The Crown S2 E1 Recap
It’s More Like ‘Rule Snitannia’ In The Season 2 Premiere of The Crown
This article originally ran on Previously.tv as one of its Epic Old School Recaps
As a quick preamble: Jessica and I met while writing for Tara, Dave, and Sarah’s original joint — she recapped, among other things, Dawson’s Creek and The X-Files; I did some ER and Band Of Brothers — and we are beyond thrilled to darken the Previously.TV doorstep as well for the return of the Epic Old-School Recap. When covering The Crown’s first season on our own site, Go Fug Yourself, we split the episodes between us, just to give readers different perspectives on this fictionalization of well-trod history. We’re going to do that again here, so Jessica is taking the evens and I am the odds, which feels right, as I am odd. And, oh, almighty Rae Dawn Chong, I hope we remember how to do this.
It’s been a year since we last wore The Crown, so just as a refresher: there’s this lady, right? Name of Elizabeth. She became queen of some isle or other at a tender age, and struggled with being a person versus being a monarch. Her sister is mad at her, because as Queen and Head of the Church, Liz couldn’t bless Margaret’s marriage to a much older divorced man, so Marg is whacked out on bitterness. Liz’s husband Philip hates being the plus-one to the monarch and not master of his castle, so he’s whacked out on the smoke from his flaming ego. And her prime minister is, privately, whacked out on smack.
We begin on February 16, 1957. Somewhere in an army medical center in West Germany, a baby is being born who will later come to America and change our lives. That baby is, of course, LeVar Burton, without whom we wouldn’t know the value of wearing metallic banana clips as glasses. The Crown, for some reason ignores this; instead, as photographers gather at a port in Lisbon, we hear news reports of a royal marriage in crisis. We cut to the back of Elizabeth’s head as she concludes a phone conversation that, from her posture, you can tell was root-canal levels of unsatisfactory. She turns slightly and we jump across the room to the back of Philip’s head. They’re together inside Royal Yacht Britannia, but they are also a world apart. Perhaps they simply can’t see each other, due to the extreme lack of light. Or rather, there are TONS of lights in the room and ambient light coming through the windows, yet the set still looks like this:
Never have so many lights done so little for so few. Having been on the Royal Yacht as a guest of the Crown — by which I mean, I bought a ticket and went and was not thrown overboard by any docents — I can confirm that it gets plenty of natural sun (and also that their bedrooms were about a quarter this size and it looked nothing like a palace), so I’m unsure why The Crown cleaves to every room being shrouded in darkness and shadow. Then again, the Palace press secretary has informed QEII that people are still buzzing about them, despite the steps they’ve taken — we know not why, but we can guess — and that the status quo cannot continue, so it’s emotionally dark times indeed.
Philip is silent, and everyone, let’s enjoy that for the brief moment it lasts, because once he opens his mouth you will want to punch it clean onto someone else’s face. Also, this is a good time to address the difficulties in discussing fictionalized versions of real people. If we are ever expressing frustration with their real-life counterparts, we’ll say so; otherwise, please assume that when we are screaming for, say, Prince Poutface to cram it up his mumbly blowhole, we mean the one who is imagined herein. Okay! Moving along: as Elizabeth walks toward him wearing an angelic pink frock, her footsteps ring out almost like a nervous heartbeat. “I would like to take this opportunity to lay our cards on the table,” she says. “And talk frankly, for once, about what needs to change to make this marriage work.” The card Philip chooses to lay is the Jack of Wankitude. “Who goes first?” he asks, then spits with barely a breath, “Stupid question. If I know one thing by now it’s that I go second.” Dear Philip: I have made you a sandwich. It consists of my knuckles between two slices of whole-grain Rage Loaf, and I’ve put extra mustard on it. Enjoy. Elizabeth, however, does not give this the time of day.
