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Adelaide Kane as Mary Queen of Scots; Megan Follows as Queen Catherine; Toby Regbo as Prince Francis II; Torrance Coombs as Sebastian; Alan Van Sprang as King Henry II; Jenessa Grant as Aylee; Celina Sinden as Greer; Caitlin Stasey as Kenna; Anna Popplewell as Lola; Rossif Sutherland as Nostradamus
Paul Asay

Who knew Elizabethan-era politics were so much like 21st-century high school?

Granted, Mary, Queen of Scots doesn't need to study algebra or practice for the soccer team in CW's Reign. She has no SATs to prepare for, no after-school job to work. No, teen queen Mary had just oodles of time to engage with what high school is often really about: dreamy dudes and gossipy friends. Cue the drama!

Every episode of Reign seems obsessed with who's kissing (or bedding) whom and who's obsessed with what and why can't parents understand that true love is way more important than a dull dynastic claim to the throne. In CW's telling, the whole 16th century was a little like a never-ending prom, complete with dresses and dancing and bland indie music tinkling in the background. All that's really missing are crepe paper streamers hanging on the castle walls.

Mary, by definition, is the queen bee of her own angsty and cliquish cotillion, cooling her heels in France while she waits around for someone to sweep her off her feet. She's the belle of the ball by royal decree, the girl every boy wants to smooch. Sure, she has a steady already—a French prince named Francis whom she's been engaged to since she was 6. Everyone says they make a great couple, and if Mary had a locker, she'd certainly have pictures of Francis taped to the door, surrounded by little hearts.

But true love in teen TV dramas runs neither deep nor smooth. Francis' mother, Catherine, can't stand Mary. Francis' dad, King Henry, wants his son to treat her more like a forward-facing pawn than the love of his life. And, as mentioned, Mary has no lack of suitors trying to convince her she can do better. Mary herself finds her eye wandering to Francis' older, illegitimate (and wholly fictitious) brother, Sebastian. (They call him Bash, because, well, this is a CW show.)

Why, it's enough to drive poor Mary half insane with late-adolescent sexual confusion. If only there were a social network on which she could vent.

Of course no one expects historical authenticity from the CW. The network churns out lusty, teen-centric soaps, not PBS-level docudramas. Still, you know that when a show's idea of Elizabethan dress trends toward strapless eveningwear … when notorious mystic Nostradamus takes on the sheen of a sensitive, dreamy guy who'd sit in the back of English class … when Mary does the tango, a dance that was ever-so-scandalous when it was invented in the 1890s … then you know it has taken some serious liberties.

It's all very silly and, of course, salacious. Mary and her ladies-in-waiting indulge in quite a lot kissing and sighing and moaning (some of it induced by partners, some of it in a solitary manner). Fair maidens exchange double entendres with ruddy men and swap tawdry gossip. We hear loads of talk about illegitimate children and royal affairs.

"This is yet one more example of the way that the entertainment industry is attempting to bring premium cable-level violence and sex to prime-time broadcast TV," writes Christopher Gildemeister, the Parent Television Council's senior writer and editor. "Truly disturbing is the fact that such content is being squarely targeted at the CW's key audience of teen and pre-teen girls—an audience already regularly sexualized and exploited by the CW and the entertainment industry generally."

War is frequent. Stabbings are common. Heads can and do roll. If Reign lives a long life on TV, we could even see the protagonist's own life cut short—unless, of course, the CW rewrites history so much that Mary and Francis live happily ever after. (Which, given the CW's track record, seems more likely than not.)

But methinks Reign will get the ax before Mary does. Because it's not just the conservative PTC that's condemning this careless creation. "At some point—and I think this may be that point—it's time to speak the truth," posits The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman. "The CW is ruining America."

Episode Reviews


Mary's peeved because Francis isn't marrying her quickly enough. So when Tomas, a soon-to-be legitimized prince of Portugal, intimates that he'd like to marry Mary, the queen considers the prospect. Alas, this ruffles the feathers of her handmaiden, Greer, who had her own designs on Tomas.

Kenna makes an allusion to masturbation. We see her and (the married) King Henry make out in a hallway, and the king asks her to go to his bedchambers. Kenna, for now, refuses. Francis uses Henry's infidelities as leverage, threatening to tell both Queen Catherine and Henry's French mistress about his dalliances. Tomas and Mary dance seductively. Mary kisses Francis. Greer kisses a servant. Comments are made about someone's breasts. Women wear dresses that showcase cleavage.

Nostradamus has psychic visions, some of them very bloody. Bash is wounded (offscreen), and is rendered nearly unconscious from a bleeding gut. Henry thwacks practice swords with his sons. Mary falls out of a tree on top of Tomas. People break promises, lie and drink wine. We hear "b‑‑tard" and "d‑‑n" (once each).