Non Spoiler Review:
We begin The Tudors' final season in 1540. Henry has married Catherine Howard, and the court is enamoured by the young, beautiful queen. As with previous seasons, new plot threads and characters are introduced, and we get a summary of Henry's current religious persecutions through the eyes of one of the longest surviving characters, Spanish ambassador Chapuys.
Henry is enamoured with his new wife, and we see that the court is, as well, including courtier Thomas Culpepper, among others.
Everyone is looking a little longer in tooth (and weighed down by increasingly bulkier robes), and its evident we're in the final years of Henry's reign (seven more to go, if you're keeping track).
Though a slow moving, and relatively uneventful reintroduction, the episode did serve to position the characters and plot lines that will mark this final season. Henry is very happy with his nubile wife, but her character and past are certainly going to catch up with her.
The political situation seems to be focused more on France this season (compared to the religious uprising in the kingdom from last year). Henry's increasing tyranny and madness are making him long for a glorious war, and King Francis is looking very appealing, promising an exciting end to the series.
An historical drama such as this makes it hard to reveal actual spoilers, given the real life characters' fates are all known. It's the dramatic portrayal of these outcomes that is the fun part. Henry's ultimate descent into a tyranny and madness has been simmering since his jousting wound (historically thought to have been responsible for his mental instability). His current marriage to Catherine Howard has given him a respite as he can focus on his desire for the beautiful young girl and feel young again.
Catherine has enchanted the court. Among them, courtier Thomas Culpepper, who is overtly smitten with her, and seems to suffer from a bit of a god complex. We're treated to him and his men raping a peasant woman and later killing her husband. Historically, Culpepper is involved with Catherine, so we can see this is going to end badly for both.
Charles seems increasingly weighed down by his responsibilities and the passage of time, coming out of violently suppressing the rebellion of last season. His brief conversation with Chapuys when they mused over the dead, both the good and the bad men, was a nice moment between these hardened characters.
Catherine comes off very nicely. She is both a woman with a past, yet she evokes a lot of sympathy. She seems genuine, seeking the approval of Princess Mary, who rebuffs her overtures. It's Princess Elizabeth who shows her proper grace and respect, that hints at her future political savvy. It was also a nice touch that Henry looks somewhat wistfully at Elizabeth as she departs, thinking of her mother.
Catherine's friend Joan ingratiates herself into her ladies in waiting and is obvious trouble for her. It's just a matter of discovering which players will engineer Catherine's destruction, and how many will be dragged down with her.
On the political side, King Francis has offered his young son to wed Princess Mary, which makes Henry muse over Francis' fickleness, given the first betrothal that went awry in season one. He seems to want a war, and when a garrison in Calais comes under attack, he sends a military message that seems to get the desired result of displaying English power. For the moment they remain at peace, but it looks as though Henry will seek to provoke Francis further.
The Seymours also find themselves losing influence in favor of the Howards, as Catherine's uncle is introduced, and he seeks to achieve higher status than his father and grandfather. The Seymours have delivered a male heir to Henry, so they do enjoy a great position, but they are devious, and will certainly work to undermine Catherine much as how they did the Boleyns.
Ultimately this was a slow start to the season, but comfortable being back among old friends. Many of these characters are reaching the twilight of their lives, and it will be satisfying to watch them all come to their respective conclusions.