Many of you know that I don’t really watch much television. It’s not a conscious decision – I just tend not to. However, I do often have a soft spot for awful, cheesey shows with little to no redeeming value. For instance, I watched America’s Next Top Model until the season where Whitney won (it was SO obviously rigged – not that I’m bitter), and I watched the first few seasons of Gossip Girl. I wanted to get into Pretty Little Liars, but never got around to it.
So when a friend recommended Reign, a delightfully CW take on Mary, Queen of Scots, I was all in. The trailer seemed to promise everything I could want from a cheesey show – pretty girls with shiny hair, an implied love triangle, and historically inaccurate costumes. However, as I started watching the show, I began to notice that it offers a little more than that.
I’m not sure whether or not I’d call the show “feminist” (and I’m not sure if that even matters). However, the way it treats the female characters is pretty positive! The show easily passes the Bechdel Test; its female characters are complex, with realistic flaws and motivations. The show’s depiction of strong but complicated female friendship is refreshing in a TV landscape that tends to be dominated by women who are catty and backstabbing. Since we have to wait TWO WEEKS for another new episode, I figured this would be a great time to look back at the different characters.
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
Let’s start with the ladies-in-waiting. When they first came on screen, I groaned at the obviousness of the super-pretty, shiny-haired, ambitious gaggle of girls. However, the writers have made sure to give each girl a story, background, and personality that makes her interesting and well-rounded. Their relationship to Mary is realistically complicated; they have been friends since childhood, but she is the queen and they are her subjects. There are some hurt feelings as they try to negotiate this relationship, but so far it seems like their friendship is winning.
We’ll start with Kenna, who is SO pretty, but more than just a pretty face. It would have been easy for the writers to make her a naïve, love-struck girl who believed that the king will give her the fairy tale and is doomed to be disappointed, or a conniving, ambitious, power-hungry woman who saw her beauty as a way to gain power and prestige, and whose inevitable failure would feel somewhat deserved. Kenna is neither of those women – or both. The affection and attraction between her and the king felt real, but she was also aware of the fact that such a union could backfire on her very easily. While her decisions didn’t exactly pan out for her in the end, her refusal to sleep with him unless he made her a mistress and gave her the protection and position that that title entailed showed her strength and her confidence that he wouldn’t dump her for being difficult. We saw her insecurity, her love, and her determination as she refused to accept less than she felt she deserved. When it doesn’t work out, it’s obviously because the king is kind of a jerk when it comes to women, but we’re never made to feel that Kenna is stupid.
Greer’s story is a bit of a cliché, but it’s presented in a sweet way. Greer is the only one of the ladies-in-waiting who has no title – her family is rich, but she has no real position. Her family is counting on her to wed someone with power, money, and a title so that her younger sisters will be taken care of as well. Of course, Greer falls for the lowly kitchen boy (the romantic in me is anticipating some kind of plot twist where he turns out to be a royal in disguise – fingers crossed!). I love how she’s neither blindly obedient to her parents, nor is she blindly rebellious – she feels the weight of her responsibility, but also feels that she deserves to be loved. She’s kind of snobby about the kitchen boy, but also intrigued. Also, she gets totally badass when she kills a bad guy by whacking him over the head with a cast-iron frying pan.
Lola started out being the most well-developed of the ladies – an early episode featured her boyfriend being caught up in the web of the queen’s deceptions and manipulations. She had to deal with the possibility of his betrayal, her loyalty to him, and the fact that he almost raped her best friend. Later we find that she took care of two younger siblings as they died (I think it was scarlet fever), and there was a brief spark between her and Sebastian (I’m not sure how to spell his nickname – Bash? Bast?). She’s always strong and loyal, and has the best hair of the bunch. I’m interested to see what happens with her in the future.
Personally, I really liked the way the show handled the character of Aylee. As the youngest-looking of the group, she seemed a bit quieter and more nervous than the other ladies. I thought it was really interesting the way the writers had her admit that she occasionally steals things because it “makes [her] feel better”. It was a small revelation, but was so understandable – she’s in a new place, she’s shy, she had to deal with the fact that her best friend is a queen – it’s not a stretch that she’d resort to some kind of questionable behavior to deal with it. I also loved that her faith in the strength of her friendship with Mary led her to be honest with Mary about her transgression, trusting that Mary would understand, and to defy Queen Catherine (a risky proposition). I guess if they had to kill off one of the ladies, she was the logical choice, but I thought she was a touching character.
I also love how, in the last few episodes, the remaining three ladies banded together to stand up to Queen Catherine, and resisted her clichéd attempts to play on their weaknesses.
Speaking of Queen Catherine (played by Anne Shirley!!!), she manages to be a somewhat sympathetic character for many episodes, even through all of her attempts to hurt Mary. While her inconsistency is somewhat unbelievable – in one episode she will begrudgingly respect and support Mary, and in the next cruelly betray her – the writers do attempt to make her capriciousness understandable. We feel her jealousy of the king’s mistress, and her desperate fear that once he dies she will have no power. She reveals some of her painful past to Mary, and we feel the strength of her love for her son, as mitigated as it is by her understanding that it is through him that her future power is secured. While in the last couple of episodes she went over the edge of crazy and cruel, her character before that was well done.
And finally, Mary. When I saw the first couple of episodes, she annoyed me. Her wide-eyed, open-mouthed, winsome-but-plucky heroine schtick was kind of boring. However, she’s really developed. At every turn, we see her trying to deal with the complexities of being a current queen, a future queen, a friend, a lover, and a good person. She remains strong in the face of adversity, and rarely doubts herself. She understands the responsibility she holds as a queen, and tries really hard to fulfill her duties without sacrificing the happiness or lives of those around her (as the king seems to think is a royal’s prerogative). She cares for her friends, worrying about them when they’re in difficult situations, and occasionally wishes that she could enjoy life as “just a girl” instead of as the future queen – however, she also has no problem stabbing a count in the neck with a fork or scheming to expose the evil Tomas. She is strong in her beliefs, but not inflexible (as when she joins Bash in commemorating his cousin with a pagan ritual), is kind to children, and seemed compassionate to the ghost who lived in the walls (totally not sure how I feel about where THAT plotline is going).
Obviously, the show isn’t perfect – it’s the CW after all. Everyone’s white, everyone’s straight (so far). But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the way the characters are written.
So what do YOU think about Reign?