Ahhhh, that was such a great episode. Let’s discuss.
Warning- Contains spoilers from The Spanish Princess, Episode 3: An Audacious Plan
Okay, first things first: this episode was exquisitely beautiful in its direction and camera work. I’ve never seen a period drama make such effective use of stark medieval lighting. Nearly all of the shots had a compelling symmetry to them:
See what I mean? There was just so much tragic beauty in this entire hour.
But while the episode was gorgeous in its imagery, it was also extremely sad, dealing heavily in falsehoods and bracketed by three untimely deaths. The beauty hides the pain, which leads us nicely into a prominent theme of the episode: the lies we tell ourselves. The marriage was never consummated. God loves us. I’m happy with my life’s plan. This is the way things have to be.
These are the fallacies our characters tell themselves, because to honestly address or explore them would mean a dismantling of their entire belief system… Maybe I haven’t been personally chose by God. Maybe I am choosing power over piety. Maybe I want a different sort of love. Perhaps things could change.
And it’s an episode that asks questions of its audience as well. What lives do we tell ourselves in order to take the path of least resistance? Are we ever willing to sacrifice our belief system (or what we think to be our belief system) if it doesn’t fit with the narrative we’ve created for ourselves or others? It’s a timely and relevant thought.
Relevant, too, is the continued way The Spanish Princess uses Catherine’s “otherness” to elicit actions and emotions in others. This episode demonstrated quite nicely that Catherine’s outsider status makes her attractive to some (Harry) and dangerous to others (Lady Margaret). How much of Harry’s infatuation with Catherine is due to exoticization? How much of Lady Margaret’s mistrust of Catherine is due to a rejection or fear of her culture? And how much is Catherine complicating both those emotions with her somewhat duplicitous actions?
The episode begins as everyone is preparing for Arthur’s funeral. “Audacious,” meaning a flaunting of conventional norms, is a fitting word for so many scenes this hour; Catherine declines the litter offered for transport to the funeral, opting instead to ride her own horse.
There’s a few references to horses in this episode- later on Catherine tempts Harry’s imagination by describing Isabella’s Andalusian stallion. It’s possible that the horse is used to symbolize independence and power (specifically, Catherine’s).
This was some powerful imagery, wasn’t it? Walking down an aisle in funeral dress? It’s almost as if they are doomed to an eventual ill fate…
Much is made this hour with the contrast of Catherine’s culture to English norms. Lina and Rosa’s performative mourning is chilling and hauntingly beautiful. It also holds a bit of exotic appeal for Harry but elicits an aggressive disapproval from Lady Margaret.
The two women acting as mourners at a funeral possibly has roots in the lamentations of Isis and Nephthys; the Northern African influence seems plausible. I’ll let historians out there weigh in on that.
Notably, Catherine does not cry. I would instead characterize her demeanor here as…determined.
Determined, too, is Lady Margaret, who has no qualms about asking Catherine if she is pregnant, even going so far as to try to feel Catherine’s breasts in a creepy display of quiet, entitled rage. (Note: Quiet Entitled Rage is also the name of my next album).
Lady Margaret has A Plan and perhaps the greatest lie we ever tell ourselves is that we have control over a situation. Everything in her castle is micromanaged (by her) and Catherine is doing her best to royally f*%# it up, so to speak. In Catherine Lady Margaret May have met her political match.
Meg, unfortunately, is caught in the grand political machination as her marriage to James IV of Scotland is further solidified. “Everyone hates their husband but you learn to deal with it,” is the wonderful (and slightly humorous) advice Lady Margaret has to dispense…yet further evidence that we can convince ourselves of a particular narrative in order to survive a difficult situation. As she was betrothed and pregnant by the age of twelve, Lady Margaret no doubt has experience in self-preservation by way of cognitive dissonance.
But perhaps the largest distortion of reality comes from Catherine, who believes so strongly in her destiny to be queen that she clings to a pretension that will entirely change her (and all of England’s? all of modern history’s?) future: her marriage with Arthur wasn’t consummated. It was a claim she historically held to her death, and my hot take is that it might have been a classic case of illusory truth effect. Meaning, a lie is told so often that people believe its veracity.
It’s a well-documented psychological effect, and doesn’t such a concept make this episode even more relevant? Think of all the political spin with which we are currently and constantly bombarded…we hear certain accusations enough that it doesn’t matter how much they are discredited; after awhile falsehoods become truths.
Margaret Pole, unsurprisingly, isn’t buying any of it; she is patently disgusted with everyone’s naked ambition. But I have a feeling she’ll keep her mouth shut with her opinions. For her, lying is not just a coping mechanism…it’s a means of literal survival.
Lina doesn’t escape from this fate, either, as she tries to convince herself that she isn’t falling for Oviedo. She puts on a good game face, but you can see her visibly struggle with her disappointment at staying in England– and marrying someone besides Oviedo. These two actors and characters are so beautiful together with so much chemistry that I will throw a Tudor-level tantrum if they don’t get a happily-ever-after by series end.
Despite being a young widow, Catherine is the only one who does seem happy by the end of this episode. Elizabeth and her infant both die in childbirth, and the grief from the Tudor family is palpable.
In an interesting twist, Catherine and Lady Margaret’s characters are nearly reversed: Catherine comes across as manipulative and Machiavellian, while Margaret is the more empathetic figure. A reminder that a common lie we tell ourselves is that we think we know somebody– everyone, for better or worse, has their secrets.
No more kings and the end of the Tudor line…a prophecy from Elizabeth on her death bed. I’ll end this on a somewhat positive note– we all know this Tudor dynasty will eventually result in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Maybe the best lie that’s disproved at the end of all of this is that a king is necessary at all.