The Crown S2 E8 Recap
The Kennedys Come To Town, and Elizabeth is Just the Tiniest Bit Jealous
This article originally ran on Previously.tv as one of its Epic Old School Recaps.
This episode opens with an amazing shot of two large and beautiful birds, trotting through a gorgeous hallway in Accra, Ghana, as we join a meeting in progress among leaders of several African nations. Four men come into the hallway and remove a large portrait of the Queen as Ghanaian Prime Minister (and eventual President) Kwame Nkrumah speaks. He passionately exclaims that “the time has come to forge new alliances. Those who understand the strategic importance of Africa and are willing to treat us as equals — not as subordinates and not as slaves. This is our time. We must choose our own destiny. A socialist Africa! For Africans!”
The men he’s speaking to appear to have varying levels of interest in this idea — the guy from Mauritania, for example, seems doubtful — and I feel like I need to explain the basic outline of what’s happening in Ghana, and with this episode’s timeline, before I even get into the nitty-gritty of the plot, because I found some of it weirdly without explanation and vaguely confusing. (“Why does everyone care so much about a dam?” my notes wonder, and to be honest, I’m still not totally sure why Elizabeth cares as much as she does, given that they’ve basically made up half of the details of this Ghana trip.) Here’s your CliffsNotes version, courtesy of Professor Wikipedia: Ghana became independent from British rule in 1957, remained part of the Commonwealth through 1960, and became a Republic in 1963. Her Majesty’s visit to Ghana was in 1961, which is also when the Kennedys visited Paris and London. Given that this episode also ends with Kennedy’s assassination, I guess this particular hour is supposed to span a couple of years. I know I complain about this all the time and no one else cares, but this intentional vagueness about the passage of time really annoys me. Peter Morgan decided to use Jackie Kennedy to provide Elizabeth with the motivation to do something — nothing about this is based in fact, as far as we know — and he really had to handwave the rules of space and time to fit it all in one episode.
Right, so Ghana is getting ready to build the Volta Dam (now known as the Akosombo Dam). The project was partially funded by the World Bank, the United States, and Great Britain. This episode is all about how Ghanian President Nkrumah is considering having it funded by the Russians instead. Great Britain doesn’t like this because, I assume, it makes them look weak to be passed over for Russia, and also because…communism/Cold War something-or-other? So Elizabeth, in this episode, decides to do something to prevent the Russians from being allowed to contribute to this dam project. In reality, the Queen’s visit to Ghana was always going to happen, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the dam — it was a long-planned trip and the actual scandal around it involved whether or not it would be safe there, because Ghana had suffered some bombing. (Everyone was fine and it went very well.) The Queen and the Prime Minister always thought she should go, and it was in reality totally unrelated to anything this show is using it for, as far as I can tell. Here’s my note: If y’all are going to fictionalize all this stuff, why not also go ahead and make up some juicy interpersonal fights and emotional discussions? Just a suggestion!
So anyway: The Queen decides she needs to convince the Ghanaians not to let the Russians partially fund this damn dam. She does this by visiting them and dancing with President Nkrumah. This convinces him because Nkrumah really, really loves splashy positive press, and her public support gives his nascent presidency global legitimacy. (In this version of his character, although possibly also for real? I’ve already spent like four hours researching a dam!) I’m going to get more into this in the recap but it got so confusing, I felt like I had to break it out first. All my notes are like, “But what is ACTUALLY happening with this dam? Why are we all talking about a dam? What is going on in Ghana? Why does this show assume we have a deep knowledge of British/Ghanaian relations in 1961 and will immediately grasp the importance of this dam, but explains everything else within an inch of its life?”
Ahem. Let us return to the chronology at hand: Elizabeth and her corgis are examining some of the trees at WHEREVER WE ARE WHY BOTHER TELLING US when she wrenches her back and gets a glimpse of herself in the side mirror of her Range Rover and worries that she looks old. I’m so excited to get Peter Morgan’s take on what it’s like for a woman to age!
