November 4, 2022

Rahima of The Serpent Queen

Samantha Morton as Catherine de' Medici and Sennia Nanua as Rahima
Previously: Becoming Elizabeth vs The Serpent Queen

I KNOW. I'll finish Elizaveta when I have the mental bandwidth.

But in the meantime, I've been watching various shows for inspiration and now that the first season of The Serpent Queen has concluded (yes, we're getting a season 2), I have a lot of thoughts and feelings.

Needless to say, there will be some spoilers.

I don't need to go into detail about how masterfully Samantha Morton handled this role; she was the reason I was initially eager to see the show. Aside for Megan Follows, I can't think of a better actor to portray the infamous Catherine de' Medici.

That all being said, Sennia Nanua's character Rahima was a delightful surprise, both in casting and performance, and later writing. Usually, brown girls get royally screwed in period pieces (no pun intended). They're not dressed the prettiest nor given good hairstyles, they don't get good storylines, and showrunners/filmmakers absolutely cannot wait to show them being abused by pretty much everyone.

I had a feeling that this wasn't going to be the case with Rahima...and I was right.

She starts off the show as a lowly maid called "It" (no really). Then one day, seemingly at random, she's chosen to carry the Queen's breakfast tray. But instead of just letting her drop it off and pick it up later, Catherine invites Rahima to sit and talk. Looking back, I should've known something was up, but in the beginning, I figured this was just the writers' excuse to let Catherine begin the wild tale of her life story.

The Queen assures Rahima that they're both very much alike, and again, I thought she was just buttering the young woman up. Because at first, Rahima appears fragile and frightened by castle life. But as the episodes go on, we find out she's actually a very practiced liar.

The ease with which she lies to Catherine (and later Mary, Queen of Scots) is quite surprising. When Catherine gives her a gift of gunpowder to get back at a bully, not only does Rahima not hesitate to blow off half the maid's face, she casually lies about it later (I guess we can add maiming to her repertoire). When getting back at the young palace guards who sexually harass her (verbally), she smoothly, almost tearfully lies to their boss about one of them exposing himself to her. Let's just say a really funny/messed up scene follows.

Rahima lies to Catherine about being illiterate, but the episode ends with her returning to her chamber and pulling a book out from under her mattress. Her triumphant smile mirrors that from the pilot, in which the episode ended with her stealing an orange from Catherine's breakfast tray without being caught (so we can add thieving to her resume).

We later find out that Catherine knew Rahima was a good actress all along; we see a flashback in which the Queen spies her "crying" to palace guard about having no family and no place to go. When the guard leaves to find out if the kitchen needs another maid, we see Rahima smirk and chuckle to herself before deftly stealing a loaf of bread from a nearby cart.

By the end of the season, Catherine--also a talented liar and manipulator--and Rahima start getting more honest with each other, though with these two, "honest" is relative. Catherine wants Rahima to help her get rid of Queen Mary, to which Rahima smoothly replies by handing her a list of "terms", the first two of which are a title and property.

And this is what confirmed her as the most fascinating character for me. Remember: Catherine spends this whole season telling this woman her life story, and in return, Rahima is telling her...nothing. Not even a slip-up, not once. Now, usually when the brown girl in a period piece doesn't get a backstory, it's infuriating because she's not being properly fleshed out. But in many ways, we do see Rahima get fleshed out, for by the end of the first season, we have a very good idea of what kind of person she is. We just don't know who she is, or where she comes from, and how a supposedly lowly maid is able to read and write in 16th Century France. But we do know that whoever she is, she just finessed a major come-up out of the great Catherine de' Medici.

To say she ends the season on a high note is an understatement.

Rahima attending the coronation of Charles IX

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