It takes a great balancing act to somehow show a woman in deep mourning going through an emotional breakdown and a hell of a lot of denial and still make it funny.
I’m pretty sure that’s what The Great has always been able to do on some level.
To review briefly, Peter died in a stupid fashion that fits in well with this show, and Catherine for her part is in extreme denial. So extreme that she stayed up all night playing indoor tennis with George. George, thanks to her estranged husband Grigor, is one of the few people who knows Peter died. Grigor spends most of the episode locked up in his room, feeling deeply guilty for his role in Peter’s death even though, realistically, it isn’t at all Grigor’s fault. Then again, it is also true for people in the real world to blame themselves for things that aren’t their fault, so truth in satire.
Now, George is something of a terrible friend, someone who is nice to Catherine’s face but that’s about it. And she even makes some moves here to really put Catherine in a bad spot for…reasons. Normally, I would think Marial would be a good friend to have around right about now since she routinely sees through George’s BS, but she’s off on a ride with her juvenile husband Maxim. What is he up to? He decided to kill Peter’s former double Pugachev himself since I suppose someone had to, and that doofus is posing as the late royal doofus to stir up the peasants on Archie’s behalf. I think. Pugachev is enjoying this too much. Even when he takes a bullet to the shoulder from a kid, he seems to be doing his own thing.
Still, Catherine in her denied grief decides she wants to have fun. That means ordering people to tell jokes on the spot, most of which are more disturbing than funny–one actually clever joke is ignored by the crowd but one where the punchline is just cruel gets a round of laughter–plus treasonous plays and Catherine is just barely holding it together. Does it make sense that she spends a lot of the first part of the day being carted around the palace as she takes a bath? Probably not, but she’s not dealing with her emotions in a healthy way, and taking her to a play where the action depicts her gettin’ it on with a horse is not a good idea.
About all that playwright had going for her is Catherine isn’t really one for executions no matter how much George recommends it.
But then there’s the kicker: George finds Catherine far scarier than Peter ever was. To be clear, Peter’s rule before Catherine showed up was arbitrary, cruel, and given to sudden executions. He was inconsistent and stupid. Catherine is generally none of those things, and she’s making some real efforts to modernize Russia no matter how much it doesn’t as a country want to modernize. But a Catherine who just demands fun and distractions when she should be grieving should be scary. She’s running a country. She shouldn’t be taking whole days off to do nothing while ignoring the actual issue: the man she somehow grew to love is dead. I would think until she has time to process her grief, she won’t get much done. Ignoring it, to say nothing of lying to the court, isn’t helping.
Grigor does get out to reveal the truth, and Catherine’s collapse may be a necessary step in the healing process.
Mostly because I don’t think this is the sort of show that would keep her down for long.