May 16, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Reign”


The idea of planting Mary, Queen of Scots in the middle of the CW line-up, a 16th century monarch among the network’s assortment of wisecracking vampires, werewolves, demons and other supernatural creatures, seemed half-crazy when the network picked up REIGN last fall, but the series has built strongly through the course of the season on its promising if unsteady pilot.  (Oddly, the show has been at its weakest when it’s tried to “fit in” with its CW cousins by incorporating a supernatural angle that’s only intermittently worked.)  Reign may or may not have much relation to the actual history of the teenaged Mary and her time in France, but its version of the saga has been a surprisingly smart and absorbing one.

The series wouldn’t work without a convincingly commanding Mary at its center, and Adelaide Kane has been the star Reign needed.  Much as Mary has had to match steel with steel in surviving the often murderous schemes of her mother-in-law, France’s Queen Catherine, Kane has had to match up on screen with the powerful Megan Follows, and when, in tonight’s season finale, Catherine remarked that she missed the old Mary, and Mary spat back that she could understand that, because that Mary had been easier to kill, the two seemed on remarkably equal footing.

Perhaps more important, though, has been the work that series creators Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie Sengupta, and their writing/producing team, has done with Mary’s ladies-in-waiting.  They were a giggly, silly bunch in the pilot, who seemed present mostly to provide characters that might lure CW’s young female demo, but they’ve become more serious and substantial as the season as gone along.  (The series has also de-emphasized its original insistence on playing modern pop songs on the soundtrack.)  By season’s end, Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) had made her way through a fiery affair with France’s King Henry (Alan van Sprang) and–at Henry’s deranged order–married his bastard son Bash (Torrance Coombs), which so far has worked out better than they might have expected.  Lola (Anna Popplewell) has been impregnated by Mary’s fiance (they were on a break) Prince Francis (Tony Regbo) and been through a marriage with a man who turned out to be impersonating a noble.  Greer (Celina Sinden) has given up true love for a betrothal with a kindly, but unromantic, rich man.  No one will mistake this court for any in Westeros, but at least these women are no longer like unused characters from Gossip Girl.  (A fourth lady-in-waiting didn’t survive past midseason, a victim of one of the season’s poisonings.)

Reign covered a fair amount of territory during its first season, including Mary and Francis’s royal marriage, several possible wars and both attempted and successful murders.  Tonight’s season finale, written by co-creator McCarthy and Co-Executive Producer Doris Egan, and handsomely directed by David Frazee, brought to a head the major storyline of the last several episodes, the increasingly deadly madness of King Henry.  When Catherine and Mary, for once acting together, realized that Henry was planning to kill his own son and marry Mary himself for her claim to the throne of England (her conflict with England, of course, will eventually doom Mary, but that’s a period that will probably occur long after Reign‘s tenure), the two of them decided that they needed to remove the King from his throne one way or another.  But before they could act, and unbeknownst to them, Francis, who’d seen Henry’s wanton killing of his own men in a naval “demonstration” for his own amusement, killed his father.  (Reign‘s younger men tend to be less interesting than its women, so van Sprang’s absence will be a loss for the show.)

Season 2 will begin with a major, if ugly, cliffhanger, as the Black Plague is about to hit France (and Mary has locked the gate behind Francis, who’s riding to the infected village where Lola is giving birth to the child he just learned about).  Reign has benefited from having The Vampire Diaries as its lead-in, and with ratings that are decent but not remarkable, CW acted conservatively this week by leaving the series in that slot next season as well.  Reign may not reach the heights of popularity of CW’s more fantasy-laden dramas, but the fact that a medieval historical saga is making it to a second season at all on American broadcast TV is fairly miraculous.  So far, Reign has merited its crown.

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."