Hulu/Amazon Prime Canada
Created by Tony McNamara
Stars Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan, Charity Wakefield, Gwilym Lee, Adam Godley, Douglas Hodge, Belinda Bromilow, Bayo Gbadamosi, Florence Keith-Roach, Danusia Samal
Tony McNamara’s take on the rise of Catherine the Great to power, and her messy relationship with former emperor and bumbling party boy Peter III is back for a second season. Much like the first season were driven into the savagery, the lust, and all other antics of the imperial Russian society of that time period.
The second season follows up a few months after the first, and sees what happens after Catherine’s successful Coup of power against Husband Peter III
Much the same as it’s first The Great season 2, follows the same formula that worked for it the first time- taking history, and re writing the events to be even quirkier and satirical of just how absurd this period of time was. As well we build on the incredibly unique and changed dynamic of the relationship between Peter and Catherine, who have gone from husband and wife, emperor and his wife. To Empress who has successfully taken over all of Russia, and her stunned prisoner of a husband who remains convinced that his abdication will only be for a short period of time.
This is where the show is the strongest, the relationship between Catherine and Peter, and their individual growth as characters after the events of the first season. Nicholas Hoult is once again incredible as Peter, though is characters likability is finally shown this time around, his arc going from spoiled dummy who mistreated everyone and everything because he had power. To still the same dummy, but someone who thanks to the impending fatherhood he is about to go through and the unimaginable arousal of being upended from power, is now looking to change. He wants to be a better man, and though there is many hiccups along the way throughout the ten episodes- Peter is far more redeemable and his quest to prove his change and love for Catherine is endearing. Catherine, played by Elle Fanning, continues to develop into t strong iconic female that she is to become. Leadership has its faults as the idealistic woman that she is still doesn’t recognize that though she may want to bring in change, Russia, and Russians of the time are far less happy to do so. Her forced changes, and misguided dismissals of many her allies from the first season will have everyone pulling on their hair. Catherine has many lessons to learn it’s a necessary for her arc, but it makes for a frustrating journey to get there. The two of them together go well as their conversations and plotlines can flow seemlessly between genres- one can go from a love arc, to a comedy, to a drama within a flash and the viewer will never feel like this genre switch is out of place.
The storyline feels much more like we’re building to something. The blood, sex, and other vulgarities of the Russian high class has been established in the first season so therefore we dont have to retrace those steps. Rather, we’re given a complex political storyline that still has the comedic undertone of its first season. We’ve got multiple parties each with their own agendas, some for Catherine, some for Peter, all for themselves. We have the Ottoman‘s being introduced as the first rivals of Catherines reign as Empress. This brings in a whole new set of questions and dynamics as Catherine and her ever loyal commander Velementov clash on how to deal with this power that intrudes on their lands. Peter and his loyalists have their own set of questions as they deal with their boot from power and the most comfortable seats, and deal with Peter’s own acceptance of this happening. The story moves forward in such a critical way because it feels like we’re finally pushing towards Catherine’s ideal Russia, or atleast the pushback she will recieve to reach this idea.
The cast is strong and multiple people deserve their applause for what they had brought to the season. Hoult clearly is the strongest as the very much emotional mess of a former emperor but so many around him also shine. Gwilym Lee’s Grigor gets a moment to show that he’s far more than just a bestfriend character that allows Peter to have relations with his wife, and that there’s a brain, and more importantly a heart under the lack of spine that the loyalist has. We get so much growth of him especially in the mid season, as he reconnects with the lovely Phoebe Fox‘s Marial, the still untrusted bestfriend to Catherine. Both sides see the Coup in far different light, but the two of them each have a perspective that is slightly correct- they both represent the more grounded versions of the person they are loyal to. Dhawan’s Orlo is in a much angstier situation though I didn't love the direction that his character went this season, and felt the plot line with his uncle reduced the character more backwards than it did elevating him forward with the rest of the main cast. Gbadamosi’s Arkady and Keith-Roach who plays his characters wife’ Tatyana may be the strongest introductions as main characters. They provide so much comedy relief, but their characters agendas even beyond their loyalty to Peter makes them intriguing characters to watch beyond this season- they’re very much in it to reap the benefits of him becoming Emperor again, and will do whatever and cross whoever to get there. We also get the incredible Gillian Anderson for a few episodes as Catherine’s mother Joanna, and boy oh boy she absolutely sets the future course for the better with the direction her storyline goes once she is introduced.
There will be another season of The Great and seeing where this one left off, I have no questions that it will be as strong as its previous two. We’re starting to get to the meat and intentions of the story, and with a strong cast and hilarious comedic undertone behind its dramatics- one can just imagine what an enjoyable next chapter will come from this (semi) historical story.