end. Anne, I mean — not Plain, whose end has yet to be plucked, if you get what I’m saying. Did I cry? No, because I still have hate in my heart from last season. But I shook my fist and pounded my chest and appreciated every moment of dignity and breakdown so skillfully conveyed by Natalie Dormer on her way to the scaffold. She even snuck in a joke the day before the chop: “I heard the executioner was very good, and in any case, I have only a little neck.” This was lifted nearly word-for-word from a quip made by the real Boleyn — Anne’s enemies may have tagged her the “goggle-eyed whore,” but she also had a cracking sense of humor.

In fact, much of the Queen’s dialogue was straight from the history books: the above funny, her last confession, her pre-execution speech, and her final prayer. Yet, despite being so mired in truth, I was easily deceived when Brandon pretended Edward had mortally stabbed him (which would have been terribly historically inaccurate). When he collapsed on the bed, I gasped so hard my throat whistled.  Oddly, though, I wasn’t sad: I considered it gutsy for the Tudors to kill off one of its most beloved and fantasized-about characters without warning.  And in such an undignified way! Stuck like a pig by his own spermati! Then he turned out to be faking and this all became moot. But still.

I admit that I didn’t get this scene at first. When Edward told Brandon he “would really like to see someone die” and asked to watch the execution, my only thought was, you sick little bastard. I blew it off as filler to get Cavill more screen time (speaking of, here’s some on-set photos of his upcoming Woody Allen film). Not that he needed it: Sure, we didn’t see Brandon all that much, but the fact that he told Papa Boleyn the what’s what was enough for me. He’s my bloody hero now. Then, after mulling it over, I realized this: Edward asks Brandon if he ever killed anyone. Brandon says yes, but only enemies in battle so he didn’t care. Yet he knows that he got the ball rolling on Anne’s, and the others’, beheadings by telling Henry about her alleged infidelity. And he betrayed the fact that he doesn’t believe her death is just by scolding Papa B. Which makes me wonder: Does Brandon rationalize his actions by considering Anne (and Mark and Norris and George and Brereton) his enemy in battle? He was the last to kneel before her execution (even his little brat had hit the ground). And does this make him evil — or just one of those political skanks that Elizabeth’s nanny was taking about when she warned her maid to “find a rich man to marry who is too stupid to know anything about politics”?

I’ll say this: It’s telling that the show visually linked Brandonto a peacock with its tail down when he was walking to free Papa (wesaw the bird saunter across the screen first, then Charles).Considering this is the guy who used to rock out with his c— out likesix times an episode, you’d think he’d be more akin to a peacock withits feathers fanned (a symbol of virility and masculinity) orat least a rooster.  But likening him to just the opposite can mean twothings: He’s either being good (which we already know) or he’s storingup for some sort of wild display of vigor — either sexually orpolitically — next season.  I’m betting on the latter.

The peacock — and birds in general — was only one of severalintertwined motifs that so heavily graced yesterday’s finale. Meals,baths, people sleeping and waking, all added to the episode’s overall theme of new beginnings andfortification. We see Elizabeth’s last breakfast as a princess (a lotof hardboiled eggs for one surly toddler, don’t you think?) and herfirst day as a bastard. We see Anne’s final meal in this life (whichshe doesn’t touch) and her journey into the next one. We see her handswashed and we hear her last confession (effectively wiping her slateclean). We see Cromwell as he first begins to fall out of the King’sfavor, Brandon’s new life as a responsible father, Plain’s early daysas royal arm candy, and Mary’s start as a reinstated princess (with themother-of-all daddy issues). And then, of course, there’s Henry. Henot only goes to sleep and wakes up several times during the episode(remember, each morning is an opportunity for a new start), but he alsotakes a dip in what he calls “the fountain of youth,” and emergesannouncing, “I am reborn.”

Which is worrisome: I don’t think The Tudors is implyingthat Henry wants so much to be a changed man (though he does dictate toCromwell, “Above all, I love the prospect of change”), as that he’strying to recapture his youth. Like he says during dinner with theSeybores (BTW, I despise Plain’s smirking bro so much, he’s justbegging for a purple nurple or something), “From tomorrow [afterAnne’s death] everything will be different, we will be young and merryas we used to be.” We also know that things aren’t going to change thatmuch: For, when Henry spoke to Plain about new beginnings, the camerawas sure to frame her in-between her scheming brother and father, justlike Anne with George and Papa. Is Henry just going through a midlifecrisis? Are we watching a 16th-century version of The Starter Wife?   

With that in mind, here’s my first theory about the birds, particularlythe swans that Henry finds so watchable (and later eats, but we’ll getto that). Now, bear with me here: Didn’t they remind you of the ducksTony obsessed over in the first season of The Sopranos?Think about it: JRM even went to see the swans in his dressing gown thesame way Tony would visit his ducks in a robe and boxers. Now, whatdid Tony’s fixation turn out to represent? His fears of growing old, ofbeing at the tail end of great reign (the King has already givenmanbirth to the Church of England, what more is on his plate?), ofdrowning in a sea of meaningless lays, and of a myriad of otherproblems — all of which he shares with Henry. 

Yet swans alsorepresent purity and grace — and we know Henry’s been obsessed withthat of late. (“Oh Plain, in this slippery world, you representeverything that is good and boring and wears a lot of blue and has avoice like a dial tone.”) So what does it mean when he decides to haveone of them cooked and served to him? (FYI, I did some research on whatswans taste like, and apparently they’re tough and fishy.) That hetakes what he wants? That he devours what’s good in the world? Or thathe eats up (and dribbles out) his wives? On the other hand, swans alsosignify monogamy: Once they find a mate, they stay together for life.We even see the two swans bend their heads together as if they arekissing. By eating one of them, does monstrous Henry put an end totheir happiness? Or does he swallow up old ways of love, marriage, andcoupling?

That said, swans have belonged to the monarchy in England sinceabout the 13th Century (even today, only royalty are legally allowed tomunch on them). So Henry could just be feasting on something thatbelongs to him. Then again, what kind of person looks at something sopretty, so serene, and decides he wants to chew it? (I, however, havebeen ambivalent towards the beauty of swans since one almost bit mymiddle finger off). The final shot of Henry’s face, with swan gravydripping down his chin and his cheeks all puffed out, was so aggressiveand so chilling (and so nicely linked to the opening credit image) thatmy testes, if I had some, would have shriveled. Well, done JRM.

In the end, last night was aces and I’m depressed to see the showgo. I just hope that everyone is back for next season (where was thePope yesterday, BTW?) and I’m dying to find out the new additions tothe cast. I’ve already dug into The Virgin Queen (also with Hans Matheson) to feed my addiction and it’s working. Daniel Evans, one of my favorite actors (he was Mordecai in Daniel Deronda), plays Robert Cecil. I’m also looking forward to hunting down a copy of this, the British TV version of The Other Boleyn Girl with Jodhi May as Anne and Jared Harris (Richard’s kid) as Henry. And I can’t wait for Secret Diary of a Call Girl (with Dr. Who’s Billie Piper) to start on Showtime in two weeks.

I’m going to miss you guys something fierce. Please think about mecrossing my fingers and toes for the cast and crew when the Emmy nomsare announced, and join me in supporting Tudors alum Gabrielle Anwar (Henry’s sis Margaret) by watching Burn Notice when it starts on July 10th (I’ll be recapping it). And now, finally, tell me what you think about the finale!

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