We open with Aunt Elizabeth pleasuring herself while staring at a statue of Peter the Great astride a bear. I thought about it, and I just can’t start this recap any other way. It’s like if you went to the drugstore and when you walked inside there were full-size cardboard advertisements for vibrators on every aisle endcap. You wouldn’t just nonchalantly go in search of your pads and nail polish without immediately taking a pic and sending it to your largest group chat. It happened, and we have to acknowledge it.
Remember when you were 10 and you and your friends started a secret club called, I don’t know, maybe the I Love Horses Club, and you had dues because you’d all read The Baby-Sitters Club, and with those dues, you were definitely going to buy a horse? Catherine and Orlo and Marial are in the utopian coup version of that club. Marial is the one who’s very insistent that your $2 a week will not be enough for a horse, and maybe you should all just buy a horse magazine with the club’s treasury. In other words, you are ruining our buzz, Marial. (JK, I love her and all that she does.) I appreciate Marial’s realistic view of the situation because I know I would definitely be in the Catherine/Orlo camp of saying a bunch of irrelevant shit like, “Well, is this in line with what Montaigne says? Can we go back to how you’re translating that line of Machiavelli, because I’m not sure about it”; and every club needs a Marial to say that people just want to know that no one will rape them or kill their children “and occasionally there will be some bread.” That’s the brass ring to reach for in 18th-century Russia.
The main points this episode are: Peter wants to measure up to his father. Another claimant to the throne exists, and he is a possibly psychopathic 9-year-old child. Peter gives Catherine an official lover and his name is Leo and he is YA novel–level charming.
Russia is at war against Sweden, which according to Peter began because, “well, my father beat them.” Peter is exceptionally bad at war-planning. He’s also trying to figure out what kind of “the” he should be. He tries Peter the Fun, the Masterful, the Terrible, and “the Me.” He’s having a hard time. He has to give a speech in front of the bear statue about how great his father was. Surprisingly, he doesn’t feel resentment toward the literally larger-than-life memory of his father; his worry is that he’ll start crying when delivering his speech, because he misses his father. This does in fact happen, and when a soldier mocks him, Peter stabs the shit out of him. Later that night, he falls asleep in the statue’s lap.
So … Ivan. Ivan the 9-year-old psychopath is based in reality. There was an heir to the throne named Ivan, whom Elizabeth refused to kill but who was murdered in his early 20s when Catherine came to the throne. Here, he is dressed like Max from Where the Wild Things Are and clearly wants to stab Peter (“I haven’t even hidden a knife anywhere”). Elizabeth knows he’s a danger, but “he is sort of family and we are sentimental.” Ivan being around means someone could use him to stage a coup. A DIFFERENT coup than the one being planned by Catherine’s Coup Club. A club that New Guy Leo isn’t a part of, because he was brought in by Peter and is not to be trusted. Or is he? I very much cannot tell. He is cute and funny and clever, but surely that means he will effect a sudden but inevitable betrayal? Or maybe he will just be a cute and funny and clever guy who makes Catherine realize sex can be something other than what Peter does. Which is perfunctory at best. (Peter would 100 percent affirm that description.)
Oh, what about The Ladies? The ladies at court in period dramas always stress me the hell out, but particularly in the 18th century. The 18th century was basically Mean Girls all the time, but instead of a burn book, the greatest poet of the age would write a cutting epic poem about how bad you smell, and then everyone would read it and quote it and titter as you walked by. Terrible. The ladies at court hate Catherine because she clearly thinks they’re idiots who don’t know how to wear their wig hats. One of them, Lady Svenska, had Marial beaten last episode, so in revenge, Catherine gifts her a dress and then invites her to a tent party where everything is upholstered in the exact same pattern as the dress (trust me, it was devastating). This will come to no good.
Catherine, who originally planned to reject Leo, realizes he is someone she very much wants to bang. Peter tells her if she doesn’t like him, he can go home, but she lies to Leo and says Peter demands he stay. Catherine keeps making decisions that seem destined to bite her on the ass later.
Emperors atop a bear statue: 2
Possible “the” options for Peter: 4
Devastating fabric revenges: 1