The Crown S2 E9 Recap
Prepare Yourselves, Because The Crown Is Going To Make You Want to Hug Prince Charles
This article originally ran on Previously.tv as one of its Epic Old School Recaps
All along — and I know we’ve said this, but it’s my last recap of the season and it bears repeating — my main struggle with this show is super-personal: it’s simply not what I’d hoped. It’s one long, languid, gorgeous missed opportunity. As we near the end of this cast’s tenure, I feel unsatisfied, because I don’t feel like we’re done with them. We’ve spent no time with Charles and Anne (until now), nor understood their parents as…well, parents. Margaret and Elizabeth were never whole, so it meant less when they fractured. The Queen Mum flits about at the edges. Yet we are intimate with Tony Armstrong-Jones, and Prince Philip, and Churchill, arguably Anthony Eden, and even that one-off Lord Altrincham. Tommy Lascelles is a more fully realized character than most of the Windsors. It should be impossible to do a show about The Crown as an institution while maintaining distance from the interiority of the person who wears it. A monarch of Elizabeth’s unbelievable tenure — both in duration and in the leaps between when she was crowned and today — deserves a show that’s about both halves of her whole, which would still leave room for the other players. Peter Morgan clearly disagrees and put format over characters; as a result, his show isn’t about Elizabeth. Not really. And that’s what he wanted, I’m sure, but it’s hard for me to get past.
To my point: we leave Elizabeth for most of this hour so that we can spend it with her wretched husband and the boy who was born to wear the crown and yet has actively NOT worn it for longer than any heir in history. All so that we can understand Philip’s…wait for it…MAN PAIN. A warning: this episode may make your heart swell for Charles. And, a confession: I don’t dislike Charles. In fact, quite the opposite. (My parents met him once and said he was a delight, with more charm and interpersonal connection than anyone ever gave him credit for having.) It always struck me that he was never quite what the UK or his father wanted him to be — never dashing enough, never cool enough, never Wills enough if we’re warping space and time a bit, and everyone rolled their eyes while he was banging on about silly made-up problems like “the environment” and “global warming” and “ozone,” and I mean, really, as if science is ever gonna back THAT up. Charles and Diana were fundamentally unsuited to each other, and he married her to please people other than himself, which is on him — but she was no picnic, either, and they were not wired to have patience with each other. Whatever happened with them wasn’t all Charles’s fault. Camilla is a sticky wicket for a lot of people, but hey, Charles’s heart was true and that’s not nothing. In short, I think Chaz gets the shit end of the sceptre because people found Diana easier to love, and that’s too bad. I genuinely don’t think either of them has to be a hero or a villain in that story. So yeah. I like Charles, I think he’s been a solid dad, and I feel bad for him — and this episode hones that feeling because his own father is a dink.
We begin at Cheam, a school Charles attended because Philip did. He’s suffering through a miserable-looking game of rugby in the rain, and the abuse from all sides is making a shy kid even shyer. At a Palace, Elizabeth sits down with the headmaster of the school, who exposits at length for us all that, yes, it’s very admirable that Elizabeth wanted Charles to be the first heir to attend a normal school — is there anything that normal about some of these institutions, is my question — but that “we should not delude ourselves that it’s been entirely successful.” The kids tease him mercilessly about the newspaper coverage and the trappings of his station, at which point we see little Charles waving excitedly out the window to his bodyguard across the street, while everyone snickers and mimics him. “We do what we can, but boys that age can be cruel,” he says. At this point, I shall interject that this headmaster, named Peter Beck, died in 2002 and The Times headlined his obituary — his OBITUARY — thusly: “PETER BECK Headmaster who caned Prince Charles — twice.” Imagine someone deciding to boil your life down to that. Beck proceeds to say that Charles is not merely different because of his parents: “He’s uncommonly shy. Sensitive.” Pause. “Delicate.” Elizabeth jerks her head up.
Watching this from a modern perspective, “delicate” — underscored by her reaction — seems like the kind of buzzword that those old pigs from yesteryear would use to describe a young boy they thought was potentially homosexual simply because he wasn’t hella macho and punching people in the nose with all his testosterone. Ugh. Elizabeth clearly seems to think that delicacy is a fate worse than death, possibly because she knows that Philip is a hammer and Charles is a tortilla chip. The headmaster recommends that Charles enroll in Eton for his senior schooling — I guess the big difference is that Eton will have more similarly posh people frolicking about? — and Elizabeth looks relieved and delighted. By historical accounts, it was, in fact, the Queen Mum who broached this topic with Elizabeth. She was apparently a very doting grandmother to Charles, and attentive when it came to this stuff, and she appealed to Liz and Phil to send Charles to Eton. So what does The Crown do? Write out the involvement of a major female character — one we actually know and who has skin in the game and relationships with all the major players — in favor of the bland and antiseptic male headmaster telling Elizabeth what to do.
Elizabeth corrals Charles by the window and points over at Eton, excitedly telling him that on weekends he can just run up the hill and be with them.
