The citizens of Verona scheme as Rosaline and Benvolio search for the person who is hell-bent on keeping their families apart.
On Still Star-Crossed Season 1 Episode 4, a Montague returns to Verona, while Escalus and Isabella navigate to prevent an all-out war.
Escalus and Isabella
After the killing of a Venetian ambassador on Verona soil, Prince Escalus and Princess Isabella are forced to negotiate with Venice for support. For something that’s supposed to be a morally complex political scheming plot, it was completely boring. The majority of this plot’s screen time involved discussing characters the audience has never met and a back story that provides little plot relevance. It is only when Escalus’s old friend (and a prominent Venetian) recommends that Isabella sleep with another prominent Venetian in order to convince Venice to back Verona that the plot gets semi-interesting.
And then, it doesn’t last very long. Isabella initially hates the idea. But then, she has one, slightly pseudo-feminist conversation with Tessa Montague and then decides to do it. Isabella is such an interesting character, and I would have liked to see more of her being conflicted over it. She’s always put duty over her own happiness (and her brother’s too), and it would have been nice for the tables to be turned and for her to be unsure for more than a minute.
And frankly, for a storyline that weighs heavily on Isabella, the ones that seem to be calling all the shots are the men and Tessa Montague. I guess that’s sixteenth-century Europe for you, but this is a Shondaland TV show in 2017 and Princess Isabella is played by fabulous Iranian-American actress Medalion Rahimi. There can be a little female agency now and then.
Crises at the Capulet Household
Still overcome with grief over her daughter’s death, Lady Capulet tries to find a reason Juliet would die. In the hands of some better plotting, Lady Capulet would be one of the most sympathetic characters in the show, behind leads Rosaline and Benvolio, of course. Instead, the only traits bestowed upon her by the narrative are a) deeply in grief, b) deeply bitter, and c) deeply suspicious of Rosaline. I hate to hate a woman drowning in her grief, and Zuleikha Robinson is really acting the hell of what little she has, but the narrative is really making it hard to sympathize.
Upon finding the bottle of poison Juliet used to fake her own death, she logically theorizes that because the poison wasn’t found on Juliet’s body, someone must have put it at the shrine, and thus, after finding out from Friar Lawrence that Rosaline was a witness at Juliet’s wedding to Romeo, Rosaline must have known about that. If there’s one thing I like about Lady Capulet, it’s that she’s one heck of a detective.
However, she is so hell-bent on trashing Rosaline that she seems to destroy everything in her path. She never bothers to try to talk to Rosaline, and when Rosaline leaves note saying goodbye after running away into the night with Benvolio, she hides it from Rosaline’s sister. She puts her own vendetta about truth and familial bonds. At the end of the episode, it is even revealed that Lady Capulet is a puppet-master, using Paris to frame Benvolio for murder.
Right now, no matter how great of an actress Zuleikha Robinson is, it’s really hard to sympathize with her character. Even if Lady Capulet is supposed to be the “big bad”, we can barely understand her motivations. To create a good villain, a narrative must have either a) a really well fleshed-out motivation or b) some sort of way for the audience to sympathize with the villain. Right now, we have neither. I hope the Lady Capulet character will get fleshed out by the end of the season.
I also hope that the show will never betray me like it did with Count Paris, ever again. For all of the problems with the Capulet storyline, the Paris reveal was rightfully shocking and heartbreaking. After being completely endearing in Season 1 Episode 3 “All the World’s a Stage”, he is revealed to be working with Lady Capulet to frame Benvolio for murdering. Torrance Coombs shows his skill, as he effortlessly (and still completely creepily) switches from the sweet and kind love interest when he was with Livia to the downright cold and cunning man he was with Lady Capulet. I was so on board the Paris/Livia train, and I’m not exactly thrilled my ship was a lie. However, I feel like the reveal will mark a turn for the Still Star-Crossed. If we’re to go off of this episode’s end, Still Star-Crossed is going to deliver us more twisty drama and excellent for the reason of Season 1, and I am psyched.
Arrival of Madam Montague
As Benvolio is out of the house searching for information, his aunt Tessa arrives in town and makes a bigger splash than Lord Montague has made for the past three episodes. Actress Claire Cooper gives me heavy Melisandre vibes in appearance, while Tessa Montague herself reminds me of some weird cross between Cersei Lannister and Blair Waldorf (more in general vibe/aura than anything concrete). Despite being a new arrival, Claire Cooper and Tessa herself seem completely in their element.
Tessa Montague herself is more morally dubious than anything, and that makes her such an interesting character. In comparison Lady Capulet, Tessa Montague’s motivations are more clearly spelled out. She wants to return the Montague family to greatness. It also helps that she more obviously has her family’s best interest at heart, even though she’ll do some really morally dubious things to achieve those interests. She turns her nephew into the authorities in the name of protecting the name, and she advises Isabella to have sex with a prominent Venetian in order to achieve peace. Her character perfectly toes the line between crazy and calculating, and I am excited to keep watching.
The Search for a Traitor
Continuing off of the previous episode’s explosion, Benvolio and Rosaline search for the person behind the attack on the Montagues and Capulets. The show seemed to be setting up a Benvolio-Rosaline enemies-to-lovers romance since the pilot, but their romance reached new prominence in “Pluck Out the Heart of my Mystery.” The episode was full of Benvolio-Rosaline banter, and I loved it. There’s quite a bit of chemistry between Wade Briggs and Lashana Lynch, and I feel like it was better utilized in this episode than the three previous ones.
As Benvolio and Rosaline work together to unravel the mystery, there’s a trust and understanding that grows between them. It’s all very well-written. I only wish it was written faster so that we could see some real development before Still Star-Crossed ends. All that trust and understanding (and maybe even fondness) culminates in Rosaline defending Benvolio after he has been framed for murder. If Benvolio was convicted, then Rosaline would not have to marry him anymore and all her wishes would be granted, but she cares more about helping Benvolio than saving herself from a life of marriage.
And if that wasn’t great enough, Benvolio and Rosaline non-romantically run away together after this episode. After discovering that Friar Lawrence has left Verona after learning some new information, Benvolio follows him and asks Rosaline to come with him. It’s a very “us against the world” dynamic, and it’s a far cry from where they were in the pilot. The framing of Benvolio makes the narrative one hundred times more interested, and the development of the relationship makes me one hundred times more invested now.