Does a macaron lessen the horrors of the battlefield? Would you murder a child psychopath if he threatened your reign as empress? And what is in borscht, exactly? This episode is not here to play, so let’s talk about those macarons.
First off, I know this isn’t the point, but I hate macarons. I wish I could enjoy them, because they’re so aesthetically pleasing, but even thinking about eating them is bleh (I blame the almond flavor). So it’s hard for me to know if, were you a soldier with your fingers blown off and the new empress came by with a box of macarons and awkwardly put one in your mouth, would you derive any enjoyment from that situation? Maybe if it were an Oreo.
Catherine and Elizabeth visit an encampment to pose for a painting (?). There are literal piles of dead soldiers. The artist tells them, “I’d love a confident smile of inevitable victory” and Catherine accidentally steps on a dead man’s hand. It’s horrific, and it’s meant to be. Remember Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and how it made some sense that Marie would have no understanding of the French people since she never saw them and instead just cavorted with courtiers? Here we see Catherine getting an up-close understanding of how little she knows. This is hammered home later, but let’s not get ahead of things.
Elizabeth is calm and pleasant until they begin their drive back home, whereupon she orders the carriage to stop, gets out, and does some primal screaming in the woods. She tells Catherine that war is inevitable, whereupon Catherine throws the macarons out the window and yells fuck. Totally relatable.
The crisis of the episode lies in some throuple drama. Peter’s mistress Georgina is the wife of his best friend Grigor. They kind of all just go along with the situation because Peter wants it. But Grigor sees bruising on Georgina’s neck and loses his shit. He starts smashing things and then picks up what I think I recognize from Bob Ross as a palette knife. You think he’s going to stab Peter in the face with it, but he has a more DASTARDLY scheme in mind. Peter is eating borscht (beet soup) and Grigor scrapes arsenic from the palette knife into the soup. And then immediately regrets it. But what can you do, at that point? “Hello, yes, tyrannical ruler who is sleeping with my wife, I seem to have inadvertently just dumped some poison directly into your soup.” Instead they go play handball.
Peter brings the borscht with him, because who wouldn’t. A palace dog eats it, and anyone who’s ever seen anything on television knows that that dog will soon be dead. Peter says he feels a bit farty, goes to another room to vigorously sex up a recently arrived lady of the court, and in the course of it, vomits all over her back and passes out. History!
A very ill emperor means Catherine’s moment has possibly arrived. A doctor assesses Peter and says he definitely has cholera, so he must wear a dead mouse around his neck to draw the disease from his body. Also avoid blue food. Peter continues to be bizarrely charming by asking, “Have you ever come, vomited, and shat yourself, all at the same time?”
None of this looks great for Peter. Catherine prepares her speech for the nobility. She has a few talking points:
1) No more war. Huzzah!
2) Serfdom is immediately ended.
3) What are the Urals?
The whole point of this sequence is for her to realize how disastrously unprepared she is to become empress. She is immediately questioned about the Russian lands the Swedish army has invaded — is Russia supposed to abandon the people there? They mention the famine in the Urals, and Catherine brings up the excellent point that she should acquire a map. Orlo and Archie step in and she rushes away. When they catch up with her, Archie mentions child psychopath Ivan, whose existence is supposed to be a secret. (Marial told him.)
Archie, newly named patriarch, wants what’s best for Russia, and is seriously dubious about Catherine. He sends priests throughout the palace in search of Ivan. Meanwhile, someone discovers Peter does not have cholera and was in fact poisoned. Orlo suspects there’s another Coup Club in play. All is chaos.
The leader of the military seals off the palace and places Catherine and Elizabeth under house arrest, ostensibly for their own safety. They’re locked into Peter’s sickroom, where he relates that he not only wanted to rename July after himself (“Call it ‘Peter’”) but that he needs to kill Ivan. So here’s where we get a shift in tone, because how could we not when child murder is on the table? Catherine and Elizabeth sneak out to Ivan’s secret apartments. Elizabeth tells Catherine to stab Ivan, but she can’t do it. She departs to have a panic attack in her bedroom, leaving Elizabeth behind to play with Ivan. I was fully expecting Ivan to find Elizabeth’s knife and stab her. This would suck because Elizabeth is the absolute best. Only then she shows up with a dead Ivan. Or, as my notes have it, “Elizabeth has murdered Ivan omgggg.”
Our extremely kind and eccentric Elizabeth looks at Catherine with UNFORGIVENESS in her eyes, as she says, “You’re welcome” because she saved Catherine’s shot at being empress. Peter then wakes up and says he’s hungry. Start studying, Catherine.
Dead heirs to the throne: 1
Number of beets usually recommended for borscht: 4
Age of the Ural Mountains: 250-300 million years