Instead, Elizabeth sits briskly and plays a King of Deal With It: “If I am to go first, that’s where I start. Your complaining. It’s incessant whining and whingeing like a child.” Philip tries to chicken-and-egg this by blaming her staff for infantilizing him, claiming she can’t imagine how much that stinks. She can trump his Two of Wuss with a Ten of Up Yours: “I’ve learnt more about humiliation in the last few weeks than I hoped I would in a lifetime.” She’s been made deeply lonely by his behavior — they are not specific yet about what he’s done — and he counters that she is the one who sent him away, almost as if she should have expected that he’d fully douche out in this situation. As a refresher, in the finale, it was portrayed that Liz sent Phil to Australia thanks to some conspiring from the Queen Mum and Chief Snooty Mustache Tommy Lascelles. The idea was to let him feel the warmth of his own spotlight, but Philip, of course, interpreted it as exiling a spoiled child, and I think honestly both are true. I don’t know anything about Philip’s true character as it relates to this, though I would not be at all surprised if a man in that era would have struggled with this power dynamic so relatively shortly after their wedding. But the Philip Matt Smith plays is a foot-stomping pouty child with a nasty, sneering sense of humor, who is constantly cutting down Elizabeth — shitting on her struggles rather than trying to help her in a constructive way, because he’d rather feel superior than be an actual useful spouse. Here, Elizabeth tells him she dispatched him because he seemed lost in all ways, and that she’s not blind to the fact that the marriage has taken unexpected turns. She begins: “We’ve found ourselves in–” “Prison,” he interrupts. “FUCK YOU AND I HOPE YOU’VE BEEN ENJOYING ALL OUR WEALTH,” she does not scream, which is a shame, since that card is an Ace of Shut Your Face. Instead, she amends it to “A situation,” with more dignity than I would have mustered. Elizabeth makes it quite clear that divorce is absolutely not an option — not now, not ever — and so they have to figure out a Plan B. “What would make it easier on you? To be in, not out?” she says. “What will it take?” Philip sucks on the binky of his own emasculation and then pouts, “You’re asking my price.” She levels him with her stare. “I’m asking what it will take,” she repeats, as if speaking to a small child, which of course she is.
Now we jump back in time by five months. As the Queen gets dressed for an official event, she and Philip pour a big glass of Exposition Brandy and hand it to us to guzzle: he lists off the number of places he’s going, by air and by sea, and basically they each tell the other things they both already know, for our benefit. It’s going to be — you guessed it — a five-month voyage. “Now that I’ve made the decision, I’m rather looking forward to it,” Philip says, adding that they’ve found a way to fold in the South Pacific and Antarctic. (There are Prince Charles Mountains in Antarctica, so named in 1956, presumably during this trip; that’s quite a Christmas present, though he might’ve preferred a toy train.) Elizabeth tsks, “Boys will be boys.” Phil replies, “Excuse me! Subzero temperatures! Men will be men.” This is much more banter than we got at the end of last season, so I’m guessing we’re meant to think that the planning — and getting his way a bit on the itinerary — made him feel more like this was his idea all along. And I guess that makes him more loving toward Liz. Later, as they prepare to attend an event with her in her regalia, he pauses to behold her. “You look nice,” he says. “Do I? Even in full battle dress?” she teases. Then he notices her zipper isn’t fully done, and commands the entire room to turn and avert its gaze so that he can fix it…and plant a kiss on her nape. “Stop it,” she giggles.
I didn’t/don’t watch Doctor Who, so I had no particular Matt Smith feelings entering this show, and I have to say I find him distractingly smarmy, in a way that never quite captures Philip’s more sharply mischievous aura. Everything from his countenance to his voice is just…rubbery somehow. But at least he gets to wear a medal.
While Philip and Elizabeth cavort with boring diplomats, over at the Suez Canal Company a janitor is mopping the floor during a fiery radio address by General Nasser, the Egyptian president who’d overthrown imperial rule four years earlier. I hope you are not that invested in the janitor’s work, or whether that spill got cleaned up, because pretty soon some Egyptians break in and seize the building, and his mop is cruelly abandoned. Will no one think of the cleaning supplies? We zero in slowly on a smiling portrait of the queen as mayhem ensues, which in this usurpation looks a lot like a ticker-tape parade, with paper flying around everywhere. I am not sure why exactly everyone decided to hurl their documents around, but maybe I just don’t deal with stress properly.
