The second season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed historical drama, The Crown, has arrived. And the stakes have unquestionably raised from last season, in more ways than one. We will see more action in Season 2, more drama, more intrigue, and yes, more likely than not, more heartbreak.
The premiere dives right into the heart of Elizabeth and Philip’s complicated marriage. The first scene consists of the two on a ship in Lisbon, with reporters surrounding the vessel. After Elizabeth ends a phone call with the Palace Press Secretary, she informs Philip that rumors and speculation have only continued to grow, despite their best efforts to squash them. And it’s clear from the palpable tension in the room that something massive has happened. From the looks of it, it was Philip who stepped out of line.
But despite everything, Elizabeth wants to make this marriage work as painlessly as possible. They, unlike everyone else, don’t have the option of divorce, so either they can continue to live in this agony or they can actually speak their minds. Lay their cards on the table, as Elizabeth puts it. So they do. Elizabeth is tired of Philip constantly complaining. He’s lost and when she sent him on the five month journey it was with hopes that he would return having found some sort of happiness. Or at least contentedness. But as it’s clear that has yet to happen, Elizabeth decides to stop beating around the bush.
“What would make it easier on you? To be in, not out. What will it take?”
In this moment, he looks at her with something akin to disgust and exasperation. “You’re asking my price?” She repeats that she’s asking what it will take. This marriage isn’t what either of them expected it to be, and how they’re dealing with it obviously isn’t working. But I think the bigger question is if there’s still a strong enough love between them to make it work. And right now, it’s difficult to tell.
This scene takes place five months in the future. And no doubt we will continue to cut back to it throughout the series, perhaps in each episode. But first we need to learn how they got into the situation, whatever that is, in the first place. So we pick up right where Season 1 left off. The only difference is that things seem to be going a lot more smoothly between Elizabeth and Philip now. They’re quite playful with one another. While they’re waiting to attend a party, he notices her dress slightly unzipped. Her ladies rush forward to fix it but Philip waves them off. He asks everyone to turn away as he fixes the zipper, and then quickly dips down, kissing the back of her neck. She smiles in surprise, and they enter the room hand in hand.
This playfulness, this happiness, continues into the next morning. But while Philip is out, Elizabeth goes to his bedroom and slips the camera her father gave her into his bag, along with a little note. A present that he’ll be surprised with on the plane. This is no ordinary gift, either, as Philip will know. That camera is one of the dearest things she has from her father, one of her fondest memories. Letting him take it with him for five months, well, it’s a true sign of love and admiration. Which is what makes it all the more painful when Elizabeth discovers a small, framed photograph of a ballerina in his bag.
She’s overcome with surprise and pain. You can’t help but hope that it’s a mistake, that someone slipped it in, or that it was from a long time ago. But wouldn’t it all make sense, given the first scene? She doesn’t confront Philip about it, but she’s noticeably distant with him after that, even when saying goodbye on the plane before he takes off. They won’t see each other for five months, but all she does is give him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing away, and even in that there was hesitation. Philip’s confused until he opens the bag. He’s happily surprised, touched, when he sees the camera. And then he sees the note.
Always remember you have a family.
Words that, at the time written, were meant with joy and love, but now read as more of a warning. Though Philip doesn’t know that she discovered the photo, there is a dawn of understanding on his face when he reads the note. This, quite frankly, could not have come at a worse time for the couple. With five months away from each other, there needs to be trust. And right now it just isn’t there.
Meanwhile, it isn’t only the royal marriage that’s falling apart. Egypt is quickly starting to get into the mindset of a revolution thanks to President Nasser. They begin by taking Suez Canal, gaining complete and utter control of it and, as a result, of imports and exports. This is an incredibly dangerous thing for Britain because they depend on Egypt’s oil. Obviously this is something that must be dealt with immediately, but handled with great care as well. But, as was hinted at in the Season 1 finale, the Prime Minister has started to become unhinged. And he is determined to meet the taking of the Suez Canal with nothing short of war.
Without telling the Queen or gaining the approval of the United Nations, Eden met with representatives of both the French and Israeli governments in secret, deciding on a course of action. And when Elizabeth finds out, she’s furious. Here she is, yet again, when the men that are in charge of running the country seem to be running it into the ground. Keeping her out of the loop and preventing her from doing her duty as Queen. What Eden has done could have dire consequences on the nation, and yet he did it anyway. The worst part is that the decision doesn’t seem strategic at all, but strictly personal. It’s no secret that Nasser and Eden hate each other, and if this act of war was based on that hatred, I’d definitely qualify that as unfit for duty.
Philip’s uncle suggests as much. He requests an audience with her and they eat an early supper together, discussing just how dangerous Eden’s decisions are. He asks her to keep an eye on the Prime Minister, paying close attention to her private conversations with him, what he says and how he says it. And if he’s out of line, it is her duty to let him know. She agrees, and honestly, I think it’s a relief for her to have someone in the family that doesn’t keep things from her. Someone in her life, even.
As Lord Mountbatten is about to leave, they ask each other how Philip is simultaneously. She immediately drops her head in embarrassment. But her husband’s uncle is anything but judgmental, and is in fact able to offer some advice. He tells her that Philip is a wild soul, and he knows that’s difficult to be married to.
“Trying to tame them is no use….when you really adore someone as fully and as hopelessly as I think you and I do, you put up with anything.”
It isn’t necessarily comforting. How can it be when Elizabeth basically has confirmation that Philip has not stayed true to her? At the very least, it’s a likely risk. But it’s comforting in the sense that she won’t feel so alone. She’ll know that she isn’t the only one. It isn’t about her, it’s about her husband.
Also notable from this episode is that Margaret is drinking a lot more than she used to, and as she points out, it’s only natural. She’s a lot unhappier than she used to be. She also warns her sister that the man Philip always finds himself with, Mike, may not be the best influence. Apparently he has quite the reputation for setting up gentleman’s weekends with actresses and yep, you guessed it, ballerinas. Elizabeth saw that coming a mile away, so much so that she had to see the ballet for herself. She could barely get through the performance, tears were in her eyes the entire time. If this is any hint at what’s to come, we better get the tissues now.
The second season premiere ended with bombs being dropped throughout Egypt, and it seems to me this is the worst way to deal with the unrest. Britain needs to appear strong, yes, but they also need to appear civil. Right now, they aren’t doing a very good job. Tension is only going to continue to build in future episodes, and it’s clear that everything Season 1 set up is finally bubbling to the surface in a brilliant, albeit heartbreaking way.
Stay tuned for more recaps, coming soon.