Elizabeth makes Mary an offer she would very much like to refuse
Credit: Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW
S3 E12
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Early on in “No Way Out,” our dear Queen Mary has an important realization: Even to an ally as strong as the Vatican, she is merely a pawn. Mary’s always been a pawn, really — to her mother, to Henry, even to Catherine. But Mary’s proven repeatedly that she’s more than willing to play the game, too. If season 3 of Reign is hurtling toward a showdown between Mary and Elizabeth on Scottish soil, tonight’s episode is all about setting up the players across the chessboard that is their rivalry. Mary is nobody’s pawn, son!

Mary makes this fact clear right from the get-go. She returns from her trip to the Vatican only to be immediately greeted by Gideon, eager to both relay some important “previously on Reign” exposition to the audience (Mary wants to build a Catholic army to fight the Scottish Protestants! Liz will be very mad about it!) and find out how Mary’s mission went. According to Mary, the Vatican respectfully declined her request for back up as she returns to a hostile Scotland. She’s all alone in her attempt to regain control of her country. Gideon’s bummed that his girl is in serious trouble, but he also has to inform his queen.

And that is exactly what Mary was hoping he’d do! As it turns out, the Vatican completely backs Mary’s plan — they desperately need to keep a Catholic monarch in power. However, Mary’s plan will only work if her secret army remains, well, a secret. She has to keep Gideon in the dark. She downloads all of this to Catherine, who finds that’s all well and good but doesn’t think it should stop Mary from sleeping with the guy. Mary’s talking about basically declaring war on England, and all Catherine cares about is Mary finally getting some. Is Catherine the truest friend Mary has even known? Discuss.

With news from Gideon that Mary’s grip on Scotland and Rome is slipping, Elizabeth begins to implement a plan of her own. Her privy council has been nagging her to name a successor, what with all the poisoning going on and all, so Elizabeth does. She names Mary, Queen of Scots as next in line to take her crown. If record players had been invented back then, you can bet there would’ve been a big ol’ record scratch in that council meeting.

Unfortunately for Liz, she’s surrounded by men who just aren’t on her level and she has to do some quick queen-splaining: If Mary accepts the position, which in light of the current political situation in Scotland, Liz is sure she will, Mary’s admitting that her own claim to the throne is invalid. In return, Elizabeth will demand that Mary marries an Englishman of her choosing. Thus, Elizabeth will be removing any last play for power Mary has left. It’s a pretty ingenious plan, except for the fact that, you know, Elizabeth’s acting on bad intel. Mary’s not desperate for a handout just yet.

Mary learns of Elizabeth’s offer quickly and creepily, by way of a shady Archbishop lurking in the shadows outside of Greer’s Tavern. He informs Mary that the Vatican wants her to accept Elizabeth’s offer. Mary wants the archbishop to back up a little. All Elizabeth is doing is stripping Mary of her power. Rome doesn’t care. They’ll do whatever they have to in order to put a Catholic back on the English throne. In this case, that means that as soon as Mary accepts Elizabeth’s offer, the Queen of England will be taken out. I told you the guy was shady!

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So, Mary’s not in a great spot. She’s not in the business of killing monarchs, plus she knows that if Elizabeth were assassinated, she’d have a big target on her own back. As Catherine points out, though, one doesn’t simply say no to the Vatican, and Mary needs that alliance to return to Scotland. In an effort to save both her own reign and Elizabeth’s life, Mary turns to Gideon.

Gideon does some actual ambassador-ing, and brings Mary the official offer from Elizabeth. Although it won’t do him any favors in his next employee review, Gideon begs Mary not to accept. He, too, knows it’ll only weaken her. Plus, he doesn’t want to see her marry another Englishman. It’s actually a pretty slick line, except for the whole treason thing.

NEXT: Mary and Gideon form an alliance, in more ways than one

Later, Mary spills everything to Gideon — including the imminent threat to Elizabeth’s life — all while batting those big brown eyes at him. She needs his help to play both sides of her predicament. If Gideon writes to Elizabeth with her acceptance of the succession plan, it’ll buy her time with both Liz and the Vatican. Then they can figure out a way to save Elizabeth’s life without her knowing Mary had any hand in the assassination plot. They celebrate their new alliance by getting naked and finally doing it, as is tradition.

There is one little hiccup (with the plan, not with the sex, which seems lovely): Gideon’s servant-turned-spy Jeffrey is on to Mary and the Vatican. He spotted the shady Archbishop in town and wants to alert Elizabeth that Mary is in fact, building an army. Gideon knows that this information would ruin everything for Mary, so he calmly bashes Jeffrey’s head in and sticks his body in a trunk. Gideon is all in with Mary’s plan.

Across the channel, Elizabeth remains in the dark as she tries to use Mary to solve her Robert Dudley problem. Since being removed from court in scandal, Dudley has not been doing so well. He’s England’s Most Hated Man and he’s getting hardcore trolled by his neighbors. Not even little visits from Liz can help him. They drink wine and play chess (not a euphemism), but all Dudley wants is to be allowed back at court. He is a man without a purpose.

Maybe Dudley welcomes his terrible neighbor’s request for a duel? At least it gives him something to do. Elizabeth is horrified, but Dudley has no choice, so she and Lady Lola, apparent pistol savant, join him at dawn to watch him kill or be killed. After a rather lackluster duel, Dudley manages the former. So now he actually is a murderer! Instead of laughing at the irony, he chooses to continue to brood about losing his place in court.

Brood no more, Sweet D. After watching Dudley come so close to death, Elizabeth calls him into court and promotes him — but there’s a catch! She promotes him only because she is going to force him to marry Mary. She wants to keep him safe and disempower her cousin, and now she can do both. Au revoir, Dudley!

While all this plotting is going on, our master schemer, Catherine is dealing with some drama — and comedy! An Italian theater troupe is in town, you guys. Thanks, I’ll be here all night! Just as Catherine thinks she’s solved the Christophe problem — she has Bash put him on wolf hunting duty far, far away — she finds another threat to peace in the castle. During the troupe’s performance, a man with a very scary demon mask hops up on stage and claims Catherine and Henry falsely accused 13 men of devil worship before executing them. The Red Knights are coming for revenge. I’m not up to date on Italian theater, but I’m almost positive that wasn’t in the script.

Unfortunately, the improvising demon is speaking the truth. Back in the day, Henry and Catherine owed some money that they couldn’t repay. Henry decided to deal with the problem by accusing the men of devil worship, having them executed, and putting their heads on spikes on the palace grounds. Remember how fun King Henry was?

Catherine’s smart to be scared, and not just because Christophe shows up again claiming that only Catherine can quell his thirst for killing people (so sweet!). Narcisse discovers that Cardinal Morell was behind the plot to frame Catherine for regicide, and he’s turned up dead. That news, paired with the arrival of the Red Knights, means that the threat to her life is very, very real.

The Queens’ Corner of Harsh Lady Truths:

“Just remember: Enjoy him, but never trust him.” Catherine’s pre-sex pep talk game needs some work.

“I’m not your wife. I won’t be frightened into your arms by a dead rat or a dead Cardinal.” The best part of Catherine dressing down Narcisse is that she punctuates it by chugging his wine and handing him back the empty glass. Bow down, people.

Outfit of the Week: Elizabeth rocked two fierce yellow numbers this week, but the tiara she wore with the gown as she simultaneously made and crushed Dudley’s dreams put that dress over the top. The shoulders on that thing are something to behold. Don’t agree? Find me on twitter, @fremer, and let me know what your pick for OOTW is.

Episode Recaps

A sexy, historical fiction CW take on the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots and her royal court.
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