10 moments to have you Huzzah!-ing over The Great’s return


Season 2 of anti-historical comedy-drama The Great is almost upon us – watch it on Neon from November 20th. Amelia Berry gives a spoiler-free (where it counts) rundown of some of the best moments so far to get your blood pumping with 18th Century Russian Imperial vigour.


Ladies and Gentlemen… The Emperor of Russia

A good introduction can tell you everything you need to know about a character. In our first meeting (and Catherine’s) with Emperor Peter III of Russia, the important facts become apparent pretty much immediately.

Namely, he’s a huge prick. He’s a spoiled man-baby surrounded by simpering toadies. He’s thoughtlessly cruel and pointedly self-important.

And somehow Nicholas Hoult still makes him an absolute joy to watch, playing Peter as gleefully bratty, like an obnoxious toddler who wakes up to find he’s been given the power of life and death over everyone he knows. It’s the Big sequel we never knew we needed.


Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

It can be difficult trying to fit in with a new social circle. We’ve all done things we regret trying to impress someone at a party, or a pot-luck dinner. Sometimes that means pretending that you really love what Radiohead are doing right now, sometimes it means tearing the eyes out of a decapitated Swedish head at the dinner table in order to appear pleasant and submissive to your maniacal husband.

When Catherine’s up to her knuckles in eyeballs, and the camera zooms in on her trembling expression, forcing a broken smile through the horror and gore… that’s a relatable moment.


A Dress Best Served Cold

Revenge is great. It’s simply a lot of fun to do something bad to someone who’s done something bad to you. When Lady Svenska shows up to tea and all the tents have been reupholstered to match her new dress, not only is Catherine reclaiming quite a good gag from 2004 film Garden State, but she is absolutely ruining Svenska’s whole week.

So what if it destroys the delicate ecosystem of friendships and alliances she was cultivating at court? When life gives you lemons, throw them at the nearest person who’s wronged you.


A Bishop Lights Himself On Fire

If there’s one thing worth repeating about The Great, it’s that the show has range. In the same episode that Catherine’s lover Leo invents both the Moscow Mule cocktail and the exclamation “wow!”, a bishop lights himself on fire in protest at Peter’s immorality and fornication.

The goofiness leading up to it really sets off the darkness of the self-immolation, and whether you wince, or you have a sinister little chuckle about it, you’re not going to forget it in a minute.

Bonus points for opening the scene with a Princess Bride-grade classic funny priest.


The Front Lines

Strange, crusty, perfume-tasting things, macarons are one of life’s most disappointing cakes. Lucky for Catherine, dying soldiers are a pretty easy audience to please when it comes to the momentary reprieve of impossibly opulent luxuries.

A lot of the best moments in The Great come from our cast of aristocrats having to face up to the realities of ordinary Russian life, and Elle Fanning really sells Catherine’s ‘let them eat cake’ moment with wide-eyed recognition and a regal grimace.


The Power of Science

The history of Russia is the history of the struggle between modernisation and tradition (I assume, I’ve done no research). It’s no surprise then that this tension should be central to The Great.

In episode six we see a small win for Catherine’s progressive French ideals, with Peter agreeing to demonstrate the exciting and only slightly anachronistic technology of parachutes. Peter being a huge prick (as mentioned above), of course decides that the thing to parachute off the palace is a little fluffy dog.

You won’t believe it, but turns out throwing a dog off a tall building makes for cracking television.


Pox Yourself

One of the more minor issues with living through the kind of times we’re currently living through is that it makes everything feel so damn poignant. So, when The Great has a whole episode about Smallpox, with special attention paid to the disproportionate impact on the poor, and (slightly on the nose, this one) vaccine scepticism, it’s going to feel emotionally resonant.

It would be easy for something like this to fall flat, but within the context of an episode with real stakes and real loss, Catherine’s misplaced optimism is genuinely crushing.


Depression Melons

Not everything’s an urgently emotive moment of reflection and self-reckoning though. Sometimes all you need is the simple comedy of a depressed man lying in bed surrounded by one hundred and four melons.

What else are you going to do when your yellow and/or green biles are up?


The Brick

Like a sexy S&M reimagining of the spooky hands from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, an arm gloved in black leather emerges from the ceiling, brandishing a brick.

As far as torture goes, the brick seems quite fun. A little flirty even. Definitely a good deal more whimsical than getting your fingernails pulled out. Regardless, I’ll never look at bricks the same way again.


Voltaire!

Pretty much nobody at all saw the 2009 television show Desperate Romantics, about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You’ll have to trust me then when I say that Mark Heap’s regular cameos as a comedy Charles Dickens were a moment of brilliance in an otherwise extremely average show.

The appearance of legendary French Enlightenment writer Voltaire in the final episode season one, is the best version of that since Mark Heap Dickens, and in a much, much better show to boot.

So now, as we prepare to launch into season two, let us ruminate on the words of fake Voltaire: “What is a man…some legs…a cock…a few words that float away to nothing as they are said?” Too true, Voltaire, too true.