A time jump gives us more Samantha Morton, which only further improves an already solid show.
This recap of The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 4, “A New Era”, contains spoilers.
If I’ve had a persistent complaint about The Serpent Queen thus far, it’s that there hasn’t been enough Samantha Morton. “A New Era” remedies that by living up to its title, shunting the flashback timeline forward 15 years so that Morton plays Catherine de Medici in both time periods now. Not entirely surprisingly, then, the fourth episode is the best of the season thus far.
The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 4 recap
When we catch up, we learn quickly that Catherine has been pumping out babies for fun in the intervening years, and that Henri has grown up into Lee Ingleby. He’s a fine father and a reasonably attendant husband, but when Diane de Poitiers turns up, we see he’s still hopelessly smitten with her, though one should raise the possibility that it’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome after being groomed rather than genuine affection. Nevertheless, though, he doesn’t love Catherine, or at least isn’t in love with her, as a husband should be.
It likewise doesn’t help that their eldest son, Francis (Georg Jacques), is engaged to Mary, the daughter of James V of Scotland, which is obviously beginning to tie the present-day and flashback sequences together more overtly. Francis has a lung condition that keeps him side-lined from all the flirty shenanigans of the French court, where Mary lives and has lived since early childhood, and it’s interesting to see the difference in how Henri deals with that in contrast to how his own father, who is still alive but ailing rapidly, handled raising his own children.
King Francis’s impending demise is crucial to this episode since he’s leaving behind a political climate fraught with religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants and will be leaving his realm in the hands of not only Henri, but the aristocrats who have aged with him, most of whom were closer to his late son, Francis, than Henri himself. Cardinal Charles de Guise (Raza Jaffrey), and the Duke of Guise Francois (Ray Panthaki) are firmly in favor of Catholicism, while Louis (Danny Kirrane) and Antoine (Nicholas Burns) are all-in on the Protestants and their seemingly bottomless pockets. The King believes as he has for many years, often quite openly, that Catherine is the future of France.
We see this more explicitly when the King takes extremely ill and, on his deathbed, makes Henri swear to appoint Catherine to his privy council, a promise he keeps, but she’s flanked on all sides by the Cardinal, Francois, Louis, and Antoine, all of whom are looking to further their own interests and none of whom take Catherine remotely seriously, even though her advice that the Holy Roman Emperor will aggressively challenge the new king seems fairly sound. Henri, respecting Catherine’s knowledge, at least, agrees to post an intimidating garrison at the border, but he’s talked out of supplying more troops by literally everyone else.
Catherine also takes the bold step of “gifting” Diane a chateau at the coronation, which in other words means she’s expelling her from court. Diane is forced to feign gratitude, but she also strikes up a relationship with Angelica, who gives her a pipette of liquid gold. The tincture hardly makes her more reasonable, continuing to make her presence strongly felt during the coronation, which is interrupted by the arrival of a messenger who delivers a severed head festooned with maggots – a gift from the Holy Roman Emperor, proving Catherine’s suspicions correct.
With all this story being recounted to Rahima, it’s no wonder that the young maid is picking up some of the lessons; revealing half-truths instead of full ones, and keeping the queen where she can see her, and be seen by her in turn – but only some of the time. Knowing how Catherine is, Rahima, cleverer than she lets on, must also suspect that she is somehow becoming a tool for the Queen. And while she can’t help but use her newfound royal privileges to troll those who have made her life miserable in the past, she’s wise enough to know that nothing lasts forever, and she’ll soon be vulnerable again. By then, though, she might just have learned enough from the Serpent Queen to save herself.
You can stream The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 4, “A New Era”, exclusively on Starz.