Starz’s Mary & George Understands the Intrinsic Link Between Sex, Violence, and Power

TV Features Starz
Starz’s Mary & George Understands the Intrinsic Link Between Sex, Violence, and Power

2024 might be shaping up to be the sexiest year of television. From Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln returning to the universe of The Walking Dead to Anne Rice’s vampires in Season 2 of Interview with the Vampire, it’s undeniable that our screens have and will continue to be blessed with glimpses of beautiful people as the year unfolds. However, there’s one show presently airing that currently takes the cake in its explicit sexuality, and that’s Starz’s Mary & George.

The limited series follows Mary Villiers (Julianne Moore) and her son George Villiers (Nicholas Galitzine) as they scheme their way from rags to riches and infiltrate the court of King James VI and I (Tony Curran). The series eases you into the sexiness on screen, as the first episode only displays sex with a quick glance rather than showcase the raunchiness the series’ various trailers promised. But this proverbial edging works in Mary & George’s favor, as it becomes clear that everyone involved was not only committed to crafting some of the best sex scenes on screen, but crafting a world that is propelled by sex and violence.

“Bodies… are just bodies,” Mary says in the show’s second episode, giving the viewer a fundamental understanding of how sex and politics works in this series. Almost every character Mary and George interact with take lovers to bed with no discrimination, viewing all bodies as a vessel for them to seek pleasure from. But, along with physical pleasure comes an underlying draw; a draw to seek power in ways that people beyond Mary and George don’t fully seem able to do.

In the series’ first episode, the first time we see George flirting with a man is when he and his tutor Jean (Khalil Gharbia) are fencing. They trade blows like they’re exchanging kisses—quick, sharp, and with purpose—mixing violence and attraction together in a way the show’s sex scenes will emulate later. The two flirt as they go, using both words and swords to disarm their opponent.  

Finally though, it does come to traditional blows once George hits Jean hard in the mouth, causing him to bleed. Afraid he has overstepped, George moves to apologize, yet his fears are dashed when his tutor looks up and smiles. It’s as if with this physical blow, Jean feels he is finally getting to know George in the most intimate way, despite not having engaged in actual physical intimacy beyond these actions.

Later, when George meets King James for the first time, he gets the man’s attention after he’s tripped by the king’s favored paramour Robert Carr (Laurie Davidson) and starts a fight with his saboteur. This act of violence is what initially draws the king to him, piquing not only his interest but his fancy as well. It’s clear that sex and violence are meant to coexist in this universe, and that these ties become even more complicated as the series goes on.

Despite being tethered together from this first violent interaction (and Mary’s plotting), when George and James have sex for the first time, it’s anything but transactional. The background of the room they’re in is cloaked in rich red walls that refract the candlelight, drenching them in a dreamy orange hue. “I want to forget who I am” James says, as if, for him, being dominated during sex is a way for the monarch to shed not only his inhibitions but his duties as king as well. While George had been instructed to get close to him by his mother, he is in turn giving James something he so desperately needs, tethering them together more than either of the men initially expect.

And it’s not just the king’s eye that George catches, but also James’ slew of men that are desperately trying to avoid being usurped by George. The most intriguing of the king’s paramours is Robert, a man who will seemingly stop at nothing to have George removed from his—and James’—life. The two young men try to one-up each other sexually for James’ benefit. While Episode 2 ends with George and the king having sex for the first time, the third episode, titled “Not So Much as Love as by Awe,” opens with Robert treating the king to an orgy. 

As they indulge, a cloaked figure plays music in the corner of the room, only to be revealed as George later on. By forcing George to witness the singular relationship shared between Robert and James, he in turn allows George into his life more intimately. Though they’re at odds with one another, it’s clear that there is also a simultaneous attraction between them as well, with Robert’s jealousy getting the best of him when he plans to have George killed. As his resolve begins to crack, Davidson plays Robert with a desperation unlike the man we have previously known, unraveling underneath both George and Mary’s scheming. 

Robert’s stress is shown with a downturned mouth and a strained vein on his temple, along with eyes that feel like they may flood over with tears. It’s fitting, this emotion, and when he admits his love to George he tells him “look in my eyes and doubt me.” It’s either a ploy or truth, but nevertheless this relationship boils over with a simmering tension that Mary & George revels in. The two quickly have sex, but when Robert asks George to request that James pardon him for his murder plot, George smiles as he tells him he is simply too tired to do so. 

“I just wanted, like my mother, to fuck you,” he tells Robert, to the other man’s anguish. Despite his original grievances, George has finally learned from his mother’s handbook exactly how to use sex as a means to get what he wants—and he does it expertly. The crushed look on Robert’s face after this reveal is fantastic, his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a man who knows he’s already dead. Here, George has finally begun to understand that the ultimate power comes not simply from one’s body, but the way said body can manipulate and stupefy the people he and his mother are attempting to overthrow.

With Robert gone, George now holds all the power in court. The king looks at him like he’s bewitched, as if the young man before him is not flesh and blood but rather a spirit sent to haunt him. Frankly, there is no Mary & George without not only sex, but a frenzied and obsessed version of it. Each time George and James are seen together, there’s a frantic nature to their fucking, proving that both men—though their intentions are different—need each other like they need air. To James, carnal pleasures are more important than running a country, yet as the series unfolds, it becomes apparent that George himself is more important than both of those things. Slowly but surely, their relationship seems to shed the initial transactional nature it was originally based on, which could ultimately mean the end of both men. 

In Mary & George, the sexual tension that oozes from various characters is almost just as sexy as the actual sex these people end up having. Gazes are wielded like weapons but also as a means of courting, and eventually make or break various relationships and bonds. While George currently has the upper hand, time will only tell if the relationship he has with James will continue to grow. This growth poses a problem for both parties as well as George’s mother Mary; if feelings are involved, perhaps nobody in this series is truly in control—not only of the people around them, but the fate of the country as well.

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Toronto. They have written for, Xtra, The Daily Dot, and more. You can follow them on Twitter, where they gab about film, queer subtext, and television.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin