Three queens with three schemes... and some mixed results.
A Grain of Deception
Credit: Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW
S4 E2
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Brothers and sisters. Mothers and sons. Female monarchs and women-hating religious leaders. Ah yes, the relationships that build the fabric of our lives. The trust — or, mostly, lack of — in all of these relationships is explored in “A Grain of Deception.” When literal lives and countries are at stake, trust and loyalty are everything. What’s a queen to do when everyone around her is lying?

Well, if you’re Mary, Queen of Scots, you throw a party… with ulterior motives. Hold on to your corsets, Royals: Mary is getting her scheme on.

You’d think a gal would get a little vacation, a three-day weekend, even, from having to deal with some national crisis. You’d be wrong. Mary learns of an English attack on Scottish guards while delivering a grain-and-ammunitions supply to a small town dangerously close to the English border. If you’re a fan of Reign, you know this show loves nothing more than dramatics having to do with grain. It feels like old times, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this isn’t the first time the grain shipment to Canonbie has been thwarted by the Brits. In fact, it’s happened so many times that Mary suspects there is a leak in her court. In a completely unsurprising twist, James disagrees with his sister: There are only a four generals who know the details about the shipments, and they are all trustworthy men. Mary reminds him that those men have wives, and that James is forever underestimating women.

It feels like Reign is really going for broke with the feminism in its last season, and it is wonderful. Since Mary still can’t rely on her brother to be an ally, she goes to the sisterhood to concoct a plan to rectify the Canonbie crisis. Of course, most of that sisterhood is dead or raising an illegitimate child on the other side of the world, so really, Mary just goes to Greer. But Greer is more than enough. The two BFFs make fun of men for being such dummies when it comes to women and then nail down the details of their plan. Mary’s been missing the high fashion of French court, so she’s throwing a party for some VIP ladies to show off the latest French couture, sling back some booze, and set a little trap. She’s going to drop some false information about poisoned grain going to Canonbie, have the generals’s wives trailed, and out the snitch.

The plan works! Mary drops the bad intel, and after she and Greer do some deductive reasoning, they land on one of the four women as their rat. It turns out, the lady’s sidepiece is a blacksmith traitor. While they roll around in the hay (LITERALLY), she’s been passing along the Canonbie information. She and her blacksmith lover are arrested for treason. Mystery solved, grain safely delivered.

Mary discovers that her party was fruitful in more ways than one. One of her guests turns out to be Emily Knox. She’s a very young, naive girl who thinks a belt is a choker, and everyone makes fun of her for it. We’ve all been there, Ems. Oh, and also she’s John Knox’s wife. That’s right, folks: Knox is a cradle robber. Mary sees an opportunity in front of her: Emily Knox is a pretty girl in an unhappy marriage. Her brother James is a hottie with a body. She wants James to “befriend” Emily, who could have valuable intel against Mary’s greatest threat. James knows what “befriend” really means and refuses. “I am not your whore!” he yells. Oh, and also, John Knox would probably kill him or something if he ever found him getting close to Emily. To Mary, this is just another example of his lack of trust in, or loyalty to, her as his queen and his sister. It’s a very complicated relationship at the moment.

NEXT: Pick me. Choose me. Love me.

Eventually, James learns that Mary has gone ahead with the plot to befriend Knox’s wife anyway. She sends Emily a gift (the choker belt! Nice touch, Mary) with a sweet note from James. Emily tells James that she’ll get rid of everything before her husband returns from England, but, like, you just know this whole thing isn’t over yet. James is pissed, but Greer tries to talk him out of saying something stupid to Mary and reminds him that Mary is fiercely loyal to those she loves. It sort of works? In much more interesting news: Is there a spark between these two? I’d be into it.

Mary and James have one final confrontation, which quickly goes from a queen and her adviser disagreeing to a sister and her brother working out their familial issues. Mary is all alone, surrounded by enemies. More than an ally in court, she needs the love and support of the only family she has left. She wants them to start over. She wants them to protect one another. She wants James to finally pick a side, and she wants it to be hers. James is moved by his sister’s words and promises that he is on Mary’s side. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Much like her cousin, Elizabeth is over in England plotting away (when isn’t Elizabeth plotting?). Unlike Mary, however, Elizabeth’s plan is an unmitigated disaster.

Understandably, Elizabeth is still fuming after learning that John Knox is the man behind the bungled assassination plot that led to Lola’s beheading. Since she has no proof of his actions, she can’t do anything about it. But if Knox were to once again plot to overthrow Elizabeth, well, then she could have his head. So, she invites Knox, who doesn’t know that they know that he tried to straight-up murder Elizabeth, to court. Then, she enlists Narcisse — still waiting for France to pay reparations to England in trade for his return to the motherland — to trick the Protestant leader into gathering a group of dissenters to discuss how best to get rid of a queen. Although Narcisse would love nothing more than to murder Knox with his bare hands, he’s already in deep water with Liz and needs to play nice. Not like it’s hard for Narcisse to go and trash talk Elizabeth. He hates her about as much as he hates Knox.