Mind you, the closest the show comes to explicitly stating where we are is showing a quick shot of Charles’s letterhead as he writes to Dickie Mountbatten. Windsor, the oldest working castle in England, was built in 1066 by William the Conqueror and is Elizabeth’s favorite — which is why it’d be convenient to have Charles over the bridge in Eton. Although you can’t see it quite this closely from Windsor Castle (not to mention that I don’t think the actual residential portion looks out that way; the State Apartments do, which means tourists can look out and see it in the distance, but I don’t believe the Queen can if she’s just padding about her living room). Charles is THRILLED to be so close, and to bust out of Cheam. “I’ll have to ask Daddy, but I’m sure he’ll agree,” says Elizabeth, stroking the back of Chaz’s hair. Oh, Elizabeth. Why would Philip agree with anything sensible that you want to do?
This train is leaving the station, though: Charles writes to “Uncle Dickie,” aka Louis Mountbatten, and gushes about how he’s going to Eton. Dickie, who always wanted to go there (or at least is a sport and tells Charles he did), zips into town and takes Chaz out for his very own Savile Row shopping montage. Dickie and Charles were extremely close, because Dickie actually understood him and listened to him; however opportunistic anyone ever thought he was, he did seem to care about Charles. And the shopping spree is so hilariously upper-crust. Charles has NEVER loved anything so much as consulting with his great-uncle about how big his cricket shin guards should be, or about his Eton knot, or this:
“Doesn’t THAT lift the spirit?” Dickie oozes, tossing Chaz a boater hat. Royals! They’re Just Like Us: They Dig Retail Therapy.
Philip cruises through Berkshire in his convertible blasting some tunes, and rolls up to a mediocre fake Windsor Castle.
A facsimile for Windsor may be nigh-on impossible, but Windsor is all stone, not red brick. And it isn’t a bucolic country spread because it’s smack in the middle of a bustling town, and there isn’t a private driveway like this. (The entire rear side of the castle, as in the part where the town has not sprung up around it, backs up against a steep drop-off, which is one big reason why Bill the Conq picked that location: they only needed to defend three sides.) I realize that about three other people in the world are going to care about this, but those three and I will make a FORMIDABLE bridge club.
Phil has won some kind of yachting trophy and is giddy with his own brilliance. There’s a little giggly back-and-forth where he tries to translate his nautical genius for Elizabeth into horse-racing terms, and messes up blithely (and I’ve decided that he does this on purpose to make her feel like his hobby is more meaningful, and to let her know he can’t REALLY be bothered to remember her silly equine vocab…but I don’t like Philip so I MIGHT be biased). Elizabeth follows Philip upstairs and tells him to look in on Charles. Philip brightens at the idea of getting to show off his trophy, way more so than he does at the idea of actually speaking to his son. Elizabeth says that he should make a point of complimenting Charles on his Eton kit, and Philip wonders why he would do such a thing when Charles is going to his alma mater, Gordonstoun. “That’s not set in stone,” Elizabeth says. “Give me a hammer and chisel and watch me carve it into one,” Philip replies, setting his jaw. I can’t believe this is how they had Elizabeth “ask Daddy.” It’s like she hasn’t met him before. Anyone you pulled off the street would have the wherewithal to say, “Oh, yeah, don’t come at Philip with a done deal, or else he will floss his teeth with your spirit.”
Phil insists that Gordonstoun made him, and can make Charles: “He won’t learn a thing about himself at Eton.” Elizabeth thinks Charles would flourish there; Philip believes he’ll “become another wet mollycoddled namby-pamby twit like the rest of the British upper classes.” There he goes again, asserting his rude superiority over his wife and her origins — and the people whose taxes pay for his lifestyle. He is a pig. He’s just like Tony Armstrong-Jones in this respect: he has to belittle what’s meaningful to his spouse because he’s a macho assbag. Elizabeth says that Charles has been unhappy at Cheam, and tries to sway him with Dickie’s opinion that Eton is the bee’s knees, but Philip handwaves Dickie as a meddler. Let us sing Verse 345 of the same old song called, “Are These Two People Close (These Scenes Are So Empty Without Context).” This conversation is so badly handled on Elizabeth’s part, too — which would make sense if we’d seen her, say, discussing with the Queen Mother that she needed to downplay Charles’s perceived fragility to his lousy jerky father, or even if the scene had been written to convey Elizabeth’s nervousness. Instead she just gives him a quarter of the information, offhandedly and buried beneath other language, and seems surprised when he fights her on it. Which is ABSURD BECAUSE SHE HAS MET HIM.
Charles tries to put on a brave face, but is nervous about how far Scotland is from home, and whether it’s a terrible inconvenience for anyone to come visit him up there. Philip, by now the premier handwaver in all the land, is all, “NAH, BRUH.” He promises to fly Charles up himself as a special treat, and then confides in Charles that he, too, was upset when he found out he was going to Gordonstoun, preferring to stay home with his favorite sister. “But in order to grow up properly, you need to get away from all this nonsense,” he says. “Would you like me to let you into a big secret? This is not the real world.” Hilariously, during this speech they are both having their breakfast kippers (or whatever) cut by a server and placed on their plates. It isn’t that Philip doesn’t have a good point, but shipping Charles off to a Draconian farmhouse in the wilds of Scotland — after he has already been miserable at a similar place locally — seems like the wrong way to go about it.
