Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: The Tudors "As It Should Be"

Non Spoiler Review:
The siege of Boulogne comes to a conclusion, leading to Henry's eventual return to England, and a kingdom left in the charge of Catherine. Schemes continue in court with both Catherine and Bishop Gardiner, and we bid farewell to one of the series' oldest characters.

As It Should Be is an appropriate title—This episode returns The Tudors to the quality we've been used to, managing to avoid the pitfalls of the last few episodes in favor of a more focused and satisfying story. Battle scenes were filled with suitable spectacle. The actors continue to excel in their roles, particularly Henry and Catherine. It appears now that much focus is being spent on arranging characters and plots for the future and ultimate conclusion of the series. 

Spoilers Now!
Dysentery continues to spread through the ranks. Two thousand dead and more thousands ill. The countryside is empty of food. Surrey has his hands full keeping the army together, as the tunnel construction continues. The Italian builder presses on despite the dangers of collapse.

Henry won't hear of failure, and demands his men fight or they be hanged, forcing the doctor to get the men out of the sickbeds into the trenches. Charles, as always, watches his old friend's increasingly unbalanced outbursts.

Charles surveys the despair of the troops, but has let Brigitte's father go, though he continues to keep her in his tent, ensuring she is well-fed. As expected, Brigitte comes to his bed, and Charles finally finds some happiness in his love life. Through the whole French campaign, Charles has found some purpose again, away from the machinations of course and a loveless marriage.

Harry and Ron run into one another over the course of the siege and share food, wishing one another well in their respective battle tasks. In contrast, the king is enjoying a feast and entertaining visiting Edward Seymour, who compliments Queen Catherine's handling of matters of state. But he advises that the emperor has already besieged the two fortresses he was attacking, enraging Henry with his tunnel builder's lack of success. Siege warfare makes people lethargic, he suggests, so the king decides he wants to explode a charge prematurely before the tunnel is complete . The Italian begs for two days. 

The charge is detonated, and after a moment Henry watches as the towers and wall of the city begins to crumble to the cheers of the soldiers. Harry is buried as the tunnel collapses, and Ron is shot in the first volley of arrows from the French. The English troops are buoyed and begin their assault, and we see Harry pulled from the rubble, alive.

Bishop Gardiner visits Catherine for news of the king. Gardiner has found heretics in the kings privy chamber—the barber and royal cook—requiring her signature to persecute. But she refuses, suggesting she will not arrest people so close to the king without first acquiring his approval. She does advise him she's invited Prince Edward to court to avoid an outbreak of plague near Windsor.

Catherine receives a letter and advises the children of the victory over Boulogne. But Mary seems less than impressed her father will be home soon. All three Tudor children are together in court, which overjoys Catherine. Though she and Mary are friends, Mary seems very pensive around her.

Catherine thinks Edward is old enough to be placed with his tutors rather than his nanny. She then asks to see Mistress Ashley, someone she can trust, as she's from a family of reformers. Elizabeth's mother, Anne, was a Lutheran, she muses, so perhaps Mistress Ashley should bring the girl up in her mother's faith? Both agree, and Catherine advises her their conversation never happened.

Henry receives the French surrender and is elated he has acquired Boulogne, part of his legacy. He surprises Charles with news that they will not be marching on Paris, but returning to England instead, and he will be leaving Surrey in charge of the town. Charles is confused, as this seems to go against the alliance with the emperor, but Henry is satisfied with his victory.

Harry pays his respects to Richard's grave as the army marches out. Charles is smitten with Brigitte and asks her to return to England with him after he confesses his lover for her. She agrees.

Catherine meets Henry's entourage as it arrives in England. They have an emotional reunion, and celebrations continue. Bishop Gardiner is very worried about the state of affairs, as the war has bankrupted the realm and they are at war with both France and Scotland, not to mention a heretic Queen to deal with. He vows to destroy her.

Mendoza, laid up with gout, meets with the king. He is seeking to be recalled to Spain due to his infirmity, but he has mixed news to deliver. The emperor has signed a separate treaty with the French, because their army spent too long under siege and had grown week for an assault on Paris. Henry feels betrayed. After a tongue lashing about the untrustworthy emperor, he gives Mendoza permission to leave and wishes him a long and happy retirement.

Mary is heartbroken at Mendoza's departure. But the old man is confident in Catherine's love for her. Mary confesses she knows Catherine only pretends to be of their faith, and launches into a tirade against her situation—were she a boy, England would still be faithful. She does not know if she'll ever be married or queen, but she swears if she does, she will make England faithful again, doing whatever it takes, burning however many heretics necessary to make the realm Catholic again.

Mendoza shares an embrace as she cries on his shoulder. He gives her his ring, which was a gift from the emperor, who received it from her mother.

Bad news continue to come in from France—Henry is advised that the emperor is marrying his daughter to the Duke of Orleans, and the French are preparing to march on Boulogne. But Henry prefers to celebrate his victory, and wants the entire country to hear of his exploits in France. Unfortunately he suffers another spell and collapses in his chambers.

At last, an episode that strikes the right balance of plot and pacing. There were really only two focuses—court and battle. We got the resolution of the siege and the focus on Catherine and her stepchildren, with no diversions into irrelevant plots and characters. 

Catherine Parr is portrayed wonderfully, striking a perfect balance of fantastic stepmother to the Tudor children while calmly and gracefully scheming to promote her Lutheran views to Elizabeth and undermine Bishop Gardiner.

We continue to get the development of Mary's ultimate character, as well as Elizabeth, two sisters who will become enemies later in life. Even Surrey now has some relevance, taking over management of Boulogne.

Harry and Ron's characters continued to be unnecessary, and it was not surprising that one of them didn't make it out of France. Really, the screen time they took up would have been better served stretching out some scenes from last episode.

Mendoza's departure and final scene with Henry was quite powerful, given both men are now infirm and dying. They've spent the entire series together, and this season above anything is about endings as we watch the characters arrive at their fates

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