Elizabeth wakes up naked in bed to arguably the least sexual experience of her life, including moments in which she is demonstrably not having sex: the sight of Philip doing calisthenics in super-baggy sweatpants and a tank top.
Philip’s gun show is really more of a modest Nerf weapons cache. “I am going to miss you,” says Elizabeth, before playfully summoning him back to bed. He says he can’t, because he’s got star jumps to do, which honestly feels like a burn even though it wasn’t one. “You can do them here,” she flirts. This is at least nice flip from last season, in which their primary moment of intimacy was Philip ordering her to go down on him, and her mysteriously finding that sexy and appealing. Perhaps now, at least in the boudoir, Philip realizes it is okay for her to come first and him second.
Later, we’re reacquainted with Mike Parker, Philip’s friend and now equerry (assistant, essentially), who seems to be as stabilizing an influence on Philip as a brisk wind is on a very old tree. He kind of reminds me of how I imagine William’s friends — the ones with whom he goes drinking and skiing and Dad-dancing at foreign nightclubs — and having him around Philip comes off like feeding a mogwai after midnight: indulging all the wrong, worst impulses and then OH HEY SURPRISE IT MADE A GREMLIN who will rip shit up until it finally explodes. They’re going off on one of their dudebro outings and flip to see who drives. “Heads,” says Mike. “Your wife. You lose.” Philip notes that they’re getting along well at the moment. “Wish I could say the same,” says Mike. Well, too bad, Mike. I am not that invested in your emotional struggles and you seem like a manchild nightmare.
Meanwhile, Anthony Eden is at Eton buttering them up about how awesome they all are and how he’s the sixteenth Etonian Prime Minister, out of forty PMs total. “Not a bad percentage,” he boasts. It’s 40%. Yes, that’s a lot, but…I mean, it’s still an F grade, pal. Eden is going on about changes in society and how people think maybe leaders shouldn’t all come from the Etons of the world, but he thinks “narrowness at the top is not necessarily a bad thing….In battle, when the heat is on, one needs a shorthand. A shared language and understanding.” There’s something to be said for that when you consider that, until the 1970s, if you said “fagging” to an Etonian, you would have been referring to doing chores for an upperclassman. Eton still has a glossary of such on its website so that if Anthony Eden’s ghost ever comes up to you and says, “Do I know you from Porny School,” you’ll be less tempted to smack him in the face. This mutual fluffing of the elite by the elite ends when Eden’s advisors come pouring in, warning him that Nasser has seized the Suez with disgraceful disregard for whether the office floors had been fully mopped first.
With Philip about to leave for his trip, Elizabeth wants to pack a gift that will surprise him once he’s gone. Phil’s assistant tells her that his luggage will travel separately, so his briefcase is the best bet, and gives her the green light to sneak in and do it. Elizabeth, sadly, lacks a raft of daytime soaps to educate her on such practices — Coronation Street didn’t exist until 1960 — and so cannot know that she inevitably will discover something she does not want to see. His gigantic open briefcase, sitting unattended on his desk, practically has a Booty Alarm flashing atop it. Sure enough: the expensive camera she’s putting in there (with a note) is so large that she has to move things around to make room, and thus discovers a round black-and-white photo of a lovely ballerina. Apparently Philip’s staff also needed the lessons of modern television, because (a) don’t leave his briefcase out and open if you’ve got Mementos of Misbehavior lurking therein, and (b) you know he’s maybe a bit of a rake, so you never encourage anyone to delve into the depths of his secret pouches; instead, you say, “Please, Ma’am, allow me. I’ll gladly place the item in his case for you so that you do not have to exhaust The Royal Calves.”
However, Claire Foy’s performance in this moment is great.
She’s very, very good by now at arranging her face into a mask, and then letting it slip and fall in bits and pieces. Her smile fades, her eyes are heartbreaking, and her chest visibly tightens. She is trying to keep a pleasant expression on her face, attempting not to react or cry, presumably because while she might technically be alone she is never truly by herself. Not there; not in a working palace. She puts the photo back and turns on her heel.
As usual, the Queen’s official drawing room is dimly lit also. Which is a good thing for Elizabeth’s mood, I suppose.
