First, understanding is aided by a stylistic prologue where a low, gravelly voice intones the risks besetting Mary as she tries to maintain her kingdom. They seriously should have included this last week in the pilot. It gives the drama direction, so things feel more steady as a whole. We then get a full hour of straightforward explanation of Mary's presence in court, what risks Scotland is beset by, and what her options are. Finally, it's revealed why England is a threat to the world. Finally, the vital importance of France keeping the Scottish alliance strong is uncovered.
Though less political than the other alliance plots, we also get a glimpse into why Evil Anne Queen is so dead-set against Mary. While it might be hidden under the cloak of protecting France, her desire to take Mary down is actually a desperate power play to maintain her own position. Unless she is on Francis's good side, Evil Anne Queen could be left with nothing--no protection from her philandering husband, and no real title to elevate her. The underlying reverse-Oedipal undertones are kind of unappetizing, but the implications of how completely powerless a non-blood-royal woman can be are fascinating. Especially when issues of age and helplessness are raised, watching one who is older and so well-established politically be in a precarious position.
Another wrinkle in the disparaging treatment of women is how King Henry II practically forces himself on slutty LiW. I admire the attempt at the time-appropriate approach that a maiden without virtue is worthless in the economy of that day, coupled with the king's manipulation of his subjects to guarantee safety for his mistresses. You know, the basic 'jump' and how high' concept. The willingness of subjects to submit to royalty, even if that royalty is panning off his used chattel. But it's still gross. Especially how Henry forces his kiss on slutty LiW's clearly unconsenting form, but in the camera pan after the event she looks all aroused and into it. I understand that the whole 50 Shades wanting to be degraded thing is all the rage right now, but I still find it disgusting.
Returning to women in politics, it's heartening to see Mary fully plunged into the world of political alliances, and so freely discussing them all the ever-loving time. First she frets over her political position with Francis, then with Simon the English envoy, then Francis again, then Bash, then with Clarissa the ghost girl, Francis, Evil Anne Queen, Simon again, Francis, Francis, and Francis with a dash of friendly romance. While I fully support the fact that a royal woman would be in control of her own destiny and encapsulated in the politics of her day, I'm not buying Mary as that woman. Her every conversation seems forced and out of nowhere. While the men are acting circles around her with their conviction--Lord Patchy-Beard Francis especially sells a burgeoning connection and concern for the young queen, even if I remain unconvinced with his tiny fetus face--Mary just seems to talk quickly and with terror, thinking that faster, louder talking equals understanding. That's false, but points for trying.
Having the growing affection between Francis and Mary offset by the romance of Francis's younger brother Charles and his seven-year-old fiance Madeline was an expertly executed emotional device. The beginning, with the two children looking as bashful and accepting as all very young children are, offers an effective throwback to help Francis and Mary remember their childhood friendship. And then, with young Madeline getting angry at Charles during an innocent game, it proves that with royals there is no childhood, there are no youthful games. Marriages and friendships are taken far too seriously. The littlest gestures become huge, as too much responsibility is placed on young shoulders. They are only fallible people, but with empires on their backs.
-Mary's wanderings continue to be problematic. They slightly try to explain her lack of guards as an English/Evil Anne Queen plot, but it doesn't excuse the fact that Mary isn't investing in her own safety. While it's a clever romantic move making Francis her only ally, she's a queen for heaven's sake. She doesn't have to stay in quarters sketchily accessible through secret passageways. She doesn't have to put up with a lack of guards. She can afford her own security.
-Nostradamus is my favorite. The tag, with him cleaning the dungeon and cooing soft poisonous words into the shadows where Clarissa sits is so menacing, so otherworldly. His actions appear evil, but he doesn't reflect any malice, just the burden of visions.
-The woods--called the "bloodwoods," which is just delightful--are still a mystery. I though Bash had established that they were some pagan haunt, but now I'm not sure. Either way, I'm totally on board with some Druid magic if they choose to go that way.