WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
The King is dead. Long live the Queen. Because it finally happened, that one historical event that we really couldn’t have ignored ― Francis is dead. And maybe it was because the whole episode was aiming towards this tragic conclusion, or maybe because it’s easier to do tragedy than comedy, I really, really enjoyed watching this 3×05, «In A Clearing». I mean, I did cry my eyes out, of course, but that’s a given. So let’s delve in.
Gosh, this episode was ― an emotional rollercoaster. It left me drained, I don’t even know where to begin. We open with Mary and Francis happy, enjoying the second chance they’ve been given ― sailing, kissing, being a general walking #relationshipgoals, the whole deal. Mary glows brighter and brighter the more Francis’ health seems to grow better, and not even the death of her mother (that was the price needed to pay for the King of France’s life. If only blood magic was that simple, Daenerys Targaryen would have had so fewer problems) can bring her down.
And the whole of French court seems to have gone back to the splendor of the first episodes ― Catherine redecorating the King and Queen’s room to inspire them to produce heirs, no drama and no treasons, and even a peace offering brought forward by the English Ambassador Nicholas. Elizabeth has finally reasoned that the war in Scotland isn’t benefiting anyone, and with Catholic Marie de Guise dead and Mary planning to insediate her Protestant half-brother James as regent, there’s not even the question of religion to bother the Queen of England. So, peace offer it is, at one condition. Mary will have to sign away her claim to the English throne ― claim that comes to her directly from the Tudor line, and the thing that’s really worrying Elizabeth. Francis doesn’t agree to his wife giving away so easily one of her birthrights, but Mary doesn’t think about it twice. It will bring peace to her kingdom and with her cousin ― and she doesn’t need England when she already has Francis. Touching, beautiful, terribly prophetic and that’s where I knew something really bad was going to happen.
That, and Nostradamus reappearing again out of nowhere like the vulture he basically is with his big coat and his ominous prophecies ― he has had another, of a clearing, with white lilies covered in blood. Catherine is worried, since Nostradamus is pretty much always right, but Francis dismisses his mother’s concerns and decides to celebrate life in bringing Mary to Paris, so they can both dance under the stars at the Palais du Louvre.
So touching, so beautiful. So doomed. When Mary asked to stop the carriage in the middle of the woods, I had to stop the episode and take a couple of breaths, because I knew ― this was it. The King and Queen go swimming in a tiny secret lake, they make love, they kiss and make promises. And then assassins attack. Mary screams. Francis comes to the rescue. Swords are out. In the rush of the moment, the royal guards protect the Queen while Francis takes on the assaulters ― and one of them bashes the King’s head into the ground. Repeatedly. When the fight is over, Mary is unharmed, but it’s clear that Francis isn’t. His knees give out and he falls. Mary realizes in a terrific moment what’s going to happen, and so do we. And in his wife’s arms, after making her promise that she’ll guard over Charles’ ascension to the throne and Catherine’s regency, that she’ll live her life to the fullest, that she’ll love again, Francis II, King of France, dies.
This time there’s no magic that can save him, no spell or ritual. This time is for real. Mary holds on to her husband’s corpse, to her great big epic love, and it takes Catherine arriving in the forest to help her let it go. In the end, Nostradamus’ vision was right ― a clearing, blood on the ground, and blood on the lilies, that are the symbol of the royal house of France. But even if Francis had listened to his warning, I don’t think he could have been saved ― History aside, you can’t escape destiny. And Francis’ destiny was to die young, as sad as it sounds.
The scene that really hit home for me wasn’t this one, though (maybe because it was so similar to last week’s), no ― it was the next, when Mary, her gown still splattered with Francis’ blood, crashed into the English Ambassador’s rooms to accuse him (and Elizabeth) of paying for Francis’ assassination, for her own assassination. The Queen of Scots is too deep in her grief to listen to Ser Nicholas’ reasonings, and she tears apart the peace treaty, and then stumbles into the throne room, where she screams and screams. I had chills. Adelaide Kane has delivered us a supreme episode (everybody did, in my humble opinion), but this scene was her crowning jewel. Splendid. Terribly sad, but splendid.
The episode is closed by Francis’ funerals in the castle’s courtyard dressed in mourning black. Leading her people is Mary, yet again, veiled and grieving but strong, almost like a stone ― the portrait of a Queen, something that I like to think she learned not just from her mother, but from Catherine as well. Unlike Catherine, though, Mary knows when to step down, knows when it’s no longer a question of power ― so when one of the guards tells her that it’s tradition for the Queen of France to ride in the first carriage of the funeral procession, she answers with a lapidary «I’m no longer the Queen of France». It’s true. She’s not. The title will stay vacant for a while, even if I’m sure Catherine will fill it again unofficially.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Mary doesn’t have a place in the world anymore. She wasn’t just a Queen Consort, she is a Queen in her own right, she’s back to being the Queen of Scots ― and that’s clearly where her journey is heading. She has the missed peace treaty to deal with, the aftermaths of a war… she’ll cross the Channel soon. And a new chapter of her life will begin. One we’ll be ready to live with her, because she’s our Mary. Our strong, strong Queen. The rock on which from now on lies the whole show. I’m sure she’ll be able to stand its weight.
All and all, I am no professor Trelawney, so I don’t really know how the show will continue, but it will be a whole new Reign ― we have lost one of the core cast members, one of the pillars of the story, half of the main ship, a King… things are bound to change, especially for a show like this, so heavily resting on romance and pretty light-hearted plotlines. I’m pretty convinced that Mary will stay in France long enough to assure Catherine’s regency and then leave for Scotland, maybe rule there with James. Maybe she’ll meet someone new overseas, she’ll fulfill Francis’ last wish. She’ll be strong through and through, because that’s the Mary Stuart we have learnt to know and love.
So for now, we can just wait. Watch the promo for next episode, 3×06, «Fight or Flight», and thank Francis for everything that he has given us ― all the emotions and the sighs and the great kinging. And thank Toby Regbo too. Until next week, Royals.
- I couldn’t care less about Delphine and Bash. Couldn’t care less, not when it was clear that Francis was going to die, and I probably won’t care much more in the next episodes. Sure, their walking around playing CSI is entertaining enough (but I’d watch a hundred hours more of court scenes and political plotting, tbh), but their love affair is terrible. It has zero basis, zero chemistry, zero everything and it’s just a plot device to have Bash kissing someone. So really, my interest remains all on Mary.
- On the other hand, I did love Catherine and Mary’s final scene together. It’s not just that Catherine needs the Queen of Scots to become Regent, or that Mary might be seeking her forgiveness for the part she feels she has played in Francis’ death ― these two incredible women have meant so much for each other, for better or for worse, and have taught each other a lot. Francis is what has always brought them together, and I hope that his death will drive them closer still.
- In the end, the assassins weren’t sent from Elizabeth but from protestant Scottish lords. I’m sure Mary will deal with them. I hope God shows them mercy, because I’m sure as hell she won’t.
- And finally, I adored the great metaphor behind Mary going sailing alone, and learning to do by herself something she relied on Francis to do (also it kind of mirrored the very first shot we got of her in the pilot episode). Not that Mary was the kind of wife that let her husband rule her around, but she did lean on him (like he leaned on her). Now it’s all up to her, walking just on her own two legs. Or sailing with her own sails.