Peter’s friend Arkady suggests destabilizing Catherine’s reign by giving her laxatives, and that’s the kind of Machiavellian cunning she’s facing from the opposition party.
But something is going on with Catherine, as Velementov cites by calling her “uncharacteristically yelly.” She begins the day by waking up from an unpleasant dream, she makes the guards kick Peter a surprising amount, she won’t allow him to go truffle hunting, she punches herself in the face (interesting), and she exiles Georgina and Grigor to France. On its own, this last bit is fine because Georgina asked to be exiled. But then she tells Georgina that when she gets there, to close her legs and open a book, which is rude, Catherine. These are not the rules of feminism; I don’t care if it hasn’t been fully articulated yet.
She also locks Peter in a room. Alone. Completely by himself. Except for his mummified mother, whom she has wheeled in with him, and who used to lock him in a room by himself when he had done nothing wrong. You know when you send someone like ten eyes emojis? That is exactly how my text convo would go with Catherine when she said she imprisoned her husband in a room with his dead mother. Peter does not do well in this situation. Grigor does dances for him outside the window, but then Georgina drags him away to their Parisian exile. Peter then has a discussion with a butterfly that Elizabeth gives him as a companion, but he accidentally kills it. He shatters the case holding his mother, and her skeleton is not only smashed, but her skull falls apart in a situation that can best be called Humpty Dumpty-esque. Despite the lessons learned in that rhyme, Peter tries to put her back together again.
In a very 2021 movie, Catherine is lying on the floor. When her entourage goes to get the doctor, he’s drinking wine out of something that looks like one of those novelty group margarita glasses the size of a punch bowl (another 2021 move). He examines Catherine and says that she’ll be fine once her purple bile goes back to yellow. She needs to stay awake, though, because she’s been dreaming about saving Leo (WHY?), and she can’t handle being sad. He gives her a powder with “lavender, gunpowder, and some plant oils and stuff, I can’t remember.” It’s cocaine. Catherine is on cocaine.
It’s the middle of the night. There are 16,000 legal codes and she wants to read them all right now. She also wants the schoolteacher to wake up the children, make them read Sophocles, and bring all the scientists and make them do science things. Someone from his hometown is guilting Orlo into building a road. He brings it up and she says great, yes, let’s build a road, and then she summons Father Basil (hurray!) and makes them all clap for Basil. I would clap for Basil. They end this very long night by sending Marial a note that just says “help,” and she pulls best friend duty, talking Catherine down and making her maybe rethink the solitary-confinement-with-a-corpse thing that she did to her husband.
Let’s take a sec and look at Orlo. What’s going on with Orlo? First, he says he had sex with a woman and realized he wasn’t into it. Then he tries having sex with a man but says he’d rather be reading a book (been there). Is Orlo asexual maybe? An interesting expansion of his character and one that I shall keep an eye on.
If this episode doesn’t solidify that Catherine and Peter are perfect for each other, I do not know what would. Catherine doesn’t think she’s ruthless, and he finds it endearing that she thinks that. Truffle hunting is very important to Peter because he used to do it with his father, a man who was terrible 98 percent of the time (not like Ivan the Terrible terrible, but still pretty bad). He gets an excellent truffle-sniffing dog whose name I absolutely cannot figure out despite taking three semesters of Russian. After Catherine gives him back his dog, she steals it again because she’s furious that he doesn’t care enough about Leo dying. She takes the dog outside, saying she will find the first truffle and burn it in front of Peter. It is spectacular.
We end up with Catherine running through the woods with the dog, Peter escaping in a fur hat and dressing gown and running after Catherine and the dog, and Velementov running after Peter and trying to shoot him for escaping. Peter discovers that Velementov, in fact, was the one who used to go truffle hunting with him, and not his father. So I think we can up his dad’s terribleness to 100 percent. “My parents did not like me very much, did they?” he asks Velementov, to which Velementov sagely and correctly responds, “Fuck ’em.”
After much soul-searching, Grigor returns! He loves Georgina, but he might love Peter more? Something that’s striking about both Peter and Catherine is how much love they inspire. Peter has many people who only care about him for his power, but Grigor, Georgina, and Elizabeth love him, as does Velementov, despite trying to shoot him. Marial is completely Team Catherine (ignore the whole betrayal part of season one; it was complicated), and while Orlo and Velementov are feeling nervous, they organized a coup because of how much they believed in her. You can feel these relationships getting more complex this season as more characters feel something for both Peter and Catherine (particularly Elizabeth and Velementov). What a layered show this is.
Marial and Elizabeth find Catherine sitting alone in the woods, having sobbed about Leo and punched herself once again. In the most 2021 move of the whole hour, she says, “I think, to be completely honest, I’m very, very sad.” Who would have thought a near-nonsensical take on the 18th-century Russian monarchy would feel so relatable?
• What’s goin’ on with Orlo?
• What ARE 18th-century Russian laxatives?
• If we all had truffles, would our lives be better? Probably.