“You can be a murderous tyrant and the world will remember you fondly but fuck one horse and you’re a horse-fucker for all eternity.” — Tina Fey
You really can’t escape a rumor like this. It’s so, so good. Catherine the Great did many good and some bad things for Russia, which is why we don’t say, “Did you know Catherine of Russia had sex with a horse?” We say, “Catherine the GREAT had sex with a horse.” She reigned for decades! She made Russia into a world power! Nevertheless, prior to pointlessly researching Russian history for this series, the only things I knew about her were that (1) she banged a lot of guys and (2) she was rumored to have banged a horse. I was 98 percent sure it was not true, but it was still my favorite thing about her. To her credit, even when people think it’s true, it doesn’t seem to really demean her in their eyes. It’s more like, wow, Catherine the Great really did some things in her life, huh.
For the record: This did not happen. It didn’t. Catherine the Great never fucked a horse. This was a rumor based on the writings of a xenophobic 17th-century German, who told everyone that Russians weren’t civilized and were overly fond of their horses. She didn’t die being crushed by the horse she was trying to bang; she died at age 67 in the middle of doing some paperwork. I know that’s not as FUN, but she did lots of other fun, weird things. That being said, the horse rumor will probably never die. So let’s talk more about it!
In The Great, this rumor is spread by the ladies at court. Catherine is astonished.
Catherine: “How does one even fuck a horse?”
Marial: “I can’t explain it, but I could draw it.”
The ladies neigh when she walks by, prompting her decision to try and win them over with bejeweled eggs. If you want to go down a deep rabbit hole filled with decorative eggs, I suggest this article on pysanky, the gist of which is that Eastern Europe has a rich tradition of decorative eggs, and it is perfectly normal and not weird at all that Catherine gives these out. However, the attempt fails, and Catherine’s archnemesis, Lady Svenska, invites her to a tea dance where the ladies use ruthless dance moves to smack her around, and then call her a horse fucker. Way harsh, Tai.
Catherine goes to see Leo and cry on his shoulder. Leo is very good at being cried on. Almost … suspiciously good. If he turns out to have been solely a great guy this entire time, I will feel very bad for my distrust of humanity, but what’s your GAME, Leo? He says to cry is very Russian. I have three semesters of stoic Russian TA’s in college to prove you wrong, sir, but okay.
We should talk about the patriarch. Without getting into it and because I guess not everyone wants to talk about the Schism of 1054, let’s just say that Russia is not subject to the Catholic Pope but instead is Eastern Orthodox. Its highest-ranking bishop is the patriarch. There’s no one above the patriarch. Which brings us to this episode: The patriarch is dead and they have to pick a new one.
Peter doesn’t want to pick a new one, because it sounds hard, and also because his mother used to bring the patriarch in to stare into his eyes and see if he had a soul. “He would tell her I did, but he used to wink at me when he said it.” Catherine’s secret club wants a candidate sympathetic to their cause and the archbishop — who, again, is called Archie — is very committed to appointing whomever will help Russia the most. He and Orlo are at loggerheads and not helped by Peter, who decides (after one of the candidates sets himself on fire while shouting about how bad the emperor is) that Archie will have a vision from God and tell him who should be patriarch.
Which leads us to Archie eating mushrooms and running into Catherine in a park. He thinks she’s an angel and she tells him he should pick himself. And so it comes to pass. Which is great, because the candidate Orlo recommended was the Mike Pence of Russian bishops and wouldn’t speak to Catherine due to her woman status. When a wild-eyed Archie tells Peter that he has picked himself, Peter has a moment of vulnerability that is so damnably precious that I continue to love him despite everything else he does. He asks Archie to look into his eyes and tell him what he sees. Archie says that he sees the soul of a king and boom, we have our new patriarch.
As for the ladies, Aunt Elizabeth recommends slapping Marial in front of them, which Catherine does after getting Marial to neigh at her. She says that if anyone neighs at her again, they will all be made servants, and she and Peter will slap the shit out of them on a daily basis. That’s how you do it.
Royal slaps: 3
Deer that Aunt Elizabeth tried to seduce: 1
Mushrooms that lead Archie to the conclusion that God wants him in charge: 6