Narcisse appeals to Knox’s He-Man Woman-Hating side. Which, maybe, is his only side? I mean, the guy has an audience with the Queen of England, a human woman, and still goes into how Eve was the world’s first terrible female, but not the last. It doesn’t take long for Narcisse’s suggestion of colluding at the French Embassy to appeal to Knox. He should be an easy man to grab in the middle of an act of treason.

“Should” is the operative word. Nobody planned for chatty servants! On his way to his super-secret meeting at the embassy, Knox runs into a few servants tending to little John. One of the gals is more than happy to blab on about John’s late nanny. Knox learns that the story he was told about the nanny’s demise was a lie, and though he is terrible, he is no dummy. He realizes they only would’ve lied about her death to him if she gave him up. Isn’t it the worst when the bad ones are so smart?

Needless to say, Knox does not show up at the French Embassy, and the plan to catch him in the act is tossed out the window. You know who does show up at the embassy looking to chat about reclaiming the throne? Fifty of Elizabeth’s Protestant nobles. That’s 50 men she believed were loyal to her somehow playing for the other team. Gideon tells her to throw them in the Tower, but Elizabeth isn’t just angry — she’s terrified. She doesn’t want word to get out that her enemies are gaining in both number and power. Having them brought into court or paraded through the streets on the way to prison would do just that. She has another idea: “Kill them. Kill them all.” Lizzie doesn’t play, son.

NEXT: Narcisse knows how to scheme, too

Remember when I said that Knox was a smart guy? Well, when he’s eventually caught trying to flee England, he has another audience with Elizabeth and quickly reveals that he sees right through her. He also knows that she’s scared. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gone and murdered 50 of her subjects quietly in the night. Then he throws Elizabeth’s biggest insecurity in her face: She is a queen of questionable birth, and her grasp on the throne could easily be lost. Elizabeth does her best to not cry and tells Knox to get the hell out of both her face and her country.

She doesn’t even know the worst part yet! Narcisse isn’t super pleased that both Knox and Elizabeth remain unscathed after what they’ve done. He can’t do much about Knox, but after spending so much time at English Court, he has a pretty good plan in place to ruin things for Elizabeth. Before hopping on a boat back to France, Narcisse pays a visit to Lady Lennox. He politely informs her of that little deal Liz has with her son, Darnley. Narcisse knows for a fact that some money is being delivered to a Lord White, the man Darnley’s Kira is betrothed to, as payment for breaking off that engagement and allowing Kira and Darnley to be together. In return, Darnley has promised to stay away from Mary. Narcisse also knows for a fact that if somehow that money never made it to Lord White, the entire plan would come crashing down. Darnley would have no real choice but to go see Mary about her current opening for a husband.

Yeah, um, that money doesn’t get anywhere near Lord White.

Meanwhile, in France: Catherine’s kids are generally being The Worst. I know Catherine doesn’t deserve a Parent of the Year award, but man does she have an unruly brood to deal with. Leesa is still on her Catholic mission. Currently, she’s giving Catherine grief about King Charles being MIA. He isn’t going to mass, and he’s missing all of his privy council meetings. Leesa wants to know who is actually running this country. With Narcisse trapped in England until Charles gets out of bed long enough to sign the agreement of his release, there’s need for a new Chancellor. Leesa says her husband, King Philip (“I’m aware of who you married, Leesa. You don’t have to say it.” #SavageCatherine), would like to put a Spanish noble in the position.

Catherine may be cool with murdering whomever she pleases in the dead of night (sometimes in broad daylight), but if there is one thing she will not stand for, it is letting Spain get a foothold in the French government. Catherine takes the matter into her own hands — by which I mean, she starts showing some big-time cleavage and saying things like, “Leesa can take her false humility and Spanish aggression, and she can choke on it.” Basically, Catherine’s just being herself again. Which is to say, awesome.

After a few of her ideas to get some control over the situation don’t work out, she makes one last appeal to her son. A note on Charles: The boy is not well. He is pale and sweaty. He has mysterious injuries on his arm. It’s obvious that he is falling behind on his kingly duties thanks to something much bigger than being indifferent.

Catherine brings him the Narcisse agreement and tells him that she will not sit by and let both her country and son slip away. She is speaking to him not as an adviser, but as his mother. He has her leave the documents with him, and she feels like it’s a victory. Little does she know that once she leaves the room, Charles goes to sign the papers… with bloodied and bruised hands. What is up with our young king?

Outfit of the Week: Alert! Alert! This episode contains an actual PARTY FOR DRESSES. The day is ours, dear Royals. Regardless, I am making a controversial choice to give OOTW to sweet, terrifyingly teenager-y Claude, who has somehow found a way to make mourning clothes delightful. The polka dots! That collar! It is the stuff of true fabulousness. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Come for my head if you’d like.

Episode Recaps

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