And what you really need know is that Elizabeth is feeling kind of glum about her looks while the press and literally everyone else alive is waxing poetic about how amazingly beautiful and charming and smart and brilliant Jackie Kennedy is, and it does follow that this might make another woman on the world stage worry about her own hairdo. Elizabeth and the Queen Mum are watching news footage of the Kennedys’ triumphant trip to France — the Queen Mum is having her dinner on a very glam tray balanced on an even more glam ottoman — when Elizabeth turns to her mother and asks, if one is “committed to a life of honesty,” when must one start calling oneself “middle-aged.” My answer is NEVER. Be young until it’s ridiculous, and then switch right over to old. The Queen Mum points out that Elizabeth isn’t even done having babies yet — again, more personal intel about family planning that might have been a more interesting conversation to stage between Philip and Elizabeth, but I’m becoming a broken record on this point — and this seems to mollify the Queen.
They therefore turn their attention to the TV, on which JFK and Jackie are arriving in London. The reception cuts out at a particularly diverting moment, and in the manner of all of us before cable TV existed, the Queen Mum gets up and bangs on the TV until it works again. “No, stop it! It’s rented,” Elizabeth cries. ELIZABETH. GIRLFRIEND. I think you can afford to buy your own TV! Send someone out and get yourself your own television! WHY ARE YOU LIVING LIKE THIS?
Elizabeth mentions that, in fact, the Kennedys are coming over for dinner while they’re in town. “She’s so young,” the Queen Mum says, looking at Jackie on the TV. “I always thought she was the same age as you.” Elizabeth grits her teeth: “SHE IS.” The TV announcer and the Queen Mum are rhapsodizing about Jackie in unison, basically, and it’s clearly very irritating for Elizabeth. Oh, honey. She had and will have a LOT of problems in her life, up to and including losing many, many, many, many people she loved, so turn that frown upside down and maybe just invest in some moisturizer if you’re worried about this?
After the credits, the Russians show up in Accra to great fanfare, and Macmillan gives the Queen an info-dump that’s not actually that informative but does establish that she doesn’t know who Brezhnev is, which I find hard to believe. This show is very confused about what a reasonably educated woman might or might not know, and both Anton Lesser and Claire Foy are uncharacteristically marble-mouthed in this scene, making the words “Brezhnev” and “Nkrumah” challenging for my American ears. Anyway: While the Kennedys are here, Macmillan says he’s going to talk to Jack to see if the Americans can make Nkrumah a more attractive offer on that dam, and this naturally leads to more poetic waxing about the magic that is Jackie Kennedy. She speaks French! (Elizabeth is like, “Who doesn’t?!”) De Gaulle loved her! She knows a lot about philosophy! She’s pretty! Tiny birds help her dress in the morning! And so on. “‘She’s the most glamorous and intelligent woman on earth,'” Elizabeth sums up, sort of sarcastically — and obviously feeling very stung by all of this — and she rings the bell so the Prime Minister can be escorted out. “So they say,” he says to her, with great gentle kindness, finally understanding what was happening there, emotionally. Elizabeth just grits that they’d better put their best feet forward, and looks very profoundly as if she has crippling indigestion.
And then she goes and does, frankly, what most women would do in her shoes: she decides she needs a brand-new outfit to host the Kennedys, and goes and sees designer Norman Hartnell, who wonders how she wants to FEEL in this theoretical new look. She thinks about it. “One just doesn’t want to feel…second best,” she eventually says, which is the royal version of, “I’ve got to look SUPER-HOT at this thing, Norman, so hit me with your best shot.” And Norman gets it: “Especially when one is very much the SENIOR of two individuals,” he agrees. “In terms of RANK,” he quickly clarifies. “NOT AGE.” Nice save there, Norm. This is why the Queen enjoyed working with you. That, and because he presently presents her with a real knockout of a gown, cooing the 1950s equivalent of “YAAS QUEEN.”
