Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: The Tudors "Sisters"

Non Spoiler Review:
New Years celebrations bring some old faces back to court, and copious wine drinking makes for some interesting character interactions. The women of court, and their various relationships figure prominently—the complex dynamics between Catherine and Mary, Lady Rockford, and pleasant surprise, Lady Anne. This all makes for both feuds and friendships to further along Queen Catherine's abrupt rise (and coming fall). Meanwhile Henry's old wound acts up again, and his counsellors get to see hints of the madness to come.

A compelling episode, focusing primarily on the intrigue of court through the festivities and their aftermath. There is more talk of war to come, but for now this episode was about relationships and sexual indiscretions, nothing out of the ordinary for The Tudors. And Lady Anne is even more jubilant and interesting as a divorcee.

Spoilers Now!
We get Lady Rockford and Thomas Culpepper watching Queen Catherine dance (as that all she seems to do these days), commenting on her youth and vigor and the change in the king. Rockford has been plying Joan for information about Catherine and finds out of two men who called on them when they were lowly ladies of no standing. 

Anne of Cleves has been very amenable to her new situation as a divorced noblewoman. She has continued to maintain her relationships with the princesses, much to Henry's pleasure. She has been so easy to deal with, in fact, that Henry invites her to New Years celebrations, which prompts some jealousy from Catherine.

Charles receives Anne and Henry greets her warmly. Anne is the epitome of class and style, honoring the new queen and offering no threat to her position. Henry departs when his leg starts acting up, and Anne and Catherine share some wine. Once Catherine realizes Anne has no designs on the throne aside from being a good surrogate mother to Elizabeth, they get on very well.  Mary is not so forgiving, and continues to snub Catherine. 

Henry's leg wound debilitates him, and Culpepper helps to care for him while continuing to update Catherine on the king's messages in his absence. Culpepper is also bedding Lady Rockford, but she tells him she can arrange a union with Catherine if he desires it. Rockford obviously wants to destroy Catherine, but her motivations are not immediately clear. 

Mary confides in Chapuys that her father should never have divorced Anne, whom she's grown quite fond of. She hates Catherine, and when Catherine later confronts her for her disrespect, Mary declares her frivolous, pointing out the fact that she is still not pregnant and will soon tire the king. Catherine calls her jealous for being unmarried at her age. Ouch. Emboldened by her friendship with Anne, Catherine decides to punish Mary for her disrespect by removing two of her maids from her service. 

A crestfallen Mary confides her sorrow to Chapuys. She fears never to be married or mother any children. The two share a very nice moment as Chapuys consoles the weeping Mary, very much as he did her mother for the years she lived in exile.

Henry appoints Edward Seymour as a general to keep the Scots in line and show a measure of force against his cousin, the king of the Scots. But Henry suffers another serious fit from his ulcer, and Charles must consent to drain it. Later at a meeting of his council, a crippled Henry walks in just long enough to accuse them all of being liars and schemers, mourning Cromwell's death as a mistake for heeding their counsel. The looks on their faces tell they all see this outburst as just the beginning of worse to come as Henry's condition deteriorates.

Catherine is kept in the dark about Henry's malady, of course, which makes her paranoid, and Culpepper has the pleasure of relaying the news and putting doubts in her mind that he's taken a mistress. Lady Rockford takes the opportunity to put her plans into motion to reveal that Culpepper loves the queen. Rockford reveals Joan told her about her secret affairs, and Culpepper could be much the same to her if she so wished. So, with the help of her ladies in waiting, Catherine is escorted to Culpepper to begin her notorious affair.

Anne's appearance was a nice surprise, and her general contentment is historically accurate, remaining in England and being one of the few who did not give the king grief. The treachery and scheming among the various characters in court made for a very soap operish story, but it was fun to watch it all unfold. We get hints of the bitter Queen Mary to come, more nostalgia from Henry about his ex-wives, and a  surprisingly joyous dinner between Henry, Catherine and Anne. Henry's attention on the Scots this week promises some conflict to come.l

The only disappointment is the two-dimensional villainy shown by Culpepper and Rockford. Even Anne Boleyn was a sympathetic character at times, but Culpepper has been rendered irredeemable from his rape and murder last episode. Some measure of sympathy would have gone farther to make his ultimate fall more interesting. While Culpepper is sociopathic, Rockford needs some motivation for her wish to bring Catherine down.

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