“Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot.” -Jacqueline Kennedy
Does this seem familiar? A young, beautiful widow of a famous political figure, lamenting the abrupt end of a life filled with so many promises…the end of Camelot?
Death is a constant no matter the century. So many dreams die with the death of a young person: hopes for a better future, children, a legacy. In Fever Dream, Prince Arthur hopes to lead in the mythical, romantic footsteps of King Arthur. Catherine dreams of being queen. The Tudors plan for heirs and an empire. With Arthur’s death so much is gone in an instant…as if it were all a dream.
Dreams and dream imagery figure prominently in this episode, from visions and actual dreams to the hopes and aspirations of all our characters. It explores how women (Meg, Catherine, Margaret Pole), often serve as pawns to fulfill the dreams of men. By the end they awaken to a harsh reality: life (and death) happen despite our best laid plans.
And that leads us to the other prominent theme at play during this episode: predetermination versus free will. In a world where death happens suddenly and without warning, how capable are we at creating our own future? Margaret Beaufort tells Henry that God has great plans for him, while Catherine assures Meg and Arthur that they are all masters of their own destinies. It nicely sets up the tension that is sure to come in the remaining episodes: the will and rules of God and the Church against the ambition that propels us to seek what we see as rightfully ours. Does God have great plans for Henry, or does Henry have great plans for God?
We begin the episode right where we left off, with Catherine and Arthur married to the joyous approval of the English crowd.
In the first of many dream allusions, Catherine imagines Isabella as she takes her first formal steps as Princess of Wales; her mother’s absence on such an important day obviously weighing heavily on her heart.
Cynically, dreams are born to die in this episode. Catherine’s hopes for a romantic wedding night are thoroughly crushed when Arthur proves too insecure to consummate the marriage. Catherine’s disappointment is palpable…but I absolutely love that the show is giving her so much agency. It’s not surprising at all that she is the one taking charge in the bedroom. It’s not only in keeping with her personality but it’s also believable…she did have three older sisters, after all.
Look at Arthur’s costuming here…it is historically accurate but the long, buttoned-up shirt infantilizes him; he is meant to seem less mature than Catherine. As it appears so much like a dress, it also provides a bit of a gender reversal– Catherine is taking charge and pushing for sex, while Arthur is too nervous to complete the act. Compare how he is dressed here to later in the episode when they finally consummate the marriage…he’s literally and figuratively wearing the pants in that scene:
The haircut, of course, isn’t doing anyone any favors.
So no one has sex that first night and everyone goes to bed frustrated. It might be a tad worrisome to dream of your hot brother-in-law in your wedding night…
…and he just happens to stop by with the next morning to give Arthur shit and (correctly) accuse him of celibacy.
Catherine, among many other things, is the maintainer of images. There is no way she’s going to let the reputation of her new marriage gain any sort of gossip, and so she backs up Arthur’s lie of being “in Spain last night.” (Note: a line that he purportedly actually said, proving that teenage guys have changed very little in five hundred years).
The chemistry between Charlotte Hope and Ruairi O’Connor is phenomenal…so much is said in this episode with just a few glances. Sexual tension for days….
Everyone sulks off to the party that night, where Arthur is embarrassed about the night before and takes it out on Catherine by intentionally trying to embarrass her during the dance. Henry mopes in the corner, gets drunk, and generally feels sorry for himself that he doesn’t get to be the future king with a hot wife.
In the midst of everyone’s lack of merriment, in walk the Scots to negotiate a marriage deal that includes Meg in exchange for peace. Suddenly Meg’s dreams are also gone, as any sort of autonomy in her future is erased when she is promised to James IV.
Imagine how devastating this would be to a young woman like Meg. Whether or not the Scottish are the aggressors or victims is almost irrelevant…the point is that Meg has lived her whole life being fed a certain narrative about the Scots and now she is being sent there to marry and have the children of a man long felt to be the enemy.
The Poles, Arthur, Catherine, and her entourage set off to Ludlow Castle (on the Welsh border, land of Arthurian legend), presumably to practice governing a principality but also to give Catherine and Arthur lots of time to have sex and make an heir.
Catherine, feeling hurt, lashes out at Arthur. To say they misunderstand each other is an understatement. While Arthur cannot overcome his jealousy of the letters between Henry and Catherine (his dream had been to finally have something that was all his own), Catherine turns her fear into anger. She had dreamed of a passionate love to the man to whom she was promised. No one’s dreams are coming true in this very young marriage.
Margaret Pole, proving herself to be increasingly kind and generally awesome, gives Arthur a bit of a counseling session. This was a very lovely scene, reminding of us of just how young Arthur actually was.
Hooray! So, obviously, the big question is whether or not this marriage was actually consummated. The show takes the stance that it was, and that’s my (very layman) opinion on it as well. As showrunner Emma Frost discussed on Twitter this week, it makes Catherine more interesting– giving her agency rather than making her the passive player in both her marriages. Plus, it is completely believable that they would have had sex…two teenagers in a castle with very little to do? I have very little doubts.
If young Arthur envisions himself as the legendary King Arthur, then that makes Catherine his Guinevere. It’s an appropriate comparison, as Guinevere is often debated as being manipulative and opportunistic versus virtuous and noble…much like Catherine herself. Two guesses as to who is Lancelot in this love triangle.
But as anyone familiar with Arthurian legends knows, this make-believe myth is destined to end badly. Sweating sickness hits the castle and Lina and Arthur both fall ill. Lina is lucky enough to (literally) fall into Oviedo’s care. Islamic science and medicine were way ahead of everyone else at this time, and so it is totally believable that he would have a better understanding of disease treatments.
Arthur, as we all know, does not survive. And with his death come the end of dreams for so many others: the Tudors, Catherine, her ladies, Meg…destinies changed in an instant. The death of the once and future king…the end of Camelot.
And so the stage is set as everyone returns to London. How will our characters make their own destiny? How will visions become fulfilled? In that sleep of death, what dreams may come?
We shall now seek that which we will not find- Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur