Not to be “banish all men,” but think about how great this show would be with ALL the men gone. Except Pedro. Pedro can stay. But everyone else, get outta here. All they’re doing is bickering and getting in the way of women being awesome. I mean, sure, for the sake of the drama (and also history, I guess), they’re okay, but when you think of this time period, are you like, Ah yes, the time of Edward VI and the Seymours? No! It’s Elizabeth and Mary and Catherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey. Is there a musical about Henry VIII on Broadway? No! It’s about his wives! Tudor women are the best, and by “the best,” I mean the most interesting and least sexual assault–y. What if the women of the show all leave and start a bookshop/lending library together? This is a great plan.
Back to terrible real-life events — Catherine is pregnant, and she is not happy about it. I loved this? I loved that a woman was shown as smart enough to be like, “Okay, well the mortality rate is shit for women my age who are pregnant, so.” Catherine is 35, and her response to her pregnancy (announced by a doctor who drinks her pee) is “I have so many things to do.” My heart! Jane Grey tells her it’s God’s will (shut up, Jane), and Catherine says it’s a death sentence for her and the baby. Statistically, she’s right! Sorry for spoilers, but Catherine does die in childbirth. The baby survives but is lost to the historical record.
The dress cutting happens! Remember last week? So this isn’t quite as traumatic as I’ve seen it portrayed in other reenactments, but the Seymours definitely cut up Elizabeth’s dress while she’s wearing it. Here, Thomas is displeased with Elizabeth still wearing mourning for her father, so he draws his sword in front of Catherine, Jane, and Kat Ashley and begins cutting it because it’s “too gloomy.” Catherine thinks this is hilarious, and when Elizabeth runs through the house, they chase her and tear the rest of her dress off, leaving her in her shift. You guys, this sucks SO BAD. Thomas is into it, because he is, as mentioned, an asshole. This house is such a bad environment, mainly because of him! Catherine is complicit, but Thomas is the instigator of all this. Anyone who blames Elizabeth — remember she is literally 14 years old.
Catherine finally starts to think, Hmmmm, when she sees Elizabeth, in her shift, choking Thomas as he lies on a window seat. This time in Elizabeth’s life is so uncomfortable, but creator Anya Reiss handles it well, almost never veering into “Sexy Scene” territory between Elizabeth and Thomas. And we’re almost through it! Just a little ways to go! But before we’re done, Catherine has to “catch” them.
Back in my Call the Midwife–viewing days, I used to call Jessica Raine (our Catherine Parr) “JRaine” — JRaine’s certainly got a lot to work with here, from Catherine’s pregnancy and her attempts to manipulate the king to her discovery of her husband’s infidelity, which Elizabeth flat-out lies to her about. (I would probably also do this at 14.)
We are asked to hate Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Catherine’s nemesis, which I will do readily. Gardiner is released from the Tower as a concession to Mary and her many Catholic supporters. Catherine is not thrilled about this. Backstory: Gardiner tried to have Catherine arrested when she was married to Henry, and his influence was likely responsible for Anne Askew, who was believed to be associated with Catherine, being burned at the stake. Catherine is a very strong Protestant, and I do not know how to properly emphasize how strongly people felt about Protestantism versus Catholicism at this time, but did I mention Anne Askew being burned at the stake? Three years before the events of this episode? That is basically zero time. If you’re like, “Wait, but didn’t Henry VIII abolish the monasteries and become Supreme Head of the Church of England?” Yes, he did! It was a confusing time. Protestants could still be persecuted, because England was more “We don’t love the pope, but we’re still basically Catholic” — except many English people did still love the pope, which, again, is why Gardiner is released (full circle!).
The council wants to appease Mary because she is still upset about Elizabeth’s letter. Mary thinks Elizabeth is following Catherine and banding together with Edward against Mary. When the council finds out about the letter, they call Elizabeth to court and she gets roundly yelled at. “Your actions matter, Elizabeth!” The personal is quite literally political. Every time I think about this series, I get so excited about how it’s dramatizing this incredibly formative time in Elizabeth’s life, when she realizes how much her choices have consequences.
Elizabeth doesn’t understand why Catherine is upset about Gardiner being released, and Catherine calms down enough to explain that courtiers would play a game of trying to fire Henry’s anger in the direction they wanted, and Gardiner aims it at her. A-plus imagery. Elizabeth says her father would never have let Catherine be executed. Elizabeth definitely still does not get it.
Gardiner, meanwhile, is off to Mary’s, where he dines with her and Pedro (PEDRO!) and tries to get Mary to lead an uprising against Edward’s Protestant court. Pedro calls him a dangerous friend, because Pedro is wise and great. Did I mention how much I ship Mary and Pedro, despite knowing this can never happen? He looks out for her and her best interests! Later, when Mary is sad about not being invited to Elizabeth’s birthday party, she asks what Pedro thinks of Gardiner. He says he will not speak out of turn to her again, and she says that’s a shame, because it’s probably her favorite thing to ever happen to her (!!!), then they hold HANDS.
Pedro says Gardiner thinks of souls and not lives and as a Catholic he does not want his life put in danger and Mary grabs his hand in thanks and it lingers. Wow. I never thought the only romance I’d care about on this show would involve Mary. But she’s so reasonable here! She knows that appearing dangerous to the throne would put Catholics at risk, so she’s going to try very hard not to, which is reasonable and responsible, my two favorite traits.
So much happens here. Catherine and Thomas invite Edward to their estate to celebrate Elizabeth’s 15th birthday, but it’s mainly a ruse to get time with him and have him interact with Jane. When Elizabeth finds out, she feels used (understandable) and hurt that they didn’t tell her, despite having the lake set on fire for her birthday. Robert Dudley is there (hurray!), gives her a dagger, and calls Thomas “that unstable popinjay.”
Elizabeth broods more about being left out by the Seymours, and she lies and tells the birthday gathering that Jane has prepared a love song to sing to Edward, which is some real Regina George energy (Elizabeth: “Am I the drama?”). Even though Jane does not have a song prepared, she tries and sings very badly and runs off crying. Elizabeth. You are being the Worst. Robert runs into her in a hallway and rails at her for abusing her power by tormenting a child, then walks out. Ugh, I love them. Elizabeth sees Henry Grey whipping Jane, stops him, then basically says “It was both our faults” to Jane. Poor Jane. What an absolutely terrible life she had.
The party’s still raging, but Elizabeth goes to her room to be upset, and of course a drunk Thomas comes up and starts kissing her (she is, again, in her shift), and Catherine comes in. All she says is “In the morning” and she leaves.
The next morning, the fire lake is filled with dead fish. Dogs are eating scraps from the banquet. Randos are passed out in the hall. Thomas is asleep on the floor when Catherine kicks him awake to go try one last time to influence Edward. Catherine encourages Edward to assert his right as king, and the Lord Protector smacks him WAY down. Like, smacks him the farthest down one can possibly go.
The Protector shouts at Edward that he has permitted him to play at governance, but he is not there to rule, only to learn from those who know how to. Everyone is cowed. Thomas and Catherine leave. When Thomas asks if they’re going to have a “performance” over last night, Catherine holds his face, is silent for a beat, and says, “… Yes. Yes, we fucking are.” CATHERINE PARR, I LOVE YOU.
Before this, Catherine talks to Elizabeth. Catherine asks, “What has he done?” This is so good! I mean, a low bar, but so good not to blame Elizabeth, a literal child, for Thomas’s behavior! Elizabeth keeps saying they both did nothing, and Catherine keeps repeating the same question. When Elizabeth says it yet again, Catherine tells her they cannot go back to this moment, so Elizabeth needs to choose carefully how she acts in it, and Elizabeth says once again that there was nothing. Ugh, what a bummer, but again, understandable.
Catherine goes to talk to Thomas, asking if he’ll say that Catherine has it all wrong, or that Elizabeth seduced him. When he doesn’t answer, she is stunned into thinking he’s trying to decide whether to choose his wife or Elizabeth. Thomas claims Elizabeth was not part of his power play (lies), and when Catherine asks about his motives then, he says, “She’s beautiful.” Catherine tells him she’s pregnant. Thomas says he wishes they had gotten married before Henry decided to marry Catherine.
Elizabeth is leaving, Catherine has decided. Her public-facing excuse is that she’s exhausted from the baby. As she says good-bye to Elizabeth, she tells her the way the world thinks of her can protect her or end her. It doesn’t matter what she has done but what people think she has done. As Elizabeth sits in the carriage, we see apparent flashbacks of her and Thomas having sex. As someone who used to vociferously defend Elizabeth I’s virginity in high school despite no one claiming the contrary, I accept this, because again — this is her big Teaching Moment. She might as well get “Never Again” tattooed on her arm like that guy on X-Files.
What will happen! Is the series going to lean into that rumor that Elizabeth got pregnant? Will we get to see more of Catherine? When does Mary turn to the Dark Side?