June 17, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Reign”


Many remarkable things have happened in the world of television over the past few years, but none may be odder than the fact that a story about the 16th century Mary, Queen of Scots ran on network TV for four seasons.  Even more, while REIGN initially squeezed into the CW demographic by concentrating on teen Mary (Adelaide Kane), her arranged marriage and true romance with Francis (Toby Regbo), the future King of France, and her court of equally young, beautiful noblewomen, most of those characters were killed off or otherwise eliminated through the course of the run, and Reign instead expanded its scope to include the courts and female monarchs of France and England, including making Elizabeth I (Rachel Skarsten) a series regular.

Although Reign was more bodice-ripper than Prestige TV, never in a league with other tales of royalty like The Crown or even The White Queen/The White Princess (although PBS’s weirdly superficial Victoria may be another story), by the standards of CW’s superhero shows and soaps, it was startlingly ambitious.  It also benefited from two strong performances in the leads, from Kane and Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici of France, Mary’s ferociously scheming mother-in-law, adversary and later ally.  Both women brought piercing intelligence and commanding presence to their roles, sometimes more than the scripts provided.

Tonight’s series finale, written by co-creator Laurie McCarthy and Executive Producer April Blair, and directed by Holly Dale, was a clunky affair that felt oddly as though the producers had found out at the last minute that the series was coming to an end, even though this season had been announced as the last from the start.  Most of the hour took place in 1566, where Mary, having returned to Scotland after Francis’s death, had to order the death of her syphilitic second husband (who wasn’t much of a bargain even when he wasn’t going insane), while France and England maneuvered around Spain, which was first aiming its armada at one nation, then the other.  This being Reign, room was also found for Queen Elizabeth to personally murder a treacherous maid, and for Catherine to have a (CW-level) orgy with her lover and a witch she’d hired to kill the woman whose appeal to both Catherine’s royal sons threatened to cause a civil war.

Then, in the last act, there was an abrupt “21 Years Later” title, and we had moved all the way to the day of Mary’s execution, which via an exposition-laden scene between Elizabeth and Mary’s now-grown son James, we learned was both of their faults, but that things would work out OK because James would unite the thrones of England and Scotland.  Mary’s head was promptly lopped off, but the script found a route to a “happy” ending by having her in a sort of heaven that featured the return of Francis and a montage of moments from the series.  It didn’t bear much scrutiny as a history lesson.

As the broadcast networks increasingly take refuge from their dwindling ratings in the most conventional genres, Reign was a break with the norm, and even with the limitations of its format, budget and target demo, it was unlike anything else on the dial.  (It was also a trail-blazer of the idea that a series could sustain a run despite very low linear ratings if it had strength internationally and via SVOD streaming.)  Unless Still Star-Crossed sticks around for four seasons  (don’t bet on it), it will stand as something unique in these late days of the kingdoms of the broadcasters.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."