“My throne will always be at risk. I need power. And I must do whatever it takes to get it.”
When royalty’s involved, marriage is never just about falling in love. As we’ve learned time and again on “Reign,” they’re more than anything business transactions, meant to solidify working relations between nations — things like emotions, age gaps, and geographical proximity aren’t much considered.
Mary (Adelaide Kane) was promised to her first husband as a child, a union meant to solidify the political alliance between France and Scotland as well as to provide Mary’s lifelong security. That poor Francis (Toby Regbo, still missed) died young upended all of these carefully negotiated plans, and so last season found Mary floundering to find herself in this unexpected new situation… And now in the show’s final season, which premiered Friday (Feb. 10), we see her at 180 degrees as she makes the mercenary decision to marry for business reasons.
Mary’s two-season romance with Francis are now, in retrospect, part of the show’s long con in demonstrating her personal growth. Mary and Francis spent much of their time on “Bachelor”-style dates: Costumes from an early Taylor Swift video, hair in beachy waves as they rode horses, picnicked in the woods, or blissed out on Francis’s boat.
In retrospect, this fizzy portrayal of first love was as crucial to Mary’s character arc as those early montages of her twirling with her besties, trying on dresses; the neverending slumber party those first hours seemed to promise. Rewatching early episodes now is like the opening scenes of “The Virgin Suicides”: Nostalgia like a punch to the gut, so pretty you could avoid — at least for a bit — the darkness that was also always there.
This week’s premiere sets up a clear thesis statement for “Reign’s” final season: Through her apprenticeship at the side of the wildly self-sufficient Catherine (Megan Follows) — and the series of traumas, murders and kidnappings she’s survived — Mary now knows that the only way to solidify her shaky standing is through the strongest marriage possible: She’s no longer looking for love, or even sex. She wants a husband — and she knows precisely the one she needs in order to survive.
Of course, rival/cousin Elizabeth (Rachel Skarsten) also understands the importance of Lord Darnley (Will Kemp). The cousins are rivals for the same man — but this is no “Bachelor” rivalry: Neither of them cares at all about Darnley as a person, let alone as a man, so much as what he represents to them both. Winning him as a husband could mean a simple way for either woman to dominate both England and Scotland.
Arranged marriages loom large in this week’s b-plot as well, which makes clear immediately that Leith’s (Jonathan Keltz) stabbing was just as deadly as it appeared. This frees up Claude (Rose Williams) for a marriage of convenience, brokered by the sudden appearance of her heretofore unseen sister Leeza (Anastasia Phillips): Not just Catherine’s eldest daughter, but the Queen of Spain — meaning that she, at least for the time being, outranks both her mother and sister. So when she insists on marrying Claude to a political ally, even Catherine can make little argument otherwise.
…But what she can do is arrange the murder of Claude’s unwanted fiancé. Of course. (Which puts the episode’s death count, by the way, at four: 1 nanny dead via archery snipers, 1 guard dead via ax to the gut, 1 Earl dead via sword beheading, 1 unwanted fiancé dead via pseudo-suicide.)
“Reign” has a singular approach to, among other things, death: Its characters are constantly getting humped out of windows, cut in two while having sex in a lumber mill or having deadly accidents while strapped to S&M racks. Increasingly, we lose them to Mary’s skills with a blade. So by now, it’s de rigeur for the same episode to feature at once a heartfelt memorial for Lola (Anna Popplewell, gone too soon), Mary’s casual axe-murder of a guard, and Catherine’s latest murder victim to pop up as tossed-off sight gag. In a world this vicious, of course Mary needs protection — not just of a husband for himself, but those families and armies that come with him.
Unlike previous seasons, for the first time “Reign” is overlapping with recorded history. We know which Queen will wed Darnley, we know how long and successful Elizabeth’s reign will be — and most of all, we know how this all ends for Mary. The showrunners have already shown their commitment to playing out the main beats (eventually) with the death of Francis: Eliminating the show’s most popular male actor — and decimating its even more beloved ship — is evidence of that.
And yet, to see Mary first looming in a clearing in a caped, white gown — imperiously speechifying to the men foolish enough to try and kidnap her — it’s impossible not to hope that perhaps, this time things will work out for her.
“Reign” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.