Philip and Elizabeth are prepping for this so-called “small, informal dinner” where everyone has to wear black tie and gowns, and we learn that Philip actually has a dude who holds a basin for him to spit in while he brushes his teeth and gargles in the middle of the bedroom, and that Elizabeth’s dress is a little small for her, although she looks great in it, and her jewelry is absolutely exceptional, which was also a smart choice — if you feel a little self-conscious about your face, at least drag out the really good jewels. It will not surprise you that Philip is having a powerful tanty over the fact that he hasn’t been seated next to Jackie. He wants to sit next to Jackie! He INSISTS on sitting next to Jackie!!! If this were a state dinner, he’d be sitting next to Jackie! WHY ISN’T HE NEXT TO JACKIE?!?!1 Eventually, Elizabeth is like, “Fine, Veruca Salt, you can sit next to her. GAWD.” More or less. (FWIW, the show does an excellent job recreating everyone’s outfit in this episode, but changed up Jackie’s hair. Here’s an actual photo of the Kennedys and the Windsor-Mountbattens at this event; you can tell that Philip is DELIGHTED to be hosting the Kennedys.)
Philip is not alone in being OBSESSED with the Americans. The entire staff of Buckingham Palace, all of the party guests, AND Philip all race to the windows to watch their cars drive through the gates before retiring to the cocktail reception to pretend they’re not just absolutely beside themselves. (Philip does know that Jackie Kennedy isn’t going to make out with him behind a potted plant, right? Because he’s acting like he might have a chance to get it in.) Then they all run out of the drawing room to lean over the landing to watch them enter the palace doors, and here is where I can be even more pedantic than usual and note that the actual Buckingham Palace stairs are much more narrow than this, and it would be impossible to do this, and you should take the state room tours if you find yourself in London, because they’re VERY NEAT, and end with Champagne. Anyway, the point is that Elizabeth is the only person who doesn’t seem to be that excited about the imminent arrival of the glamourous Americans. Well, Elizabeth and her old friend Porchey Porchester, the man she should have married, who is the only person there who seems to be looking at her at all. (Porchey, for what it’s worth, looks quite fit in his tux. I might be low-key ‘shipping Porchey and Elizabeth. Can’t they have a quick roll in the stables every six months or so?)
“It’s like royalty,” Philip says, breathlessly, to Elizabeth. “Very funny,” she responds dryly. Honestly? It kinda was. Sorry, Liz; you know I’m usually on your team. And then Jack and Jackie enter the room, and proceed to totally ignore protocol, to the hushed (and very amusing) horror of Michael Adeane and Martin Charteris. Jackie goes and greets the Queen first, when it should have been Jack taking the lead. She doesn’t curtsey (in her defense, Americans do not have to curtsey to the Queen, and lots of them do not; I, for example, did not curtsey when Heather and I saw the Queen on her birthday, but I did wave wildly and scream, “Happy birthdaaaaaay!” at her when she drove past us in her car). Jackie calls Philip “Your Grace” instead of “Your Royal Highness,” and then Jack refers to Elizabeth as “Your Royal Majesty” instead of just “Your Majesty.” I have no idea if any of this is accurate, but I suspect not, for several reasons: (a) Jackie was highly educated and very socially adept; I am sure she knew the protocol for this; (b) we’ve just been told that the Kennedys were a smash in France and I doubt they’d nail French protocol and then decide to just wing it in London; and (c) I happen to collect etiquette books and the one I have that was written by Letitia Baldrige, Jackie’s social secretary at this moment in time, is exacting on these matters. My guess is that the creative choice was made to have the Americans be kinda casual and relaxed about protocol because, you know, Americans Gonna American, but Jackie Kennedy was smart, cosmopolitan, and super-detail-oriented, and I cannot imagine she blew off studying for Buckingham Palace.
But this creative decision does give this line to Jack, so he can bond with Philip: “That went wrong in about ten thousand ways.” Philip kindly notes that he’s seen worse, and offers Jack a drink. It makes sense that these two might get along, as they were both fond of beautiful women and made their wives’ lives more difficult than perhaps they needed to be; I actually also think that Philip probably would shrug off protocol lapses if he felt you were a kindred spirit. This seems like the right time to note that Michael C. Hall, generally an excellent actor, is terrible as Kennedy. The voice is all wrong — he seems to have aimed for JFK and landed at Bad Mobster Movie — and there’s no there there in this performance. He feels like he’s showing up and just announcing his lines. It’s weird — while he doesn’t have that much to do, I expected his portrayal to have more feeling in it. Jodi Balfour, as Jackie, is much better, performance-wise. Her accent is a little all over the place — she’s South African, and you can tell, but Jackie’s voice is a little tricky for an actor and at least she was much more emotionally adept.
