Reign recap: 'Acts of War'
An assassination attempt on Francis results in one of the series' most shocking scenes.
Tonight was the night we’ve all been dreading. After a leak back in October, Reign fans knew (and protested) that there was a rape storyline in the works, and tonight, we watched as Protestant assassins stormed the castle in an attempt to kill the king. And when Francis was nowhere to be found, one of the men decided instead to rape Mary as punishment for the death of his son, the Protestant minister who was killed last week. But here’s the thing about this episode: Even though the rape was unbearable to watch, I understand why the writers went there.
In the scenes that followed Mary’s rape, it was evident that this horrific event will lead to some incredibly rich storytelling. Just the idea that Mary wasn’t allowed to sit and cry but instead had to put her country before herself was not only gut-wrenching, but it added another layer to the world of being a royal. There was something very powerful about watching Mary refuse to be beaten, and a lot can be said for a show that takes something that’s meant to degrade someone and uses it instead to strengthen them. I, for one, am intrigued to see where things go from here.
But before we get to the heart-wrenching part of the episode, let’s catch up on what else is happening around France.
For starters, Francis and Condé are visiting villages announcing that the Feast of Saint Nicholas is still on this year. And for anyone who might be hesitant about a public gathering—given all the religious turmoil and just general murder as of late—Francis’ guards will deliver food and supplies to their home. He assures everyone that the crown did not kill the Protestant minister. And now, he hopes they can all live as neighbors once again.
Back at the castle, Mary’s ladies are practicing a new dance from Spain when Claude comes along asking for information on Lord Narcisse. Essentially, she wants to know if she should have a juicy public affair with him in order to obliterate any chance of her mother marrying her off. The moral of the story: Narcisse kept his last wife in a cage. Also, someone should really ask the poor girl how she feels about baths.
Actually, there’s no need to ask her yet because Mary—and her extremely matronly dress—has an idea. She thinks an interfaith marriage between Claude and Condé will be just the thing to send the people of France a message and keep the Protestants from rising up. Francis isn’t on board—he’s fallen completely to the nobles—until Bash shows him a secret: Bash found the priest that Narcisse had captured in order to frame Mary and Catherine for a murder attempt against Henry. And when Father Michael doesn’t know where Narcisse is keeping Lord Montgomery, Francis decides that marrying Claude is just the way to keep Narcisse distracted while he and Bash find Montgomery.
With approval from her husband, Mary is off to find Condé and once again disappoint him by not confessing her love for him. Instead, she talks about how he’s the most visible Protestant leader in France, which immediately gives him a “creeping sense of unease.” (Yep, not only does the man wear leather pants well, but he’s also highly perceptive.) With that, Mary comes out and asks him to marry Claude. Of course, she’s not as
married mature as he typically likes his women, but he can’t say no to Mary’s beautiful brown eyes. Or as he puts it, “You could sell the ocean a cup of water.” Good one, Condé. But in reality, the thing that most excites him about this marriage is the fact that he’ll live at court (a.k.a. attempt to sleep with Mary on the side).
Claude, however, is not as excited about the idea of being close to Mary or being married for that matter. To her, a marriage to Condé sounds like a “charming pair of shackles.” (Is there such a thing?) And for once, Catherine is in agreement with her daughter, but only because she still thinks Claude needs to get out of the castle to escape her ghostly little sisters. Regardless, Mary sets up a meeting between Claude and Condé in which he smirks with the best of them and she asked about his “region.” (Spoiler: It’s “satisfying.”)
But when Narcisse gets word of the potential engagement, he heads straight to Francis, who is all but waiting for him. After watching his father last year, Francis has plenty of “going mad” material to pull from in order to know how to play the part, and he successfully freaks Narcisse out with his talk of sleepless nights and reversing the edict. Things go according to Francis’ plan, which means Narcisse will be occupied with trying to remove him from the throne. Although I doubt Francis’ plan involved Narcisse feeling up Claude. Let’s just say Narcisse’s visit to Claude’s chambers involves a proposal and a quick trip to second base. But everyone knows you have to go to third to get a princess to marry you. (Too far?)
Also, no offense to Narcisse because I know he’s Casanova and everything, but no sex is worth dying for (unless you’re this woman).
