Marie Antoinette's third episode is essentially framed as a catfight, a face-off between the young Dauphine and the King's mistress Madame du Barry, as they struggle to determine who's more powerful within the world of the French court. And, granted, we do get a fair bit of that, as Antoinette mulishly refuses to acknowledge a woman she feels manipulated her desperate need for friendship, and du Barry essentially blackmails the King into forcing his granddaughter-in-law to relent.
But the hour also turns out to be something much more surprising (and exciting): A slow burn love story.
No, not between du Barry and Antoinette, though I'm sure some viewers might wonder, given the series trailers that have repeatedly highlighted an out-of-context kiss between the pair. Instead, "Pick a Princess" goes out of its way to add depth and layers to the slowly developing relationship between Louis the Dauphin of France and his new wife. (Who, as we all know, he still hasn't even managed to speak to yet, let alone bed.) Reader, I did not expect to be ardently shipping the royal couple who will meet a grisly end together on the gallows of the French Revolution, but here I am. And I rather suspect I'm not alone.
Stars Emilia Schule and Loius Cunningham have a desperately sweet chemistry with one another, and Marie Antoinette smartly doesn't make their initial marital struggles something that's played for laughs. True, the Dauphine's (generally horrible) in-laws may mock her for her inability to do her duty or lament the lack of an heir for France. Still, the show is careful to position the two as precisely what they are: A pair of scared teens who often feel like bullied outsiders even as they sit at the center of one of the most powerful families in the world.
Thanks to last week's bonding over Louis' secret stash of birds, the Dauphin has (mostly) stopped running away every time he sees his wife, and there's even the occasional lingering hand touch between the two as he adjusts the saddle or reins on the horse his father's teaching Antoinette to ride. She gets jealous over the impending arrival of Josephine, Princess of Savoy, when she learns the girl, now promised to wed Provence, was initially intended for Louis. He admits to his brother (the insufferable Provence) that he's afraid of Antoinette and what it means to be married to her.
There are multiple loaded, meaningful glances. And more than a bit of deliberate and honestly kind of swoon-worthy handholding. Over the hour, the two share a series of almost comical near misses throughout the hallways of the Palace at Fontainebleau, one of which leaves them each looking lost on opposite sides of a locked door in a tableau that seems ripped straight from the trailer for any popular romantic comedy. And, like any good rom-com, the episode ends on a note of hope and promise.
Yes, the Dauphin and Dauphine of France finally manage to have a conversation. Three episodes into the season. As I said: Slow burn.
Their first real chat is charmingly unexpected, and a surprisingly open and honest one, given all that has passed between them. Louis shakily thanks Antoinette for her patience with him, displaying a softness that is certainly uncommon in a character of the Dauphin's rank and station. (Let's be real: Do we think Provence has apologized to anyone for anything ever, let alone to a woman?).
Antoinette admits that she doesn't feel safe at court, a fair complaint given that she's already been sexually harassed by the king himself, bullied by his girlfriend, and bodily thrown into a carriage to be presented with ultimatums and threats. She tells Louis that she's afraid of his family and that she wants to go home to Austria. He pleads with her not to leave him, and promises to protect her, a vow that the two seal with a handshake (it's cuter than it sounds) and what is likely their first-ever cuddle session. We love to see it.
Of course, given how wildly unsuccessful Louis has already proven to be at standing up to his family, his vow of protection is probably not actually worth all that much, but it's the sentiment that counts, right?
Elsewhere, Provence is desperate to get out of the marriage he worked so hard to arrange for himself, raging at the women who encouraged it, complaining to the king, begging to be allowed to send her away, and generally acting like a huge jerk. Why? Because he doesn't think she's pretty enough. (It absolutely sucks that this man is going to rule France one day.)
Josephine does have a certain sharpness of both expression and attitude, to be sure, which is probably why she immediately gloms on to the sniping sisters and is incredibly rude to poor Lamballe, who's super excited to meet her because the pair are technically cousins. Much like Antoinette, the newest addition to the family is forced to undergo a certain amount of humiliating plucking and shaping by du Barry, and all anyone's interested in is how fast she and Provence can officially wed and have a child since Louis and his wife have thus far failed to do so and seem quite a ways off from ever managing it.
But, hey, at least they're speaking now. That's a step in the right direction, even if there's a long way to go in the battle to produce an heir.