Sacha Dhawan is on-hand to play Count Orlo, a Russian nobleman who would really like to modernize the country and make it more, well, French. France is the pinnacle of European civilization during the nebulous time period this show takes place in.
Yes, I am aware that Catherine the Great’s life and marriage are easy enough to look up, but the show itself bills the series as only occasionally true, so I’m standing by that “nebulous” comment.
But hey, let’s also score one for colorblind casting as Dhawan is great at a particularly frustrated nobleman.
Orlo, see, wants to see Russia modernizing and not the backwater embarrassment it appears to be under Tsar Peter. Peter is many things. Many of them are terrible. But he isn’t great. When asked by Catherine, he says that was his father.
Given how much Peter adores his dead mama, maybe we could get some more thoughts on being like dear old dad…
But never mind that. See, Catherine really wants to overthrow her giant brat of a husband. Likewise, he’d like her dead. The only thing keeping that from happening is nobles like Orlo pointing out how terrible an idea that is with the Russian Orthodox Archbishop that everyone calls Archie claiming that he had a vision from God showing Catherine is special.
Meanwhile, Catherine and Peter go about trying to produce an heir, both clearly bored out their minds and barely tolerating each other. Peter’s issue is Catherine, unlike everyone else, doesn’t like him. Or, at least, can’t fake it. Same difference.
Catherine takes offence that the lout she married popped her one in the stomach and personally sabotaged all her hopes and dreams for doing anything as Empress of Russia. I think she has a better right to be mad.
But she can’t just haul off and kill Peter. She needs allies. Marial suggests Orlo. And Orlo…says no. Once he figures out the Empress isn’t trying to seduce him that is. See, he still believes he can get small, incremental changes made to Peter’s arcane and often petty rules by simply getting the other advisors on his side. Case in point, he is currently working on changing the law that says men under a certain age can’t have a beard by getting a man with a beard to ask for an exemption in part because the man’s wife has never seen him without one and his face underneath doesn’t look good.
Peter hates beards.
He does like bacon, but that’s neither here nor there. That’s more of Peter’s idea to try to bond at all with Catherine, even suggesting she could take a lover. He got that idea from the only married couple he seems to know, the same one where he’s is blatantly having relations with the wife while the husband often sits nearby. Those two are probably not the best people to ask, but this is about Orlo.
How Orlo lasted this long in a country where a favorite party game is letting a raccoon and a small dog into opposite ends of a hollow log and seeing which one emerges is…not encouraging. And for the record, this episode, that was the dog while covered in red stuff.
Point is, Orlo doesn’t agree with Catherine’s plans because, well, he’s sure that his system is working. True, Peter’s other idea of entertainment is to pluck the eyes out of the decapitated heads of Swedish soldiers after his army finally wins a battle, but Orlo thinks he can get somewhere.
And…it doesn’t work. Not only will Peter not budge on the beard thing, he’ll pull a short sword and threaten Orlo with it to make a point before having Orlo shave the offending man’s beard himself with said same sword.
Orlo changes his mind about helping Catherine after that, especially since he seems to be covered in the same sort of red stuff as the dog was earlier.
Catherine, for her part, gets Archie to give the Swedish heads a good Christian burial.