Photo: Nick Briggs/Starz/B) 2021 Starz Entertainment, LLC
WELL. I grossly overestimated the amount of time this series would cover, and now we must have a season two, or the next Tudor monarch will remain forever a mystery. How could we possibly know who it will be? Our curiosity can only be sated by a renewal and definitely not by looking up who it is on the internet.
It’s been two months since we last saw him, and Edward is not only ill but deathly ill. He likely has tuberculosis, which wasn’t easily conquered in the sixteenth century, and everyone at court assumes his death is imminent. Lord Protector Dudley, now in a very “oh shit” mentality, sends for Mary, hoping this will lessen her desire to kill him when she becomes queen. When Mary arrives, people are very excited because Mary was historically very popular (until the whole burning people thing). She had had a hard life and was the daughter of Henry’s most beloved-by-the-people queen, and it’s not like all of England had suddenly become super-Protestant when Henry chucked out the pope.
Let’s take a moment to talk about ermine. Do I like that people killed little ermines to make clothes out of them? No. But since they did it anyway, can I just say, wow. Mary looks amazing in her extremely fancy, ermine-edged dress. Elizabeth also wears ermine this episode, and just wow. Totally get it. I would not do it, but I get it.
This is another moment in historical drama where I am thrilled they threw history in the trash and did their own thing. Mary did not see Edward when he was dying, just like Elizabeth never met Mary, Queen of Scots, but it’s so much more interesting if they did. These figures loom large in history, and I want them to interact dramatically, cry, and throw good put-downs at each other. When Dudley greets Mary, she asks him for three things: release Bishop Gardiner from the Tower, let her have a Catholic service with her priest, and, lastly, get out of her fucking way. Mary!!! She remains iconique in this series. This is the most redemption done for a historical figure since Hamilton. I never in my whole gay life thought I’d be impatiently waiting for Mary Tudor to be back on my screen, but here we are. If we consider her later actions, it’s very April Ludgate “she’s the worst person I’ve ever met. I want to travel the world with her” vibes.
Putting all the Tudor siblings in the same room continues to yield emotionally-complex gold. Mary sees Edward, and when he starts crying, she starts crying while urging him not to cry (classic). He asks Mary to convert, despite likely knowing she won’t, and they both cry more about that. It’s just! So! Complicated! I love it so much. Mary and Edward love each other, but English sixteenth-century religious tensions will ruin any relationship; just ask Thomas More. (Too soon?) Their dynamic here is just SO SWEET AND GOOD.
Elizabeth leaves during all the crying, and Mary eventually follows her. So. You know how someone can be great in some ways but in other ways has no problem saying, “Look, yes, I am your sister, but I just thought everyone needed to remember that your mother was executed for adultery, and maybe they should have a think about that before supporting you” directly to your face? Right, so Mary does that. Mary feels bad about it and immediately is like, eh, maybe I didn’t even need to do that. These kids. Real up and down in their feelings for each other.
Mary and Elizabeth are lining up their next moves as Edward continues not to improve. Elizabeth chats with Dudley, who tells her that her coming to the throne would be impossible, but her father asked for an impossible thing, too. An excellent point, sure, but he was already king. Mary visits Somerset with Pedro. Have I properly complimented the casting people on Somerset? He looks so much like Somerset. And also does such an amazing job with the role! Really just five stars all around. Mary is there to ask him to be on her side this time around. Mary clearly gets how this is all played, which makes sense, given how long she’s watched court machinations (decades!). She was seventeen when her father annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which officially went through four months before Elizabeth was born. Aside from her father selecting and marrying five other wives, there were countless courtiers, foreign dignitaries, and nobles whose rises and falls she witnessed (including her own). Obviously, Somerset is on board because what else does he have going on?
Let’s get the Robin Dudley thing out of the way. Robin married Amy Robsart off-camera, and Elizabeth is shocked to hear this. I have some thoughts. First, the Elizabeth/Robin dynamic has been way too rushed. I was on board with a slow burn, but he got extremely intense very quickly, and it was too soon after the Seymour business. They should have remained very close friends, and then maybe during Mary’s reign, we can hint at something. Also, Elizabeth was at his wedding. This is something historical fiction always wants to forget, but in my opinion, it doesn’t add anything good. She was right there! Stop making her be shocked! Anyway, he does a whole “I thought I loved you, but I love my wife” thing, and sure, okay. I want to go back to Mary.
In the interest of winning the game, Mary invites Elizabeth on a hunt. You wonder, are we going to go off the rails in a potentially fun way and have Mary try to murder Elizabeth? No. But she does purposely try to scare the shit out of her by getting her alone and causing Elizabeth’s horse to throw her. Elizabeth shouts that if Mary wants to murder her, do it better, which is the best response she could give. Mary instead tells her that men will try to use Elizabeth for her power, just as they try to use Mary. This is, in reality, a “don’t try to take the throne” warning, which initially seems like it’s backfired, as Elizabeth immediately sends for Dudley when they return. Instead, she tells him she wants to be queen but will not seek it.
This was the best part: Dudley is pissed and calls Mary a fanatic, vindictive, and paranoid, and Elizabeth says, “She is many things, but she is not paranoid, for the world does plot and scheme against her.” When I tell you the “OH SHIT,” I yelled upon hearing that. We are REPLACING THE MARY NARRATIVE. Have you seen the 1998 film Elizabeth? It is the least flattering portrayal of Mary possible, and it has been the main one for years! “She is not paranoid.” Hot damn.
Mary is all set to throw Dudley into the Tower, and he is two seconds from being taken there when Edward makes a miraculous recovery. Mary is very caught out and tries to save face about all the assumptions she and everyone have been making about Edward dying. Dudley immediately has Somerset arrested, and he is executed the next day. Everyone is sad about it, even though Dudley organizes a court play about it in extremely poor taste. Were there any good court plays? I know there must have been.
So all the main Seymours are gone except for Edward VI, and he’s barely hanging on. We all know this recovery isn’t going to last — it’s the Elizabethan Age; the Edwardian Age isn’t for centuries more. I was panicking as time ticked down in this episode because I very much thought we were at least going to get through Jane Grey and up to Mary, and so my episode notes keep worriedly noting how little time is left and how are they ever going to cram all this in in five minutes?
Fortunately for us (if the series gets renewed, which it should), those five minutes are spent with an Elizabeth/Mary exchange that is A+ and devastating. Edward orders them to leave the court, and as Jane Grey passes them on the stairs, they throw away their fucks and are honest with each other. Mary asks if Elizabeth really does love her because she keeps realizing she has no love for Elizabeth (a “way harsh, Tai” moment!). Elizabeth tells her that Mary makes it hard, and Mary says, well, you make it easy. OMG.
Elizabeth tells Mary she knows Mary likes to think of herself as a victim, but Mary could choose a quiet life and does not. Omg true. When Elizabeth says, you are no victim, Mary says, “No, I am a Tudor.” I know that kind of thing can be cheap, but I love it so much. And then, after all these cruel back and forths, they laugh together about how much it sucks to be a woman at this time and thank God they don’t matter while Edward reigns.
Then, of course, Edward vomits up blood.
There is so much more to go!! We need to see Jane Grey, Mary gathering her army, Dudley’s fall, Mary’s extreme missteps, Mary and Pedro (maybe) kissing once, and Elizabeth going into the Tower after writing a frantic letter to Mary. Good LORD, what a dramatically fruitful period.
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