Everyone goes into dinner, where Philip spends the entire time flirting with Jackie, who is nice to him but seemingly no nicer than she is to anyone else. Elizabeth watches them with dismay, clearly feeling a bit jealous and left out. She does perk up a bit when Porchey shoots her a supportive “hang in there, kid, you’re doing great” face, and honestly, god bless Porchey. He is the best.
After dinner, Philip zips over to Elizabeth to talk yet more about how amazing Jackie is, how divine, how frightfully clever, how she is perfection made human form and a goddess come down from heaven above to grace them with the merest touch of her hand, etc. She even wants a tour of the house! “I’ll do it,” Elizabeth says, shortly. “She asked me,” Philip whines. “It’s my house, so I’ll do it,” Elizabeth snaps, and storms off to find the First Lady. Jack winds his way over to Philip and says he hopes Jackie isn’t causing too much trouble. “You’re the luckiest man on earth,” Philip says, like, roll your tongue back in your mouth, Philip. You are embarrassing yourself. Jack sort of unenthusiastically agrees that he is. “People keep telling me the same thing,” Philip adds, but to this, Jack has no comment. Which also seems sort of uncharacteristically rude. It’s very easy to say, “Yes, being married to the Queen seems neat! So many interesting china services!” or something similarly supportive.
Elizabeth takes Jackie off on her impromptu palace tour, which begins grudgingly but evolves into the two of them discovering they have more in common than they might have anticipated — childhood shyness, for example, a confession of Jackie’s which Elizabeth seems to initially doubt, but it always seemed to me that you could tell Jackie was shy by her body language. Be more observant, Elizabeth. She takes Jackie into her private apartments, which Jackie (reasonably) compares to her own similar space in the White House, and then reflects that there is “a perverse logic” in the way that someone who hates attention ended up in her position: “A shy person will seek out someone strong to protect them. And a strong character is often one who enjoys public life, thrives on it, and before you know it, the very person you’ve turned to to protect you is the very reason you are exposed.” Claire Foy does a very good job of reflecting Elizabeth’s growing realization that she has underestimated Jackie’s intelligence and sensitivity in this scene; it’s lucky that they let her say so much with her face, as she hardly ever gets to say anything emotionally resonant with her mouth.
Elizabeth and Jackie go into the next room, where Elizabeth’s giant cadre of dogs is being fed, and further bond over their love of animals; Jackie tells Elizabeth that her idea of heaven is “to be alone in the countryside,” and if that weren’t enough to bond them, further notes that she thinks her sister “would have made, if not the better, then the more natural First Lady.” Elizabeth notes that this is another thing they have in common, because Margaret is “a born queen, and the greatest of British queens in her own mind, anyway.” And now I am ‘shipping Elizabeth and Jackie as friends; certainly, they could each use a woman who sort of understands the unique pressures they each face, and also someone to whom they can complain about their husbands.
Speaking of Margaret, the next thing you know, she and Elizabeth are in the stables in matching tweedy blazers, talking about the party. Elizabeth confesses that she really liked Jackie, despite all her preconceived notions. “People are so rarely what they seem,” she says. Then Margaret does something really shitty to her sister, to Jackie, and to one of her friends, and tells Elizabeth that their mutual friend Patrick told her that he heard Jackie say something mean about Elizabeth at a recent dinner, but Margaret won’t tell Elizabeth what it supposedly was, and Elizabeth will have to ask Patrick herself. And maybe what Patrick told Margaret Jackie said about Elizabeth isn’t even true! “I’m quite sure it was nothing! Don’t worry!” Margaret says, before taking her absolutely amazing eyeliner and leaving that bomb smoking in her wake. That is a real classic Real Housewives-style shit-stirring move, telling someone that you’ve heard gossip about them but refusing to say what, precisely, you’ve heard. Either keep your mouth shut, or tell the whole story. And obviously, Elizabeth is unsettled to hear that there is some kind of mysterious bullshit circulating about her, allegedly from a person she thought was friendly, because she is a living human being.
