The Serpent Queen makes its supernatural allusions more explicit as Catherine takes a major step.
This recap of The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 6, “The Last Joust”, contains spoilers.
Throughout its first season, The Serpent Queen has toyed with the supernatural, but only as a metaphor for a notorious monarch’s complicated legacy. Many imagined Catherine de Medici as a witch, and thus in some ways she became one anyway; the series about her shows her explicitly cavorting with magicians and potions, and having prophetic dreams as an extension of that reputation. But “The Last Joust” ties these elements into the real-world plot more explicitly, in a way that makes one wonder whether we’re supposed to believe that Catherine really is a practitioner of some dark art or another.
The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 6 recap
Catherine fantasizes about Henri dying during a joust, and about pushing Diane from a high ledge to her death, and at least one of these things comes true. In fact, it comes true as a direct result of Catherine manipulating events to make it so, which implies a real power implicit in her – or perhaps in the magician Ruggieri – that can manipulate real events. It’s odd territory for a period drama to claim, but it makes things interesting, I suppose.
Anyway, after ratting out Rahima in The Serpent Queen episode 5, Catherine visits her in her cell to gaslight her and then recount more of her backstory, which sees her continuing to consort with the aforementioned Ruggieri, despite his warnings about consequences. But Catherine has a point about Diane blinding Henri to his duty as king, and it isn’t just because Henri would prefer to sleep with her than his wife. With her worsening addiction to gold, Diane is becoming even more trouble than she was before, and it isn’t just the royal court that stands to be worse off for it, but all of France.
Diane’s influence is particularly important as regards Mary Stuart, who is betrothed to the dauphin, Francis, and has a claim to the English throne that might be backed by the Holy Roman Emperor once she’s wed. The flip side is that Mary is considered a zealot and welcoming such a woman into the court will stoke up the Protestants. Diane is in favor of the union because the Cardinal proposes a new tax for every chime of a wedding bell across France, which would go directly into Diane and her daughters’ pockets. The Guises are in favor for obvious reasons. The only thing halting the marriage initially is that Henri has enough Dutch courage from all the wine he’s guzzling to tell Diane no.
Catherine tries to use the time efficiently. After a conversation with Henri, she sends Mathilde to bring Montmorency to the privy council as an “impartial advisor”. She tells the Bourbons that the King has implemented austerity measures banning all official celebrations, including royal weddings. And she implies to Mary that Francis can’t sire children.
Needless to say, Diane isn’t having this, and because Henri is absolutely spineless, he eventually agrees not only to the nuptials but to inviting the Holy Roman Emperor to them in person. Catherine realizes what she should have realized ages ago – that Henri is weak, will never put his country or his wife above Diane, and is an immediate threat to France. So, she returns to Ruggieri.
On the day of the wedding, Rupert Everett arrives doing a bang-up job of playing the deplorable Charles V. So, too, does Montmorency, whose time away has eroded his ability to say what people want to hear rather than the truth. So, he tells Henri he’s even stupider than his father suspected he was, which the drunken King doesn’t take especially well. At his most confused and vulnerable, Catherine asks him if he’ll joust, to remind her of how he was when she first saw him, and she implores him to wear a green sash – as he did in her dream – with Ruggieri’s charm nestled within.
During the joust, as expected, Henri is killed.
In the present day, Rahima sees this for what it is – murder, and she assumes, perhaps correctly at this point, that Catherine is evil. Catherine laughs and reminds her that they aren’t so different, but she’s sure to halve her rations before she leaves. At the end of the episode, she tells Ruggieri that Rahima will do as expected, as the two of them look ominously out at Mary and the Marys. What does Catherine have planned?
You can catch The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 6, “The Last Joust”, exclusively on Starz.