Final Thoughts on the CW's Reign

Last summer, the CW Network aired the final episode of their historical drama, Reign. Not being a fan of history, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the show due to its constantly dancing on the line between fantasy and reality, not to mention the gorgeous costumes. Right after the series ended, I wrote a long Facebook post summarizing my thoughts on the show as a whole. Unfortunately, due to Facebook placing long posts behind a cut and the show's general lack of popularity, very few people actually read it. It was recently suggested that I repost my review here in case any fans of the 2013 drama were interested in hearing my thoughts. Below the image is my unedited review from June 16, 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

The evolution of Reign was very interesting because each season had a different overall tone. By the end, it was a very different show than what it started out as. The first episode showed a queen being brought up in a convent, completely cut off from the rest of the world. She was only brought to court when one of the nuns was poisoned when taste testing her food, a foreshadowing of the darkness that was to come. Even then, it took several seasons for the show to reach its peak of darkness and gore.

Though the main focus was always on Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was portrayed brilliantly by Adelaide Kane, there were many other characters with extended story arcs that popped in and out throughout the four seasons. The most notable of these were her ladies in waiting, of whom the first two seasons focused on greatly before the show went in a different direction around the third season or so. She was introduced as having four ladies, but one of them died off before we ever got a chance to really get attached to her. The remaining three, Kenna, Greer, and Lola (who were all actually named Mary historically, but no one would have been able to follow that on TV), each had very interesting stories that veered in very different directions.

Lola was by far my favorite. She was the smartest and boldest of the ladies and had some of the best costumes. In many cases, she was given the blunt end of the stick story-wise. Even though the other ladies made much worse decisions than her, she always seemed to be the one who ended up suffering. She wasn't perfect. Sleeping with Mary's husband while they were involved in an emotional breakup could have been unforgivable if it had been anyone else, but Lola made the unfortunate situation almost understandable, especially since it was Francis who had initiated and encouraged the interaction. Of course, Lola immediately became pregnant with his child and was placed in a situation where she was forced to marry the first suitor she found. Even after she recovered from that situation, she ended up marrying the biggest douchebag on the show, Lord Narcisse, and later got tricked into an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth and was beheaded for it at the end of the third season. For the most part, Lady Lola was merely a victim of circumstance.

Lady Kenna was a complete dimwit who became the mistress of the wicked King Henry and was "punished" with a loving husband, Bash. I didn't miss her one bit when she disappeared somwhere toward the middle of the show. Then, there was Lady Greer who broke the heart of the servant boy she claimed to love, and instead of suffering for her misconduct, she became the successful business owner of a brothel. I suppose Lola was simply too pure and good to survive a world that rewarded only those who abused their power. which why Queen Catherine was always so successful in spite of her ruthlessness.

Though the show was inspired by history (I hesitate to say "based on," not being familiar enough with the history and knowing that the writers took many liberties with it), it was in many ways a fantasy. Just like a Disney movie, it invites its viewers to fantasize about the pleasures of the court and what it would have felt like to be royalty. It's not secret that the best thing about Reign was not the story, but the costumes. That was what kept me watching it throughout the first season, even though some episodes were much weaker than others. Each week, there would be new gorgeous glittering gowns to feast my princess-obsessed eyes upon and imagine what they would be like to wear. Lola had some of the best casual dresses, but many of Mary's formal gowns stood out as some of the best costumes I've ever seen on a television show, especially her winter gear and her wedding dresses. I'm quite sure the network was also aware that this was a selling since they posted a featurette on their Facebook page about shopping for the costumes when the show started, and later, they would have "Wardrobe Wednesday" every week, in which they would post a picture of a costume from that week's episode with a quote from the designer about why she chose specific fabrics or colors for that dress. In many ways, the show was a cosplayer's dream.

At its heart, though, was Adelaide Kane's stunning portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots, and how she evolved from a naive girl in a convent to a powerful woman and queen trying to survive in a man's world. The feminist undertones were barely acknowledged until the fourth and final season, when Elizabeth was fully fleshed out as Mary's rival. Despite this, she struggled with many of the very same issues that Mary did, being a sovereign queen in a monarchy that valued men over women. In the final episode, Mary directly pointed out to John Knox that it was this, and not any of her previous actions that led to her downfall. The theme of women struggling to stay in power never felt forced, but I suppose since it was a show about a real-life historical queen, it didn't have to be in order to drive its point across. Indeed, Mary needed to depend on men such as Francis, Darnley, and Bothwell in order to maintain her power, but the way that she presented herself showed that she knew who she was and what she deserved as queen.

I think every woman who watches the show can take something from Adelaide's performance. She presented herself with such grace, confidence, and assertiveness, never showing any sign of weakness or submissiveness to the men she married or depended on. It was always crystal clear that she was the one in charge. Though Australian by birth, the faux regal British accent that Adelaide used was so perfect that I don't think they could have possibly cast a better actress to portray Queen Mary. I have seen some people argue that she and her ladies should have had Scottish accents, with Francis and Catherine should have sounded more French, but this takes me back to my previous point about the show being a fantasy, despite its historical inspiration. I think the uniform accents added something to that fantasy and turned their speech into a language of the court instead of a language of their individual nations.

I could go on and discuss Mary's many relationships, the choices of modern pop songs instead of more classical music, and other characters, such as Bash and Nostradamus, who mysteriously disappeared early in the show, or Princess Claude, who mysteriously appeared toward the middle of the show, but I suppose this review has gotten long enough. Overall, Reign is a regal fantasy for anyone who has dreamed of being in a monarchy with hints of history strewn throughout the show. It is far from a masterpiece, and the story does seem to waver in unexpected directions from time to time, but I still found it enjoyable enough to continue watching until the end. There aren't many stories on TV about women in power, and in that respect, I feel that this one was handled quite well.


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