But NO ONE is more unsettled by all of this than poor Patrick, whom Elizabeth literally orders to the Palace to tell her what happened. Oh, Patrick. Patrick, Patrick, Patrick. Patrick, who just thought he was passing along a bit of juicy gossip and now has been called on the carpet to repeat said gossip to the face of the person it was about, who is also his Queen. When Elizabeth mentions that Margaret tipped her off to all of this, Patrick’s face very eloquently expresses his passionate desire to immediately throttle Margaret.
(This is also an excellent way for Marg to make sure that she’s never going to hear any good gossip from Patrick ever again, which is very short-sighted of her.) Patrick clearly does not want to have to tell Elizabeth what he overheard, and honestly, while I understand Elizabeth’s morbid curiosity, pulling rank to get people to talk shit about you to your face doesn’t seem very emotionally wise. Finally, Patrick VERY RELUCTANTLY says that he might have misheard the First Lady because he was seated way down the table, but he thinks she maybe might have said that “she found Buckingham Palace second-rate, dilapidated, and sad, like a neglected provincial hotel, and one came away with the sense of a tired institution without a place in the modern world.” Elizabeth is clearly hurt by this, and I sympathize, but don’t ask people to tell you the mean things they’ve overheard about you if you don’t want to hear them!
“Did she have anything to say about me?” she asks, and Patrick clearly really does not want to tell her this part, and she’s putting him in such an awkward position here. He yelps again that he was waaaaay at the other end of the table. I understand why you wouldn’t want to lie to your Queen — especially because you already told all of this to Margaret and Margaret will expose your lies if you try to tell Elizabeth it was nothing — but my goodness, it would be my instinct to try and bluff my way out of this. But Patrick does not bluster something like, “Oh, nothing, something about your hair? Not sure, I was talking to someone else the whole time and also I’m deaf in this ear and did you know that I think Margaret is a pathological liar? I think she is. I wouldn’t believe anything she says. Ever.” Instead he says, “The words I think I overheard were…’In our head of state, we had a middle-aged woman so incurious, unintelligent, and unremarkable that Britain’s new reduced place in the world was not a surprise but an inevitability.'” Jesus, Patrick. For a dude all the way down at the end of the table, you really remembered that word for very mean word. You couldn’t just say, “Oh, god, I don’t even know what she said. Something about the wallpaper in here. No one paid any attention to her.” Did you really have to lay that out on the table so completely? Elizabeth looks cut to the quick by this — as of course she would be! — and very nearly cries. Patrick, for what it’s worth, also looks like he might cry, and yet he does not follow up this bombshell by saying, “OBVIOUSLY, she’s CRAZY because you’re AMAZING and the UK is THE BEST!!” like a good friend would have done. Patrick, you have much to learn about gossip.
Elizabeth is still fretting about how mean Jackie Kennedy is when Prime Minister Macmillan comes in and gives her more bad news: the Americans are out of this damn dam project because Ghana is all about the Russians right now. Macmillan does NOT know what to do to save this project that hasn’t been explained to the audience at all and that I only kind of understand the importance of because I spent nine hours on Wikipedia reading about it. He wishes he had some trick up his sleeve, “the way the President had the First Lady in Paris.” (One of the magical things about The Crown is how bravely it makes its clunky segues between its A plot and its B plot. There is almost always a secondary character having to verbalize some truly awkward, ginned-up connection between the two. I enjoy The Crown very, very much but man, I think sometimes its enormous budget blinds people into believing it is deftly constructed.) Elizabeth thinks and thinks and eventually, she has a brainwave: send HER to Ghana. Everyone dismisses this as a bad idea — they don’t want to single out Ghana as a preferred nation, and irritate everyone else, and, besides, she’s not supposed to get political. “Yes, but as head of the Commonwealth, can I not be permitted just once to defend it?” Elizabeth asks heatedly. It’s exciting to see her pull rank for once, but as ever, I kind of don’t understand why she doesn’t just say, “I’m the Queen, and I am going. What are you going to do? FIRE ME?”
