I know the killing of Ned Stark changed the rules of television forever, but I was not ready for Shaky’s death. In the whisper of the wind on a lonesome moor, I will hear the faintest of voices murmur “crotch bread.”
How long can Catherine’s boundless optimism continue? Her bewilderingly persistent belief in the abilities of the court to change for the better is admirable, I guess, but she is let down every time by someone doing something morally reprehensible, like stabbing an old woman because she tricked you into being nice to her. And it wasn’t even her idea! Svenska is the worst, and I hope she buys a wig that’s filled with bees.
Before all this, though, Catherine and Peter are having issues. Despite Peter’s own typically boundless optimism about the state of their marriage and her unconscious deep love for him, he is beginning to feel used, which makes sense because Catherine is using him (for sex). She won’t admit that she loves him, instead calling him a violent person with a terrible French accent. So now Catherine is very pregnant and not having sex, and then a child throws a marzipan cake in her face because the girls’ school is mad that she isn’t remaking Russia according to Rousseau’s ideas.
I do not want to read Rousseau because I am too busy watching the many iterations of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but if I am foolishly trying to hold this show to a historical timeline, they are likely referring to Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men,” where he says that moral inequality, which manifests in class hierarchies, is a fiction, which is true! Also, Rousseau wrote this for an essay contest, which he did not win, so just keep that in mind next time you lose to your own François Xavier Talbert because no one knows who he is anymore, and Rousseau’s getting his name thrown around on Hulu more than 250 years later.
Catherine decides to be goaded by children (to be fair, she’s got a lot going on right now) and goes to see Orlo, declaring they will free all 58 million serfs today. Orlo tries to talk her down from this because it is an impossible plan. I mean, we’re more than a hundred years away from even the most basic form of the telephone! What, is she going to send out carrier pigeons? Catherine doesn’t know how to make the nobles humanize the serfs. Then she sees Marial’s new maid, Shaky, thus nicknamed for obvious reasons. Shaky was Marial’s roommate during her time as a serf, and spending that time with her made Marial feel empathy for Shaky, which she is mad about.
This gives Catherine an idea, which I definitely thought was going to be a 1:1 plan of making the nobles walk in the shoes of their serfs for a day, but instead turns into the ill-thought-out idea of dressing up Shaky as “Lady Anastasia” and parading her around in front of the nobility. They fawn all over her, and she makes out with someone, which is probably fun for Shaky, but you know this will not end well (and it does not!). In compensation for putting Shaky’s life at risk, Catherine gives her beautiful apartments with her paintings hung all around. It almost feels like, Catherine, another avenue for your point would have been to arrange an exhibit of Shaky’s art, and then when everyone was all “wow, so amazing,” you could reveal a serf did them. SEEMS SAFER.
Since Peter has decided to impetuously (does he know any other way?) give up on Catherine, what’s going on with super couples Marial/Grigor and Orlo/Schoolteacher Katya? Just when you think the sexual tension between Marial and Grigor will finally be broken and they will bang, Shaky walks in and ruins the mood (my sincere thanks to you, Shaky). Returning to the topic of Orlo’s sexuality, which was previously befuddling, it now appears he is — sapiosexual? I think? Katya is reading to him about “principles of knowledge” while they have sex, and this finally seems to click the right things into place for Orlo. Unfortunately, they are interrupted by Grigor and Arkady, who are here to stir up dissent by stealing Orlo’s strategy for freeing the serfs and spreading it around court. Grigor tries to make Catherine promise, in front of the mob, that this will never happen, and she pulls a pistol out and tells them to listen or she’ll fucking shoot them all. She says she’ll free the serfs today, and they throw shoes at her because Velementov took their guns.
Things go cattywampus very quickly after this, as Peter escapes and the serfs go on strike and everyone starts stabbing. Elizabeth once more proves why she should probably be empress right now, as she tells Catherine that (1) Catherine was the one who threw Shaky on the board, and she cannot be mad when someone takes her pawn (harsh but fair); and (2) if Catherine doesn’t put down the unrest, the serfs will kill them all.
Catherine does not want to back down by having Velementov call in a battalion, but as Orlo points out, with nothing to hang change on, there is no structure and everything is chaos. The revolutionary side of Catherine wants to go down with her beliefs, but the still pragmatic Elizabeth asks if she dies today, will she have accomplished what she wanted? Okay, but honestly, why isn’t Elizabeth empress? I know she’s eccentric, etc. etc., but every single time things have gotten rough, she’s been there with either excellent advice or a cheerful submission to fate.
Regardless, Peter is all set to take back the throne, being still very angry with Catherine, and he walks through the palace with two guns drawn, and yes, it’s very attractive. When he walks into the stateroom, though, he finds Catherine crying, and he gives her the best — THE BEST— hug. Arkady comes in to help Peter and Peter tells him to fuck off. What a stellar representation of when you and someone you love are in a fight, but then something bigger happens, and it all vanishes because that person is in pain. She asks if he’s come to take it off her, and he says not today. I LOVE THEM.
Catherine tells Velementov to call in the battalion. The serfs will not be freed today (or probably ever). Peter voluntarily goes back to his imprisonment. Marial asks if she can borrow a soldier’s gun, takes it, and shoots Svenska in the head for killing Shaky. What an episode.
• Who will take on the title of The Worst now that Svenska is dead?
• Did I not mention Archie kissing Basil and then Basil telling him it did not feel pure because it made me sad or because I forgot? And can it be both?
• How can I have the confidence of an adolescent girl who throws a marzipan cake at the Empress of Russia and taunts her about Rousseau?