As I type this, I have no idea if Hulu will renew The Great for a third season. From what I have read, the show has a lot of critical and fan acclaim, so it seems likely, but it hasn’t happened yet, so here we are.
But somehow, if it ended here, it might almost work. Almost.
The Great has never claimed to be an historically accurate retelling of the early life of Catherine the Great. Heck, the show’s opening title says it is only “occasionally” accurate, in a way that makes the whole thing seem accidental when it does happen. But that’s OK. The real Catherine the Great was probably not a reform-minded feminist sort with ideas of turning 18th century Russia into something more appropriate for 21st century Western countries. What little I know is she, working with a lover who does not exist on this show, overthrew her husband and took over Russia. That’s about all I know. And somehow, I get the impression I don’t really need to know much more. The one small tidbit I also learned is the real Peter was the grandson, not the son, of Peter the Great.
But if anything, this season has been about change. Can someone like Peter change? The short answer seems to be “yes” if he has the opportunity and desire to do so. Sure, he still has his limits, but it seems as if the one thing keeping Peter from being a better man was the idea that he needed to be Emperor. Remove that, and he actually turns out to slowly become better. At the least, he’s a work-in-progress, and he actually recognizes that about himself.
Likewise, Catherine needs to change, but her change is a bit more subtle, but that comes from learning whom to trust and whom to love. To the former, she reconnects here with her strongest allies, forgiving Orlo, bringing Velementov back into the fold after disappointing the wouldbe great general too many times, and finally realizing Aunt Elizabeth has been more in her corner than Peter’s since the beginning. Or, at least, allowing Elizabeth to choose a side. This is difficult since the episode opens with Marial, knowing the fate of Lady Joanna, going to tell Catherine. That’s what best friends do, and that goes against the advice given by her new lover Grigor to keep quiet about it because telling Catherine would ruin the good thing going on.
Grigor isn’t wrong, but it does lead to both Peter and Catherine making some hard decisions. Peter can either kill his wife or flee if he wants to keep his head. Catherine needs to figure out if she wants Peter dead or forgiven. The answer in both cases may be a resounding “neither”. Peter won’t kill Catherine, and his attempt to flee Russia proves short when he both won’t leave his son Paul or take the child away from his mother. Yes, his friends, led by the scheming Georgina, are going to plot to kill Catherine for certain, but Peter would rather face the music. As for Catherine, well, she is truly incensed, and since the Ottoman Sultan doesn’t make it out of a meeting with her alive, it wouldn’t be that big a deal for her to kill another emperor.
The climax has the two, sitting on opposite sides of a ballroom during Marial’s wedding to her juvenile cousin, both addressing each other. It seems that both learned something about themselves, and it is important. Catherine, seeing as how none of Elizabeth’s or Peter’s explanations that Lady Joanna was trying to seduce Peter for three straight days make much difference since Peter still acquiesced in the end, realizes that she has an overly romantic view of everyone, and she needs to see people, including her late mother, all have flaws, some worse than others. Peter realizes the worst thing someone can do is try to change, hit their own limitations, and hurt someone else they care about. So, all would seem to be forgiven.
Until Catherine stabs Peter in the back several times and falls down crying over his corpse…or so she thinks until Peter walks into the room to comfort her. Catherine had instead stabbed Peter’s body double, and he then gets up and wanders off, leaving the couple to look awkwardly at each other, knowing what she did and how he reacted. Given the odd sense of humor for a show like this, if the series ended here, it might actually work.
But there are some loose ends, most notably Marial’s situation. Velementov comes in to arrest all the conspirators that were looking to help Peter murder Catherine, but for some reason he arrests Marial and leaves Georgina alone. Archie, meanwhile, can’t see God anymore and may be finally coming around to Catherine’s side. And then there’s Aunt Elizabeth, a woman who proved over the course of season two that she is a lot more canny an operative than her daffy appearance lets on. While it would be a shame to let the series end that way, it also seems like something that would more or less work out. But in the meantime, I’ll just have to hope Hulu does another season of this and that writer Tony McNamara, author of the play this show is based on and at least the co-writer of the majority of the show’s episodes, can give out more work at this level of comedy and character development. This last episode felt a lot more serious, and the cast proved able to carry that as well, so seeing some more would be something I would very much want.
In the meantime, I have something else lined up for Mondays. I started The Great by pointing out there were two of the shows I covered both back at the same time, and I opted for The Great first since the other already had a new season ordered up by Netflix. As such, I am going back to Locke & Key.
Hopefully the renewal is justified by the quality of the second season.