And, in fact, she does go, against everyone’s warnings. It is very satisfying to see Elizabeth actually do something for once. Claire Foy has spoken in interviews about how she feels like Elizabeth has no power at all, and the show certainly leans into that point of view. I happen to disagree; I think the Queen has a great deal of influence, but she has to wield it very judiciously, and with subtlety, and that is a dramatic conundrum for a TV show to mine. Regardless, it is fun to see her finally put her foot down…even if it is coming from a place of being in a snit because another woman thinks she’s underwhelming. On the plane on the way to Ghana, Philip announces that he thinks Elizabeth’s going be eaten alive in the press over this trip, and she should stay home and “be what [she’s] supposed to be.” Elizabeth, who looks great in a sleeveless white dress, pauses in applying her makeup. “A puppet?” she asks. “A constitutional monarch!” Philip says. “A puppet,” Elizabeth says. “If you like,” Philip says. “Well, that’s the whole point. I don’t like,” Elizabeth snaps, and my goodness, you’d think Philip, of all people, would appreciate her deciding to break with tradition to do what she wants, given that his entire complaint all the time is about how he’s chafing under the royal hierarchy and he feels constricted by the institution of the monarchy. You’d also think he’d have given up this argument by the time the plane was in the air.
Elizabeth’s arrival in Ghana is marked by the fact that it happens under a watchful statue of Queen Victoria which doesn’t actually exist, and a scrum of very enthusiastic photographers summoned by President Nkrumah, who seems very anxious that all of this be captured on film, and then just sort of sweeps out once he’s got his shot. (This is all deeply fictionalized, but Elizabeth and Philip’s arrival in Ghana is on film in newsreel form, and it’s really interesting). Later, at…wherever they’re staying (the embassy? Whatever it’s supposed to be, it’s very well-decorated), Michael Adeane bursts in to break the news to Elizabeth that “someone” has shown up to work on this damn dam, and…they’re Russians! RED ALERT. (No pun intended.) So Elizabeth sets to thinking about how to fix this issue that has never been totally explicated for the audience, as she drapes herself in emeralds in preparation for that evening’s big dinner.
The scene at the dinner is very well-directed (by Stephen Daldry, who I suppose would know what he’s doing). Elizabeth has had a Jackie Kennedy-inspired brainwave, and it is this: she knows President Nkrumah loves the press, and that her publicly interacting with him in a positive way lends him an authority and legitimacy to the wider world, as the leader of a relatively new nation. So she calls him over to her table — which doesn’t seem like it’s a very good one, to be honest — and suggests they lead the first dance. (Essentially; there is a lot implied here, and a great deal of “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!” on a phone call between Martin Charteris, who is basically standing inside a floral arrangement, and everyone at 10 Downing Street.) “I think we both understand the significance of this moment,” Nkrumah says to her as he holds out his hand to lead her to the dance floor, and the photographers wait, breathlessly, for their shot. “Yes, but do we understand the terms?” Elizabeth says. There is a beat, and then he bows, she takes his hand, and everyone claps and Elizabeth looks very, very proud of herself, while Martin is basically hyperventilating to the Prime Minister on the phone that DANCING IS HAPPENING. “What are they doing?” Macmillan asks. “Hard to say,” Martin responds. “I believe it’s the foxtrot?” Martin, I love you. And for what it’s worth, this dance scene is very fun; Claire Foy and Danny Sapini are delightful in this moment, and Harry Hadden-Paton continues to be a delight. Clearly, the Queen has pulled off exactly what she’s intended to do, and even Philip seems impressed.
Meanwhile…or…later? Or…simultaneously? It’s a mystery! At some point in this vague moment in space and time, in the White House, President Kennedy is giving some speech at some dinner for some reason, and Michael C. Hall’s voice work veers all over the place while Jackie Kennedy sits at the dinner table and looks sad and alone. She looks even sadder and aloner later, when she spies Jack hardcore flirting and getting all Handsy McGee with a variety of female guests. She retreats into the private residence and turns on the TV to see news footage proclaiming Elizabeth the toast of Ghana — a neat turnabout of earlier scenes where Elizabeth was the sad lady sitting in front of the tube. Jack comes after her, and they argue; she tells him she’s taking the kids to the country for the weekend, and when he points out that it’s only Wednesday, she says, “Don’t you take away my dignity and tell me how to be.” So things are not well in Camelot, it seems. Jack’s response is that he actually needs to thank her for helping out with their foreign policy, as the U.S. and the Brits are back on this Dam Project of Vague Plot-Related Import. Jackie has no idea what he’s talking about. “Dreary Queen Thick Ankles,” he says. “Her Majestic Dullness. The Incurious Crown!” These are all things that Jackie said about the Queen, which got back to her and “spurred her on,” Jack explains. This is true in the world of the show, but if you think about it, it’s actually a huge leap for Jack to assume that (a) any of that actually got back to the Queen in the first place, and (b) that it had anything at all to do with her going to Ghana.
Jackie is horrified to hear that she said any of this, and for a moment, I thought there was going to be some kind of dramatic, soap-operatic reveal that JFK was sending out a Jackie lookalike to stir the pot. But no: She was just on drugs at the time. Jack tries to reassure Jackie by pointing out that it’s not like she’s going to run into the Queen, and Jackie has to note, for the record, that she actually TOTALLY WILL, as she is…you know, the First Lady of the United States. She actually already has a stop-over in London on her calendar. “Catfight! I look forward to a full report,” is Jack’s extremely unhelpful response. It feels like The Crown has a very dim view of Kennedy personally, while at the same time leaning heavily on its audience to understand the massive cultural significance of the Kennedys and how devastating his assassination was, historically speaking. My theory is that this would have worked out much better if Michael C. Hall hadn’t come onto set with all the charisma of a cold potato.
On her way home from Ghana, Elizabeth is luxuriating in the positive reaction to her trip — including being thrilled at being called a socialist, which makes me laugh — when Michael Adeane tells her that Jackie Kennedy would like a word. Elizabeth agrees, but she wants to have this word at Windsor: “Sometimes, only a fortress will do.”
And, indeed, Elizabeth pulls out all the Royal Intimidation Stops when Jackie rolls up to meet her on her home turf: the Queen’s Guards nearly run Jackie down with their horses, they make her enter through the most gigantic door, and they march her up the main staircase, which is jam-packed with ancient weaponry. They might as well have asked a staffer to run by, muttering, “I can’t believe she’s bringing back the beheadings!”
All of this — and her crushing guilt! — combines to induce Jackie to curtsey to Elizabeth on this go-round, while Elizabeth is curt but, naturally, polite. Jackie, haltingly, nervously tells Elizabeth that she owes her an apology. Elizabeth wonders whatever could Jackie possibly mean, and Jackie says, “I think we both know the answer to that question.” At this, Elizabeth dismisses the staff and they sit down to tea, Elizabeth furiously slicing and buttering scones as if they did her a grave personal disservice. Jackie hesitantly says that she made some “foolish comments which I believe got back to you.” Elizabeth stabs her pastry and essentially says that she was very surprised to find out that Jackie was a horrible phony just like everyone else in this world. “I’m quite sure you meant no harm or disrespect,” she spits, introducing jam to her scone with great aggression. “How could you? We barely know each other.” Jackie agrees that she has no excuse, as her behavior is inexcusable, but she does have an explanation for her ill-advised shit-talking. That explanation is drugs, and a pissy man-baby spouse — the latter of which, at least, Elizabeth can sympathize with.
Essentially, when they were in London, Jackie was having “post-natal issues,” and Jack was also having health problems, and “to say we were strained would be an understatement.” So her overshadowing him in Paris didn’t go over well; he hit her. And their doctor kept giving them “cocktails,” which Jackie explains were vitamins and “other substances” to help “pep us up,” and also help them get along better. Basically, she was out of her gourd on amphetamines and booze at that dinner, and has no idea what kind of crazy shit she said. (FYI, Vanity Fair has a good piece about this, including the fact that it was allegedly actually Gore Vidal who passed the gossip along to Margaret; in reality, Margaret was more defensive of Elizabeth, and also everyone knows Gore Vidal was a real gossip, so this makes more sense than the way the show drew it — although I get why they didn’t feel like also introducing Gore Vidal to the mix.) Jackie goes on to say that she feels extra-terrible about this because she truly admires Elizabeth. “The way you do your job,” she says. “The way you cope with the pressure. The personal sacrifices you’ve made. The composure and dignity. What you just did in Ghana was just extraordinary.”