We know enough of Buckingham Palace now, through photos, to know it isn’t a dusty cave inside. I am concerned that the creative edict for the show was “Elizabeth is a dusty cave inside, so MAKE IT OBVIOUS.” Eden here drops the history lesson on all our asses — Nasser has taken over the Canal, and everyone is afraid it will jack with the world oil supply and create an unholy Egyptian alliance with the Soviets — and explains that his cunning plan is to pay all the pilots to leave their posts. Elizabeth totally wasn’t paying attention because she’s too busy imagining Philip in a naked pas de deux with a dancer, so of course he then explains what this means: the canal is treacherous to pass, requiring highly skilled and trained pilots the likes of which Egypt doesn’t have. No pilots means no passage, which Eden believes will force Nasser to come crawling back with his tail between his legs and a giant heart-shaped box of chocolates. “If you say so,” Elizabeth says. She’s barely listening. This part of the show drives me crazy. We’ve had flashes and bursts of a competent and serious and informed Elizabeth. But too often, she has stuff mansplained to her, or is checked out. If this were more of a character point, it would be workable, but it comes across like she can’t pull her shit together at work because she’s obsessed with the whereabouts of Philip’s penis.
At dinner with Elizabeth, Philip brings up Eden’s plan, which of course he gleaned from his chummy inside sources at his club. “It’s a hell of a gamble. I hope you told him so,” he says, which naturally is the opposite of what Elizabeth said, because Peter Morgan never lets her have an idea of her own. Then Philip performs The Mansplainer’s Aria, all about why the canal is so hard to navigate, involving hydraulics and weather, using dinnerware to make a nice demonstration and going so far as to yell at the staffer trying to clear it who obviously does not respect a wine-glass science lesson. “Those are my tankers,” he pouts, all but sucking his thumb.
And when Philip isn’t behaving like a child, he often looks like a serial spleen-snacker. In real life, Philip is very intellectually curious — and presumably not a cannibalistic serial killer — with design and art being particular interests of his, so it comes across here as if he’s happy to have something to contribute. Just as he’s warming up, though, Elizabeth announces that she’s too tired and stalks away. “It’s our last night together in five months,” he protests to her disappearing figure. Philip, you were talking about shipping channels. Perhaps if you’d taken a page from The Book of Affleck and demonstrated it on her naked stomach, then things would have gone differently. Armageddon must always be our guide. Also, this show could use more Space Dementia.
Next, the show tries to drum up more sympathy for Philip’s point of view by making us spend time with Mike Parker and his wife. Mike, in real life, was Australian, with family living over there, so it makes actual sense for him to go on this trip beyond just work reasons. Here, he’s just a plummy Brit. And his wife, steely and tense, lectures him on all the milestones he’ll miss again: Christmas, their daughter’s birthday, their anniversary. Mike shrugs that she was super-excited when he got this job because she thought it’d be good for them, so what’s her problem? “I didn’t expect the job to become your life,” she says, and although she also serves as a parallel for Elizabeth, I think in a way she’s also a Philip proxy here because she too feels left behind and frozen out by someone who is beholden first to work and then to family. The thing is, I don’t want to spend time with Mike Parker’s wife, particularly. I don’t even want to spend time with Mike Parker. And I don’t need Mrs. Parker to sing backup to Philip’s Woe Chorus. I get where Philip is coming from, even if I want to staple his nuts to his leg, so what I would like is more time with the Margarets and Queen Mums and kiddoes who are central to Elizabeth’s inner life.
Having said that: welcome, Charles and Anne! The tots are on the plane to say farewell to their pops, and they are both wearing hats.
Charles looks like an adorable little extra from Newsies, which is entertaining given that he would grow up to have a difficult relationship with the press. Charles’s sober offer of a handshake to Philip is odd because we’ve not actually seen any such formality between them before — these relationships are undeveloped right now — and the show explains it away by having Philip squat down and say, “We’re not in front of the cameras now, are we, Charles?” A hug ensues. Then Anne gives Philip a kiss on the cheek. Elizabeth shuffles them off, and then she and Philip spend an awkward few seconds before she kisses him perfunctorily and scampers. He seems baffled by this chilly farewell. Mike notices. “The idiot who came up with the idea of marriage has a lot to answer for,” he says, ever so deeply. “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but let’s face it, who wants to live in an institution?” Who Wants To Live In An Institution? was, I heard, a rejected title for The Bachelor. Also, I hope Mike’s dick rots off from some kind of exotic sexual gangrene.
