It’s "The Last Joust" for King Henri in 'The Serpent Queen'

Picture shows: Diane De Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier) and Catherine de Medici (Samantha Morton) about to embrace each other.

Diane De Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier) and Catherine de Medici (Samantha Morton) in 'The Serpent Queen'

© Starz

Episode 6, “The Last Joust,” of The Serpent Queen opens with an ominous, twisted fantasy. An injured King Henri is carried on a bier by Montmorency and Francois. The processional is followed by Catherine and Diane, walking hand in hand. The two women turn to each other; the series seems to suggest the two are going to kiss, but then the image fades, and we see Diane fall from a high castle window. (Sorry, it’s not real.) The scene changes as Catherine sits beside her husband. Blood trickles from under his bandages, but it’s not blood, but something else moving, turning into a snake that bites her. When she looks at Henri again, the bedsheets have turned him into a marble effigy.

Diane: I’ve always hated church bells. Either someone’s getting married or someone’s dead. Either way, a soul is lost.

Back in present-day reality, Catherine visits Rahima, imprisoned after being caught in Mary’s chamber. Despite Rahima’s being there on Catherine’s orders, the Queen proceeds to thoroughly gaslight her. Whatever was Rahima doing there? Catherine didn’t ask her to do anything of the sort!

But they are still friends, despite Rahima’s lapse of judgment. Catherine continues her reminiscing of the past.

Picture shows: Ruggieri (Enzo Cilenti), Catherine's magician in the forest

Ruggieri (Enzo Cilenti), Catherine's magician, in 'The Serpent Queen'

 © Starz

Catherine has found magician Ruggieri; Diane, she tells him, is a bad influence on Henri, blinding him to his duty as a king. She relates her fantasy/dream to him, but Ruggieri doesn’t believe patriotism motivates Catherine. He reminds her of the consequences of supernatural meddling; Catherine threatens him with a bath. Meanwhile, Diane has new ways to enjoy her gold, channeling her inner Goldfinger. Angelica is taking gold, too, and neither of the women looks as though it’s doing them much good.

Mary Stuart, betrothed to Catherine and Henry’s son the Dauphin Francis, visits her grandmother Antoinette de Guise for advice. Why is France at odds with the Holy Roman Emperor? Maybe he’ll support her claim to the English throne once married. Her two kindly Guise uncles go to Diane; their poor little niece longs to marry, but the King, according to the Duke, is drinking heavily. The Cardinal offers that every church in France will ring its bells for the wedding, and he will impose a new tax, a ducat for every chime, to be paid to Diane. It will guarantee Diane and her daughters security. Two ducats, Diane counters.

Henri is drinking through the Privy Council meeting when Diane breezes in with young Francis and Mary to plead for marriage. The Bourbon Bros know the Guise Bros are behind this, pointing out Dauphin’s marriage to a “deranged convent girl” will rile up the Protestants. Catherine suggests waiting until Francois’s education is complete; Diane protests Henri learned all he knew from his father. (“And you,” Catherine adds.) Henri snaps the marriage will take place when he’s good and ready, hurling his glass across the room. Everyone, particularly Diane, is shocked. It appears the Guise Bros overestimated Diane’s influence.

Picture shows: Cardinal Charles de Guise (Ray Panthaki) negotiates with Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier), while Angelica (Ruby Bentall) looks on.

Charles de Guise (Ray Panthaki) negotiates with Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier) while Angelica (Ruby Bentall) looks on.

© Starz

Henri tells Catherine Diane does not love him, and maybe never did. He fears that Mary will similarly manipulate their son. He’s upset by the feud between the Guises and the Bourbons and the dysfunctional Privy Council. Catherine suggests inviting an impartial advisor to join, and the wedding preparations will stop immediately. Mathilde is sent to bring Montmorency to the council.

Catherine visits the Bourbon Bros to announce Henry established austerity measures banning all official celebrations, including royal weddings. She goes to work on Mary, implying her son is not able to father children. If Mary’s marriage is childless, she will forfeit claims to Scotland and England. Don’t rush into anything, Catherine advises the shocked and upset young woman.

