The eighth and final episode of Starz’s The Serpent Queen opens with Catherine’s maid Rahima in the forest looking for Ruggieri. She betrayed his location to Mary in exchange for her freedom. No surprise then that he holds a knife to her throat as she examines the wreck of his lair. But he releases her to show a salvaged item, a forgery of the seal of Elizabeth I of England, used to verify royal correspondence. That’s going to be very useful.
Catherine: Do not let anyone stand in the way of your calling. One thing men cannot abide is a woman in power.
On her return to Catherine, Rahima takes over as narrator, and we return to the chaos of the kidnapping scene. King Francis is coughing up blood, possibly dying, as the woods erupt with armed men. The Bourbon Bros decide to do the smart thing and run away, as does Catherine, who grabs a riderless horse, but the brothers become separated.
Francois de Guise finds Louis hiding under a fallen tree. Louis explains he’d heard a rumor that the king would be attacked, but Francois doesn’t believe him, and he’s taken, prisoner. With murder on his mind, Montmorency and Catherine come across Antoine. Catherine stabs Montmorency, whispering, “Please forgive me.” He’s seriously wounded. Catherine instructs Antoine to take refuge at a farm nearby, and when Francois finds her alone with Montmorency, she tells him that Antoine is responsible for his wound.
The Guise Bros are concerned that Antoine has evaded them and that Mary, in full zealot mode, will want more Protestants murdered, running the risk of civil war. The doctor reports that the King is sick with little chance of survival. His brother is too young, so the Guises Bros propose Montmorency as Regent — he’s liked by the people and expected to recover from his injury. But first, they must find Antoine, the first in line, to sign off. Louis insists he doesn’t know where his brother is; the Bourbon bros’ devotion to each other is surprisingly sweet. (It’s also Louis, not the suave Antoine, who is the smarter of the two.)
There’s another candidate for the Regency the men haven’t noticed: Mary, soon to be widowed and in love with power and her perceived calling. She’s suspicious of the Guise Bros, suggesting Charles (a Cardinal!) is not as Catholic as he could be. Catherine encourages her to try for the Regency while instructing Mathilde to murder Montmorency. It’s not a request, it’s an order, and Mathilde is unhappy about it. (Sure, she once gave a groom a poisoned apple, but this is different!)
The murder attempt doesn’t go to plan. Mathilde, dressed as a nun, infiltrates the religious house where he is being nursed, presenting herself as a sister of the sacred order of diminutives. But Montmorency wakes and holds a knife to her throat. Threatening to expose Catherine sent her, he escapes. The Guise Bros are waiting at his Protestant church, with his young woman as leverage. They tell him he’s no longer the problem; Mary is. They want him to become Regent but warn him not to get any ideas.
Catherine drops in on Antoine’s hiding place, where Aabis keeps him company. Despite promising once he’s signed away the Regency, she’ll upgrade his living conditions, and if he doesn’t sign, Louis will be executed, and Antoine will not be convinced. (She also continues to help Aabis find her missing apprentice.) Ruggieri has set up shop in the forest again, and Catherine begs for his help to end her dying son’s suffering. He warns her the opiate he provides will hasten her son’s death. She drops her impassive mask and weeps in his arms.
Impatient with previous efforts, Mary accompanies Catherine to Louis’s cell. Catherine suggests cutting off his fingers to get the truth; Louis tries to tell Mary Catherine is behind everything. Mary doesn’t listen, snatching a knife from the guards, and sawing at his finger. Then she faints as Catherine watches. When Louis tells her she’s crazy, Catherine replies: “I’m just better at this than you are, and don’t you ever forget it.”
In exchange for Antoine’s location, Montmorency offers to find Aabis’s missing apprentice. Catherine is already there with Louis’ finger, promising more pieces of his brother if Antione refuses, just as Montmorency and the Guise Bros burst in with pistols. (Charles: “It’s like a Privy Council meeting with guns!”) On the point of signing, Antione backtracks; he has principles. (No, he doesn’t.) Antoine continues, insisting he cannot “just be forced to sign away the regency to whoever has the bigger gun.”
Montmorency turns the gun on Francois, shoots him in the leg, and then points the gun at Antoine, who finally signs away from the Regency. (Technically/historically speaking, he must have had another weapon, or else there was an invisible 30-second reloading procedure, but never mind.) Montmorency is now next in line for the Regency, but he’s made up his mind, telling Catherine she is “the only one that can save France from these [expletive deleted] idiots.” All she has to do is convince her dying son.
Francis has accepted his impending death, but the pain is unbearable. Catherine offers him the opiate, fearing he isn’t strong enough to take it. She may be trying to manipulate him, but it’s still a moving scene as Catherine consoles her beloved son. He signs the document making her Regent, before he falls asleep in Catherine’s embrace.
Poor Louis is one finger down and about to lose his head, with Mary jittery with excitement at the execution. However, it gets canceled, by order of the new Regent, Catherine, as Mary realizes Catherine made a fool of her. She says she’ll write her cousin Elizabeth for support. Are the Guises and the Bourbons with her? Charles de Guise nods gloomily. “I’ll think about it,” Louis says, grumpy from his last-minute rescue. However, Mary’s letter is intercepted by Ruggieri, who sends back a fake one inviting her to Scotland. Mary and her matching maids head north, only to discover Elizabeth has no such plan and doesn’t want Mary anywhere near her.
Catherine moves the court to Chenonceau, demanding Rahima declare sides. Rahima asks why Catherine sacrificed those closest to her for power. Not for power, Catherine replies — for freedom. Rahima sets her demands in writing: a title and property. Catherine agrees, surprised her maid is literate. As Catherine and her son Charles ride in the coach to his coronation, she tells him she will let nothing harm him.
The impressive ceremony brings everyone back: Diane de Poitiers and Angelica; Aabis and her apprentice; the Bourbon Bros, who swear revenge while masquerading as allies. The Guises are glum; Antoinette complains about Catherine’s plans for no fixed religion and a break with the Holy Roman Emperor. She reminds Francois how badly he’s failed; he says to shut up. Catherine thanks Montmorency for his loyalty, who reminds her it is conditional, as Mathilde glares at Catherine. Rahima has the last word as Catherine lowers the crown onto her son’s head: “Trust no one.”
This brash, irreverent take on history has been a Sunday night treat — Samantha Morton’s brilliant performance, strong acting from supporting roles, gorgeous, authentic historical settings, and a clever, timely script. The Serpent Queen is a triumph.