The Devil’s Lunch
Episode 4 of The Great Season 2 begins with Catherine pitching new ideas to an unenthused court. Grigor takes the opportunity to read aloud a pamphlet written by Peter, which amuses everyone.
Catherine can’t do anything to stop him from spreading the pamphlet around the palace though. That is, without going back on her values of freedom of expression. Round one goes to Peter, then. But the empress has bigger fish to fry.
Later, she has to meet with Sunduk, the Ottoman ambassador. Velementov insists the Ottomans won’t come around to Catherine as the empress. But of course, when does she ever listen to him?
Elizabeth has met once before with the Ottoman Sultan. She claims he spat in her face and called her a “pig slut” for reaching for some cake.
Orlo understands that such is simply their “culture,” suggesting that it would be wise for him to lead the negotiations. But Catherine, as always, has her own ideas.
When Ambassador Sunduk struts in, it isn’t Orlo he finds at the advisors’ table. At Catherine’s side are Elizabeth and Marial—a front to make him think her chief advisors are women.
Sunduk labels this act as insulting, but he doesn’t seem put out at all. He maintains there is nothing he can do about his people’s violent intent. However, he does agree to have dinner with Catherine to discuss the issue further.
Catherine seeks advice from Elizabeth, not about war, but about sex. This stage of her pregnancy has left her more frustrated than usual. Choosing a lover as Russia’s ruler proves difficult, though. She must maintain a certain distance from her people. Elizabeth suggests that a guard would be perfect for the job.
While the empress worries about getting laid and preventing a war, Marial and Archie are concerned with Father Basil. They both distrust him. However, Marial convinces the Patriarch to cooperate with Catherine for the time being. He tells the empress he’s in fact overjoyed to share his responsibilities with Father Basil. Still, Marial urges her to lose the new archbishop.
Meanwhile, Lady Svenska is sleeping with Velementov despite the fact that he killed her husband. But it seems she’s more interested in feeding his information to Peter than she is in the general himself. When she learns about the Ottomans, she immediately tells the ex-emperor.
Peter invites Sunduk to his quarters, where they reminisce about old times. He admits his people always assumed that Peter reigned by God’s will. But they are confused by his inability to keep the crown. It seems the ambassador might still be swayed to either Peter’s or Catherine’s side.
Orlo’s Uncle Varnya returns. Although grateful for the new road Catherine granted them, they want more from Orlo: riches. Orlo finds himself in a compromising position. When will these “favours” subside?
Peter holds a party under the guise of throwing a baby shower for Catherine. Sunduk misses dinner with the empress, leading her to the bawdy gathering.
There, Sunduk sees that the court loves Peter more than the empress. Catherine determines not to let Peter outdo her, however. She assumes responsibility for the party and ends up showing that she can be even more fun than her foppish husband. She even persuades Sunduk to go hunting with her tomorrow.
Marial strikes up an old flirtation with Grigor, and Orlo connects with the school teacher—while Velementov wallows. He complains to Elizabeth about how both Catherine and Peter are pursuing diplomatic relations with the Ottomans in the wrong manner.
He also reveals that he was present at that meeting with the Sultan that Elizabeth mentioned earlier. Curiously, he tells her that he doesn’t recall the Sultan insulting her at all.
Catherine manages to turn the hunting trip to her advantage and shows off her strengths as a leader.
But Peter becomes jealous of the attention she’s receiving from Sunduk. So, he asks a favour from Arkady and Tatyana. Just like that, Sunduk is beheaded in his carriage on his way back home.
When Catherine’s affair with a guard falls through—beard lice, unfortunately—Elizabeth subtly prods her towards Peter. At the end of the episode, the empress makes a surprise visit to her husband’s chambers for a sexual favour. All the while, she’s completely unaware of his indirect murder of the ambassador.
The Episode Review
Catherine may have had the upper-hand last episode, but Peter takes advantage of her recent leniency to plan a semi-coup of his own. This whole episode is an entertaining tug-of-war between the royals to see who will win over the Ottoman ambassador’s support.
Funnily enough, Peter can’t best his wife when he’s trying to match her wit. But he’ll of course ruin all of her plans when he acts on impulse, out of his supposed “love” for her.
I’ve enjoyed this season’s exploration of Peter’s “love” and how it consistently negatively affects Catherine. Case in point: Leo. And now the ambassador. I’m really looking forward to seeing how his misplaced affection comes to blows. Although it looks like we’ll be seeing Catherine growing closer to her foolish spouse before she cuts him off for good.
Interestingly, this episode has a lightness of tone we haven’t seen before with season 2. Of course, there’s still the beheadings, betrayals, and mommy issues—but all of this is handled with a casual flippancy that characterized season 1. I’m glad to see the show maintaining its unique style and still growing in new and compelling plot points.
I’m ready for Catherine having to finally confront the reality of war. I have a feeling that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the coming episodes. Meanwhile, Peter’s alliances pose an interesting threat to inner palace life!