And now it’s Fashion Montage 2: Hand-Me-Downs Boogaloo.
Philip proudly lends Charles his own Gordonstoun jumper, and the look on Charles’s face as he pulls on this sad lump of knitwear is priceless. “That’s the first lesson,” Philip says, smugly. “Who we are is not what we wear, or what glitters. It’s the spirit that defines us.” Philip seems so pleased with himself for a guy who literally COULD NOT STOMACH being in this marriage OR this family if he was not given a shiny new title. Again: Philip’s underlying point isn’t wrong, but he needs to stop pretending he’s the grounded one there, because he’s about as down-to-earth as Neptune.
We flash back to Phil getting his Gordonstoun jumper as he’s preparing to leave Germany for school. And the show goes all in on Philip’s Nazi heritage: his brother-in-law is wearing a swastika, and what’s more, he’s flying to Scotland ON A BRANDED NAZI PLANE. Philip’s sister Cecile is escorting him to boarding school, and she’s trembling and praying aboard the jet, petrified that turbulence means they’re going to crash. “It’s just air,” Philip tries to soothe her, holding her hands. Once they’re on land, and Cecile feels better, she exposits for us that their father wanted Philip to be educated by a genius, but Dr. Kurt Hahn could not continue to teach in Germany because he’s Jewish, so he got hold of some land in Scotland instead. (Fun fact time: Hahn ran a school in Germany where Philip was sent between Cheam and Gordonstoun, since his English-dwelling and German sides of the family couldn’t agree on what to do, but then of course Hahn was run out of Germany on account of Hitler. Hahn is actually quite an interesting guy, with ideas on education that have endured even if he was a little hardcore.) The Mountbattens pull up to a modest building with a small scaffold on part of it, clearly in the midst of being improved. Everyone glares at Philip as he gets out of the car, and one boy discards him as “some foreigner.” No one is that welcoming, but Phil isn’t that friendly, so it evens out.
In the present, Elizabeth watches TV coverage of Philip and Charles at the airfield, boarding and taking off for Scotland. “This is a really modern way to go to school: by aeroplane, piloted by your father, on this important day for our future king,” enthuses a newscaster. I’m sort of surprised anyone allowed this, since there was a whole to-do in Season 1 about the safety of Philip flying when he was alone, much less with the heir in the cabin. This does NOT feel like something Tommy Lascelles would have approved of, because one mechanical issue, and we’re looking at King Andrew and eventually Queen Beatrice. And nobody wants that. (No offense, Beatrice. I’m sure you’re fine.) (Also: imagine if William flew George to school now. He’d get savaged for being a wasteful taxpayer-draining lunk.)
Charles is uneasy when they arrive and all the boys are staring at him, much in the same way that it happened to his dad. Philip and the headmaster, Kurt Hahn, reminisce about the olden days, the gate Philip built, the joys of manly men being educated in manly man ways, etc. “You haven’t gone soft?” Philip asks. “I don’t want him mollycoddled in some luxury hotel.” Oh, like where you’ve been living, Prince Has-His-Own-Plane? Poor Charles cannot get out of the shadow of his father: they put him in the same dorm, and even in the same bed by the window, in a room of army-style simplicity with about a dozen other boys and beds in it. Charles is polite but reserved when shaking hands with his new classmates, and Philip tugs at a stubborn window and generally tells everyone that all his glorious Gordonstoun memories are so very happy. He bristles at the sight of Charles’s bodyguard outside, but it’s clear he lost that battle. Also, if Kevin Costner taught us nothing else, it’s that bodyguards don’t quit and will always love you.
Cut to Elizabeth continuing to watch the news, where she learns — in a scene that I would have preferred to watch happen over having the news recap it — that Philip signed Charles up for the school’s “infamous annual challenge notorious for testing endurance in the inhospitable Scottish highlands.” Well, that sounds like an awesome idea for a kid who cried playing rugby. Then again, we have no idea if Philip even is aware of any of that, since the scene in which Elizabeth discussed Charles with him was not well-written. For what it’s worth, I can’t find confirmation of this exact event, but Gordonstoun is notorious for its outdoor education programs now — Dr. Hahn invented Outward Bound, which I had to do in the Everglades in ninth grade, so THANKS A PANTLOAD FOR THAT, DUDE — and actually does a weekend-long challenge event with other schools that also involves camping, or something? But I couldn’t find specifics on this one. I don’t know Prince Charles, but even I can’t imagine that a school which gives medals for things like completing a mountain climbing expedition in tough weather conditions (for real, that’s on the website) would ever have been a match for him. He’s not rugged. And that’s fine. Neither am I, and I’m still a happy person.
