The Great Season-Premiere Recap: A Psychopath and an Idealist

The Great

The Bullet or the Bear/Choose Your Weapon
Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

The Great

The Bullet or the Bear/Choose Your Weapon
Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Christian Black/HULU/ HULU

Great news, The Great is still great.

The Great occupies that special place in television where you can spend time with your batshit friends but then leave whenever you want and not have to deal with the consequences of their hilarious but unhinged antics (see also: What We Do in the Shadows). I am so happy The Great is back and that Peter continues to be everyone’s No. 1, but I would not want to spend a single second with him in real life because he could suddenly kill me and then amuse everyone with an off-handed joke.

In the first two episodes, we pick up where we left off: Catherine has stabbed Peter’s lookalike, thinking it was him, which was understandable since he banged and accidentally killed her mother (R.I.P. Gillian Anderson). The Swedish king and queen show up because they were overthrown; Marial married her cousin Maxim and is arrested along with Peter’s friends for going against Catherine; and that’s where we start. Well, there, and also with Peter and Catherine in couples counseling with a marriage witch. I would describe the marriage witch’s efforts as mildly successful.

But can our royal psychos get past Peter fucking/killing Catherine’s mother and Catherine stabbing someone she thought was him five times in the back? Maybe! When they wake up the next morning and talk about it, Catherine explains, “I just had a bad day.” Once again, I love them. Peter is carrying baby Paul around in an eighteenth-century Russian version of a BabyBjörn, and it is my favorite thing in the whole episode. Catherine forgot she had Marial arrested but is in no hurry to release her. This is unfortunate for Marial, as she and Peter’s friends are standing in a line outside, being subjected to the Peter-invented punishment of “the bullet or the bear.” This might be self-explanatory, but you can shoot yourself or choose to fight a bear. Orlo is very psyched about it (remember Orlo?), but he also thinks Peter is dead, so he’s just generally jazzed.

When Peter hears his friends face this bear-centered sentence, he’s off to rescue them. Unfortunately, Peter’s idea of rescue here is for them all to choose the bear, let it eat an arm, and then escape. No one but Peter is happy about this, and so he’s back to square one.

Catherine, meanwhile, is chatting with Aunt Elizabeth about her beyond-all-reason love for Peter and what to do about him and ruling Russia. Elizabeth, in return, tells Catherine about the time she gave Peter the Great a handjob while he fed her soup. What a great show. Elizabeth (and Archie, who is also still alive!) promise Catherine they will help her govern, but she has to trust their methods. The very first example of this is Elizabeth suggesting that Georgina kill her friend Tatyana, who is currently one of the bear prisoners, as a gesture of loyalty. Georgina immediately accepts and shoots Tatyana in the gut (Tatyana lives). Let Georgina’s theme song for this episode be Reba McEntire’s “I’m a Survivor.”

The Swedish royals are plotting something, but until it’s clear what it is, I don’t have time for it.

Everyone is figuring out their alliances in the first episode! So many things have shifted. Catherine, against all odds, has chosen Peter. Despite this, he and she are not sure how to trust each other, given recent events (see: stabbing). Orlo is out because he can’t deal and keeps trying and failing at Peter’s assassination. Get it together, Orlo. Marial is no longer Catherine’s best friend, to which I say, “noooooooooo!” Velementov and Elizabeth and Archie are pretty solid. Peter’s friends are on shaky ground but can still escape being bear food and instead be brought back into the fold. And that is indeed what Catherine decides to do. She gives them things they want, but some get the shit kicked out of them (see: Grigor and Arkady). When Marial shows righteous indignation at Peter being forgiven when she is not, Catherine tells Marial that Peter is her fate, but Marial is her choice. Catherine. Marial is so great, and I am extremely bummed about this.

The marriage witch thinks Catherine and Peter are doomed, but she murders two doves (pigeons?) in order to take the past from their blood. Of course. They both feel better and go for a walk in the woods, where Orlo hides and tries once more to assassinate Peter. Alas, Catherine shoots in Orlo’s direction when she thinks she hears a deer, and now Orlo is dead and presumably eaten by the bears who find his body. Oh, Orlo.

