After last week's disappointing installment, it's a relief that Marie Antoinette returns to its usual solid form in "Deus Ex Machina" an hour finally earns mature content advisory with many scenes attempting to explain the specifics of sex, even if the result is that Antoinette and Louis finally manage to figure out how to have some. (And it doesn't look like it was terrible, either! Way to go, you crazy kids!)
Much of the awkward meanness of "Rebel Queen" is glossed over, and while Louis and Antoinette are still on the brink of divorce, they seem as lost about the reasons why as we are. In proper period drama style, this relationship problem could be solved easily if they talked to each other. Instead, they get the next best thing: the Queen's older brother Joseph (Jonas Bloquet), Holy Roman Emperor and sex expert.
He arrives at Versailles, ostensibly to negotiate the Queen's divorce, but really to play Hallmark movie-style matchmaker and secure Louis's support to invade Bavaria. This involves lots of awkward, humiliating conversations, with topics ranging from petty marital disagreements to the specifics of their sexual struggles. All I can think is how fortunate it is Antoinette's firebreathing mother didn't show up to court. (Actually, that actually might have been fun.)
Antoinette's brother is a breath of fresh air. He's one of the few people capable of telling his sister about herself framed with love rather than jealousy or dislike; he genuinely cares about her happiness even when he's at his most belligerent bullying. (Whether he believes all the nonsense he spouts about his sister's job is to be her husband's helpmeet and sublimate all her desires, interests, and concerns to his is up to the viewer.)
Perhaps Joseph's antediluvian views are to highlight how progressive Louis is, balking at mistresses and convent prisons. (It's hard to tell.) But Joseph is Team Bourbon, and we love to see it. More importantly, Joseph's arrival brings out a side of Antoinette we haven't seen since the premiere, a playful, sometimes silly, but fully self-aware girl frustrated the world expects her to make herself lesser just because she wasn't born a man. She may love parties and gambling, but she understands she's being blamed and targeted for things that aren't her fault and resents being judged.
Handsome and personable, Joseph is a pro at navigating the French court's complicated waters. He manipulates everyone from Maurepas to the king, deftly flattering and subtly directing their actions. He's even got the king's aunts (who've despised Antoinette since she arrived) eating out of his hand within minutes of meeting them. It's fun to watch the Bourbons on the back foot and a relief to see Antoinette, whose "best friend" Yolande reports on her to the Prime Minister, with someone on her side.
Unlike last week, "Deus Ex Machina" remembers Antoinette and Louis care for each other. Gone are "Rebel Queen's" overtly cruel royals; in their places are two people who don't want a divorce despite insisting they're unsuited. However, the queen's brother really succeeds by forcing the royal pair to use their words, which they've avoided since ascending to the throne. (After all, who can dictate how the King and Queen of France interact??)
It confirms these two still have absolutely zero idea what they're doing, sexually speaking, but that Louis's hang-ups are grounded in a strange kind of noble affection. He refuses instruction from a mistress or prostitute because that's a betrayal of his wife; he wants to be like his father, famously loyal to his queen. (NB: That's not King Louis XV, but the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand, who died when he was 36. No husband anywhere should use Louis XV as a role model!)
Antoinette melts when her husband refers to himself as a man who loves his wife. It doesn't hurt that she's threatened with being jailed in a convent should this divorce happen, but it's evident that she's still drawn to Louis and desperate to find happiness. When Joseph's crude attempts to provide sexual advice go nowhere, Antoinette gives her husband permission to get "lessons" from a professional, which he excels at, and the recountings seem to delight her. (Where was this cuteness last week!?)
And finally, six episodes into the series' first season and seven years into their marriage, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI of France have sex. Their marriage is saved! Plans for divorce are tossed! The country is secured! (Well, not yet, but it will be fairly soon.) The scene is surprisingly romantic, lit with dappled light and full of tenderness and affection, all things that are the direct opposite of the near-rape scene from last week.
The best part of the episode is perhaps how utterly adorable Antoinette and Louis are after they finally consummate their marriage. They're suddenly as handsy as newlyweds, and it's glaringly apparent to anyone with eyes that something major has happened. Everyone, from Provence and Josephine and Louis's snotty aunts to supposed BFF Yolande, look entirely put out about it. Truly, it couldn't happen to a worse group of people. Go forth and be happy, kids.
Marie Antoinette's first season mainly focused on this aspect of the king and queen's relationship and what their inability to have sex, let alone produce an heir, meant for France's future. The pair have officially crossed that Rubicon, so..now what? Obviously, Antoinette still has to get pregnant, and Louis has to deal with whoever is spreading rumors about him and his wife amongst the nobles. But those seem like manageable problems given everything that's come before. Where do the last two episodes of this season go from here?