At night, Charles is trying in vain to slam the busted window. “The rain’s getting in,” he panics. The Head Boy in the dorm sneers that he’s an idiot and that the window is broken. Charles scoots his bed over a bit, which is the exact opposite of what an idiot would do — he’s resourceful! — and Head Boy threatens to report him unless he scoots it right back. So Charles crawls under his inadequate covers and gets rained on all night, shivering uncontrollably and no doubt pining for Eton, which he’s probably imagining is a lot like the Gryffindor common room.
I told you that you’d want to hug Charles. I was not kidding.
In the morning, the boy in the window-bed oversleeps…but it’s Philip, because we’re back in time. “Get up, your royal highness,” that Head Boy says spitefully. (Philip was a Greek prince at the time.) The boys have to don white t-shirts and shorts for a morning run through the mud and the tall grass, and suffer through cold showers afterward. Philip watches as they all psych themselves up for the briefest of runs through the chilly spray, and then he goes in alone and stands under the spray for a long time, staring dolefully back at the kids who are watching him with curiosity.
See? SO MUCH FACE. The casting description for this actor must have been, “Blonde. German-looking. Must be possessed of a face that he can give in a major Tyra Banks kind of way.” Philip seems to be trying to prove his toughness, but the kids all get bored and roll their eyes and walk away.
And now we get to the thrilling manual labor portion, where Philip is sitting in a window watching the others fix a boat, or something. Work projects and the like were a big part of Hahn’s philosophy about kids learning strength and independence, apparently. “If Hahn wants this place rebuilt he ought to pay the staff to do it,” Philip says. So of course, this starts a fight between a boy who thinks Phil is being superior, and Philip, who is being superior. Mud is slung about Philip’s title and his Nazi family: “Your sisters are all Nazis and your father washed his hands of you to be with his whore in Paris,” sneers the lad, and, like, how did he know all that in a time before Google? I cannot imagine the grapevine to Gordonstoun is THAT good? After we are reminded of Philip’s mother’s mental issues, this all ends in Phil getting tossed out of the window. And in an EXTREMELY unlikely turn of events, he manages to bypass the concrete dock that should have broken his fall — and his head — and lands in the water.
Philip gets sent to Hahn’s office, where he moodily notes that he didn’t start it, even though he didn’t exactly NOT start it. Hahn is sympathetic to a point: “We’re both exiles…and I understand your anger. …But the world needs saviors, a generation of remarkable young men who have put fury behind them…. There, only there, in the annihilation of hate and anger and ego, is our salvation.” Pretty words, and wow, did this Philip fail spectacularly on a lot of that. His bitterness and ego are as much a fixture in his life as his actual face.
A call to Cecile improves Philip’s mood. She says she’s supposed to attend Dickie’s wedding during Philip’s half-term, but she’s going to blow it off and send for Philip, and they can hang in Germany (she does not say “doing mondo Nazi things, which, do not forget, is how I spend my time,” so I will say it for her). She’s also pregnant. “Again?” Philip sputters. “Don’t be like that,” she tsks. “Hitler is encouraging us all to have children. As Germany grows, we need more soldiers.” I guess no one cares that Hitler sees them as war factories, then. Her husband snatches the phone away and sets it down so that they can scamper into the dining room and sing glorious odes to Hitler. No, really. This show is ALL IN on Philip’s Nazi ancestry. Philip realizes that he got dumped for a party and angrily hangs up the phone.
Now, we’re with Charles, doing the same morning run Philip did and being shoved to the ground by other boys. He tries not to cry, which is a stark contrast to the emotionless staring Philip would do. As they finish, the boys run past a fancy car turning into the drive; it’s Dickie, who witnesses this:
Dickie and Charles end up having a picnic in Dickie’s car, because this school is on 200 acres of land and there’s plenty of space for it, but it’s grey and miserable outside and everyone sucks. Dickie very seriously, and sweetly, leans forward and tells Charles that although he is close to Philip, Dickie is NOT Philip, and therefore will not douche out when Charles needs to talk: “The things you feel you cannot show him, or tell him, because you feel they might upset him, or even disappoint him…those are things you can say to me, safe in the knowledge that they will never be repeated to anyone else. Anyone else ON EARTH.” It’s a good clarification, because later in life, Dickie Mountbatten was well-known to have consorted with Martians and the occasional Vulcan, and you bet your boots they knew EVERYTHING Charles ever said. Charles thinks very solemnly about this as a kid runs around to the window behind Dickie and waggles his ears and shouts “DUMBO” at Charles before running away laughing. Dickie looks like he wants to die inside. Charles just eats and tries to pretend it’s not happening.
Charles does get out with a giant Fortnum & Mason hamper, and I’m shocked there wasn’t a scene later when these jerkfaces locked him in it. Dickie, you are kind, but don’t leave that kid with a gourmet food basket.
