in Television

“Reign” Is All Looks, Little Substance

reign

Due to a large stash of energy drinks and a lack of anything to do between the hours of 10pm and 6am, I recently treated myself to a lengthy marathon of TV shows, one of which was Reign.

The show is very loosely based on the early years of Mary, Queen of Scots and involves, among other things, a shaky alliance between France and Scotland, scheming Englishmen, a cunning Catherine de’ Medici, a much younger and supposedly more attractive Nostradamus, love triangles, and a girl with a bag over her face.

If all this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is – but Reign pulls it off. So long as you can suspend all disbelief and embrace what ludicrousness this show has to offer, it’s not a bad way to spend an hour. Let’s dissect it the first two episodes of the season, shall we?

Plot

Reign‘s plot is… kind of all over the place. Mary has come to France to marry Francis and secure Scotland and France’s alliance, only not, because both the King and Queen have their own agendas in the works. The King doesn’t want the wedding to happen until the opportune moment. The Queen doesn’t want it to happen at all, because Nostradamus has told her the marriage will spell her son’s death.

I expect Catherine will hatch progressively nefarious plots throughout the season to stop the union from occurring – which is great, because the character is a delightful antagonist in that love-to-hate kind of way.

That plotline is easy enough to follow; what I’m weirded out by is why the show felt the need to throw in all that “supernatural/blood magic/ghost in the castle” business into the mix as well. It’s not necessarily bad, I’m just not sure where they’re going with it. Surely there was already enough drama and action in the historical source material that there wouldn’t be any need to resort to slitting hands open in a dark, evil forest?

Love Interests

Honestly, I found the two potential love interests to be very meh. The pilot sets up a very boring love triangle right off the bat: Francis, the boyishly handsome royal who’s “just trying to do right by his people” versus Bash, the ruggedly handsome bad boy bastard (literally a bastard, but I’m sure he’ll showcase some roguish behavior eventually that will earn him that title figuratively as well.)

Neither of those things is my cup of tea, but that’s just me. Thankfully, the set-up of the triangle didn’t even get that much screentime compared to all the court intrigue and the mystery over the woman in the Batman Begins Scarecrow mask, so it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the pilot episode.

Besides Mary’s love interests, a few other romances are established in the pilot and expanded upon in the following episode. Francis has a secret lover named Natalia, Mary’s friend Lola has a blushing romance going on with a boy named Colin, and the King, who already has a Main Mistress, has a tryst with another one of Mary’s friends, Kenna (which I am not at all here for. That entire relationship reeks of fucked up power dynamics.)

And yes, that’s all very cliche. Reign‘s “romances” are definitely among the show’s weakest areas so far.

Music

I died laughing every time a strummy indie song played, and in the first two episodes, songs like that play a lot. I’m not entirely sure why this was cause for laughter, but it probably had to do with the fact that all the bands sounded so interchangeably Lumineers-esque I could barely tell there were different songs playing.

You’d think that such a jarring soundtrack would reduce my enjoyment of the episode, but the music made me like it all the more… if only because I couldn’t see past the tears of laughter in my eyes.

Fashion

I’m far from a 16th century French history expert, but even I’m aware the costumes on this show aren’t exactly historically accurate. But you know what? That’s totally fine with me, because I knew what I was signing up for when I started Reign and it certainly wasn’t so I could look at zoomed in shots of painstakingly historically accurate embroidery for fifty-some minutes. So long as the outfits are pretty, I’m happy, and for the most part the dresses are pleasing to the eye.

Setting

Reign is reportedly filmed at a castle in Ireland, where the sprawling courtyards and long hallways make for some pretty great scenery porn. Even if what’s happening on screen is boring you (every time Francis shows up and does his hot-and-cold, “I could love you but I won’t let myself” routine) or frustrating you (every time the King swaggers in a room and acts entitled and pompous), at least you can zero your focus in on something cool in the background.

In the end, Reign is an enjoyably hot mess, kinda like a frozen burrito you accidentally set in the microwave for 30 minutes instead of 3 so all the insides exploded out of it but you ate it anyways because you were hungry and there was nothing else around to eat.

Not that I’ve done that or anything.

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