After Claude visits Francis and gets a talk about how now is her time to finally step forward and take her place as a member of the family, she tells Narcisse that she’s marrying Condé because at least this way, even if she dies, her family will cry at her funeral. #royalproblems
And speaking of #royalproblems, Francis and Bash are off to follow Narcisse’s right-hand man to where Lord Montgomery is being held. It’s a risky journey and one that could fail, thereby resulting in Narcisse’s victory and Mary being taken to a safe house, but it’s something Francis has to do … but not before saying goodbye to the woman he loves. When Francis finds Mary, he tells her that he has to go take care of something before the feast, but he assures her that he loves her. And when she tries to walk away too quickly, he asks her to let him look at her. And in my favorite moment of the episode, she asks if he’s had enough time to look and he says, “Not nearly.” Ugh.
Random thought: It would be very difficult to follow someone on horseback. You’d have to stay far enough back that they don’t hear you and yet you can’t lose sight of them. In other words, I was made for the 21st century.
NEXT: Castleroy is cute … but not very smart
With Francis out on his mission, the feast begins! Narcisse and Catherine meet up and cheers to what he claims “might be” if Catherine were to rule while Mary is informed that Francis and Bash went into town to smooth things over with the Vatican about Condé and Claude’s engagement, which Mary promptly announces. But thanks to her speech to Condé about how marriage is a promise based on an inexplicable faith in someone else—which he clearly feels for her—he leaves the party early. And by episode’s end, he’s left the castle with only a note for Mary left behind. It’s urgent he gets some distance from Mary … before his heart explodes?
Still at the feast, we catch up with Greer and Castleroy. Since we last saw him, Castleroy has become more active in the Protestant world, recently donating money to fund a school in an under-serviced region. At first, Greer sees it as a ploy to get her to convert, but after a bit of thought—and one trip around the dance floor—she’s ready to consider converting in order to unite their home. And for Castleroy, nothing is sexier than religious conversion. It’s off to the bedroom for these two!
On the road—but really, a dirt path—Francis and Bash successfully follow Narcisse’s helper and kill him. And once they find Lord Montgomery and get him to sign a confession saying he killed Henry, they kill him too. The man knew too much. And now, Francis can finally go home and defeat Narcisse.
However, he won’t like what he finds at home. It turns out that Castleroy was lied to. His money wasn’t used to build a school but rather to fund a group of Protestant assassins who storm the castle to kill Francis. But when Francis isn’t home, they’re left with Mary. And once again, we’re at the dreaded moment.
When the Protestants realize that Francis isn’t there, they go to murder Mary. Only, when one of the guards knocks her to the ground, he gets another idea. As punishment for killing his son, the minister, he rapes her while another guard pins down her arms. But before a second guard can do the same, Mary fights him off and escapes. She quickly runs into Catherine in the hallway and is taken back to Catherine’s chambers, where Catherine learns the truth.
When Mary crumbles to the floor, Catherine sits with her and assures her that she will survive this because her pride and strength are two things that cannot be taken from her. What she needs to do now is “erase any mark of their hands on you.” She needs to get dressed and assure her people that both she and Francis were untouched. “Do this for you and for Francis and for Scotland and for France,” Catherine tells her.
And in the best line of the episode, Catherine explains how the Protestants “tried to diminish a king tonight by degrading a queen,” but they will not succeed. The next few moments will either define Mary as “a victim or a powerful queen untouched by a failed assassination attempt.” They will “define who you are perceived to be, your place in history.” Catherine tells her not to let them win and instead, asks Mary to let her help. Mary takes her hand.
And as a song plays with the lyrics, “Take control of who you are,” Mary sits on the throne with Catherine at her side and assures her subjects that the king and queen remain untouched. The Protestants achieved nothing, altered nothing, and will die for nothing.
Once that’s handled, everyone is left in the aftermath of the night’s events. For Narcisse, he goes to Lola to finally admit that the nation is burning and it’s all because he lit the match. But most importantly, when things got dangerous, he worried for Lola more than anyone.
As for Francis, his return home means him finding out what happened to his wife. He assures Mary that “you are my life and I love you,” before blaming himself. Mary, who doesn’t know the truth of where he was, tells him that he’s wrong, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. All she wants is for him to find the men who did this and kill them.
King Henry’s ranking: This week has Henry feeling very protective of the ones he loves.
Be sure to check out my post-mortem with showrunner Laurie McCarthy, where she talks about Mary’s rape and what it means for the show.