How hard can it be to liberate and change the hearts and minds of a country? That’s the question Catherine (Elle Fanning) is asking in The Great‘s second season. She has “successfully” pulled off a coup and unseated her husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult) with the help of her trusty advisors and co-conspirators Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), Velementov (Douglas Hodge), Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow), best friend Marial (Phoebe Fox) and the some-times Archbishop (Adam Godley). But because her heart (or conscience) wouldn’t allow her to actually kill him, Peter refuses to admit defeat and continues to plot and scheme with the help of “down for whatever” friends who want to preserve the status quo. As the nobility bristle against this change, it leaves Catherine wondering if the Russian people can ever leave their rowdy and violent image behind and step into the Age of Enlightenment. And along the way, viewers are in for more of The Great’s trademark raunchy, foul-mouthed, and ridiculous shenanigans and japes.
This season is a battle of wills (and hearts) and strategy, while Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow) works behind the scenes to play both sides for the sake of Mother Russia. Bromilow’s Aunt Elizabeth is lowkey one of the standout characters this season as she plays somewhat of a benevolent puppet master. She’s weird, and everyone writes her off as crazy, but she’s brilliantly clever (“I believe that all men are created equal, but I still have issues with the individuals”). Still, as Catherine tries to push the Russian people forward into a new era, not only does she have to fight Peter (and her heart) and his conniving crew, she has to go up against misogyny, the patriarchy, the vice-grip of religion, and the confines of the science of the day while trying to overcome her guilt of getting Leo killed in season one. It’s going to be a long, bumpy, and deadly road to get the “New Russia.”
In season two, writer Tony McNamara is still writing (a la The Favourite) dope, flawed historical women who are badasses kicking butt and taking names while dismantling the patriarchy in humorously fictional period pieces. The show is still fast-paced, witty, and absurd with exceptional acting — it really looks like the cast is having a ball with this one. They are so committed to the tomfoolery. Nicholas Hoult is still great as the man-child Peter, who seems all-at-once delusional and idiotic yet intelligent when it comes to human psychology. This season, his emotional range runs the gamut from frivolous playboy to dotting father and lovesick dejected lover dealing with the heartache of unrequited love.
Hoult is even pulling double-duty by playing one of his look-alikes, having to switch between accents and dispositions. I also love that so many characters got their own mini storylines and character development this season. We really get to know some of the backstory and demons that these characters are fighting while also fighting for or against enlightenment.
At the head of it all, however, Elle Fanning is still carrying the weight of a country in her performance as the badass, headstrong yet still somewhat naive Catherine. Her cocaine-fueled work binge is fantastic. The relationships and interplay between Peter and Grigor and Georgina or Marial and George or Tatyana and Arkady is like watching a modern-day reality TV plotline. Even the relationship (and motivations) between Catherine and her mother Joanna (Gillian Anderson) find all the right beats.
Of course, we could not let this review go without giving the incomparable Gillian Anderson’s performance its due praise. She is ruthless and reads everyone for filth! She’s so much fun to watch.
Everything that we loved in the first season of The Great is back (and bigger) this time around. The witty dialogue, outstanding acting, great direction, color-blind casting, and jaw-dropping costumes and set design make for a wild roller coaster ride of a season filled with lessons (it’s a thin line between ambition and arrogance or the fight for democracy and equality are hard) and lots of laughs.