At home, whichever one it happens to be, Elizabeth goes into a closed-door meeting with Philip and says that she’s decided to pull Charles out of Gordonstoun. “Decide what you like. He’s staying there,” says Philip, and oh, save your fists, y’all, because you’ll need them even more in a second. Elizabeth says that Dickie — in mild violation of his promise, but not really — went to visit and confirmed Charles’s complete misery. “Dickie’s a meddling, interfering fool, he knows nothing,” Philip says, as I start humming a chorus of “I Wish I’d Ever Been Clear On You And Dickie Before This (The Peter Morgan Lament).” Elizabeth snaps that he at least knows a tragic child when he sees one, and that Charles is tormented and has taken to calling the place “Hell on Earth.” I wish we’d seen Charles say that to Dickie, instead of just staring at him while shoveling in some sandwiches and then hearing it repeated. It would be nice to know this child. If the argument is that we’re spending time with him because HE will someday represent The Crown, then let’s actually dig in, okay? Both Young Charles and Young Philip in this episode feel like they were on a strict quota and not allowed to exceed a very small number of words for what I would assume — without knowledge — are union salary reasons. Don’t cheap out on your young actors! You are dripping with cash! Pay ‘em and write some real conversations.
Okay, but seriously, clean and stoke your rage cannons, because they’re gonna go off. Philip is absolutely unmoved and not interested in having this discussion, and Elizabeth says they have to, because Charles is his son but also the future king. “Bullied children are scarred for life, and scarred children make destroyed adults,” she says, which is at once savvy; sad given Charles’s misguided attempts to handle his personal life later on; and an interesting potential mirror for Philip. Who, by the way, is seething. He says that they had an agreement that he’d at least get to feel like he had some equal footing with her, and this, he considers his province. Elizabeth says that this would be fine for their other children, but “Charles is the future of The Crown and in the name of The Crown and as his mother, I have decided to bring him home to Eton.” Philip says she can’t always play that card, but — GOOD FOR YOU, LIZ — she says, “I can and I will.” AND THEN. Philip oozes over to her and hisses, “You would do well to remember the promises you made to ME, and the consequence breaking THOSE might have on The Crown.”
Liz’s reaction is mine. My notes here read, “HWAAAAAT,” because I was so enraged I couldn’t type correctly. Philip’s mic drop moment is to tell Elizabeth that Charles’s education is his responsibility, and hers is to “honor your word and keep your husband.” You SHITPIG. That he would actually blackmail her with his fidelity is disgusting, and something I have decided I don’t believe the real Philip did. Mostly because I do think he has been very, very protective of Elizabeth over the years even if he was not always faithful, and he’s been enormously grateful to her for creating a familial stability that he completely lacked as a child, yanked as he was between his family members in the UK and Germany. Whatever their relationship settled into, I do NOT believe it involved psychosexual melodrama. I don’t think Philip would threaten Elizabeth with what she would consider her greatest shame, either, all over this insane school. But Matt Smith’s Philip is a scum-eating wankface of the very highest order, outranking all those around him at long last in this one arena, and I want nothing more than for Elizabeth to change actual history and call that bluff. Pull him OUT and just wait and watch to see whether Philip wants to burn down his own cushy life. I guarantee you he won’t. LEAVE HIM, IN A MASSIVE DEPARTURE FROM ACTUAL EVENTS OF WHICH I WOULD WHOLLY APPROVE!
It will not surprise you to know that Lonely, Sad Charles is lonely and sad. In the Gordonstoun halls, he’s gazing at photos of Philip wearing a medal, and then goes back to his sad room in his sad dorm, Sadtown Population: 1, where Dr. Hahn finds Charles studying a map. Apparently Philip is coming to hand out the prizes for the Annual Challenge That Bears No Name, and Hahn wants to make absolutely sure Charles wants to do it. “Physical endurance is only one path to self-determination,” he says. “You have your own particular challenges at this school, given who you are.” Charles folds his map and says nothing. Hahn kindly tells him that Philip struggled too, at first, and went through great pain: “But he never gave up, and then with help he prevailed.” Charles is thoughtful, but then says he’d still like to do the Challenge. “I think my father expects it,” he says. That is not the same thing as wanting to do it, Chaz.
Cut to Philip training on an obstacle course. It’s like a Tough Mudder, but more…1930s boarding school. The walls are all wooden and probably slicing so many slivers into these kids’ shins that they’re 50 percent tree. The boys help each other with the rope climb and getting legs over the walls, but when Phil reaches down to help the kid he fought with, he pulls back and says, “Did you think I was going to let it go?” and shoves him off and down into the mud. This, naturally, gets him in hot water with Hahn, who tells Philip that he’s trying to preach the ethics of Plato here and Phil’s rage is really cramping his style, and prescribes extra work duties for both boys. This means that Philip is being kept at school during half-term, and cannot go to Germany to see Cecile. She grumps that now she has to fly to London for that boring wedding after all, and tells Philip to behave.
