The Serpent Queen, Season One (2022)


Catherine de Medici strikes fear into the hearts of those who read about her. This infamous queen caused the massacre of over 10,000 Protestants for political reasons in France during her regency. So I did not expect Starz to depict her as passive, introverted, or waiting forever to take initiative for herself... and it doesn't make for very compelling television as a result. The real Catherine had a "flying squadron" of spies in her palace. This one does... largely nothing interesting for eight episodes.


The servant girl Rahima (Sennia Nanua) is chosen to take the quiet queen Catherine (Samantha Morton) her breakfast, and finds her more amiable than she thought. Catherine asks if the girl would like to hear her life story, in order to decide if she would have made the same choices. She tells Rahima about growing up in a nunnery and narrowly escaping with her life, then being handed over to the care of her Italian uncle the Pope (Charles Dance). He tried to make an advantageous marriage for her, a difficulty as a woman without a royal lineage, and finally landed upon France.


Knowing that she wasn't attractive enough to compete on the marriage market, Catherine convinced her uncle to give her an expensive dowry as a bargaining chip. And it helps that when she arrives in France, she instantly falls in love with her future husband, the shy and withdrawn Prince Henry. She eagerly turns to her cousin, Diane de Poitiers (Ludivine Sagnier), for advice. But to her shock, she discovers upon her wedding day that Diane is her husband's older mistress... and he has neither any desire to give her up, nor does Diana wish to relinquish her power... leading to a struggle between them that lasts decades, while political upheaval unfolds around them.


The first couple of episodes are solid. Compelling, interesting, and it felt like it was setting me up to see Catherine truly come into her own and become the dangerous queen history has told us about. But... it never happened. It took a full eight hours for her to actually do much of anything akin to her historical reputation. Mostly, things happen around her, and we spend a lot of time with the men in the story, listening to them talk about politics. If you're going to bombard me with constant f-words, it better be a darn good plot... and it's not. I think they wanted to make Catherine more likable by being bunted about by others, but in a series about an infamous bloody queen, nobody wants that. We want an intelligent, ruthless Borgia-like woman manipulating things cleverly from behind the scenes, not moping for thirty years because her husband prefers his mistress.


There are flashes of that, such as when she gives Rahima a little pouch of gunpowder and tells her to get even with someone in the kitchens. Rahima pops it into the oven, and it explodes in the girl's face, causing her severe disfigurement. But most of the time, Catherine just seems helpless, puts up no fight against Diane, and others have to encourage her to embrace her destiny. It let me down. It's beautiful to look at, and there's a particularly great unhinged performance by Antonia Clarke as Mary Queen of Scots. The costumes are lovely and there's enough star power in here to keep it going even when I've gotten sick of the unnamed and uninteresting side characters. Morton is good at hinting that there might be something more to this queen than meets the eye... I just wish it were true!
Sexual Content:
Nine sex scenes, including implications of oral and a threesome. Suggestive use of fruit to illustrate a sexual point. Two lesbian kisses. 8 instances of backside and/or breast nudity. A reference to someone being "fiddly" with little boys. A woman is examined to make sure she is a virgin.
Several graphic slit throats, a man has his finger cut off for torture, another man is stabbed through the eye to see if he survives, in duplication of the king's injuries (the king is shown many times with a bloody lance sticking out of his eye socket), a man is torn apart by horses (off-screen), another man is poisoned, a man is stabbed in the throat, another is shot in the head. A man kills a cute little frog to shock a girl and sticks the corpse down her dress.



85 uses of the f-word, 3 uses of balls, 4 of "tits," 3 of bitch, 11 of sh*t, 2 atatomical references to male anatomy, 1 of c*nt, 1 of "Christ!"



We see a woman has got her period several times (spotting on the back of her nightdress and/or undergarments). Three instances of vomiting on-screen.

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