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Reign - Playing With Fire - Review

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Reign “Playing with Fire” was written by the team of John J Sakmar and Kerry Lenhart and was directed by Fred Gerber. While the team of Sakmar and Lenhart are new to Reign, they bring a wealth of writing experience from shows such as the original MacGyver, Remington Steele, Psych and Boston Public. I liked how the title of this episode worked on both the literal level and the figurative level. Once again, the plot played out rather satisfyingly on all three fronts.

In France, two children playing in the woods declare that King Charles (Spencer Macpherson) “is strange and drinks the blood of children.” The two then find an injured and disturbed Bianca (Sofia Banzhaf). Catherine (Megan Follows) and Narcisse (Craig Parker) worry about what will be said about Charles’ strange behavior – Charles’ guilt over the death of his friend has made him obsessed with the dead. The fire he is playing with. Catherine tells Narcisse, however, that the only monster in the palace is gossip, and they have to ensure that it isn’t fed.

Catherine and Narcisse go to Charles who has taken to his bed. Narcisse tries to show empathy for Charles’ sorrow – and PTSD – over what he saw, but Charles pushes him away by declaring he’s not his father and has no right to speak to him as such. Follows is, as always, fantastic, and tries to impress upon Charles the gravity of the situation. His behavior is playing with fire as everyone is now questioning his mental state!

When she asks if he were chasing Bianca, Charles never says yes or no, but he does say she’s lucky to be alive. Macpherson delivers one of his best performances in this scene. It’s clear from the anguish on his face that he doesn’t mean what Catherine thinks he means. He wasn’t hunting Bianca, he simply means that she is lucky not to be amongst the dead – many of whom he blames himself for their death.

Leesa (Anastasia Phillips) continues to interfere. She continues to try to find out what is happening with Charles, so as to usurp power for Spain. But even more, we find out that Claude (Rose Williams) is playing with fire too – she’s burying her grief over Leith (Jonathan Keltz) by having sex with a married man. Catherine tries to explain this to Leesa, but she doesn’t care. Leesa sees Claude as having had a happier upbringing than she did, so out of spite, she’s having Claude sent to a nunnery!

Narcisse offers to talk to Leesa about Claude – and once again, Catherine fails to see that working with Narcisse is always going to be playing with fire. Narcisse provides the Catholic noble that Leesa insists Claude must marry. It’s Narcisse’s own son – Luc (Steve Lund). I was happy to see Lund join the cast, having enjoyed his performances on Bitten. He was also a great choice because he totally looks like Parker! Does anyone believe that he’s not like his scheming father?

Luc maintains that he doesn’t want to change her spirit. He admits that he has reasons for accepting the marriage, but that they aren’t his father’s reasons. Catherine is not a fool. She doesn’t trust that Luc is what he seems. She promises to help Claude if she wants out of the marriage – once she has gotten Leesa to go back to Spain. She might not be able to get Claude out of a nunnery, but she is happy to kill a bad husband!

Claude and Luc are wed – another gorgeous moment of set, costumes, and music for the show. Luc makes a good impression on Claude when he saves her from Leesa at the reception and spirits her off for their first dance. We also get treated to a dance between Catherine and Narcisse – it’s a nice parallel between the generations – and as always, the dance is also a nice metaphor for the political dance they all play at court too – repositioning themselves constantly.

Catherine leaves the dance when she sees Charles stagger through the celebration. She accosts him in the hallway – playing with fire now to confront him. His face appears to be covered in blood – but is it his or has he been drinking it? Is it human blood? Charles angrily shoves Catherine out of the way, slamming her into the wall. While this looks very suspicious, the historical figure of Charles suffered from tuberculosis and was also mentally unstable. He could be coughing up blood or even drinking animal blood for the iron – there are plausible explanations here.

In England, Elizabeth (Rachel Skarsten) is unhappy with the amount of time that Gideon (Ben Geurens) is spending with his sick daughter. Gideon advises Elizabeth to win the nobles to her side rather than continuing to fight with them.

Elizabeth entertains Lord Maxford (Ted Dykstra) – a catholic noble – who turns out to be a typical sixteenth century man. Women are to be seen and not heard, so he shows no respect for her, directing all his conversation to Gideon. Elizabeth proves she is a Tudor Queen by besting him on the hunt. Skarsten is quite delightful on the hunt, but I remain completely unimpressed by affected delivery of most of her dialogue.

