In Episode 2 of The Great, Archie comes out of hiding following Peter’s abdication. The empress assures the Patriarch that he will die at Orlo’s hand, but Archie isn’t so easily scared. He leverages Russia’s respect for the church against her. Added to that, she has no better replacement than himself for the role of Patriarch.
Catherine grudgingly accepts his petition to serve her. However, she threatens that he will die once she finds a replacement.
In the palace, Peter is finding house arrest unusually pleasant. Elizabeth visits to persuade him to make Catherine fall in love with him. For if she has a miscarriage, the two of them will be worth nothing to the court. Whereas if Peter gives her more children, their line will carry on. Royal ties would then safeguard their status.
Catherine’s upcoming coronation has brought many changes to the empire. She restores Marial to her former position as a lady, much to Orlo’s chagrin. On the other side, Grigor, Georgina, Arkady, and Tatyana—though still nobles—have been brought low.
Even Peter struggles. He has a not-so-pleasant revelation about his lowered status when Count Tarzinsky calls him a “dickhead.”
Catherine, Orlo, and Velementov celebrate their win and enact their first daily agenda. They are all aware that Catherine must act quickly to show she’s a great leader. Her life is only safe until the baby is born. After that, someone might just decide to kill her and raise the child to be emperor.
Catherine can’t see that her plans may be coming too fast and too soon for Russia. Her new school for girls, for example, has only one attendant. She tries to sway mothers to send their daughters. They give lip service to her wonderful ideas, but admit that they don’t want their daughters to grow up to be like her.
Peter’s guards struggle to keep him in his quarters. The former emperor determines to attend the coronation. He wants it to look as if he willingly gives the crown to Catherine. Catherine of course protests, wanting everyone to know she took the throne by force.
Throughout the episode, Catherine butts heads with several of her friends and advisors. She upsets Orlo by keeping Archie on, Velementov by refusing to go to war, and Marial by disregarding her advice on what to wear for the coronation.
She sees a man praying in the halls and asks if he is Muslim, which he vehemently denies. According to Archie, there are no Muslims left in Russia, nor should there be. Catherine ponders this, but doesn’t say anything on the subject.
Various subjects come to see Catherine in court. Count Tarzinsky is extremely disrespectful. There is Father Basil, however, who reveals himself to be Leo’s cousin. He gives the empress letters that Leo sent to him, and he applauds her kind heart.
Peter does attend the coronation, but Catherine does not allow him to give his speech. Once she is crowned “Catherine the Great,” she surprises everyone with her very first decree.
She declares that Russia shall no longer be a “one-church country.” People can worship however they want, or not at all. Everyone but Archie and Peter responds with a “huzzah.”
Things aren’t looking good for Archie, as Catherine has her eye set on Father Basil as a replacement.
But it is Peter who is especially downtrodden after the coronation. He no longer finds any comfort in the hobbies he’s picked up. He sees Count Tarzinsky, the man who insulted him earlier, walking alone at night.
Feeling an overwhelming impulse, he pushes past his guards, strides outside, and murders his offender.
At the end of the episode, several young girls follow Catherine around. They were enchanted by her coronation and her traditional Russian garb.
The empress encourages them to be their own people and not who their parents wish them to be. She leads them to her new school, excited for what the future holds.
The Episode Review
This episode does an excellent job of building up a lot of potential conflict, resolving it only temporarily, and leaving threads of discord to be explored as the story progresses.
Elle Fanning is as charming as ever in her portrayal of a woman who, at the heart of everything, wants just two things: 1) For everyone to like her. And 2) To make Russia the greatest country in the world. Even in her stubborn moments, she convinces that she’ll do exactly that.
Although Catherine triumphs for now, she’s obviously overwhelmed with her new responsibilities at court and all the people she has to please. Tension is building. I feel as though we’re not in the “meat” of the story yet, but the stage is set.
Will anyone contest Catherine’s rule? Will alliances crumble? And will Peter continue to accept his house arrest?