In our second episode, “Choose Your Weapon,” Marial is determined to win back Catherine’s friendship (with limited success!!), and the British and American ambassadors are fighting. They both want support from Russia. “Wait,” you say. “But how could America have an ambassador already if it wasn’t officially a country with a Constitution and all those other documents?” Great question, yes. Benjamin Franklin was the first American diplomat when he went to France in 1776, and he essentially became the first ambassador in 1779 (they were called ministers then). There was a minister to Russia, but Catherine the Great refused to acknowledge America as its own nation, despite thinking England was really getting what was coming to them.

Oh, also, Marial’s child husband Maxim challenges Grigor to a duel! Maxim’s a real buzzkill lately. He was so fun last season as a convenient way for Marial to keep her family money, and now he’s off demanding she be a more respectful wife (gross) and slapping Grigor in the face. Yes, the latter is funny, but at what cost?

The British diplomat, who is really tight with Peter, is nicknamed Johnny. He’s technically supposed to be this guy, but instead, his name is John Quirkton. Again. All of this is made up. Just go with it. Catherine isn’t pleased to be ignored when she is the actual monarch here, so she sends Peter off to help the girls’ school students as they choose ribbons. When she refers to the War of Independence, Johnny says they prefer to call it The Ingratitude. I love it. I love it so much. Also, not to be a Loyalist about it, but England raised taxes because they spent so much on the French and Indian War, which George Washington kind of kick-started. I am JUST saying. But yes, no taxation without representation, etc.

England wants ten thousand troops and offers Menorca, an island in the Mediterranean with a fascinating history. Catherine wants more because, apparently, “history” isn’t enough of an inducement. Well played, Catherine. While the British ambassador ponders that, she meets the American ambassador, who Velementov introduces as “a guy from America” since he doesn’t have official status. We only get to know him as “Glover,” and if you think his American accent is not the best and he learned it watching either Westerns or gritty New York cop shows (or maybe both!), you are correct. This actor is English. America wants loans and arms from Russia. Glover tells Catherine she’s got that “it” thing. He and his fellow Americans get shit done and they are on the motherfucking cusp of victory. Is this how other countries see us?? If so … touché. Also, Tony McNamara thinks jokes about Russia and America being best friends forever are funny, and he makes them several times.

While Catherine is talking to Archie and Velementov about America (“bunch of raccoon traders and religious maniacs,” Velementov says insightfully), Peter is inventing flavored salt. That Peter. What a guy. He’s also helping Grigor practice dueling with a ten-year-old (is that how old Marial’s husband is?) by walking on his knees. Catherine has banned dueling, but Peter says if she doesn’t make violating the ban punishable by death, no one will listen. What a meeting of idealism and realism in these two. If you can call Peter’s view of life realism. Psychotic realism? Yes, let’s go with that.

At the duel, Grigor refuses to participate, so his second, another young child, duels in his place. And Maxim KILLS him. The viewers casually discuss raising the dueling age to twelve. What on Earth is going to happen to Marial with her best friend abandoning her and this murderous child husband?

At dinner with the two ambassadors, Peter, Catherine, and most of the rest of the court — except Marial, who is not invited — Hugo, King of Sweden, cannot be ignored by me any longer because he yells at Voltaire for ruining his life, leaps across the table, then goes phbbbbbbbt at him while they wrestle on the floor. What a highlight. Meanwhile, Johnny offers Catherine Ibiza, and Glover says America is changing everything, including how the English spell “color” (British ambassador: “You wouldn’t dare.”). He also keeps going on about “we the people,” which Catherine loves. So we have Catherine’s own idealism vs. realism at war as she also tries to change how she has been governing since it has definitely not been working.

After some deliberation, Catherine gets a shit ton of concessions from England in exchange for troops and also offers America the money and supplies it wants. Then she bangs the American ambassador to make things even between her and Peter. She tells him, and he is quite upset. Catherine asks Velementov to make sure Peter doesn’t kill Glover, and we end with Peter and Glover punching each other on the palace grounds as a crowd watches, and Velementov says he’ll stop them eventually. This show. What a treasure.

The Great Premiere Recap: A Psychopath and an Idealist