Warning: we’re keeping up with Canada’s Wednesday night airing of Reign on M3. Spoilers follow below.
Settling in for the second last new episode of Reign for the year, all signs pointed towards “Acts of War” shaping up to be a normal installment of the period show. Except then it wasn’t, and my rage towards the scenes that followed is in danger of bubbling over if I don’t get these words out. I can’t believe they went there; went there in a way that no show of this nature ever should.
Amidst the usual court drama, flirtations and unrequited love, and Mary once again trying to build a kingdom that was safe for all, an attack on the castle ended up being more brutal than anything else the series has ever shown.
For what I deem completely unnecessary reasons, the Protestant soldiers who stormed the castle to kill Francis found Mary alone in her bedroom and one of them raped her. Another was about to—playing out the horrors of so many stories young women have been a part of recently—before the queen was finally able to get her hands on a weapon and escape. And while the series tried to spin this into yet another of Mary’s struggles that she’ll come out stronger for, it read more as another case of a powerful woman being forced back into her place through the oldest weapon of all.
Are there things the show did well with this? Possibly. Catherine’s pep talk might be something, except it fed into a culture of shame that encourages survivors to keep silent. And Mary opted not to hide the news from Francis—although I’m not sure what choice Catherine left her—and the king not only reaffirmed his love for her but also respected her requests.
That’s about all the show got right. I understand rape in war happens and has a long history of happening, but to sexualize shots of Mary’s nightgown coming up while she was dragged by the men was too far. We did not need a slowed down shot of the rape, playing it up more for dramatics and “entertainment” than something worthwhile. Outlander, a much smarter show asked, “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” and Reign didn’t even try to come up with an answer. Worse still, the show didn’t bother with a trigger warning in a day and age when any remotely savvy person who’s going to touch on the subject should know better. It also ignored the pleas of fans who found out this would be coming months before and begged the writers not to do it.
As HBO captures headlines weekly with its brutality, especially towards women, on Game of Thrones, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to see more shows grasping at such low-hanging fruit. But for a series that’s been for young women since its beginning and so clearly made a goal of showing these women as empowered, confident and sexually free, it’s disappointing to see the series undercut everything it’s built for a taste of that sensationalism. As a woman and a very frequent viewer of television I find myself again saying I am tired, so very tired, of rape being used as entertainment.
What could possibly be gained from this? More strife between Mary and Francis as Francis copes with the guilt that his wife was raped while he was murdering an innocent man—and not, as she thinks, pleading with the Vatican for religious tolerance? It would be another failing on Reign’s part to turn an attack on Mary into yet another crisis for her husband.
Does it make Mary a stronger, harder queen? She already was—and reducing her to a crumpled, crying ball on Catherine’s floor only undercuts that. Powerful speeches that force her to hide both her inward pain and her outward bruises don’t make her strong. They make her yet another woman who’s learned to keep things like this hidden so she won’t be seen as less than. For a series that has done so much for young women, this is one “lesson” they don’t need to hear again.
Yes, there is conflicting evidence the real Mary Queen of Scots could have been raped years ago, later on in the timeline, by a man wanting access to her crown. It doesn’t make it right, but had the show waited for that moment in “history” there could have maybe been some justification for unrolling that story. As it stands, it was a horrifying move that felt cheap, and cheapens a discussion both Canada and America are in the midst of having about women, shame and assault. It didn’t need to happen, fans asked for it not to happen and yet it did. Is that a painful lesson in reality, or yet another reminder of what Hollywood thinks women’s suffering should be used for?
Either way, we just didn’t need to see it.
Please share your thoughts on the topic below. Reign airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on M3 and Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW and CTV Two. It’s also available on iTunes.