“We do not get what we want in this life.”
Such is the realization for nearly everyone in this excellent premiere episode. From ships sailed off course, to deflated hopes, to unexpected shifts in power… plans unravel and everyone attempts to control a world that refuses to give them what they want.
Catherine’s expectations of England and Arthur differ wildly from reality. The Tudors want a subservient girl but are instead greeted by a forthright woman. Arthur envisions that he finally will have the upper-hand over Henry, only to realize too late that he has already lost a game that he did not realize he was playing. We do not always get what we want.
The title of the episode, The New World, is apt. In a literal sense, England is a new country for Catherine and her Spanish entourage. More figuratively, it’s a new world for everyone as change besieges them all. More broadly, it alludes to Christopher Columbus and his relationship with the Spanish monarchy. Most abstractly, it perhaps also references Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest— another story of a girl banished to a strange land at the age of three. O brave new world…
So how do we keep our direction in a world in which we are increasingly becoming more and more adrift? As Catherine asks Columbus, how do we keep from flying off the edge of the earth? When life is not giving us what we want, when our world is falling apart, when we are far from what we know…how do we find our way back?
The answer for Catherine, of course, is a compass– an actual compass given to her by Columbus, and a moral compass instilled by her unshakeable faith. She knows her direction and she uses that to her strength: daughter of Spain, wife to Prince Arthur, Queen of England…by the end of the episode Catherine finds her way back to what she knows to be true.
And here’s her introduction. Pious, smart, and beautiful, we meet Catherine at Alhambra on the eve of setting sail for England. Charlotte Hope does some exquisite work in this episode, at times revealing only the most subtle of emotions with her mouth or eyes.
Observe how Catherine is matched to the colors of Alhambra here– green dress matches the gardens, while the golds and reds of her hair and bodice complement the red clay of the buildings. The message? This is where she belongs. This is her home; she is moving to England but her heart and internal compass will always point to Spain.
In these early scenes we really get a sense of what Catherine stands to leave behind…probably forever. Her country, her language, and her family become more and more distant as the episode progresses. Compare the warm embrace that Catherine shares with Isabella in the beginning of the episode to the disturbing kiss that she has with Elizabeth toward the end. Even the concept of a mother is new and uncharted waters once Catherine arrives in England.
Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus both appear in this episode and while they are problematic figures (Spanish Inquisition and indigenous genocide anyone?), this episode doesn’t really deal with their controversial histories. But it doesn’t need to; we are meant to see them as Catherine does– brave, heroic, and virtuous from her point of view. And they serve similar purposes for Catherine: reminders of home and the power of Spain.
There’s quite a bit of necessary exposition in this hour, but overall it’s handled fairly smoothly. Through narration by Margaret Pole and dialogue between Henry and Elizabeth, we learn that Arthur and Catherine’s marriage is necessary for the stability, protection, and wealth of England. Catherine knows this and to carry that burden on such a young shoulders is almost unfathomable. Having a resolute sense of destiny is more than royal entitlement for Catherine– it’s also a coping mechanism.
Elizabeth serves as somewhat of a foil to Catherine in this episode. Whereas Catherine has not yet been broken by the machinations of the royal family, Elizabeth seems to teeter on the brink of sanity throughout the hour. She (justifiably) questions the loyalties of those around her and is obviously damaged by years of fear, cynicism, and the condescension of others. She is perhaps a vision of what Catherine could become in twenty years– a lesson of what happens to those who fall off the edge.
Catherine’s ship actually does sail off course during the hazardous voyage (also historically true) and by the time her entourage reached England they are all crippled by seasickness. Seeing the desperation of everyone on board, Catherine orders that they make landfall at Plymouth rather than continue on to Southampton. From there they travel overland to meet the Tudors at Dogmersfield House.
You guys, Harriet Walter as Margaret Beaufort is terrifying. It’s said the King’s mother had very little affection for everyone except for her favorite grandchild, Henry VIII…which perhaps explains why he became a similarly entitled, Machiavellian ruler? I’ll let Freud handle that one in another 400 years. The point is, I could feel the iciness coming off the screen…it isn’t just the weather that makes for Catherine’s cold welcome.
Adding to Catherine’s disorienting and humiliating arrival is the obvious propriety Henry VII feels of Catherine. She is little more than a bought commodity for him…a package that he cannot wait to see as soon as it arrives on his doorstep.
So…Arthur is perhaps not the sexy dreamboat Catherine imagined? Regardless, she was raised right and at least hides her disappointment well. Mostly.
Aaron Cobham and Stephanie Levi-John did some great work together in this episode. Their characters are constantly walking a thin line in their new surroundings and in this way they are perfect complements to Catherine– all three prove that they have a strong moral compass pulling them in the right direction: Oviedo with his loyalty to Islam, Lina with her demands for respect (love the way she stopped the soldiers from being billeted in the stables), and Catherine with her devotion to destiny.
But instead, as we all know, we got this guy. All I have to say about this meet-cute is, WOW– Ruairi O’Connor and Charlotte Hope have some amazing chemistry together. Sexy yet dangerous, playful yet manipulative.
The final one-two punch for Catherine comes from the knowledge that not only did Harry write those love letters but also that innocent men died as a condition for Catherine’s marriage. All of this is almost too much to bear, which is why we see Catherine immobile in her bathtub on her wedding day. She needs more water but there is room for no more…she is at the water’s edge of the world.
That is, until Lina reminds her of her inner badass. The daughter of Isabella may be a princess, but she’ll never be a damsel in distress.
Ladies and gentlemen, the future King and Queen of England. It’s their first time down an aisle together but it won’t be their last. “I’ll never give away my power,” she asserts– a statement she will wield over and over for the next three decades of her life. Hold tight to that compass, girl…it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
(Readers of my Outlander posts know that I typically sign off with Slàinte. For these posts I think it’s more fitting that I end with “Salud.”)