The second episode of Reign, “Snakes in the Garden,” was written by executive producer Laurie McCarthy and directed by Matt Hastings. McCarthy’s previous credits include GCB, The Ghost Whisperer, Felicity, and Beverly Hills 90210. Hastings latest projects include Warehouse 13, Alphas, and Eureka. Both have experience in dealing with supernatural type elements which seem like they will factor predominantly in the Gothic stylings of the show.
Much of the criticism aimed at the show is over its historical accuracy. I would have to say that the show is based in history rather than historically true or accurate. I have a bigger problem with the modernization of things like customs and clothing. The clothing, in particular, is quite jarring at times, such as the scene in which the ladies in waiting appear in their nightclothes – one seems to have come straight from Victoria’s Secret.
So far, for me at least, the most interesting elements of the show are the Gothic overtones. I'm really not interested in the teen melodrama. The fact that the mysterious girl in the hidden passageways – itself a common trope of gothic fiction – is named Clarrisa is clearly a shout out to the novel of the same name by Samuel Richardson. The book is one of the acknowledged classics of English literature and is one of the longest epistolary novels (written as a series of letters) ever written. It’s the story of a young woman whose quest for virtue is continually thwarted by her family. That aspect of the story certainly resonates with themes brought up in the episode as Kenna (Caitlin Stasey) uses her virtue to control the King’s (Alan Van Sprang) advances. Virtue is the “asset” that Catherine (Megan Follows) tries to take away from Mary (Adelaide Kane) through the plot with Colin (Ashley Charles).
The storyline of Francis (Toby Regbo) and his marriage alliance with Mary is nicely mirrored and deepened through Prince Charles (Peter DaCunha) and Madeleine (Vanessa Carter). The episode re-addresses the issues surrounding a royal alliance and we also get insight into what Francis and Mary’s first meetings might have been like.
One interesting twist was the implication that Sebastian (Torrance Coombs) might have some links to or even be a Druid. Perhaps they are setting him up to be the real resistance against Nostradamus (Rossif Sutherland). What is going on in the woods? Again the spooky atmosphere and supernatural elements are clear tropes of the gothic.
Catching the woman who was apparently wearing the poisoned dress in Simon’s (Luke Roberts) bed seemed like unnecessary drama. The tendency to turn this into Gossip Girl is the least interesting aspect of the show for me. I’m also pulled out of the story every time we hear music. Not only is it not even remotely period specific, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the action.
So far, I’m not really hooked on the show. I’m committed to giving it a few more episodes to find its stride, however. I’m hoping for more of the gothic storyline and some better choices in music. I’m also not sold on the Francis/Mary storyline – will he or won’t he? Does he love her or not? I’m not seeing any consistent characterization in either character yet. I find myself wanting to like Francis but keep being stopped by his flip flopping. Again, he’s flip flopping between French court concerns and mores for royal alliances and modern day theories of love and romance – and that just doesn’t work. It was very much a different time.
What are your thoughts so far on the series? Am I being too hard on it? Should we simply suspend our disbelief and accept that this is fiction and not fact? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!