Huzzah! Debauchery, Backstabbing, and Perfect Chemistry: Season Two of ‘The Great’ Has it All


Photo credits: Hulu

With brutal, ambitious monarchs, crude dark humor, and surprisingly heartfelt moments, Hulu’s The Great returns with an excellent season two. We see season one conclude with Catherine The Great (Elle Fanning) successfully enacting a coup against her cruel and childish husband, Peter the III (Nicolas Hoult). She’s got her assembled band of misfits: Marial (Phoebe Fox), her trusty maid; Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), a frustrated bureaucrat; and Velementov (Douglas Hodge), an old general with a knack for initiating war. Everything goes to plan– except for the fact that her lover, Leo (Sebastian de Souza) is now presumed dead. And her inability to assassinate her oaf of a husband. And, of course, the fact that she’s very pregnant with his child. Whose name is Paul.

If season one established Catherine’s desire to rule, then season two explores the responsibilities of a ruler, and the hefty challenges that come with it. Freshly crowned, Catherine is overly ambitious, determined to create a better, new Russia. We see her tackle government issues and controversial 18-century politics with her progressive and reformist views: she expands women’s rights, frees the serfs, and expands education for girls. However, Catherine is far from the perfect ruler– and the show lets us see that. Her idyllic views don’t exactly line up with the reality of Russian commoners, and her headstrong personality can prompt unintended, bloody consequences. 

Catherine herself is also a ticking time bomb, her pregnancy foreshadowing the uncertainties and questions that lay ahead of her. How will she prove to Russia that she, a woman, is their true leader; someone who is qualified and intelligent enough to make decisions on behalf of the Russian people? How will she fend off underlying enemies in her own royal court as well as foreign? And how the hell will she co-parent Paul with her man-child husband, who is also technically her prisoner?

And while Catherine is figuring out these questions, Peter is finally freed from the shackles of responsibility and ruling. Season one was in danger of solidifying Peter as a fixed douchebag with some definite mommy and daddy issues. And even though season-two-Peter continues to be the same idiot with parental problems, he’s a changed man for one reason: he’s hopelessly in love with Catherine. Instead of coming off as an abrupt personality switch, Hoult’s performance as Peter as a mellowed-out romantic is charmingly hilarious and sincere. You’d never expect for this bloodthirsty ex-emperor to embrace the newcomings of fatherhood and relationships, but Peter is completely endearing in this new state.

“He’s just falling more and more in love with Catherine each time he sees her strategic-ness, ruthlessness and ability to be his match,” Hoult says, in an interview with the Guardian. “He also does really try and love Paul. It is an endearing thing, him wanting to be a dad.”

Perhaps the most exciting and anticipated entrance this season was Gillian Anderson, who played Catherine’s demanding and seductive mother, Joanna. Set on nothing less than having all her daughters married to foreign kings, Catherine was one of her success stories; until she took the crown for herself. The addition of Anderson to this wonderfully weird, crafted cast of unique characters, was just the ingredient to ignite chaos and catastrophe within the tense, gold palace walls. 

Above all, Hoult and Fanning shine in their roles. Their scenes range from wholesome moments to cut-throat rivalry, and their masterful acting skills take on these scenes to create beautiful chemistry. And as we see this chemistry blossom over the course of this season, we can’t help but root for this dysfunctional duo.

The Great’s flawless ability to combine the dark, grim parts of history, while poking fun at the ridiculous, frilly aspects and acknowledgement of its historical inaccuracy, allows the creators to overstep boundaries and create a hilarious drama. The Great’s absurd world of over-the-top characters, big-patterned costumes, and twist on the last reigning Empress of Russia’s life makes for a deliciously scandalous and extremely entertaining season two.