We cut to Elizabeth in her nightgown talking to Philip about this. She says, guiltily, that she should have told Jackie that she owed her a huge debt for being her inspiration, but instead she just sat there. “And savored your victory,” Philip says, as he puts on his robe. Elizabeth feels rotten that she wasn’t nicer to Jackie, but Philip says that she did “exactly the right thing.” She’d been insulted and she isn’t a saint. “No,” Elizabeth says. “We know that already,” Philip says, then kisses her shoulder. “There’s ice in those veins when there needs to be. Three cheers to that.” For what it’s worth, Elizabeth does NOT look cheery, but I guess it’s nice that Philip is being supportive for once?
Back at Balmoral…later. Elizabeth is driving her Range Rover, helping to haul a fallen tree, when someone comes up and tells her to get back to the house ASAP. When she gets there, everyone is listening to the radio as news of Kennedy’s assassination is breaking. Obviously, this is not a surprising plot development, but the radio reports are still chilling and distressing to hear. Elizabeth listens to the radio for about ten seconds before turning tail and running in to see Philip, who’s also listening to news reports and biting his nails.
Elizabeth listens to the news reports all night, until they announce that Kennedy has, in fact, died. She crawls into bed next to Philip, who wakes up and looks at her. “He’s dead,” she says, and he makes a grim face. Elizabeth snuggles up right next to him, and they look very sad and very thoughtful, together.
Like everyone in the world, all of Balmoral is watching this terrible news unfold on the TV and over the radio over the course of the next few days. “Didn’t you say how unhappy she was in this marriage?” the Queen Mother asks at one point. “Yes,” Elizabeth says. “But that’s the thing about unhappiness. All it takes is for something worse to come along and you realize it was actually happiness after all.” I mean…I don’t know about that. I’d maybe say that my takeaway would be that you can be unhappy in a relationship and it still doesn’t mean you wanted your husband to die in one of the most terrible, darkest moments in American history. I don’t think Jackie Kennedy was secretly happy when her husband was allegedly abusing her; that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have rather had him alive than dead. I do think it’s reasonable to believe this might have made Elizabeth want to hold Philip a little tighter, and it certainly should have made him feel the same way about her.
“She’s still wearing her same clothes,” the Queen Mum worries, as they watch Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit climb out of the airplane after her husband’s body, which is even here a heart-rending image. Elizabeth assures her mother that she thinks this is deliberate on Jackie’s part, which, of course, it was. (Jackie famously wanted the man who shot her husband to “see what he’d done,” a brave decision from yet another woman whose interior was much more steely, I think, than anyone actually knew.) Elizabeth looks thoughtful, then leaves the room and marches down the hall into Michael Adeane’s office. She steels herself for a moment before bursting in and announcing that she wants a week of court mourning for Kennedy, and she wants the bell at Westminster Abbey rung “every minute for an hour, from 11 o’clock to midday.” Michael tells her that they really only do that when a member of the Royal Family dies, but Elizabeth snaps that she doesn’t care, and they’re going to do it. Again, Elizabeth’s instincts here were correct (and classy), and it seems the Kennedys have inspired her to make her desires known and obeyed in all sorts of ways.
Next, Elizabeth marches back into her office, where she wanders around nervously before sitting down at her desk and taking out pen and paper. “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” her letter begins, as the bells begin to toll and, in fact, ring us out of the episode. I can only hope that this kicked off a lifetime of secret correspondence where each of these women found a sympathetic ear for her very singular problems. I think both of them could have used a kindly penpal.
For more on this episode of The Crown — and Fug Nation’s response! — check out the recap of the fashion and interiors that ran here on GFY.