And here, we get Philip having MODERN MAN PAIN in response to FLASHBACK MAN PAIN. Cecile’s plane, as you probably predicted the second she announced a fear of flying, crashes. This did happen, and she was Philip’s closest relative, emotionally. Wikipedia says that the plane hit a chimney stack, but The Crown attributes it to bad weather; maybe both are true, but the latter is what paved the way for LOTS of shots of turbulence and Cecile screaming in terror, intercut with Phil’s broody face. Hahn breaks the news to him that all twelve souls on board were lost. Phil does the math and realizes that there were only eleven. Hahn clears his throat: “Cecile must have gone into labor on the flight. A newborn was found in the wreckage.” This is awful, but it’s also a detail that I think they added for maximum knife-twisting, and I’m not really sure this needed it. We knew Cecile was pregnant, and that baby would have died even if it was still inside her body, and it would have been just as awful. This only really serves the purpose of making Philip imagine Cecile in an extra-unimaginable amount of pain, which…okay? Young Phil tries not to cry, but does shoot up like a rocket and run upstairs, where he then…stands there with his face against a wall and weeps.
I don’t know why crying in public is more appealing, but I guess maybe it’s just Hahn he doesn’t want seeing his tears? I’m not sure. Philip then goes on walkabout at night in the woods, imagining that he stumbles upon the wreckage, in such detail that they of course have him walk onto a crash site and into a burning fuselage, only to see Cecile’s dead body. This is ponderous and excessive, and honestly does nothing to make this any sadder. It was already poignant that he lost the one person he loves, and that idea was conveyed very clearly already; this is piling it on so hard that it actually to me DETRACTS from the pathos. Stop breaking a sweat here, Morgan. We got it.
Later, Hahn realizes that Philip is missing, and there’s ANOTHER too-long piece where they go searching for him, only to realize that he’s taken a boat out on the water and is rowing alone. Hahn shouts out the funeral travel arrangements for the next day, just so that we are all clear, and then takes out a stake and drives home the point straight into all of our heads: “It will not be easy. But when you return, we will be your family. This school will be your home. Now come. Be strong, Philip.”
Would you like a change of pace? TOO BAD. Would you like a scene that doesn’t go on forever? TOO BAD. Would you like this show to have spent some of its money on more scenes with the other actors we know and (occasionally, in the Queen Mum’s case) like, rather than on Philip and a lot of swastikas? TOO BAD. Cecile’s funeral procession — and that of her husband, who was a high-ranking German — spans the length of their village, and as we see Philip walking behind his sister’s casket, the whole thing is RIDDLED WITH NAZIS.
It feels like every single major Nazi is in bleachers on both sides of the road, or out on balconies, or hanging out of nearby windows, all decked out in their grody regalia. This did happen, except that Phil was flanked more closely by his relatives, and it’s hard to tell if the crowds or the caskets were quite so…Nazied up as they are here. For the show’s purposes, it’s better to make Philip appear more alone, so that his burden of grief seems more cumbersome. But it’s SO MUCH of him staring inscrutably at Nazis who are saluting the coffins, and it occurs to me that this show has not ever had Philip answer to his family’s past. Not that he should have to, in so many words, but: if The Crown wanted to push this so hard, then I think it needs the counterpoint from him about whether and when he questioned their devotion. Was that part of the Feelings he was having at this funeral, or did he not think much of it at all? I don’t believe Phil is a closet Nazi, but in a piece like this that wants you to believe it hews close to the truth, then, again, we need a bit of interiority about this. But I guess doing that means the Young Philip actor would need to speak above his line allotment, so WHY BOTHER digging in when we can just watch him walk around and brood.
This section is three full minutes long, to the second. At one point, Philip stalls out, as if he too is bored with how much the show is milking this. Dickie encourages Philip to press onward, past a group of young boys in Nazi uniforms. That must have been a very tricky acting assignment. Imagine if your first break as an extra was dressing up as a freaking Nazi. (In one viewing, I thought I saw one of the kids having trouble keeping a straight face, but I couldn’t find it again.)
Here, I would like to pause and point out that this is very, very informative: I didn’t know Philip, at sixteen, walked behind his beloved sister’s casket. So it’s interesting, then, to note that Philip was the driving force behind William and Harry deciding to walk behind Diana’s. It’s widely credited that it was his finally offering to walk with them that swayed them, when both boys were hesitant. I’m not trying to come down on Philip for being pushy here, because who knows if he was; rather, I’m noting that his support of the idea clearly comes from his having done it for Cecile and feeling like it made him tougher. Psychology 101, baby! Those ten classes I didn’t sleep through really have come in handy today.
The show next takes a huge liberty by having Philip go inside and be received by his hateful father and schizophrenic mother, who has to be reminded who he is. Before she can even register a feeling, Phil’s father stands up and roars that it’s all Philip’s fault — that if he had behaved at school, Cecile wouldn’t have gotten on the plane. Apparently even royal reporters were appalled at this implication that anyone in his family blamed Philip for her death, and felt like this was a bridge too far from The Crown, given that Philip has frequently referenced how difficult losing Cecile was for him and that he’s still affected by that period of grief. So, I guess the show found a way for me to feel bad for Philip: by going too far in trying to amp up my sympathy for Matt Smith’s version, it made me sad for the real one.
