I’m a sucker for the 16th century, and Starz is delivering a slightly new topic with The Serpent Queen! Check in on Tuesdays for my thoughts on the previous two weeks’ worth of episodes, mostly costumes.
Episode 5, “The First Regency”
Queen Catherine and Rehima are walking in woods to start out their convo in 1560. That letter the Catherine received in episode 4 contains evidence that Mary Queen of Scots is conspiring with Queen Elizabeth of England against Catherine. You probably heard me screaming at the TV from wherever you were because OH HELL NO. That’s the dumbest thing ever — MQoS refused to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560 when the Scottish Protestants said Elizabeth was officially Queen of England and they declared peace between Scotland and England. King Henry of France had encouraged Mary and Francis to quarter their arms with that of England, and to the end of her life, Mary didn’t gave up her claim on the English throne.
Of course, Catherine could just be throwing out BS to Rehima who wouldn’t know better because she wants the girl to ransack Mary’s rooms for evidence. But still, I am unamused.
Back to the 1540s or whenever that’s supposed to be. It’s still early in Henry’s reign, early enough that they’re sorting out royal insignia, and Catherine is annoyed that the entwined “H” and “C” could also be read as “H” and “D” for Diane. She’s also irritated that Ruggieri is gone, which means he’s going to show up again.
Henry wants to talk with Catherine alone and tells her she was right about the Holy Roman Emperor (duh). So he’s going off to battle against said Holy Roman Emperor and wants Catherine to be regent because he can trust her.
Meanwhile, Diane sucks down more gold from Angelica, who warns her it’s crazy-making stuff. There’s a cool paper in BMJ Clinical Research discussing how Diane de Poitiers probably did drink gold and that would have contributed to her death. The show got one thing right.
Kendra wrote a whole Snark Week post about what partlets are and are not, and I recommend reading it (would be nice if some TV and movie costumers checked it out too!). Here’s a quick reminder and a pro tip: they should open in the front.
Henry heads off to battle, first telling the Guise and Bourbon brothers to obey Catherine, but they’re jerks making nasty comments about her.
Then Henry has a little chat with his son Francis, who we’re reminded is too physically weak to ever go to battle, and his fiancee Mary gets all religious about it.
As an aside, I have to comment on how the show is doing this thing of referring to some men as “Francis” and some as “François” when they’ll all French and would have all been called “François” in France at the time. It’s like the various Marys in the Tudor court that TV shows can’t deal with. Yes, history is full of folks who share the same name! But so is the present day — my friend group is filled with multiple Jennifers and Sarahs, and I can tell them apart. Why do TV shows think this is difficult???
Because it’s all about her, Diane rides to accompany Henry. Catherine thinks, if she’s lucky, Diane will be captured by the enemy.
At the battlefield in their fancy tent, Diane swigs more gold and makes suggestions contrary to François Guise. Henry’s cool with that, even if it makes him look dumb.
Back at court, nobody shows up for Catherine’s privy council. She has to go off to the other Guise brother, Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, and tells him the king needs money for this war. He says she has to go to the treasury, but that’s empty, and parliament wont help. The Cardinal wants his own deal, natch. Then Catherine checks on the bitchy Bourbons to find out what they want — which is to have Guise removed from privy council.
For comparison, here’s a lovely drawing showing Catherine in a similar, if more elaborate style, and yes, wearing a hood, as was typical.
Off at the battle, Diane tells Henry he shouldn’t fight, so François Guise goes instead. Henry can’t decide if that makes him look like a coward or if he just wants to stay and fuck Diane. He chooses fucking. But he’s not even a randy horndog like his dad, he’s just a doormat to whatever Diane wants.
Catherine’s out riding again in questionable headgear, contemplating politics. Meanwhile, a Protestant merchant guy is headed to court. He was introduced in the previous episode but is of minor consequence except for a plot point here.
Everyone’s gathered at court where Catherine gives a big speech. She explains that France is at war, and the King needs money to keep that going. While the crown has appreciated Catholic loyalty, Protestants should also be free to prosper, and they’re going to get an audience with the King. She proclaims tolerance the law of the land. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Henry, Diane, François, et. al., return from the war, and François, not the King, is proclaimed the triumphant hero. Now Henry’s annoyed at Diane’s dumb advice (or maybe he should be mad at himself for prioritizing getting laid over leading his troops into battle, hmm?).
Mary questions this war, as if it’s about religion (because for this portrayal, that’s all they got). But Francis says “father knows best.”
François is taking a post-war bath, when his mom, Antoinette de Guise, and his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, come in. Well, privacy isn’t historically accurate for the 16th century, so this tracks, I guess.
Do you see it too?
Mom totally plays the brothers against each other, then she feels up her naked son in the bath and seems to grabs his dick. Ew. She also tells the Cardinal to use Mary Queen of Scots and her religiosity against Catherine, which sure, that’s based in fact.
Diane heads to the King’s room but is stopped by the guard who was told specifically not to let her in. Hah. Next day, Angelica gives Diane more gold and warns her that she’s taking too much. Diane plants a kiss on Angelica, which came out of nowhere. Is this supposed to be a sign that Diane’s going crazy from the gold, so “crazy” that she’s making out with a girl? Because that’d be homophobic crap.
That scene is followed up by Aabis telling Angelica she knows what Angelica doing with Diane, and the two of them have a moment. It’s partly about Angelica is dealing with Diane behind Catherine’s back, but it’s kind of about Aabis and Angelica being lovers. Which also comes out of nowhere and seems thrown in as lesbian titillation. Which is also homophobic crap.
Henry and Catherine go riding, and he shows her the Château de Chenonceau, saying it’s now a gift to the King, and he’d like to give it to her. Henry asks, “Is it too late for us?” Because, of course, Catherine foolishly thinks, again, he could love her.
Time for that Protestant merchant guy to get his audience with the King. He starts small, then tells how his stuff has been taken by Catholics, then he rants against the ruling class and warns of revolution. Dude, you’re 200+ years too early, but whatever.
Diane yells at the guy to remember who you’re talking to, and the Protestant retorts that the King’s mistress doesn’t know her place. She’s making Henry look weak to the whole country. So Diane up and murders the guy in front of the whole court!
WTF. That’s super random, and I have no idea where they got that idea from. Especially since Henry immediately kisses her and forgives her. Royal favorites could get away with a hell of a lot, but murder in broad daylight is pretty unlikely. It didn’t happen, and if in some wild case it did, she’d have been whisked away to a convent and never heard of again.
Catherine attempts to find refuge in Chenonceau, but Diane’s already taken up residence, with a cat and with Angelica.
“Henry and I decided we’ll make this our country home,” Diane explains, because the King loves his murderous missy.
There’s a scene in a grubby pub with guys I think are Ruggieri and Montmorency. It’s boring and weirdly ends with the Montmorency-like one abducting a young girl. Another WTF.
Back to 1560, Rehima says she’ll search Mary’s chambers at Catherine’s behest, so off she goes. Then Catherine walks up to Mary and distracts her by talking about scripture.
I went over this hat stuff in detail in my last recap, but as a reminder. Note how in this painting, the headdress is curved around but solid and also filled in by curled hair.
However, Catherine says Mary looks cold and needs a shawl, and she sends one of Mary’s ladies-in-waiting to fetch it in her rooms. And she finds Rehima searching there. Because Catherine is pulling a fast one on that girl.
Note: I’m traveling this week so I can’t watch and recap episode 6, sorry! Come back in two weeks for a big ol’ finale wrap-up where I’ll finish with recaps for the final three episodes.
How are you feeling about the midpoint of The Serpent Queen?