Catherine outsmarts everyone in a great finale, but leaves plenty of lingering enemies for a now-confirmed second season to challenge her reign.
This recap of The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 8, “A Queen Is Made”, contains spoilers, including an open discussion of The Serpent Queen’s ending.
The finale of The Serpent Queen pulls one final trick with the show’s narration device — in “A Queen Is Made”, Rahima is telling Catherine the story, rather than having it relayed to her.
This is an important distinction. We’ve reached the inevitable point where Rahima has come into her own. She has figured everything out. All the secrets she has kept — being able to read, for example — have been deployed in her own favor. She has weighed the two most dangerous women in France up, determined which of them is most likely to win, and knows who to side with. In a story chock-full of smart and ruthless women, Rahima might be the smartest and most ruthless of them all.
In the opening scene, Rahima finds Ruggieri in the woods and learns he has a rough approximation of Queen Elizabeth’s official seal. That’s the final piece of the puzzle, but we don’t realize how it all fits together until the very end.
The Serpent Queen season 1, episode 8 recap
Picking up where The Serpent Queen episode 7 left off, the kidnapping of Francis that Catherine has arranged is thwarted by Francis himself, but not intentionally. His health takes a sudden turn for the worse, and Catherine, panicking, is forced to improvise. She stops the carriage ahead of the arranged spot, steps outside, and draws attention to the attack. Chaos erupts immediately.
In the confusion, Catherine mounts a horse and bolts away, stopping Montmorency from killing Antoine by stabbing Montmorency herself. It’s hard to tell how quickly Catherine adapted this plan on the fly, or whether she had it in her mind as a backup all along, but we’ll see all throughout “A Queen Is Made” that it’s a pretty intricate scheme.
Catherine tells Antoine to hide at a farmhouse down the river but doesn’t share his location with anyone else. Francis is not expected to survive for long — he has “consumption”, which is an old word for tuberculosis. When he dies, though, with his younger brother Charles IX being so young, power will fall to the regent, which at the moment is Antoine. Ordinarily, the line of succession should be followed, but Cardinal Guise thinks, given the circumstances, that the French people would accept Montmorency as regent in his stead. The transference of power, though, requires both the signature of the sitting regent and the endorsement of the current king. With Montmorency stable, he’s at risk of letting slip that Catherine was the one who stabbed him.
Naturally, none of this works in Catherine’s favor, so she develops a counter-plan. First, she conspires behind Mary’s back to give Louis clemency in exchange for Antoine’s location, even though she already knows it. Once she has agreement, she then tells Mary of the scheme and suggests making her regent, blaming the plot on the Cardinal. She dispatches Mathilde to kill Montmorency on pain of expulsion from court and tries to strongarm Antoine, who is being babysat by Aabis, to sign over the regency.
Antoine throws a spanner in the works by refusing to rescind his powers, so Catherine manipulates Mary into torturing Louis and cutting off one of his fingers to send to Antoine, to force his hand, so to speak. But Montmorency is able to escape Mathilde’s assassination attempt and find his own way to Antoine. Montmorency, though, forces Antoine to sign over the regency… to Catherine, since she’s the only person actually capable of keeping France on the straight and narrow and thus protecting Montmorency’s loved ones.
With nothing else left to do, Catherine talks Francis into endorsing her as regent and then into killing himself with an opiate Ruggieri gave her. She has seized power behind everyone’s backs, and when Mary finds out she is, needless to say, absolutely fuming.
The Serpent Queen ending explained
So we once again catch up to the framing device, with Rahima putting the finishing touches on her explanation. She knows that Catherine intercepted Mary’s letter to Elizabeth and then forged a reply — that’s what Ruggieri’s seal was about. Mary was convinced the forgery was authentic, and thanks to Catherine ensuring Rahima got caught snooping in Mary’s quarters, she only strengthened that illusion. The letter summons Mary back to Scotland to work on a plot with Elizabeth to overthrow Catherine.
Rahima has made her decision. She’s going to side with Catherine, but she has some written conditions, which include a title and property. “Feels good to be bad, doesn’t it?” Catherine asks her. Rahima gives the forged letter to Mary, and she and the Marys depart for Scotland. As the episode ends, Catherine crowns Charles IX in a lavish ceremony that really concentrates power in her own hands, while Mary and the Marys arrive in Scotland to be told that any letter that was supposedly from the queen must have been a forgery — Mary’s very presence in Scotland risks the stability of the realm.
In the final shot, Rahima turns to the camera and tells us to trust no one. Season 2, anyone?
Do you have any thoughts on the ending of The Serpent Queen Season 1? Let us know in the comments.