Philip does then dig into his briefcase, and there is the camera with Elizabeth’s note. He doesn’t find the photograph, though. If I were Elizabeth, I would have gotten very petty and placed the photo RIGHT next to all the other stuff, so that he’d see them together and have to spend the next five months wondering about a whole variety of things. ALAS. He opens the note, and I’d hoped it’d be something small but romantic, written as it was during the afterglow of a bonkfest. Instead, it simply reads, “Always remember you have a family,” which manages to read like a reprimand. She might as well have written, “Roses are red / violets are blue / we are married and have two children / and that is all factually accurate information.”
My notes here read, “OH THAT’S RIGHT, Eden is a junkie,” because we see him blissing out on the goof juice while watching the news. Later, he tells a minister that Nasser’s Bad News Bears crew of pilots turned out to be really good at sailing — a stirring kids’ movie this will someday make — and so they’re having no problems at all getting ships through the Suez. This makes the Brits look pretty stupid, and worse, Nasser is buddying up with the Russians in the process. (This is, by the by, a very timely moment in history to relive a crisis in which Russia is portrayed as both a threat and a nuisance.) Eden seems manic as he insists that their only recourse here is to attack swiftly and decisively, and his Yes Man drones, “I say it’s the right thing for the country, and for you personally, to finally step out from Winston’s long shadow.” The Cabinet doesn’t agree, which we can tell by the sheer volume of fist-pounding on the table and old men bleating nonsensical sounds of protest. Britain does not have U.N. support for military action, and “we cannot go to war alone,” protests one of the ministers. Much more glaring and muttering ensues. My notes here read, “I love Old-Man Muttering.” It’s this aimless, jowly-sounding braying. I feel like the background acting direction here could as easily have been, “You are on your porch and a whippersnapper stole your sandwich and then kicked off a sprinkler head; how do you feel?” Every Parliamentary debate sounds the same way. It’s oddly enthralling.
Chaz and Anne are scheduled to go to Mike Parker’s daughter’s birthday party, but Elizabeth cannot join them — LIES, Liz; you just don’t want to, and I say that with no judgment because I too have been in those loafers — so she sends them with someone else. We know that she’s in a distracted, bland mood because her cardigan in this scene is beige. (She’s almost exclusively worn a rotating series of them.) And so we’re treated to a shot of the party, which consists of a bunch of kids playing Cowboys and Indians in a politically incorrect way that would give 2017 Facebook a seizure. I have a hard time imagining Elizabeth ever would have attended this with them, also. It’s chaos. Kids are running around screaming with hats and fake guns. Can you imagine? “Your Majesty, might you help me erect a teepee and then disarm the child who keeps picking his nose with his pistol?”
The telephone rings. Mrs. Parker thinks it’s Mike, and her daughter gets so excited, but of course it’s not. Later, Little Parker pitifully asks why her father didn’t call on her birthday. Mrs. Parker handwaves that he must be very busy, but then later sits down bitterly at her kitchen table and smokes the cigarette Elizabeth would never allow herself to have.
This actress is what happens when someone says, “Get me Paris Gellar,” and the response is, “She’d only have three lines and we can never afford her.” I’m not sure what this departure from our mains is in aid of, yet. Are we meant to absolve Philip for some of his misbehavior, eventually, because nobody is calling their wives, so the lack of consideration is therefore endemic and not personal to his douchebrain? Are we meant to be reminded again how tough it is for spouses when they are left out in the cold by an institution? Or are we filling time, because we decided not to pay the Queen Mum to be in this episode? I guess Mrs. Parker represents someone who can handle her malcontent differently than Elizabeth can, but boy, all the middle-distance lip-trembling gets repetitive. An actual scene with Liz and her kids might have been more useful. What is their relationship, and their life?
