By all logic, I should hate Reign. Instead, I seem to have found a new addiction.
The new CW show is about the young Mary Queen of Scots, when she goes to the French court to marry the Dauphin. In theory. A character called Mary does go to a country called France, and is betrothed to the heir to the throne. She comes from Scotland, and England is her enemy. But in all other areas, the show is so historically inaccurate that using words like “history” and “accuracy” in the same sentence as it seems ridiculous. A couple of the characters wear clothes that appear vaguely pre-19th century, but most of the protagonists float around in dresses ranging from prom wear to modern couture. They wear pretty floral headbands and crazy braids and dance with no shoes on and have names like Lola and Aylee.
To be honest, this is all in the show’s favor. Any apparent attempt at historical accuracy would make the whole thing collapse as the historical failure that it is. But with such blatant disregard for even the appearance of accuracy, it’s easy to think of it as some kind of fantasy alternate history, as real as steampunk vampire hunters, and just go with it.
And when you go with it, there’s a lot to enjoy. Every detail is gorgeous, from those modern dresses and hairstyles to the lush scenery and the rich coloring of the shots. There’s a wonderfully Gothic element, with disused hidden tunnels and murder in the woods and a girl who whispers warnings and hides her face. And Mary is a pretty kickass queen so far. She’s intelligent and resourceful, determined and brave. She has people trying to kill or sabotage her at every turn and cannot be sure who to trust, and she faces this with steely resolve and a fighting spirit. While many shows might keep their heroine in the dark about the source of her troubles (in Mary’s case, her potential mother-in-law is scheming against her), Mary has got it all figured out midway through episode two. She has no evidence, of course, but she is quick-witted and observant enough to know precisely what is going on. She might not be like the historical Mary, but she’s a great character to see on screen.
Mary’s character is supported by an array of secondary female characters, including her strangely-named ladies in waiting (mostly there, so far, for romance and giggles), the scheming Catherine de Medici, and the mysterious girl who hides in tunnels and is the show’s most intriguing prospect so far. While it is all rather silly and fun, it’s also an easy Bechdel pass and Mako Mori test pass and general “here are female characters being interesting and individual and playing important roles in the plot” pass.
Of course, there are still things to irritate. Despite the fact that “historical accuracy” has been abandoned for pretty much everything else, Reign still has an all-white cast, a problem that could easily have been fixed. Shows about the Western European courts in the 16th century may have some justification for a lack of diversity, but Reign has more than lost that excuse. There’s also a plotline with a would-be rapist where he receives far more sympathy from Mary than he could possibly deserve. And of course, as a history nerd, there is the irritation that the CW felt it necessary to change so much about Mary’s story, instead of either being accurate or calling it fantasy from the beginning, especially when Mary’s life was such a drama-fest anyway.
But if you shove history aside and are looking for something a little bit silly, a little bit romantic, a little bit Gothic and very pretty, Reign is definitely worth a shot. The first episode is on Hulu now.