A Simple Jape
Episode 6 of The Great Season 2 begins with Peter accusing Catherine of using him for sex. He wants to know where their marriage is heading. Catherine doesn’t have an answer. She doesn’t love him. She’s fond of him of course, but that’s all. He calls her heartless, leading them to call off their current arrangement.
Marial’s dalliance with Grigor is going somewhat better. They’re flirting, and she accuses him of never acknowledging her while she was a servant. He assures her that he was always aware of her. They are about to have sex when they’re interrupted by Shakey.
Shakey is Marial’s new servant. She’s old, sassy, and her hands shake too much to properly pour a cup of tea. None of the other ladies would have her, so Marial took her on to save her from a worse fate than becoming a lady’s maid.
In the schoolroom, Catherine receives a surprise in the form of cake to her face. The students insult her. They claim that she’s all talk. She hasn’t really done anything for Russia.
Discouraged, Catherine thinks the solution is to free all the serfs. Orlo talks her down, reminding her that this plan is a long game.
In his chambers, Peter paces. He realizes what a fool he’s been. He doesn’t really love his wife, for she just wants to change him. It’s time, he decides, to end her and move on.
Seeing Shakey, Catherine has a grand or foolish idea, depending on who you ask. She and Marial dress up the maid as a lady. They present her to the court as Lady Anastasia.
No one recognizes Shakey except for Elizabeth. Lady Svenska, in particular, is fooled and charmed by the old woman.
When Catherine reveals to everyone who Lady Anastasia really is, there’s an uproar. She gives a small speech about human potential and poses her little experiment as “an interesting question” and “a fun jape.” Not everyone sees it that way, however.
Grigor wonders what other ideas she has for the serfs. He and Arkady threaten Orlo at gunpoint to obtain Catherine’s plans.
Father Basil visits Archie’s chambers. The empress relieved him of his commission, leaving him feeling used by both Catherine and Archie.
He tells Archie he is a brilliant man, but there is a darkness in him. Archie (perhaps misreading the room) kisses him, then tries to spin this as an act of “pure love.”
The serfs have a newfound respect for Catherine after her jape with the nobles. The empress even gifts Shakey with her own quarters.
But the nobles are even angrier after Grigor shows them Catherine’s plan to free the serfs. Elizabeth tries to convince Catherine to play it off as another fun experiment, nothing serious.
Instead, she argues for the rights of servants. When her court gives her an ultimatum, she declares all the serfs to be free.
Now that the nobles have turned against Catherine, Peter escapes to speak with them. He urges them to assemble in the halls tomorrow and scream for her to abdicate.
But Lady Svenska thinks this an underwhelming plan. Taking matters into her own hands, she enters Shakey’s new chambers. She slits the maid’s throat, splattering her own dress with blood. How’s that for making a statement to the empress?
The next morning, nobles can’t find their servants. But Marial finds Shakey. A civil war breaks out in the palace.
Catherine’s advisors, especially Elizabeth, beg her to put an end to it, but she doesn’t want to turn guns on her people. Her naive optimism that everything could simply work itself out recalls Catherine of season 1, episode 1. She forces everyone out of the room and begins to sob uncontrollably.
Peter then bursts in, planning on capturing her. But when he sees her crying on the floor, he falls to his knees and hugs her. Defeated, she asks him if he’s going to take the throne. “Not today,” he says, holding her to him.
Catherine, seeing no other option, asks Velementov to get things under control—his way.
Peter goes back to his room and asks the guards to lock him in. And Catherine lays down for the night to the sound of gunshots.
At the end of the episode, Marial takes a gun, strides into Lady Svenska’s room, and shoots her in the head.
The Episode Review
“A Simple Jape” really wreaks havoc on viewers’ expectations. I truly didn’t know how this catastrophe was going to play out. Was Peter going to take the throne? Was Catherine going to give in? In the end, there was so much that went wrong, but also so much more that could have gone wrong.
This episode plays into Catherine’s impetuous nature. Her strongest attribute—her optimistic commitment to changing Russia for the better—is also framed as her greatest flaw. While this has already been explored thoroughly in the show, this episode utilizes that trait to bring things crashing down on her and to possibly finally teach her a lesson about pacing herself.
This is a weird episode in that it’s extremely important to the development of the series and the characters—but only if the following episodes actually see consequences of these events. Time will tell if Catherine actually learns and grows from the challenges she’s created for herself.
The relationship between Catherine and Peter remains a rollercoaster. While the ex-emperor has had moments of kindness before, this is a huge step for his character growth.
I find Elizabeth’s motivations the most interesting. In every episode so far, she evidently acts out of self-interest. But she’s usually the strongest voice of reason as well. I have to wonder whether Catherine will always be able to trust her.