The White Queen: Episode 3

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Now we're getting somewhere.

This episode of the White Queen had yet more to-ing and fro-ing, as we're thrown from rebellion to failed rebellion to yet another rebellion. But I found myself more invested in the show this week, despite its leaps through time. For the first time, I was affected by the characters' struggles and the drama occurring onscreen.

But this might be for reasons the show didn't intend, because this War of the Roses adaptation isn't leaving me with any mixed feelings about who I want to win. Edward is horrific, Elizabeth is almost as bad, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the other players can do.

The Neville sisters continue to be my favorite characters, for reasons I can't really explain. Isabel's plight is just very compelling to me. She's completely powerless in this situation, having her life potentially destroyed by the men scheming around her. Being Queen is potentially the most powerful position a woman can have, but for Isabel, the entire prospect is terrifying, as it puts her life, and then the life of her unborn son, in danger. As she says, she doesn't matter to any of them. She's just a pawn in their schemes, valued for her ability to create an heir and nothing more.

Since we're already breaking history with all the magic going on, I kind of want Isabel to turn into a total badass and major player on the scene. Of course, in reality, it's her little sister Anne who has a chance at that greatness. And with the way Elizabeth treated her in this episode, I'll certainly support any move she makes against the current queen.

Much of this episode explored the different way that powerless female characters could assert themselves and their independence. Elizabeth discovers, once again, that she actually has little influence or control herself, when Edward informs her that her daughter will marry the relative of her father's murderer. She shouts and protests, but she is only shot down. The Neville sisters struggle on as they can, first pleading to the men around them for help and then eventually accepting that they must battle on alone. And Margaret Beaufort asserts herself with silence, ignoring her husband as he lays down the law and then heading out to do exactly as she planned anyway. She's certainly a pitiless character, and not exactly likeable, but you have to admire her resolve and determination to get things done, no matter what stands in her way.

And then there's the problem of Elizabeth's magic. The accusation of witchcraft was used in part to discredit and destroy women who were too knowledgeable, too influential or too powerful. It suggests that a woman couldn't be any of those things without supernatural forces at work. Actually making Elizabeth into a witch here therefore feels like the opposite of empowering. The men around her are right to think that she's unnatural. By being able to plot murder for afar, she has an unfair advantage over those around her, including the women she ends up hurting, and it cheapens her story as a result. I feel like I should be rooting for Elizabeth, but she's one of the characters I like the least.

Not that I have a problem with historical witchcraft stories in general. They can be a lot of fun. But the choice to make Elizabeth and her mother into sorceresses is rather like telling the story of Anne Boleyn in a way where she actually does enchant Henry. It has the appearance of empowerment, but it's actually just rehashing old beliefs about the unnaturalness of female power in history.