Generally, I don’t think the makers of period TV shows need to worry too much about contemporary audiences, but there is one pretty big exception: when a character you wish to exalt IS ALSO A NAZI, and you once did a whole episode ABOUT HOW HE WAS A NAZI, including photos of him WITH HITLER AND OTHER NAZIS.
Sadly, while up late at night complaining to Gillian Anderson about the misery of being given all this money to create content that was his idea about a woman he doesn’t respect, Peter Morgan apparently cleaned out his earwax with a hand mixer and accordingly forgot that he did an hour of TV about Elizabeth learning that David, Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, was super into Hitler. Or, if he didn’t, he simply chose to overlook it. Either way, the facts are the same, and so here is some advice, sir: If you have truly dropped your brain in a blender and are therefore hell-bent on turning your resident Nazi into a tragic hero — because what does society want more than to redeem a humble old Nazi! — then it might behoove you to orient the viewers so that they are reminded what anyone knows about the aforementioned Naziism. Or, relevant to this, who knows it, so that we know how annoyed to be at you and at them. Because when the rest of the episode makes zero references to the aforementioned sympathies, my viewing experience during Prince Charles’s mystifying exaltation of the former king went like this:
Charles (in voice-over, reading a letter to David): “Let me confess I do recognize myself in you. Your progressiveness…
Me: LIKE WITH THE NAZIISM?
Charles: … your flair, your individuality…
Me: IN THE SENSE THAT HE WAS INTO HITLER AND HIS FAMILY WASN’T?
Charles: …your imagination! What a king you would’ve made in a kinder world!
Me: A WORLD KINDER TO NAZIS???
Charles: What a king we were denied!
Me: A NAZI KING?!?!?!
Charles was young, of course, when all that went down — and he was in his early twenties when David died, I believe — but it seems to have been a very open secret that David and Wallis had particular sympathies. And there’s no way that stuff wasn’t mentioned under-the-breath, or even over it, at family gatherings; the Brits were not particularly subtle for a long time about lingering hostility toward the Germans. Philip in particular does not seem like a person to mince his words about this (though in this hour, mince them he does), so it’s unlikely to me that Chaz wouldn’t have had a CLUE about David’s leanings, and that he would have simply viewed his great-uncle as a tragic romantic. And therein lay some of the discomfort in this: The whole time Charles was lavishing praise upon his uncle, I kept thinking, “Wait… we need to know what he knows.” This is where I think the modern audience does need a line from the Queen to Philip, or the QM, about whether she should let Charles in on David’s leanings, or whether it’s a moot point because all Charles wants is to know a former king (“Former kings are usually dead,” she notes). That would take care of reminding us that Liz is aware, and so is the QM, while absolving Charles of appearing to think David was an underappreciated treasure.
Instead, the show swept that whole Nazi business under the rug here from EVERYONE, leading to more moments like this:
Elizabeth, to the QM: It’s possible not everyone is as consumed by loathing [of David] as you are.
Me: EXCEPT YOU SHOULD BE BECAUSE YOU’VE READ DOCUMENTS AFFIRMING HIS ALLEGIANCE TO HITLER.
Elizabeth, to David: “We’ve had our disagreements, but you’ve always remained my favorite uncle.
Me: AND ALSO A NAZI.
(He was not her only uncle.)
Elizabeth, to David: What you did, your abdication of the throne, did change my life. But I want you to know it’s not always been a curse. And I haven’t always been cross with you. That there are days, in fact more and more the older I get, when I consider it to be a blessing. I’ve even on occasion found myself wanting to thank you.
Me: ME TOO BECAUSE OTHERWISE THE KING WOULD BE A NAZI.
It was one of the most frustrating viewing experiences in a show that’s been riddled with them. The genesis of all this, I think, is that Peter Morgan is too enamored of a parallel. And here, he saw a chance to draw a big fat chunky one between David and Wallis, and Charles and Camilla. Right at the time Camz enters Chaz’s life, it posits, Wallis and David’s great romance is ending with his death, and to his great-uncle Charles writes:
“It makes me so sad… when all you did is take a stand for principle and love one woman completely. You were cruelly denied your right to reign alongside the woman you wanted by your side. I give you my word, I will not be denied what you have been denied.”
Leaving aside the inaccuracies there — it was rumored that Wallis didn’t actually expect David to abdicate for her and felt she had to follow through on the marriage once he did, and that David perhaps regretted his choice after it was too late — it’s an extremely ham-handed way of beating us over the head with Knowledge Of The Future. Like when That ’70s Show had people playing Pong and exclaiming, “This is great. Video games will never get any better than this!”
I thought Edward and Wallis came off at least a bit more unflinchingly in the previous seasons — you got the sense of his arrogance, his regrets, her wiliness, and a possible coldness or mutual dissatisfaction with, as she’s said, having to live out the great romance. Now, the portrays Wallis as a fragile lovestruck lady who doted on her darling devoted David hand and foot — not apparently accurate — and allows the couple to paint itself as tragic lovers, who simply dared to think beyond the current norms of society (NAZIS!!!), with only Philip as the voice of dissent. “They’re ghastly, both of them. Monstrous,” he growls, without offering specifics (beyond that David bailed and “killed [Liz’s] father” in the process). The QM has no voice at all in this series so far, so she just sort of clucks her distaste, and Dickie Mountbatten gets off some insults about Wallis’s drinking and appearance. But none of them are presented as characters who are speaking any difficult truths; they come off as mere cranks, and Charles, as the compassionate, understanding, romantic soul — which means, then, that on some level this hour asks us to feel for David, and to agree with his presentation of events:
David: [M]uch to everyone’s frustration I stayed true to myself [Me: You mean A NAZI?]… any attempt to make even the most trifling change was met with hostility and suspicion by the establishment… and by my family too. They saw me as too…
Wallis: Colorful. Dynamic.
My notes read, “I just can’t.”
This has gone on long enough, so I’ll get to Charles and Camilla in the slideshow. Suffice to say that the decision to connect Charles and Camilla to David and Wallis in this way, and the former king to the future one, ends up making Morgan look like a great admirer of those two gross humans and once more as if he finds the Queen to be somehow in the wrong.
The Queen, by the way, did apparently visit David while in France, shortly before his death — The Crown claims it was driven by her proximity to him during his final days, but also just in case the BBC interview incited any sympathy for him that became antipathy for her. And for the second time this season, as noted by Tara during our Extra Hot Great podcast, Elizabeth begins to open herself up to a man who was once in power, only to have him fall asleep while she is midsentence. If THAT isn’t a metaphor for Peter Morgan’s feelings, I don’t know what is.