Later, as Dickie bids Philip farewell, he gives Phil some advice that almost defends Philip’s terrible Nazi father: “One day, God willing, you will be a father yourself, and you will fall short as all parents do, and be hated.” BULL TRUE. “And you will know what it is to pray for the forgiveness of your own son,” Dickie adds. Phil just stares at Dickie.
FACE. That’s legit 95 percent of what this actor does in this episode.
Philp returns from the funeral and goes outside again in the middle of the night. It’s raining, and he’s alone. He goes to the spot where he’d been building that weekend, as his punishment, and begins work. He’s bricking and mortaring, constructing each side of the wall that will eventually be the school gate he’ll drive Charles through in the future. It’s GRIEF BUILDING. For days, or hours, or weeks — WHO KNOWS — this goes on and on, with no one offering help. Hahn even tells the other boys to do nothing until Philip asks for it. Even when he’s coughing, sweating, and staggering, and the other kids kind of want to give him a hand, nobody does. But then one day, he’s ready to hoist the iron gate, and he tries to do it alone. He can’t. It is a Gate of Metaphor, and it is too much to bear. So Philip shuffles into the dining hall and chokes out, “Help.”
FAAAAACE. Hahn puts down his fork and says, “Speak up.” Philip rasps, “I NEED HELP.” Hahn looks pleased, stands, and sends all the boys out to do the job. They obediently trot out and raise the metaphor together, and Philip limps toward the metaphor and touches it, tests it, then closes the metaphor and turns away from it. The boys walk away without a word, and Hahn says, “Well done,” before putting his jacket around Phil’s shoulders and seeing him inside.
Back to the future: Philip is driving to Gordonstoun, and has pulled over at a random spot so that he can get out and stare very poignantly into the lush greenery. I have never known anyone to do this in my life, but whatever. I guess random lookout points, like the River Court to Chad Michael Murray on One Tree Hill, are where Philip does his best healing.
We’re at the start of the challenge, an 18-mile route of…I don’t even know; all the kids have maps and backpacks with them. This is a time when I would have VERY much appreciated some exposition. Are these natural obstacles? Is the route always the same? Has someone been out there erecting more gates and walls and ropes? We learn in a later scene that it’s actually a team exercise, but there’s no inkling of that here. I never thought I would say this, but: mansplain it to me, Philip. “There is more in each of you,” drones Hahn, repeating the school’s motto. Everyone toddles off to begin the course except for Charles, who watches, saucer-eyed. Then he realizes that he’s gotta shake it, and scurries off. Somehow, suddenly, he’s with the pack as everyone scales a gate, but he drops something. “Leave it,” an irritated classmate says, but Charles doesn’t, and that’s the last we see of him.
Next, Philip is smarming around the grounds, waiting to present the trophy to the winners. The boys come pouring in, and Charles’s bodyguard Donald Green — a name I learned in this Vanity Fair article, “The Lonely Heir,” which is fascinating and pulled from Sally Bedell-Smith’s recent book about him — is the only one to notice that Charles is not among them. Donald Green is the best human being in this entire show and he is gonna save Whitney Charles Houston if it’s the last thing he does. So off he goes in his car to drive the route as best he can, trying to figure out where the heir is. Meanwhile, they’re trying to start a whole trophy ceremony and Charles is nowhere to be seen. They clap every time a team of boys files into the room, and Philip looks expectantly for Charles, but does not see him. “Ten more minutes,” he says, and the room settles into an uneasy silence.
Meanwhile, Donald Costner Green finds Chaz hiding behind a stone pillar, sobbing.
Charles was so lost, and so out of his depth, and felt so pressured to do this in order to win his father’s pride. And Reader, it got me. This POOR KID. Look no further for why William and Harry went to Eton. There is no need to torture your child into self-awareness, because in some kids all that does is create blistering insecurities and shyness. You’re beating the personality out of him, not into him, Phil. He was so hell-bent on this macho sense of toughness that he never truly looked at Charles. Or couldn’t stomach the ways in which they were different. In Season 1, Philip cracks to Elizabeth that Anne is the son and Charles the daughter — more or less — and he seems to have abhorred that in Charles, and hoped to Dude him out of it. You know how they say, dress the body you have? Phil needed to raise the son he actually had, not the one he imagined.
So, Donald Green brings Charles back in the middle of a speech Phil is giving: “The annual challenge is a unique test. In completing it, all participants will have shown great character, stamina, and most of all…” and here, he sees Charles coming in, and finishes with a smile: “And most of all, courage.” Donald Green’s face is TOTALLY stern. And in that second, Phil’s grin falters, because of course Charles didn’t finish it. Green and Charles shuffle into the back bench, where Charles collapses, never looking up from the floor, and Donald puts a fatherly arm around him and hugs him, with another baleful look at Prince Philip.
Charles is so broken. Donald is so broken up about it. And Philip IS THE FACE OF EVIL.
