The polls have just closed in Alabama, but in my head, I’m repatriated to my ancestral home of England, at least for an hour here and there, as I find solace in a cold snap in bleak midwinter. How? By sucking up the second season of “The Crown” on Netflix.
The first season was very fine, but it was hard to separate how much I loved the story from how much I loved the details – the sets and the costumes and the big paste-jewel necklaces and tiaras and oh my, the coronation episode! In that way, it was “Downton Abbey” before it turned into a stupid crap soap opera. But season 2 is something else. Now that the characters have settled in, the richness of the big themes are emerging. Which is to say, how this institution of monarchy is simultaneously the best and worst sort of prison to be locked into, for all involved, how tradition murders freedom, how duty and autonomy wrestle one another for supremacy. And how this imperfect family manages to lead and follow a complicated country through the middle of the 20th century, when everything changed around it and yet, it endures. Through everything.
I’m a little overwhelmed, having just notched the sixth episode (of 10; I’m trying to make it last the week), which is all about Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, the king who abdicated, and his ties to the Nazis in World War II. I’ve never understood the fascination with the Duke and his wife, Wallis Simpson, who were profoundly silly people, at least when they weren’t being downright evil, which is to say, consorting with Hitler and his pals. It was a marvelous episode, contrasting the Duke’s towering self-regard and self-pity with Elizabeth’s dogged sense of duty and simple Christian faith. (Billy Graham also shows up in this hour, of all people.) The big reveals, the depth of the duke’s wartime treachery, don’t come until the last quarter of the episode, and it all falls into place: Of course he schmoozed with the Nazis; they were going to return him to the throne after they won the war, with Queen Wallis at his side, at long last. He’d win his petty battle with his family, and all it would take was a few more months of his new friends bombing his own countrymen to prepare the soil. The final scenes show him playing bridge with Wallis and another couple, probably Trump relatives. And that was pretty much how his stupid life played out. Fitting.
(Princess Elizabeth did her own service during the war. She was a truck mechanic.)
Last season I marveled at how much drama a typical episode was able to drum up, when you considered what was at stake. In the coronation episode, the central conflict was over whether Elizabeth’s husband, then the Duke of Edinburgh, would kneel before her as part of the ceremony. (Spoiler alert: He did.) But isn’t that what our own lives are like on a day to day basis? Today’s episode: “Commute.” Logline: Nancy has to drive to the west side in snow squalls; will she be able to get there in 55 minutes or less? Tune in tonight! It turns out you can be a queen and still have to deal with a troublesome sister who is bound and determined to marry Mr. Wrong. You can wear a crown but have an irascible co-worker to handle. Yours likely isn’t Winston Churchill, but you get the point.
Oh, and Princess Margaret is killer this season. Gorgeous and tragic and doomed and very fond of strapless dresses.
The plan for this show is to cover Elizabeth’s entire monarchy, with each season covering roughly a decade. The actors will change after this year for an older cast. I can’t wait to see what they do with Margaret’s nervous-exhaustion phase. Every time she lights another cigarette – and she lights approximately 400 every episode she’s in – I want to tell her to think of her future wrinkles.
So enjoy it, if you haven’t checked it out already. Totally worth it.
I’m calling this race for Moore. Anyone else?