'Reign' post-mortem: Showrunner defends most controversial scene yet
After a story leaked months ago that Reign was working on a rape storyline that involved Mary, fans immediately took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the idea. More than 1,000 viewers signed a petition hoping to stop the writers before they could film the scene. But in tonight’s penultimate episode, Mary was raped by a Protestant who entered the castle in a failed assassination attempt against Francis.
In a painful scene, one of the Protestants revealed himself to be the father of the minister who was murdered last week. And as payback, he decided to attack Mary while another guard held her down. As the title of the episode indicated, it was an act of war and one that will undoubtedly end with the Protestant’s death, particularly after Mary tasked Francis with the job of finding the men that did this to her.
But regardless of what happens next, we got Reign showrunner Laurie McCarthy on the phone to talk about the shocking twist and explain why the writers felt it was an important scene.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for Mary’s rape originate?
LAURIE MCCARTHY: It really started from the end of last season when we made the choice to have Francis kill his father. Even though it was a righteous action, I always felt like it would be something that just had to haunt him, and we obviously played that in many different iterations. But it really felt like it should be something that should haunt his rule as well. It seemed like something that he couldn’t tell Mary, that he wouldn’t tell Mary, and then we looked at, “What if the wrong person found out and he became a compromised king and it made him make choices that he wouldn’t otherwise have made?” And then since we’re playing the civil unrest in the nation, which is historically accurate, we thought, “What could be one of the worst things that could happen that would really affect the person he loves the most?” And that’s Mary. So we looked at it originally through the prism of Francis, and then we looked at it through the prism of Mary, and I couldn’t imagine any other character—other than Catherine—who could experience something like this and that we would be able to then take on a journey of healing, somebody who could truly rise above this but who also would be in the worst possible situation to have something like this happen to her as a queen, as a woman, as a new wife.
I’ll admit that I didn’t want to watch the episode, but by the end of it, I thought that scene created such a great dramatic moment between Mary and Catherine, and I loved that it gave us a new angle on the life of a royal, of her having to put her country before herself.
Yeah. People here who have seen it in the editing room 100 times, there are people who cry during the scene between Mary and Catherine, but the scene that really gets me is when they have to sweep into the throne room and she has to play a role and put on a show. It’s excruciating. Could anything be more painful than to have to do something like that hours after you’ve been assaulted? These are [real] people, the royals, who experienced kidnappings and assassinations and there are many rumors as to whether Mary Queen of Scots was raped in her lifetime and frankly, how many times, so we’ve just kind of plucked events from history. But we’ve also looked at the rhythm of our stories, and we felt like it was the right time to do something really life-altering for her.
When this plot leaked a couple months ago, there was a lot of discussion about it on Twitter. Someone even started a small petition. Did that at all affect how you all handled this?
No, because we were always going to be incredibly careful about it. We were always going treat the storyline with the respect and dignity and time it deserved, not just in our attention to detail, but in terms of servicing it and honoring it for the rest of the season. It was something that we built up to from the end of last season, so I didn’t need to see a hashtag to make me think not just twice but maybe 100 times about whether or not this was the right thing to do. And there were many discussions in the writers room about it; there were discussions with the studio and the network; there were discussions with Adelaide [Kane] herself. It didn’t change anything. It made me upset that a storyline was leaked out of context. It didn’t surprise me or concern me that people said, “Please don’t do this.” It would really concern me if they said, “Please do.” Really, what are people going to say about a character that they love? I love her too. I do, I love her too! And I love her strength, but I also feel that the heart of this show really lies in how much power they have and how vulnerable they are.
Surely, some people will say, “Why couldn’t they have found another way to make Mary have this turning point in her life?” What do you say to them about why you chose to do it this way?
There are always other stories to tell and always other ways to go and we chose to tell this story. That’s the truth of it, and I’m sure we’ll tell those other ways moving forward. I think oftentimes what people actually mean when they say that is, “Could you have done it to another character and someone other than the lead of your show?” My response to that is, “Why is it okay for some other female character?” The waters get very muddy for me there. I think that the underlying question there is: Does something like this ruin a person? And I find that question really galling because I feel like, why should it ruin a person? It should ruin the person who did it. It should not ruin the character to whom it was done, and I’m very much looking forward to a story of seeing Mary find her strength again and find her sense of security and also her ability to love and experience intimacy again.
Check out EW’s new store for this year’s coolest entertainment gifts
What were the discussions around how you wanted to film the scene?
I think we wanted to film it in a way that made it clear that this was happening. My other concern was that it was really portrayed as an act of violence. It was very important to me that it wasn’t eroticized in any way, shape, or form, that it really was an act of hatred and violence and really powerlessness and rage.
Moving forward, how will this change things for Mary and for the show in general?
It becomes a turning point for Mary. It becomes a turning point for her and her relationship with Francis; we’ll see them struggle to get past it, but it really is going to change everything. She’s somebody who was aware of the threats to her before, but she’s going to feel very vulnerable for the rest of the season. And then what they do in response to this, what the king and the queen of France, Mary and Francis, do in response to this, it’s going to really affect their rule moving forward.
I feel like what I’m happy about is that what comes out of that episode is really this deep bonding between Mary and Catherine. To be honest, that’s the thing that gives me tears and a knot in my throat is the two of them shouldering the trials and tribulations of their situations together.
Anything else you want to add?
We really felt like it was an incredibly moving, shocking story and it would really give our lead character a journey that she could go on and a path, at the end of which, she will succeed.
Reign airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.