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'The Tudors' fights to the bloody finish

June 1, 2010 |  3:17 pm

Tudors_407_1764In case you haven't been watching Showtime's royal execution fest/sexy soap opera "The Tudors," now would be a good time to jump in. (By the way, where have you been?)

It's the raucous fourth and final season, with only three more episodes to go, and it's going to be a sprint to the finish. But it's not too late to catch up and watch what's sure to be an awards-worthy end-of-series performance from Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the megalomaniacal King Henry VIII.

If you want a quick catch-up, here's where we are now: Henry's just gone through his midlife crisis wife  -- the adulterous teenager Katherine Howard didn't survive the experience -- and now he's onto another 16th-century version of buying a red Ferrari: he's started a war. 

"The Tudors," heavy on brutality and sexcapades, has shifted its focus from intrigue at court to bravado on the battlefield. Not that the former is absent, because it never is in this body-heated, politically-charged series. 

But it's the epic Battle of Boulogne that's occupying a good deal of screen time now as Henry shows the French just what he thinks of them by making a secret pact with Spain and invading their country.

For those who skipped European history, spoiler alert! It will turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Henry, with tens of thousands of his soldiers dying of dysentery during the protracted siege (in Episode 7) and the embattled forces eventually tromping home with little more than a bombed-out castle and the threat of retaliation to show for it. 

That doesn't seem to matter much to Henry, whose grip on reality is often tenuous as he hits his 40s. (There's a good reason he was dubbed "the English Nero," the series shows us.) It's all about his ego, after all, and he "won" Boulogne. He only cares about the bragging rights and not the bigger picture (France got its town back a short time later). 

And speaking of Henry's overblown sense of self, he's married his sixth wife (lucky woman!) -- the twice-widowed Catherine Parr (Joely Richardson) -- because he wants to feel virile again. The flighty, young Katherine Howard gave in to her baser instincts and had a torrid affair with the king's groom. (It got them both killed.) Henry's manly pride has been smarting ever since. 

Parr, rightly, worries that she'll be the next wife with her head on a chopping block. Turns out she's a sharp cookie and a religious reformer (translation: heretic!), but the rock-solid partnership she ends up forging with Henry will be a lifesaver, literally. 

Michael Hirst, creator and writer of all the series' 38 episodes, wasn't kidding when he promised to pull out all the stops for the final season. "So many lives hang in the balance," Hirst told The Times a few months ago, "just as Henry is increasingly tyrannical and monstrous." 

From now until the finale, fans can watch Henry's downward spiral, where he ends up closer to Stalin than to the "new King Arthur" he'd envisioned himself to be early in his reign, Hirst said. He'll get waking nightmare-style visits from his former wives, including the two he beheaded, and he'll have second thoughts about all the innocents he slaughtered (including beloved religious leader Sir Thomas More and 70,000 rebellious countrymen).

Stick around and see if you feel sorry for the once puffed-up king, who's regretful and guilt-ridden by the end. (Hirst admits he's taken some liberties with interpretation there, and fans will have to decide whether to empathize with the dying Henry.)

Fun fact of the most recent episode: the young Elizabeth, later to be known as "the Virgin Queen" who became one of the country's greatest leaders, vows to never marry after seeing Katherine Howard lose her head. Again, history or melodrama? Either way, it makes for great TV.

-- T.L. Stanley

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