Speaking of life: Margaret is partying hers away. Elizabeth calls just before noon to invite her to lunch, but Margaret hasn’t even had breakfast, unless you count all the booze she ingested before crashing at 4 AM. People do eat grapes for brekkie, and wine counts. Verified. She manages to pull herself together in a paisley shirt and a cardigan of her own — although Elizabeth is in a bright yellow dress and no sweater; perhaps there’s a One Cardigan Per Shot rule on The Crown — and it’s immediately clear that she’s still drunk.
The entire lunch is a marvelous array of annoyed, smugly vicious, or HIGHLY DOUBTFUL expressions from Marg. Elizabeth nags her about drinking more than she used to, and she should know better because Margaret is never too blotto to hit an emotional bullseye: “Why is that? Because I’m unhappier than I used to be. And why is that? Because I’m still unmarried. Why is that? Oh, because you denied me my perfect match.” It’s a crisp piece of exposition, delivered deliciously bitterly. Margaret should have been on a soap. Scratch that — Margaret was a soap. This scene rehashes that Elizabeth the Sister was fine with Margaret marrying Peter, but The Crown forbade it, although Liz once again cannot stop herself from suggesting that Peter was also a demi-fossil with a questionable, potentially haunting background. “Did Philip’s Nazi sisters come back to haunt him? Or his lunatic mother? Or his womanizing, bankrupt father?” Margaret snaps. Elizabeth sits back and takes this. I do not believe Elizabeth was unable to give as good as she gets, so I’ve decided her silence here implies that she privately thinks Margaret’s rage is justified. There is something important, which the show hasn’t quite scratched yet, about the fact that Elizabeth has no actual confidantes to whom she can turn for sympathy about this schism between herself as a person and as a monarch. Nobody in her circle is without a horse in the race. She needs an unbiased Get-a-Grip Friend and she has none.
Margaret then quizzes Elizabeth on Philip, and quickly realizes that she has no idea where he even is, much less what or how he’s doing. Apparently Mike managed to call her. I wonder if Philip called Mike’s wife, in the most boring wife swap in history. Margaret studies Elizabeth’s face, then casually asks what she makes of Mike. Elizabeth shrugs, “I don’t make anything of him. He’s Mike. We were all close in Malta. The kids sometimes play together now. Philip says he’d be lost without him.” Margaret warns, “Just as long as he isn’t lost because of him.” She says Mike has a reputation, especially as regards arranging Gentlemen’s Weekends with actresses. “And ballerinas,” Elizabeth blurts before she can help herself. Performers! WHORES ALL, apparently! Sheesh.
Meanwhile, the political tattling has begun. Daddy isn’t behaving, so the kids are going to Mummy, but to do so they have to engage the Fun Uncle. So the Foreign Affairs minister pops by to see Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten — Philip’s uncle — to tell him all about how Anthony Eden is overplaying his hand and acting like this Nasser thing is super-personal. They’re certain he’s going to start some kind of backdoor war, without a proper international coalition backing him beyond some private and suspicious consultations with the French and Israelis. But the other part of this scene is that they pass by Mountbatten’s wife, who makes a super-flirty comment about the minister. When Dickie asks where she is going, she replies, “I thought we agreed: mysteries on both sides.” She then snarks that even their house’s ballroom isn’t as large as the room Dick.Mount uses to keep all his uniforms. She implies that he’s compensating for a tiny wang, and he claims he’s simply trying to fill the gaping wounds in his soul that being her husband has ripped into him. So that’s a super-healthy relationship. This man, by the way, was not only hugely influential in Philip’s life but in Charles’s. They were extremely close. Part of his mentorship of Chaz included encouraging him to bach it up while he still could and then marry a younger virginal girl, for optimal marital harmony. I assume because she wouldn’t know what she was missing…? Or would be obedient? Pish either way. He died before Chaz dated Diana, who would be the proof of what dumb advice that is.
Mountie takes up the cause, and goes to see Elizabeth for dinner.
