Cool! The Darkness begins! As forecast by an ominous crow perched on a branch and a lone pipe sounding in the distance. “How can we communicate ‘dread’ on a cheap yet instant, wordless level to our thousands of rapt viewers?” was a question the REIGN writers must’ve posed to themselves right at the start of the season when they were breaking stories. Somebody probably wrote it on a whiteboard somewhere, and then some hapless office cleaning drone wiped it off in the night, maybe while chuckling to him/herself about the lame brainstorming habits of “creatives.” And then when the script came out for “A Chill in the Air,” they realized they'd left a “T/K” in the stage directions, indicating “to come,” and at the very last minute someone hastily pencilled “forest bird / pan flute” in the margin, where it stuck forevermore. Elegant solution to a real thorny problem.
I thought I’d have so much to say about this episode, but I really don’t. Olivia crawled out of the Blood Wood and caused a lot of commotion with her crazy hair and unplaceable “not from this world where the rest of us decided to talk British” accent. I like that I finally figured out she arrived at Catherine’s behest, though, that she was operating under Catherine’s evil thumb the whole time. I like that I can still be surprised by things that happened two years ago on a series I’ve seen every episode of multiple times yet clearly pay only sporadic attention to. It’s like finding a Christmas present in August that somebody wrapped in December and hid under the bed and sadly forgot all about, yet knew on some vague level was missing. I figure I’ve missed a good 30-40% of actual REIGN plot points, just by virtue of being so disinterested in any scene that doesn’t include Catherine, and then I learn most of it involved Catherine anyway. So this is good for me to catch up. Good for my spiritual development. Not as exciting as finding a brand new bike stuffed inside some guest bedroom closet, but a sack of marbles, maybe. A box of Cranium (the game for your whole brain™). Tube socks.
Lord Castleroy also made a first appearance in this episode and immediately bored Greer ’n the rest of us right out of our Harvest Festival gourds. I might have felt differently if they'd shown him riding Li'l Sebastian up to the castle gates (hello, fan fiction mashup). I give him a pass since I know what he turns into and where all this is going, but let’s admit it’s not an auspicious entrance. He has way too much mayhem happening in his own cranial & facial region, although I appreciate that he actually looks like a peppercorn. It’s not enough to just have a personal brand nowadays, you need to literally transform your whole physiognomy into your personal brand and then speak of nothing else. Massive props for following things through to their inevitable conclusion on that front. “All hail the Pepper King!” says the Pepper King to himself. I imagine he does a lot of his own cheerleading, the Pepper King, during his down time. I mean, with chops like that you would pretty much have to, even while counting all your spice-enabled gold doubloons.
One real handicap of this show is how badly it needs us to be on Mary’s side. They force this in the worst and most blatant way possible, which is by making her a goody-goody wet noodle with a heart of gold, then by having her behave in some regretful manner whenever she does let her guard down, which she ultimately cries over and files away under "personal growth for people who have no other choice." It’s a pretty basic variation on some “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” themes, only played totally straight, with zero nuance or humor. We see her straining too hard to be noble, always, when it would be way more interesting if she wasn't. But I guess that’s where Bash comes in to save the day, with his leather flask moonshine and sly smile and wispy carefree bangs. He’s here to remind us all that it’s okay to just let go once in a while and get hammered in the middle of the day on the edge of some marshy beach, then make out with your brother’s betrothed. Such a flouter of social conventions, this one. Such a renegade.
But man, this queen with her bird. There’s a tumblr devoted to Pete Campbell called “Just Pete Campbell Things,” which includes the expected “Jiminy Christmas” and “Pete Campbell eating cereal” gifs, and a QC-related equivalent of that exercise would obviously include not only this parakeet she fondles while blackmailing Braidy but also the honey facial bath she applies to herself while blackmailing Olivia:
Multitasking mindless domestic acts with threats against blonde girls in the service of destroying Mary is something she does so effortlessly. Playing all sides against the middle, that’s Catherine’s game, and she doesn’t care at all about the damage she does in order to win. The sign of a born kneecapper. She’d be a great mogul of some international mani/pedi chain, or the owner of an NFL team.
This is my favorite scene of the episode, though, and one of my favorites of the series, where she tells Mary about her miserable marriage to Horndog and how they actually did love each other once. I think about this scene a lot, and about how she plays it, how she squares her shoulders when she’s about to say something she knows will make her seem vulnerable and how she uses eye contact and wine glasses strategically. Also, have you noticed that she's 10 times scarier when she laughs about something, or smiles? Everybody else on this show has such valuable acting lessons to learn from this Megan Follows master class scene. The whole thing is a total manipulation that, while ultimately successful vis-à-vis planting doubts about Francis in Mary’s mind, also does reveal or at least hint at the reveal of something true about herself. She can lie about a lot of things, but like she tells her old lover Richard in “Inquisition,” sometimes the truth holds more power. Also, that crown is just the best and really makes up for whatever that golden scarab thing is that's shackling her tinfoil cape together.