Despite her allegiance with Diane, Angelica is still vulnerable where Aabis is concerned after she refuses another gift, a golden egg, and becomes angry. Angelica has betrayed Catherine; doesn’t she realize the implications? Ruggieri is back; she should be afraid. Angelica dismisses Ruggierie’s alleged powers and Aabis’s concerns, saying "Our lives could end with a shift in the breeze and no one would notice. Who can blame us for getting what we can out of it?"

Picture shows: Catherine de Medici (Samantha Morton) sits with Mary (Antonia Clarke) in a formal garden.

Catherine (Samantha Morton) gives Mary (Antonia Clarke) bad news about her wedding to the Dauphin.

© Starz

The Bourbon Bros debate finding the Dauphin another bride, maybe Queen Elizabeth, when Diane flounces in. She suspects Catherine is to blame, storming into Mary’s room. Mary says she won’t become a childless crone without influence, and tells Diane Francois has a family problem. Diane almost busts the door down to visit the source of this preposterous story and taunts Catherine for being in love with Henri, when he won’t change. Catherine realizes the truth: Henri could have been a better man if he had chosen her, but he didn't.

Diane’s final stop is Henri, who tells her their relationship infantilized him. On her knees, she begs him to send her away if it is indeed the end for them. It is not, and Diane gatecrashes another Privy Council meeting to announce the wedding will go forward. The Guises announced that the Holy Roman Emperor should be invited. The Bourbons splutter ineffectually, as Henri sighs, "Times change, and we change with them."

With immense poise and dignity, Catherine says she wishes the couple every happiness. She knows she’s lost. Worse, she blamed Diane when the fault was always Henri's. Ruggieri presses her for details of her dream; she says Henri wore her color: a green sash

Picture shows: Catherine (Samantha Morton) and the Holy Roman Emperor (Rupert Everett) meet.

The Holy Roman Emperor (Rupert Everett) recognizes an adversary in Catherine (Samantha Morton).

© Starz

On the day of the wedding, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (Rupert Everett), arrives with his sister Eleanor, the Dowager Queen. He is, as Francois notes, revolting, and Everett hams it up appropriately. He and Catherine eye each other as possible opponents. Henri is indisposed but summons his son to warn him not to be ruled by a woman. The kid isn’t impressed; Diane does everything for him. He loves Mary and wants her to lead.

Montmorency arrives, and though he makes nice, he disapproves of the wedding, believing it will create enormous political and religious strife, telling Henri he’s even more of a fool than his father knew. Diane treats herself to a golden bath, eerily reminiscent of the opening titles of The Graham Norton Show, followed by the obligatory curse of TV historical series, the tight corset-lacing scene with Lady Mary Clare (Pauline Sagetat) and Mary. [Why, Starz, why?] Henri apologizes to Catherine as they dress. She asks if he’ll joust today, that’s how she first saw him. It’s a surprisingly poignant scene, the end of Catherine’s love for Henri. She asks him to wear a green sash for her; Ruggieri’s straw charm lies beneath. 

Wedding bells ring, ducats rack up for Diane, and the Court gathers for the jousting match. There’s even an anachronistic sports commentator for a few delightful seconds. Diane is displeased with Henri’s taking part as he rebukes Gabriel de Lorges de Montgomery (Nicholas Robin) for deferring to him, ordering him to play hard. Catherine tells Mathilde to ask Henri to stop; she had a bad dream about jousting. Too late: Henri is unhorsed and killed.

Picture shows: King Henri (Lee Ingleby) and Gabriel de Lorges de Montgommery (Nicholas Robin) in armor and on horseback about to charge each other.

King Henri (Lee Ingleby) plans to prove his prowess in the lists against Gabriel de Lorges de Montgomery (Nicholas Robin).

© Starz

Rahima is horrified; Catherine shrugs. Accidents happen. Rahima blurts out everything they say about Catherine is true. She laughs; Rahima injured a fellow servant and stole from a Queen; they aren’t so different. She tells the guards to put Rahima on half rations as she leaves.

Back in her rooms, Ruggieri asks Catherine if she chose the right girl for the job. Catherine assures him that Rahima will do what she expects. Ruggieri looks out of the window where Mary and her attendants are frolicking. Rahima is part of a broader plan to remove Mary’s threat of ascending to the throne of France. How will it work out? We’ll see next week.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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