"Left Behind," not to be confused with the movie, had maybe the most Catherine of any episode so far (that's good!). There was absolutely no Nostradamus (that's bad! At the AV Club I reveal he was probably just playing hide and seek, but seriously, how am I supposed to watch Cathy and the Proph like this). Mary tried some high-pressure statecraft after everyone's taken hostage by the Italian Count (that's good!). Almost none of it worked (a brief flicker of historical accuracy). Instead, Catherine poisons everybody who gave her any trouble (also accurate). And it had two separate instances of rape threats at Mary, plus extra rape threats for all her ladies (that is not good, particularly since that is now like the third plot that has been entirely about sexually threatening Mary! Maybe we could just not, show!).
Costumewise, there was a lot to work with, but it also brought home that my rubric for how things look on this show is probably permanently skewed. For instance, after a glimpse at Olivia's C-roll handmaiden cadre:
I actually read them as a step down on the class ladder from Mary's handmaidens, which is maybe meant to be accurate but also seems such a bizarre thing to be internally consistent about. Particularly since the show's actual inability to parse anything ever continued with gusto, since Greer got caught in the kitchens when the castle was taken hostage and pretended to be a servant, except here she is next to handmaiden Madysyn:
And she's wearing a chiffon chemise and an impeccably tailored bodice in what looks like silk dupioni, which means the essential difference between a servant and a noble is an updo and some earrings. So why would I think one bunch of handmaidens is more casually dressed for daytime than another group of handmaidens! I have NO EVIDENCE for this. WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME. Here, have a shot of everyone in modern dresses, with Lola in the back wearing a dress that has both a bolero shrug jacket AND a belted skirt-drape:
Whew, that feels better.
And yet! This show also had two – not one, but TWO – sets where something we saw early in the episode actually paid off later in the episode! I'm used to sets where it's just piles of accessories that have little or nothing to do with what's actually happening, like the King's candle collection or the half-picnic action we get in Bash's rooms this week:
Or this hostage soldier, who gets to guard half a dozen draped chairs as manfully as anyone ever has:
But Greer, who spends some time in the palace kitchens during No, It's Cool, Everybody Take a Break Hour, ends up using a skillet from this scene to kill a guard later:
The skillet scene is actually really awkward and one of those "let me hold this skillet from behind you," but you really have to be selling that relationship for that to work, and I think Greer is kinda secretly over this dude based on her hurling that omelette to the floor with great gusto, though with less gusto than she used to kill that dude. Please just start killing people, Greer, it would be the most interesting handmaiden thing so far.
But the other one is a scene of Mary and Catherine talking as Catherine handles her perfume collection, which we later realize is just a trunk of poisons she was choosing from for poisoning all those Italians hostage people at the party scene:
That AND a decent floral arrangement for once? Not bad, show.
The Italian in question was sadly all over the place characterwise. Played alternately as a grief-stricken dad, an unrepentant rapist, and a doofy dupe, as the plot twists require, he wasn't really a character so much as a series of obstacles in a human suit, but there were still some worth-it moments, like his reaction when he rejects the ransom money and Catherine casually suggests what he really wants is a wife, perhaps Mary, or just someone to have sex with, perhaps Mary, and he slowly turns his head like it's just beginning to dawn on him he fucked with the wrong Medici here:
He also gets Dad Talking to You About Your Period Face when Mary tries to give everyone the slip by suggesting her corset is laced too tight and she needs to loosen it for some air:
Reminder, this is a guy planning to kidnap and kill not just Francis but his two moppety brothers, and who not five minutes after this tells Mary, "My apologies, I'm not a gentle man," and hurls her onto the table to assault her during the big banquet.
(There were not a whole lot of enemy soldiers this episode. They took this castle with approximately ten guys. The military force of European powers is a bit skewed this timeline.)
A thing that is not skewed about this show is how amazing it is just to watch Megan Follows gnaw delicately at the scenery all around her, and then occasionally go Full Theatre Person and drop some acting on everyone. A sampling of her amazing range of expressions and posture this week; Catherine is Over It in so, so many different ways.
She even manages to sell things so hard that you're 100% into her monologue about how the guy's son died not because of the French, but because he took too long bargaining instead of just paying and getting his son back, and she's poisoned them all now even though she had no way of poisoning either the food or the wine – you see, poison's an art, "and the essence of art is surprise." Is...that a thing? You don't care. It is now. Megan Follows makes it a thing.
She's singlehandedly so terrifying (first offering the girls as a last-second stalling tactic until the sand in her extremely conspicuous hourglass that no one asked about runs out and those guys all die from poison, then giving her stone-cold monologue, then casually mentioning she wasn't sure the poison would work so sorry about offering you as a stalling tactic, girls), that it seems less than useless when Francis rolls up after his mom killed everybody else and Mary's stabbed the Count (hey, Francis! How was traffic? Thanks for coming!), and cuts off his hand for no reason in a way that I guess could be considered gory and heroic but mostly just made me laugh at the awkward silence that settled over the shot as everyone realized how totally useless Francis was through this entire thing. Hopefully next time they decide to sneak important people out of the castle they'll ditch the Dauphin-first idea and just use a one-point plan that saves Catherine.
Mary loved it, though, I guess, because she shows up to sex the crap out of Francis and a line about not being able to sleep even though it looks like it's about 3pm in the middle of summer, while wearing a dress that we're supposed to think is a nightgown:
And just like that, we're back to being unable to parse any clothes on this show at all. Feels good, doesn't it?