This season might have been subtitled, “In which King Henry learns he is no longer a catch, his beautiful blonde wife escapes further torments through death, and a harlot is introduced.” But then, over the course of the series there have been a lot of harlots — ranging from the various parade of women through Henry’s royal rooms to one of his former queens. Not that I am naming any names but, well, the falsely pious and husband-stealing Anne Boleyn comes to mind.
My thoughts when it comes to this season are varied. Admittedly, the first season was not tremendous but did turn into something rather good midway through, especially in consideration of its magnificent characters. (I’m sorry, but life does not get much better than Sir Thomas More as adviser, and Katharine of Aragon revealing what a loathsome pig her husband truly is.) The second season trundled forward with tremendous power and authority and left us all rather dazed at its conclusion (and not just because Anne’s trial was all but eliminated, something I feel was a huge mistake on the part of the writers, since that was pretty much Katharine’s moment of brilliance and Thomas More did not do too badly either). The third season is greater than the first two in terms of its advancement of time and focus on more important matters than the royal mistresses (well… okay, so not all of them are overlooked) but much worse in the realization that it has been so condensed, some major historical figures have been forced into no more than caricatures.
Case in point, this season’s shadow of Thomas More, found in the portly form of Robert Aske, a man of great virtue and unyielding faith who becomes the unwitting and often reluctant leader of the rebel Catholic fraction who demand the restoration of their churches and monasteries. (Which Cromwell has been nicely pilfering from in order to boost not only the royal coffers but his own deep pockets.) Granted, he did provoke tremendous empathy for me in the episode in which he is trussed in chains and dragged to his pitiful death but I did not feel that I knew him well — certainly not as well as Bishop Fisher and More in former seasons. (Both of which actually made me weep on the executioner’s block.) It’s a shame, really, because he had so much potential.
Even so, other characters are also dramatically under-used. Why not write Charles Brandon, whose only purpose in recent seasons seems to be detesting the people who will eventually fall (and thereby participating in their downfall — and yes, I wanted to smack that smirk off his face when he popped his head in Cromwell’s cell to taunt him) completely out of it, and give some real screen time to, oh, I don’t know — the king’s wife? I have the bad feeling that we saw less of Jane Seymour than we did the king’s fictional mistress, who cannot seem to make up her mind just whose bed she is most often in (the king’s? the guy with the pirate patch? or maybe the artist she fancies?). And that is really too bad, because for once Jane is depicted in a positive, compassionate, and deeply religious light that made me love her. In the span of four episodes, in less than a handful of appearances. Darned if I wasn’t in love with her ten seconds after she welcomed Mary into her arms.
Which brings me to the king’s daughters. Mary is tremendous. Mary is wonderful. Michael Hirst may have just redeemed himself from that shoddy, mean-spirited depiction of her in Elizabeth, because this is Mary as she truly was — a deeply troubled, emotionally unstable and lonely young woman reeling in the aftermath of her mother’s betrayal and death. That being said, where is Elizabeth? We see no more than a brief glimpse of her, which is rather shoddy for the greatest monarch of all time. I hope next season explores something of her youth — her rivalry with her sister, her affection for Edward, and most of all, her notorious relationship (if it could even be called that) with “Uncle” Seymour, who was introduced this season and already gives me the creeps. And not in a good way.
Much time was wasted on Lord Bryan or whatever his name is — the king’s go-to boy for Assassinations, Assignations, and Executions. Except that he wasn’t all he thought he was when he managed to somehow be outsmarted by Cardinal Pole! That was a wonderful moment. I basked in it. May Pirate-Dude rot, especially for going to a whore-house and hand-picking the pretty little Katherine Howard for the king’s amusement. Some audiences are up in arms with that casting decision, because by all rights the actress looks barely legal … but I think it makes a rather valid point. Henry is bored with normal misbehavior and so the next step is to start robbing the cradle. Not that Katherine Howard was recently in it, with the amount of scandalous tricks she has up her sleeves. But she somewhat pales in comparison to the glories of Anne of Cleves. The amount of poo-pooing that went on over casting a pop star in the role pales in contrast with what she manages to do with the part — and I understand that she will return next season. Glory! I cannot wait to watch that unfold, her relationship with Mary continue, and see what she makes of little Kitty Howard.
Overall the season was a good one, but not as great as it might have been with a full ten episodes and a little more focus on Important People rather than Those Individuals We Do Not Care About. (Yes, Brandon, I am looking at you in the full realization that you are nothing more than eye candy. Please go away one day soon.)
One more thing — the history behind this season? No more accurate than the last. For the record, Katherine Howard did not originate in a whore-house, and Henry for all intensive purposes actually believed she was as innocent as the day she was born. That poor boy could never figure out women. Especially the ones he was married to.