This recap of The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 2, “To War Rather Than to Bed”, contains spoilers.
It can’t be just me who thinks that the framing device of The Serpent Queen is much more interesting than the flashbacks to Catherine de Medici’s life story where we spend most of our time. Perhaps that’s primarily the fault of Samantha Morton, who is so good as this terrifying witch-queen that it’s a shame whenever she’s not on-screen, but it might also be because there’s something implicitly satisfying in the idea of this – by all accounts – awful woman teaching a relatively well-meaning maid how to be just the right amount of awful to not be taken advantage of.
The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 2 recap
And everyone seems to want to take advantage of Rahima. It’s not hard to see why, and now that she has developed favor with Catherine – she’s taken on as her official maid in “To War Rather Than to Bed”, despite having been curtly dismissed at the end of last week’s premiere – she’s likely to draw more negative attention to herself, so the lessons she’s being taught will no doubt be valuable. And that’s really the part of the story I’m interested in seeing.
But whatever. Back to the past we go. And things aren’t looking especially positive in the past, since Catherine isn’t pregnant. This is a problem since she isn’t of much value to the crown if she can’t produce an heir, and she isn’t likely to produce one any time soon since Henri won’t sleep with her and only seems to have eyes – and other things – for his aging mistress, Diane de Poitiers. And this isn’t a well-kept secret, either. With Catherine’s dowry still unpaid, the marriage in danger of being annulled, and Diane trying everything possible to ensure that happens so she can marry Henri herself, things really aren’t going in young Catherine’s favor.
And Henri’s an issue since he’s the very worst thing you could possibly be in an old aristocracy – he’s soft. He quite likes Catherine, and Catherine inexplicably loves him, but he’s just totally uninterested in boning her, so when Catherine realizes that she instead accepts the flirty propositions of a stable hand in the hopes of conceiving a child that she can pretend is Henri’s. But Diane’s spies are keeping an eye on everything Catherine does, so she arranges for the man to be poisoned so that he can’t blab.
While this is all going on, a furious King Francis is trying to get to the bottom of who has been illustrating pictures of him getting banged by the Pope, and this intersects with the main plot when one of the images is discovered in the home of the stable hand (who is recovering from being poisoned.) This scene functions as a kind of villain introduction for Henri’s brother, Francis the dauphin, who is an absolute Grade A demented psychopath who shoots the stable hand’s wife and tries to force Henri into shooting him and his son. Henri’s having none of it, but he’s shamed so vehemently by his brother, his father, and Diane that he eventually goes a bit postal and stabs the man in the neck, though he does admittedly tell the kid to give it some legs out of the vicinity.
King Francis is, somehow, the most reasonable person in this entire charade, so despite pushing Henri to off the stable hand, he still strikes as someone who might listen to reason (unless you’re a pretty, young woman of his general acquaintance, anyway, in which case you’re in major trouble), so Catherine targets him with her manipulations to ensure she stays married to Henri for long enough to get pregnant one way or another. She even manages to get Henri into her bed-chamber, though one must imagine that she wished she didn’t have to bother.
As ever, “To War Rather Than to Bed” ends back with Catherine having imparted an important lesson to Rahima, which in this case is to use gunpowder to blow her enemies up. I mean, why not?