The scene is another mansplaining irritation. The Crown depicts Elizabeth as very, very persuadable by men, even those whose intentions are not clear; enragingly, in Season 1, the show made her hyper-concerned with the Duke of Windsor’s good opinion, which I suspect is an extreme breach of history. And now she has Mountbatten telling her what’s what. He repeats the arguments we’ve already heard about Eden, and Elizabeth wants to know what she should do, because ARGH. (Obviously I realize she’s allowed to ask for advice, and that women were in shorter supply in her life, but it’s so frustrating to cast her as extremely reliant on it — less like she’s chewing on something and more like she’s ready to accept her orders.) Mountbatten begs her to use her private audiences to watch Eden carefully, read the Cabinet minutes closely, and speak her mind. All things the show could have had Elizabeth figure out on her own, except that they’ve got her obsessing over a man instead. She does crack that she isn’t supposed to speak her mind, but promises to keep an eye on things. Then she and Mountbatten in the same moment ask if each other has heard from Philip, revealing neither has. “You married a wild spirit. We both did,” he says. “Trying to tame them is no use.” He waxes sadly about how, when they were in India, his wife carried on right under his nose sometimes (with Jawaharlal Nehru, as it happens), and it humiliated him badly, but that he couldn’t bring himself to end it because his life would be emptier without her. “When you really adore someone as fully and hopelessly as you and I do, we put up with anything,” he says.
Okay. Stop the car, Peter Morgan. You’re drunk. Mountie had his share of affairs, including a long-standing one with the woman who reportedly inspired Gigi. His wife put up with those as readily as he put up with hers. I have no doubt Mountbatten was a smooth and canny operator, and I had wondered if we’d learn he had heard from Philip and this was a put-on to manipulate Elizabeth onto Phil’s side, but that is not how The Crown currently is presenting it. From this episode, you’d think he was simply a lonely man with a casually cruel wife, telling Elizabeth to suck it up and prostrate herself to her “wild spirit” of a husband because, what, she’d be a husk of a woman without him? I wish the Queen Mum had been around to whack Mountbatten with her handbag. Then again, between Margaret being a boozy shell of herself and the Queen Mum retreating from the world to Scotland, perhaps Morgan’s view is that women are empty without their men. I find Philip’s emotional situation potentially very informative as to the Queen’s struggles and inner life, but so far The Crown is too often unable to resist its worse impulses as far as its very male lens goes.
Turns out Elizabeth’s theatre “obligation” was to go spy on the ballerina in the photo, who is a Bolshoi star called Galina Ulanova — a real person, but not one who, as far as I can find, had any connection to Philip, so this implication that they might’ve dallied, or that he was obsessed, or even that Mike arranged Gentlemen’s Weekends that could’ve involved her, is a bit tacky to her memory. (Intriguingly, there was a semi-scandalous cheating rumor around Philip…but back when the Queen was heavily pregnant with Charles. The show skipped over that one, though.) This scene is so insane, by the way, because as Galina dances, it’s implied that she catches Elizabeth’s eye with Great Foreboding multiple times — at least once with a snide half-grin — despite being relatively far away from the Royal Box. Look:
It may shock you to learn I have no experience with dancing a big solo in a Bolshoi ballet, but I am boldly going to suggest that doing so and still taking the time to look up and repeatedly hold eye contact with the queen — and for several beats too long each time — is nigh on impossible to do without grievous bodily harm. Claire Foy, however, is wonderful. As the dance unfolds, the camera slowly pushes in, and we see her breathing quicken. She heaves with her whole chest. It’s like deep yoga breathing, except with underlying anxiety, and her facial expression slowly begins to seethe with barely concealed resentment. She almost starts to look clammy. I cannot imagine how hard it is not only to act like you’re feeling a complicated cocktail of emotions, but then that you are also repressing them. It’s so intense that for a second I thought the force of her ill-will would snap Galina’s ankle. Witchcraft would be a fascinating layer to paint onto this canvas.
Later, Elizabeth stares mutely at her reflection while her dresser removes all her jewelry. Elizabeth’s face is like death and her arms are clenched tightly to her sides, to the point where her stern older attendant fully shoos away everyone else. I have, admittedly, enjoyed the break from Matt Smith on my TV, but Elizabeth is being SUCH A CANOE OF MISERY that I want Philip to come back right now and then endure a full TV hour of Elizabeth tearing a strip off him with an angry waxer’s touch.