Now Phil is flying Charles home for…what, Christmas? Half-hols? NO CLUE. How long has this been going on? Nah, don’t tell us; let us be confused. It wouldn’t POSSIBLY mean anything to know how long Charles suffered at Gordonstoun before this moment. Charles is up front in the plane, and Philip turns to him and attempts some parenting. “If you’re feeling bad about where you finished, it’s of no consequence to me,” he lies. “You showed great courage and determination.” Charles starts to cry. Which, in part, is because the flying is making him uneasy, and in part, I’m sure, because he doesn’t think he showed any grit at all and just wants to pretend none of this ever happened because it’s all AWFUL. Then Philip actually says, “Whatever shame you feel, it’s nothing compared to the shame I felt at your age over something I did. To my favorite sister. Cecile.” I have notes, Philip. 1) You basically, effectively, told Charles that he probably feels ashamed about his finish; 2) then you handwaved the entire challenge that you MADE him do and that you HAVE to know he only did for you; 3) you uber-handwaved his shame by saying that your MAN PAIN is greater; and 4) you started to tell the story of how your sister DIED IN A PLANE CRASH while flying your frightened son on a plane that is jerking up and down. Pick your moments, Captain Handwave, and also maybe shut it.
Philip redirects his story to say that Gordonstoun put him back together again, and that while the pain and struggle is real, it’ll toughen Charles up for what’s ahead in life. Turbulence starts to kick in, and Charles starts to cry even harder. “I know there’s more in you, Charles. You’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to find it,” Philip says urgently, as Chaz just weeps and weeps, because now he’s pretty sure they’re going to crash OR that he’s going to barf, and also his father has just essentially told him that there’d better be more in him or else it’ll be a disappointment.
Charles cannot calm down and Philip yelps — in contrast to the soothing way he did with Cecile — “It’s JUST AIR.” This reminds me of the time Jess and I were caught in a massive paparazzi scrum that was surging to follow Rosario Dawson, of all people, into a fashion show, and as one of them plowed into me and nearly knocked me onto my ass, I shouted, “It’s JUST ROSARIO DAWSON.” But this is not just Rosario Dawson (whom I like just fine, by the way; it was just hugely disproportionate to her fame level). It is Philip totally unable to relate to his child, and resorting to verbal abuse to somehow make him snap to and be Philip Jr. Donald Green, bless him, starts calling for Charles to come sit in the back with him. Philip tears off his headphones and FULLY takes his focus off the flying — and possibly even his hands — to scream at Charles, “DON’T BE SO BLOODY WEAK.” They also then reuse the same “IT’S JUST AIR” from one second ago as Charles completely falls apart and Philip yells, “GET OUT.” Charles, a complete puddle, heaves himself into a seat near Donald Green. Philp doesn’t seem totally proud of himself, but he does immediately seize the controls and steady the plane. It almost makes me wonder if he let go the controls and allowed the flight to get even shakier JUST to try to jostle Charles, out of a wee bit of spite.
At home — which appears to be Fake Windsor again — Phil gets out and scoops Anne up into his arms, and the two of them run off and roughhouse a little. Charles gets out and hugs…his nanny, or the maid, or whoever that kindly lady is. It’s NOT Elizabeth, who is watching this scene from above, which is horrid. She’s been concerned for him, but she can’t even be bothered to go down and greet him when he comes home? Every time I think I have a sense of the low esteem in which Peter Morgan holds Elizabeth, he manages to knock down the bar a bit more. Because when Charles comes inside, he greets OTHER staffers en route to his room while Elizabeth AGAIN just watches from a distance, and then disappears to her drawing room. GO SAY HELLO TO YOUR CHILD. Reader, if any of this is rooted in reality — and Charles’s hatred of Gordonstoun (despite one later attempt to smooth that over) and difficulties with a father who never cared to understand him are pretty well-documented, at the very least — then it’s astonishing that Charles grew up to be even half as functional a father as he is. No wonder he married Diana, which he apparently did because he misunderstood some advice from Philip as an urging to do so; he was doubtless trying to please this man he never could. And no wonder he didn’t know how to handle someone who was sensitive as well, though in different ways; he had no modeling for what to do with it.
We finish with a graphic noting that Charles made it through five years at Gordonstoun — so, all of them — and then did NOT send his own kids there. Charles later said that his hatred of the place was blown out of proportion and that he was very grateful yada yada yada, but I mean, that’s pretty clear to me. Interestingly, Andrew and Edward both went to Gordonstoun; it wasn’t co-ed in Anne’s day, but she sent both her kids (who are non-titled, for what it’s worth). I am sure the school is trying to do some spin control here and I feel sort of bad for it, but mostly, I want to hug Charles and tell him that I’m sorry he didn’t have anyone besides Dickie. No wonder Charles was so sad when SPOILER the IRA assassinated him. That, at least, will be one storyline Peter Morgan has set up nicely.
And we made it ALL THE WAY HERE without a screen shot of adult, punchable Philip. You’re welcome.
For more on this episode — and Fug Nation’s reaction! — check out the fashion and interiors recap we ran right here on GFY.