The Great Recap: 50 Ways to Fix Your Nation

The Great

Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

The Great

Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Gareth Gatrell/ HULU

The coup is going great. Catherine has a very simple and achievable plan for Russia, the major and surely swift-to-be-resolved points of which are:

  • Free the serfs.
  • Outlaw violence.
  • Build 100 art galleries.
  • Open an academy of sciences.
  • Dismantle the laws obstructing women’s rights.
  • Build roads and ports (i.e., infrastructure bill).
  • Open trade treaty discussions with the nations of Europe.
  • Raise taxes.
  • Lower mortality rates.
  • Make dancing and jokes a prerequisite of every dinner.

You know what? While I am usually in the camp of cheerful realism, I support Catherine’s bananas outlook on her capacity to create change. The times in which we are living need some completely unfounded optimism, and she is right here with it. Peter, meanwhile, is the opposing force: He has a more realistic view of how things are done, but he is rarely bothered by it, maintaining an oddly reassuring equanimity. In short, both of them are great and well-suited for 2020s comfort viewing.

While this series can at best be seen as taking elements of 18th-century Russia and then hurling them into a fever dream, it’s worth noting that point one — free the serfs — absolutely did not happen IRL. Serfdom in Russia was not abolished until 1861 (coincidentally at the start of the American Civil War) under Emperor Alexander II, grandfather of the ill-fated Nicholas II. Catherine did give them some more rights than they had previously and did some things like prohibiting a serf who had been freed from becoming a serf again, but she also removed their ability to petition her. It wasn’t the best.

Marial is back! Back as a lady of the court instead of one of the aforementioned serfs, that is. She’s got fun hot-pink shoes, and I love them. Marial is cheerfully determined to make Catherine let go of her betrayal and just move on so they can continue as best friends. It’s endearing and great. Team Marial, of which I am clearly a member, has a lot to look forward to this season. She does tell Catherine her dress is ugly, but she’s trying to look out for her. She also punches Svenska in the stomach for being terrible and also the one responsible for beating her last season. While I do not condone violence, Svenska sucks, and I get it.

On to Peter! Peter is trying to change. Elizabeth sits down and has a talk with him using a roofing metaphor, which, okey dokey, but in essence: Catherine will maybe fall in love with him if he works on himself. Seems plausible. He’s pretty sure he’s perfect, but since Catherine has been resisting his advances, he asks her to name any potential tiny flaw he might have that he can work on. She immediately names his mercurial violence. This befuddles him because his father thought that was his best quality. He decides to rein it in for her sake. He will fail by the episode’s end because someone calls him a dickhead.

That someone is one of the nobles Catherine has to greet instead of spending all her time redefining Russia’s foreign and domestic policies. He has a very fun hat, but he is an asshole who pees on the stateroom floor because he doesn’t get to keep killing sea otters in Alaska. He’s not even the guy who brought her the tiny horse (“I never fucked a horse!” Catherine yells in a fun throwback to both last season and historical salacious rumors). Tiny horse guy, who, as far as we know, does not want to kill sea otters (a win!), is the reason Catherine declares religious freedom in her coronation speech. He is Muslim but terrified of admitting it given the threat of the Russian Orthodox Church. Catherine’s position on religious tolerance is based on reality (huzzah!), and this proclamation upsets Peter, but it especially upsets Archie, which makes sense since he’s the Patriarch. To be fair, Peter might actually be upset because she also brings back beards at court after he explicitly banned them last season.

Archie is on real thin ice this episode. Catherine wants to kill him, but he tells her he’s sent two sermons to every cleric in the country. Sermon one says huzzah for Catherine. Sermon two calls her a German devil. This feels like some Game of Thrones–type scheming (I did not watch Game of Thrones), and Catherine relents. But as soon as she finds a replacement for him, bam! He’s outta there. And then Father Basil shows up. Father Basil! Father Basil is a new addition to season two. He is Leo’s cousin and brings Catherine his letters, which, yes, yes, great, let’s acknowledge these emotions and then move on from them now and forever. I love Father Basil, though. Archie doesn’t, which probably means Basil is in for some kind of plotting, but I hope he keeps scootin’ around the court in his calm and meditative way.

While Catherine never does free the serfs, she does institute a girls’ school for the daughters of the nobles, which was a real thing! The Smolny Institute of Noble Maidens, which I would love to have on my résumé. At first, no one attends because they want their daughters to marry (damn the patriarchy, etc.). But after Catherine’s very impressive-looking coronation in the old-fashioned but extremely beautiful dress and kokoshnik, her school is filled with adolescents who want to follow in her footsteps. And one of them is Nora from Ted Lasso! I love the schoolteacher and am fully aware I would be obsessed with her if I were in her class. I hope she sticks around and isn’t mauled by a bear or however else people die on this show.

After Peter stabs the man who loves murdering otters and called him a dickhead, he is disappointed in himself. See, he is trying. He has just literally never had anyone check his impulses unless they were affectionate toward his parents, who were the worst. Is this character growth? Ideally, Peter will change just enough to have some shreds of humanity and empathy but will maintain his overall fun and blunt self. Should we do this to all unpleasant historical figures? Can we create a Tudor version of The Great where Henry VIII is relegated to being an excellent jouster while Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn rule England together? Please give me this show. Onward to the next episode!

Lingering Questions

• Will the horse joke continue?

• Is Peter going to get better at kung fu?

• How could I go through this whole recap and not talk about how hilarious Velementov is? A mystery.

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The Great Recap: 50 Ways to Fix Your Nation