Another sidebar: this story, trying to get to the root of the infidelity question, is a dishy read. The author clearly doesn’t want to believe it, so there’s obvious bias, but the details are still good. It characterizes Philip more as someone who adores the flattery but would not have breached the marriage. We may never know the truth of it.
So I guess now that Elizabeth has choked a little on anger and jealousy, the show is going to permit her to use her brain. I would have liked it very much if she hadn’t even noticed that Philip wasn’t calling her because she’s so busy and important, BECAUSE SHE’S THE EFFING QUEEN, but I suppose “character leaves and no one notices or cares” is not a recipe for a very affecting show. Anyhoo, Liz is reading and studying and cramming on the whole Suez kerfuffle, just as Eden is roused from sleep — or maybe a coma of smack — by the sound of a top secret memo coming through. When he shows up to The World’s Darkest Drawing Room later, Elizabeth has ditched the cardigan for a very attractive grey suit and brooch, giving her less of a housewife/granny air and more that of a businesswoman. The bullet he gives her is: the Israeli army has attacked the Sinai Peninsula and is marching on the Suez. Eden explains that they’ve ordered Israel to halt all acts of war, and let Anglo-French forces into the country to mediate, and that Nasser has until tomorrow to comply with this order or else we will have war “to keep the peace.” But Liz is on to him, thanks to all that pesky reading she did. As Eden smugly prepares to leave, assuming she will not speak up, Elizabeth calmly calls him out on this, wondering what might have changed to make Israel less afraid of diplomatic isolation: “Either they’ve changed their mind, or there’s been some kind of collusion. Have we colluded with Israel in any way?”
Eden’s body language is all, “I cannot believe this woman and her BRAIN are getting in the way of my drug-induced manic war plan.” We are so annoying that way, it’s true. He fumbles briefly, then confesses that, yes, six days ago he and the French and Israelis planned this. They’re going to sneak troops into the country under the auspices of peacekeeping and then start the war they know Nasser will provoke. He fervently insists that there is nothing to do here but hit Nasser hard, insisting, “I was right about Mussolini. I was right about Hitler. And I am RIGHT about this fellow. Do I have your support?” Elizabeth stands up and glares at him mightily. It’s very unsettling. Ultimately, she says, “The prime minister always has the sovereign’s support,” leaving Eden very clearly understanding that he does not have her support, but merely that her office is obliged to back up his office. He takes her hand so gingerly that it’s obvious he’s received that message.
Cut to: Egypt. Finally, some stuntmen get to deploy their baller moves, as war begins and artillery crackles. Roosters cluck through the streets as they fill with people in a panic. Tanks fire on billboards with Nasser’s picture, and they catch fire. Soldiers toss guns to one another so they can fire on the enemy. But we hear nothing of the roosters’ fate. DO NOT FORGET THE ROOSTERS. Especially given that “NEVER FORGET THE COCKS IN PERIL” might be written on a Post-It note on Peter Morgan’s desk.
As the invasion progresses, we see Eden shooting himself up with the sweet yam-yam (in reality, he was on amphetamines), and Elizabeth walking alone through a shadowy Buck House hallway, her echoing footsteps calling back to the scene at the top of the hour on the Royal Yacht. They’re just as evocative of a nervous pulse. Then some riveting moisturizing happens, followed by a curious stare at herself. Claire Foy’s face does so much silent work in this show. She kneels down in prayer, but we don’t hear it; just a clipped “Amen” before she climbs into bed.
But Elizabeth doesn’t sleep; instead, she glances across the room at Philip’s empty bed across the way. And she is nothing, apparently, if not completely beholden to the memory of Philip, so Liz gets out of bed and stomps in there. I wondered for a moment if she was going to go through his drawers, but instead she stares at his bed and then pulls the doors to the room angrily closed. LIKE HER HEART.
For more on this episode — and Fug Nation’s reaction! – check out the fashion and interiors recap we ran right here on GFY.