This week’s The White Queen was all about family and loss: the Neville sisters’ newfound antagonism, Margaret’s strained relationship with her now-dead mother, Elizabeth’s tensions with Edward, and her mother fading away.
Unfortunately, none of it quite tied together. It was nice to see an episode where we didn’t sit through three off-screen battles and change kings at least twice, but the emotional focus of this episode was sadly half-baked.
The tensions between Anne and Isabel came to a head this week, as Anne returns to court in disgrace and becomes a prisoner of Isabel’s husband. This was another chance for Anne to come into her own, as she must scheme to protect her own fortune, free her mother from sanctuary and escape George’s control, without the help of anybody or anything except the occasional appearance of Prince Richard. On the one hand, this episode showed how astute Anne can be, and helped to develop the resentment that she must feel for those around her. She is no longer quick to trust. She can see other people’s schemes now, and she can act a part and enact some schemes of her own.
On the other hand, her disagreement with Isabel didn’t make any sense. They were on different sides of the war temporarily, but last week, they both realized that they were being forced into that position, and that neither would choose to become enemies if they could. Yet this week, Isabel became suddenly cold and unsympathetic to Anne’s suffering. She acts like Anne deserves her punishment, that she should be thankful for her place at court, and that she is like a “rabid dog” for fighting back. When the sisters physically came to blow, I was just left wondering why. The show made little effort to explain why these close sisters have turned on one another and hate one another. It just leapt from “we are forced to be enemies but we love each other” to “we are now actually enemies and I hate you,” without any real development or insight into what was going on. Disappointing, considering that Isabel and Anne have been two of the show’s most compelling characters so far.
Meanwhile, the show manages to wrench back some sympathy for Elizabeth, as she thinks she is losing her husband, and then actually loses both her mother and her son in one moment. Elizabeth has now lost her one source of guidance, the female figure who taught her how to survive at court and generally be a badass. Once again, the show touched on Elizabeth’s powerlessness, despite her position as queen, and that’s always an interesting angle to explore. Unfortunately, Elizabeth also managed to continue to be nonsensically horrible. She tells her husband that he “must begrudge Warwick’s daughters their happy reunion” and acts like Anne’s forgivenness is a personal slight, as though Anne and Isabel had any part in hurting her or her position. Surely Elizabeth must realize that they can’t control what their husbands and fathers do. And even if she does not realize that, she is the one who has been most harmful in their antagonistic relationship so far, as she cursed the Nevilles’ ship and killed Isabel’s son.
Finally, Margaret Beaufort continued to work to protect her son, this time by arranging a marriage alliance for herself so that she could return to court. Although the scene with her dying mother provided some valuable insight into Margaret’s character and the unusual connection between the religious fanatic, martyr-esque character and the woman determined to marry for love, it lacked resonance because we had never seen this mother before. At least, not that I can remember. What is the point of introducing new pressure on Margaret, exploring a new kind of loss and a new challenge for her, when we’re more than halfway through the show and have never had a hint of this before? Once again, the show was full of potential, but didn’t quite follow through.
It’s almost as if the show decided it needed more emotional drama to pad out this week, and so it wove some side stories about sisterly rivalry and Elizabeth’s relationship difficulties without really bothering to develop them. They appeared, they made no sense, and they were resolved within the hour.
This show has so many good elements, and so much potential. I just really hope it all comes together in the episodes and schemes to come.