December 13, 2013

THE SKED Fall Finale Review: “Reign”


REIGN rang down the curtain on the first piece of its season (it returns on January 23, having managed to hold onto its post-Vampire Diaries timeslot) in fine historical romance style.  The script, by series co-creator Laurie McCarthy (the episode was directed by Fred Gerber), brought the show’s main storyline to the forefront:  the premonition by Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland) that if Queen Mary of Scotland (Adelaide Kane) married her betrothed, Prince Francis of France (Toby Regbo), it would inevitably lead to his untimely death, and the ruthless campaign of Francis’s mother Queen Catherine (Megan Follows)–not for nothing a de Medici by birth–to stop their marriage at any cost.  By the end of the hour, Catherine had finally told Mary about the prophecy, and since Mary had inconveniently fallen in love with Francis, at a time when royal weddings were matters of political strategy and not passion, she rode off from the castle so that his life would be saved–and, this being a romance, she was accompanied by Francis’s bastard half-brother Sebastian (Torrance Coombs), who also happens to be enraptured with Mary.

No one would mistake Reign for a serious work of historical fiction, but McCarthy and her fellow series creator Stephanie Sengupta have done a good job keeping its pieces in motion.  Along the way from the pilot, Mary’s ladies in waiting, who started as annoying airheads, have become somewhat more developed as characters, especially Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), who’s now the second-ranked mistress of King Henry (Alan van Sprang), and often a pawn of Queen Catherine and Henry’s senior mistress (the mother of Sebastian), Diane (Anna Walton).  (Sadly, the most engaging of Mary’s ladies, Jenessa Grant’s Aylee, who charmingly romanced a baker’s boy, didn’t survive the fall finale.)  Episodes have somewhat uneasily walked a line at bringing in the supernatural beyond Nostradamus’s visions–it was a relief in last night’s episode that the mysterious Clarissa, who lives in the secret passages of the castle, was revealed as a human with her own agenda and not some kind of spirit–but there’s been some genuinely interesting material about the pagan cults that co-existed with Christianity in the 16th Century (Diane was a member of one), and plotting that’s made use of the tangled political alliances of the era.

Reign loses some IQ points whenever Mary and Francis are together, as they tend to swoon over the doomed impossibility of their love when they’re not spiting each other or swearing eternal fealty.  But when Mary is matched with Catherine, Kane gives as good as she gets in her scenes with Follows, and the Kenna/King Henry/Catherine/Diane storyline offers a smarter and more rigorous view of what passed for royal romance.  Van Sprang is particularly strong as a king who’s completely unapologetic about his pragmatism and desires, no matter whom they may hurt.

Despite what must be the typically limited CW budget, Reign has a handsome, classy look (probably helped by the fact that most of the action takes place in and around a single castle, and that compared to other CW shows, few special effects are required), and it only takes itself as seriously as it needs to.  The ratings have been far from great, losing 40% or more of its Vampire Diaries lead-in, and like its heroine, Reign may feel the executioner’s blade sooner rather than later.  On the financial side, though, it could have strong foreign appeal, which would bring in more revenue (that’s what kept Nikita alive longer than its ratings would have suggested), so perhaps the series will keep its throne for a while.  There’s nothing else like it on the broadcast networks, and while no masterpiece, it’s a pleasantly royal change of pace.

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."