We start with a flashback – the first in the series until now. About six years ago in the past, Habsburg saw a similar revolution the commoners wish to give shape to in the present. The Emperor, Franz’s uncle, lost his throne and his life. He was thrust into succession and Sophie ensured she was with him every step of the way. Max sat in the background as the ignored sibling.
Sophie wakes up with nightmarish residuary memories from the time. Esterhazy is shaken but quickly regains her calm. She delivers good news. Elisabeth might be with a child and Sophie says everything must be done to ensure the hope is turned into certainty. The honeymoon phase might just be over. Esterhazy follows Sophie’s command to the hilt, feeding raw eggs and the placenta of a pregnant woman to Elisabeth.
Napoleon has taken a disliking to Austria. The Tsar hasn’t responded either. Sophie suggests a show of strength is urgent to quell any fears of the need for the empire to defend itself. They don’t have the money to do so anyway. Franz decides to invite Alexander, the Tsar’s son to Vienna. But this might be seen as a provocation to the ruler, he is warned. Max shows his frustrations with Franz by nearly taking his head off in a fencing duel. Things are surely starting to heat up in the palace. Franz turns down Max’s request for a leadership role, saying “you’re no statesman”. It seems he might be right. The brother does not see it with any reason but only jealously and malice.
In a softer moment, we see Franz and Elisabeth spending time together by the river. Both relax in loose-fitting clothes and the latter sketches the former nude. Tender love is blossoming between the couple. Will it last the fortitudes of war, diplomacy, and jealousy? Franz is discomforted by the idea that his people are still in poverty and angry. He is reassured by his wife that he can change that. Sophie and Elisabeth’s cold war continues. They clash again at dinner when Franz suggests that Alexander can be invited to Vienna in a short time. While Sophie says it will leave them no time to prepare for a grand entry, Elisabeth proffers that an intimate meeting might just be what’s needed. Franz sides with the latter.
A hunt is devised as an avenue. Franz even decides to take Elisabeth with him and not Sophie. She is distressed about visiting Karl in Auhof. But joins the entourage regardless. Von Bach also presents the papers for Franz’s signature and the railway work is to begin soon. There are growing tensions between Amalia and Leontine. The former is distrustful of her. Elisabeth once again tries to mend or make sure the relationship with Sophie is solid. She reciprocates but with a stern warning that the babe should be her highest priority.
Max goes behind Franz’s back to convene a meeting of his cabinet and proposes a different plan. Napoleon is so offended that he is prone to attach Habsburg from one front while the Russians potentially might from the other. They are indeed in a precarious position. The French will avoid Habsburg only if Max is installed as the new Emperor. But what if Franz can strike an agreement with Alexander? Max says he will handle it. Another devious plan afoot?
Yes indeed. Max reaches Auhof in the morning to join the royal couples for the hunt. Elisabeth goes off with Maria and the other countesses on her own, while the men do the hunting. Tsar’s heart is broken, Alexander says. Franz discusses the younger leadership Russia now craves; one that now wants peace. Franz is stern in demanding the Russians withdraw their armies from the border. Alexander is receptive. Amalia senses Leontine’s feigning and presses. She is close and Leontine is treading on dangerous land. Max manages a meeting with Alexander while taking a piss. And thus, he starts sowing the seeds of doubt.
The prey is spotted by a scout and the royal entourage begins again. Elisabeth joins the men too. Sophie has a moment of nostalgia, thinking about her girl who is no more. Karl says Elisabeth is like Sophie and that’s why she hates her. Max’s plan seems to be working as Alexander now seems to think Franz is offering peace only to expand into Russia’s kingdom as they fight France. He and the Empress go on their own way looking for the prey but it is actually a chance for them to talk politics. When the beast is spotted, the Russian misses his mark, twice, and Elisabeth must intervene to kill it. He isn’t happy that his life needed saving from a woman and leaves the soiree in disdain. He gives Franz a piece of his mind and Max’s plan is a resounding success.
Alexander rejects Franz’s plan and Sophie calls an emergency meeting of the cabinet. Franz is unduly happy with Elisabeth for maybe being a bit spontaneous with her behavior. Max gives her a sympathetic ear and likens his circumstance to hers. They’re blamed without any blame, and they have champagne together. Egon, Leontine’s commoner friend, suspects Leontine’s (whose real name is Ava) loyalties have changed. She confirms the same and says she was wrong about the Empress and the Emperor. They aren’t bad people, but Egon does not agree. He asks her to choose – the royalty, who will die, or the cause, which will rise.
Franz catches Elisabeth and Max getting out of the wagon, drunk together. He reprimands Elisabeth for spending more time with him as he does not trust Max. Elisabeth notices blood from underneath her dress and looks on pensively.
The Episode Review
It seems like the makers have made the right choice to keep the episodes crisp. There is no unnecessary exposition bogging the pace down. Although the storylines of the episodes aren’t that eventful, Elisabeth’s first steps into becoming the Empress are admirably animated. Episode 4, in particular, came and went like a breeze. The big buildup that we would have usually expected of Alexander’s welcome and the minutes given to his partner, Maria, are both avoided.
In the simplest of manners, “The Hunt” extends the exploration of its characters’ psychological state and their changing personalities.
The Empress resists the languid tone of period dramas while keeping the good parts like plush visuals and drool-worthy costumes. Barring the CGI boar, episod3 4 packed quite a punch in that regard. There is a lot brewing behind the Emperor’s back that surely holds explosive potential. Max’s ambitions might just be too tall to remain out of the focus for this long. It does not look like ending well for our troubled protagonist right now.