Photo: Nick Briggs / Starz
You know what I love about this series? It looks past all the Elizabeth-as-monarch glitter that everyone is so distracted by and is like, no… no. The truly batshit drama we should look at is the 11 years between Henry VIII’s death and Elizabeth coming to the throne. It is an absolutely BONKS time. And the show balances the imminent danger to Elizabeth at home via Thomas Seymour with the more looming danger of what’s happening at court, and I am just extremely here for all of it.
We should touch on the fact that Thomas is clearly grooming Elizabeth (I know that word has been misused by idiots as of late, but behold, it is used here in its correct sense), and if you have a hard time with that sort of thing, maybe skip all their scenes. They all boil down to “Thomas is an asshole who’s trying to cheat on Catherine with a 13-year-old.” There’s enough great stuff in the show to enjoy beyond those! I hope you like religious fanaticism!
Thomas’s early-morning visits to Elizabeth’s room are well-documented, as is Elizabeth’s response of getting up earlier so he would leave her alone. I’m not super looking forward to the scene where he cuts up her dress while Catherine holds her down, so let’s see if they include that. It would be surprising not to, though, since it’s weird as fuck that they did that. History has its eyes on you, etc., Thomas and Catherine, and you are found WANTING. I have some slight sympathy for Catherine because imagine being married to Thomas Seymour (but it is slight).
When Elizabeth tells Kat Ashley that she can’t be held responsible for what Thomas decides to do, Kat tells her that she will be, and she is. Foreshadowing! And present-shadowing, I guess. I am so excited to see the dramatization of this incredibly formative period of Elizabeth I’s life. As a non-scholar but also someone who owns this book, I hereby state that this is when shit got real for Elizabeth and she started to become the ruler we all know. She learns that she is being watched and that her choices, even if they feel private, can easily put her in danger.
I guess we need to talk about the sex pope. I know very little about court masques, and this feels over the top, but also, people in the 16th century had filthy minds, so who knows; it’s probably legit. Edward and the court watch a masque, the contents of which remain mysterious to me, but there’s a priapic… goat-man? And also a pope in heavy makeup who performs sexual acts with the goat-man? Everyone thinks it’s hilarious because 30 Rock had not been invented yet, and their standards for comedy were low.
The one person who is not amused is Princess Mary. MAY I SAY. Mary always gets the short end of the stick in dramatizations of Tudor life, and I LOVE her here. Sure, that’ll probably change as she gets more and more paranoid, but for now – love. Hats off to you, Romola Garai. Mary’s mother was the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, known for Columbus, the Inquisition, and kicking all the Jewish people out of Spain. It’s not a great record. Catherine of Aragon was beloved by the people of England, and when Henry threw her over for Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, they did not take it well. Mary was loyal to her mother and her mother’s religion, which makes even more sense when you consider that Henry didn’t cancel Catholicism in England until she was 18 (Elizabeth was 1 year old).
Despite what Mary sees as extreme sacrilege and what most of us would likely see as being in poor taste, her only reaction is to grip her rosary and leave. She does this only after Thomas has Edward choose, Roman emperor – style, the pope’s fate, and he gives a thumbs-down, saying, “Death to the pope.” This is after Jane Gray also thumbs-downs him and says, “He is the Antichrist.” These children are intense. And THEN. The goat-man (again, I’m unclear on what he is) pisses on the pope! I don’t know that I’d have the guts to get up in front of the Protestant king and walk out, but if I were a Catholic, I’d be extremely upset by this too.
After Mary walks out, Edward follows her, telling her not to embarrass him, but then he becomes less imperious and asks if she’s upset with him. Yes, Edward! Of course she’s upset with you! Mary manages to politely get out of it and says she feels unwell and is going for a walk. Elizabeth goes and finds her and tells her that Edward loves her. Mary replies, “But hates Catholics.” The dramatic TENSION of this!
This is what I mean about the religious fanaticism – in reality, terrible, awful, and so many people die needlessly; everyone stop it. In the context of this show, however, omg, I love it so much. Edward and Mary are both so committed to their faith! But they are also siblings and love each other. But it’s the 16th century, and Catholics and Protestants are 100 percent the worst to each other. The die-hard commitment to their faith is between two out of three children of the most infamous king in the very dramatic Tudor dynasty! I hope this ENTIRE series is about religious tensions between the Tudor kids. 10/10, A +.
