Spoiler Alert: Contains major plot information from Season 3, Episode 7 (“The Hound and the Hare”) of Reign.
As I was watching Reign on Netflix, I was tantalized by the promises of the writers. Prince Don Carlos, suitor of Queen Mary of Scotland, was rumored in the courts to have a horrible sexual predilection. His wild and crazy desires ended his courtship of an Austrian suitor. So what is this ghastly sexual desire? He is a masochist who likes to be whipped by his partner. I was a bit disappointed at such a mild revelation.
Of course, the prince is no average kinkster in this fictional portrayal. He travels with his own “sex horse.” It’s a bulky bench which a person can be strapped to while sitting, and it’s an odd-looking sex toy. I’m not sure who came up with it for the show, but clearly it was not someone who has extensive experience in BDSM. It’s certainly not a contraption that is easily portable in the days of horse and carriage travel, and there are easier ways to do bondage and whipping, even in the 16th century!
As Prince Don Carlos tries to cement a betrothal with Queen Mary, he reveals his sexual desires to her. She is not horrified, but she doesn’t understand his needs and why pain equals pleasures for him. After a bit of convincing from Queen Mother Catherine de Medici of France, Queen Mary agrees to a play session with Prince Don Carlos to see if she can dominate him in the way he needs and firm up a royal betrothal she so desperately needs. (Of course, the word dominate is never used in the script.)
As Mary discusses this with Catherine, Mary just can’t come to a place of comfort with the idea of dominating a man. Catherine, a sadistic woman, has no issues whatsoever with torturing a lover for sexual pleasure (or for political reasons). Thus, a royal plan is hatched. Once Mary has Don Carlos secured to the bench, she blindfolds him and lets Catherine in the room to do the actual dominating.
Don Carlos asks Mary to grab the whip– at which point she picks up a flogger that is sitting between his legs. I found myself thinking, “Really? No one who worked on the script or set knew the difference between a whip and a flogger?” I find that very hard to believe. Surely they could have consulted with someone from the BDSM world? Or even a Google search?
After Catherine has begun flogging (not whipping!) the bound Don Carlos’ chest, Mary can’t handle watching the event. When Mary screams out for Catherine to stop, Don Carlos becomes aware of the presence of the third person in the room. He responds (rightly so) with outrage. He feels that he has been betrayed by Mary for revealing his sexual secrets to a person he didn’t chose to trust, and he is greatly afraid of being exposed as “deviant” by Catherine. These are valid fears.
What’s most important, though, is that what Mary did was a consent violation. Consent is crucial to a healthy BDSM relationship, but Mary clearly did not know that nor did Don Carlos explain it to her. He simply trusted her. Perhaps consent was not part of the BDSM discussion in the 16th century, but it is part of the dialog today. Since Reign regularly ignores history in its storylines, costuming, and music, the show could have easily brought up consent but chose not to.
Overall, I was disappointed with how this mainstream portrayal of BDSM played out. So much more could have been done to make the scene accurate and educational, but instead, a poor vanilla misinterpretation of kink was portrayed.