Elizabeth does gain both Maxford’s respect and attention. She’s been listening to his tirade about being a businessman and how that takes precedence over religion and petty squabbles – even with Scotland. She also paid attention to his concerns over Spain. At the banquet after the hunt, she informs him that she’s planning on strengthening the navy – but it will need a lot of lumber. Lumber she wishes to buy from him – but in exchange he would have to agree not to meet with representatives from the Vatican. She’s hit all the right buttons, and Maxford pledges his allegiance to her – and carries the rest of the nobles with him in a toast to the “Hunting Queen.”

Gideon finally comes to Elizabeth who reprimands him for missing the hunt, but Gideon isn’t having any of it. His daughter has taken a turn for the worse. He is distraught that his being caught up in the Queen’s affairs may have cost him his daughter. Elizabeth promises to make it right, but Gideon tells her that even she has no power over death.

In Scotland, Mary (Adelaide Kane) has retreated to the country – on holiday – with Greer. I loved the opening scene with the two of them outside, playing at throwing blueberries in each other’s mouths – and discussing – or not discussing – their love lives. Mary doesn’t want to talk politics – which is what her love life with both Gideon and Darnley (Will Kemp) is – she wants to help Greer set up her new home. Mary is once again joined by her gigantic Irish Wolfhound – I love that dog!

Greer tells Mary that Castleroy is not the man she remembers. He’s been broken by his time in prison and is trying to pull away from her. Greer, however, is determined to remain loyal to Castleroy and recapture their happiness.

Mary goes off on her own and we have a beautiful pastoral, musical romp with that gorgeous dog. Her time alone is interrupted by Darnley, who wastes no time in proposing! He wants to help her secure – and increase her reign. Mary and Darnley play golf – in the middle of a field with huge weeds. Yes, golf has been a Scottish pastime since those times – but never in such a field.

In a nice parallel to the Claude storyline, James (Dan Jeanotte) continues his pursuit of Emily Knox (Claire Hunter). The two risk hellfire – as Emily thinks – by going so far as kissing – before Emily runs off. James uses the opportunity to go through John Knox’s (Jonathan Goad) desk.

James comes to Mary with Darnley in the field with news that Knox is planning on turning the people of Perthshire against Mary at their Harvest Festival. Their crops have failed and Knox is going to portray her as a distant and uncaring monarch. Mary takes food to ensure that the people are happy to see her – and she takes Darnley so that he can make a good impression on the people too. She tells James that Darnley has made a good impression on her.

It’s quite hilarious that Mary is able to sneak up on Knox as he speaks with two laden wagons – really? He’s shocked when she starts speaking? And all she brings is bread. Two wagons are enough to feed everyone there? And it would only feed them for the day – or maybe a few more. Certainly not enough to combat failed crops. Mary and Darnley grow closer as they hand the bread out to the farmers. The two seem on the same page as they attribute their goodness to simply being God’s servants.

Knox leaves just before fire breaks out. The literal playing with fire from the title. Mary and Darnley work with the others to put the fire out, though Darnley tries to get Mary to leave. James is burned. Once the fire seems to be out, it mysteriously starts again in one hut, allowing Darnley to play the hero and save a child. Mary gets three cheers and the approbation of the crowd. Mary is impressed by his bravery, but James is suspicious about the timing.

Mary entertains Darnley in the throne room. She clearly hasn’t fallen in love and lost her reason entirely. She asks if she is what he expected. Darnley oversteps when he asks for the Crown Matrimonial. He backtracks and accepts her terms. He admits that he is ambitious and if this is the only way he can be king, he’ll do it. He kisses her hand, but it seems quite passionless. I haven’t been terribly impressed by Kemp yet, but there is the potential for chemistry between him and Kane.

In the final scene in France, Leith finally returns! Claude is also not getting her happy ending. Narcisse prevents Leith from interrupting Claude and Luc before they can consummate the marriage. Narcisse has Leith dragged away.

In the final scene in Scotland, Mary and Greer discuss her marriage to Darnley. Greer is convinced that a loveless marriage for all the power in the world won’t be enough to satisfy Mary – certainly not enough to make her happy. Mary finds a note and a piece of burned wood on her desk. The note cautions that Darnley started his own fire to appear the hero, and it’s signed her Loyal Watchman. Mary begins to question who she has agreed to marry.

This was another well written episode. I loved the various ties back to the title and how the three storylines are being interwoven. Scotland and France continue to be the most interesting storylines – at least for me. Queen Elizabeth has been played by so many great actors, it would be difficult for anyone to fill her shoes, but Skarsten has really left me underwhelmed. Lots of balls in the air this episode – what will happen to Leith? What are Narcisse and Luc really up to? What is wrong with Charles? How bad is Darnley? Pretty bad if they follow history… What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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