Mary thinks she’ll end up like her mother or Elizabeth’s, saying, “It’s a sad fate for a woman who displeases a Tudor,” to which Elizabeth answers, “We are Tudors.” YEAH, you are! Mary brings some “I’m only telling you this for your own good” energy by giving Elizabeth the advice that since Elizabeth is the daughter of the Great Whore (not starting off strong here, Mary), she has to be careful with her actions . Sure. I mean sure. Mary asks Elizabeth to leave Thomas and Catherine’s house and come live with her for her own safety. I don’t know how this would have gone! Would it have saved Elizabeth some of the extreme unpleasantness ahead? Would it have saved a lot of people? Or would Elizabeth somehow not have ended up queen if she had lived with Mary? QUESTIONS.
Meanwhile, Somerset is making Catherine give back the jewels she was willed by Henry. He says they were left to the king’s widow, and she’s not that anymore since she’s married to Thomas, soooo. This is definitely a dick move on Somerset’s part, but Thomas says they’ll have them ready to be picked up, and Catherine is pissed. Later at home, she shouts at him in the room next to Elizabeth and Jane’s schoolroom, calling him weak and shoved around by his brother. Because they’re That Couple, this turns into them sexing each other up on some furniture and doing so very LOUDLY while Elizabeth tries to recite Greek. Hahahaha, this house is insane. What a terrible environment.
Catherine comes across Elizabeth at night, writing a letter in front of the fire. When Elizabeth says she’s writing to Mary to say she’s going to live with her, Catherine basically states that Mary’s using her and says some v interesting things about Mary and Somerset being plow horses with a slow-burning determination. Checks out. Elizabeth’s going to stay.
Let’s talk about PEDRO. Pedro is the mercenary from Spain (representing Black Tudors!) Who was helping Somerset fight the Scottish, only now Somerset says, Maybe I’ll find something else for you to do than help lead my army. Presumably because Peter yelled at Henry Gray, who’s a duke. No one even likes Henry! One of my favorite lines in this episode is when Henry is whining about still having to pay for a war he thought they’d won, and Somerset asks if he thinks stealing a girl away in the middle of the night and pleading for French assistance is the act of winners. I know we historically don’t like the English in the English versus Scottish or the English versus Anyone debate, but lol.
After this meeting at court, Mary holds Mass (bold move), which Pedro attends. When it’s over, these two meet, and he denounces those who sought or were easily granted their positions and titles instead of earning them. She asks if he thinks the king’s place is also unearned (although her grandfather earned it on the battlefield), and he goes, “Oh shit” and realizes who she is. Say what you will, but THIS IS A MEET-CUTE. Mary’s actual marriage turns out to be such a tremendous garbage that I really want this for her. Especially because Pedro then leaves court, joins her service, and is there for her when Somerset and Dudley show up at Framlingham Castle to chat with her about her religion. They are both quiet and serious. It’s perfect.
Mary is at Framlingham because Edward tells her to stop holding Mass and commands her to convert to the true religion. When Mary replies that he wants her to choose between her king and her God, Edward says he is chosen by God. Daaaaaaamn. He wants her to renounce Catholicism in front of the whole court. Instead of doing this, she decides to retire to the country.
Speaking of perfect relationships, who shows up in this episode but Robert DUDLEY, aka Robin. And his and Elizabeth’s dynamic is exactly as it should be! They act like teenagers whose parents were friends, so they saw each other at parties a lot. It’s a slow burn of a romance. He and Elizabeth ride together on a hunt at Thomas and Catherine’s. When they end up ahead of everyone, Elizabeth shoots the CGI stag they’re hunting with a crossbow. I very much can’t handle animal cruelty, but this stag was so fake-looking that it was mostly okay. Elizabeth stabbing it in the neck wasn’t great, but worse things happened to animals in the Tudor era. She does this after yelling at Robin about how she has the right to make her own reckless, unchallenged, uninterrupted, foolish, and selfish decisions. You do, Elizabeth, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.
The whole exchange is about how she wants to get with Thomas, who has been making more advances, and finally they kiss, etc., which is gross. I’m going to emphasize again that she is a child and he is a 38-year-old man.
Somerset and Dudley visit Mary, and Somerset tells her she is free to practice her religion but to do so discreetly. Dudley is later like what the fuck, and Somerset says the king is a fanatic and his sister is a fanatic. The country’s a powder keg and their duty is to stop anyone lighting either fuse. YEEESSSS. ALL of this. So much potential energy ready to go kinetic.
Mary receives Elizabeth’s note saying she won’t be living with her, and Elizabeth joins Edward at his prayers. When Edward asks her what she’s praying about, she says for their sister to convert so that she can be saved. Elizabeth looks at the camera. NICE.
Who is going to cross the line first !! I am currently #TeamMary, but they’re both kind of monsters. Hurry up and build that character, Elizabeth; everyone is being unreasonable.