The first episode of the second season of Netflix’s The Crown took us on an unsettling and heartbreaking ride. And though we know things will inevitably get worse, Episode 2 was surprisingly upbeat and, dare I say it, hopeful. Of course, ‘A Company of Men’ doesn’t begin quite as happy as it ends.
The episode opens with a narration of one of Mike’s letters. As it turns out, he frequently writes to the Gentleman’s Club back in London. Currently in New Guinea, the time for speeches and public appearances has not yet come, and Philip is taking full advantage of it. He’s participating in multiple sports with the many different people he meets and it’s clear that he’s genuinely happy. He’s able to experience some sort of freedom here, though not necessarily the freedom that Mike would encourage. As Mike writes in one of his letters:
“And in New Guinea, as it turns out, there’s no such thing as infidelity. Men are expected to indulge.“
In their time abroad (from what we’ve seen thus far, at least), Mike is certainly taking advantage of this ‘lack’ of infidelity. But Philip, on the other hand, is staying honest. The most he partakes in is a little dancing, but nothing more. This is encouraging, especially considering the fact that there are no cameras or journalists around. He very well could sleep with another woman and the public would be none the wiser. The fact that he chooses to stay faithful is very telling and proves that he still cares deeply for Elizabeth. But this isn’t all. Philip actually calls Elizabeth from New Guinea! Unfortunately, the connection was too weak for him to hear her, though she could hear him perfectly. It’s upsetting that they can’t speak, but it’s promising that they’re trying. Philip hasn’t forgotten that he has a family.
Back in London, Elizabeth misses her husband dearly, but there’s much to be done and a lot to keep her busy. The people of Britain are furious with Eden for attacking Egypt, having such strong opinions against it that the Prime Minister has no course of action but to order to a ceasefire. They’ve yet to secure the Suez Canal, not to mention the fact that the Prime Minister’s health is failing. He demands stronger medication, but his doctor informs him there is nothing stronger than what is already prescribed. He informs the Queen of this, along with the fact that he must take a leave of absence for the sake of his health. And the leave cannot be in Britain, but in Jamaica. He claims the orders were given directly from his doctor, that tropical sunshine is necessary in his treatment. It seems a little suspicious, and it’s clear that Elizabeth also has her doubts. But she allows him to go, trusting that the men he’s left in his stead will get the job done. One can only hope.
Back on tour, Philip has arrived in Australia and everyone can’t help but notice how happy he looks. Even when delivering the speeches he dreads, he still is all smiles. This causes some conflict within Elizabeth. On one hand, she’s glad to see her husband happy once again. On the other hand, she’s concerned that he’s only happy so far away from her. And no doubt there’s a part of her that worries the press will pick up on that.
Philip swore there would be no interviews during the tour in order to make it as quick and painless as possible. But while in Australia, there’s one journalist he sees attending his speeches often, and always looking at him with a smile. He tells Mike to make an exception, sure that this journalist is a friend, not a foe. Unfortunately, as is made clear only seconds into the interview, Philip could not have been more wrong.
Though she begins the conversation with the crisis in Egypt, which he obviously cannot comment on, she quickly changes her tact by asking him very personal questions, especially regarding his childhood. And what started as a flirty, lighthearted interview turns into a tense, heated one. She mentions the death of his grandfather along with his sisters (who happen to be Nazis). Both of these anger Philip (understandably), but it isn’t until she mentions his mother that he changes completely.
She asks if it was the trauma the family suffered that caused his mother’s illness, and at first he looks genuinely confused. After all, this was a time when mental illness wasn’t understood in the least. What we now understand is a panic attack, for example, used to be considered a hysteria that would have you placed in a mental institution. And Philip’s mother was placed in such an institution. In flashbacks, we see her being dragged away from the house, from him, as he fights to hold onto her. He can’t stop himself from cringing at the memory, or at the word ‘illness’. He continuously tries to stop her from prying further, but she keeps pushing him until he won’t take it any longer, storming out of the room. He stops just outside the door, looks at Mike, and says:
“Don’t ever let my vanity get the better of me again.”
This moment is key for so many reasons. It shows that Philip realizes his mistake, that he realizes a pretty smile doesn’t necessarily mean good things. It also gives us an important glimpse into his childhood, a rough one, at that. And yet, he never wallows. He doesn’t let his trauma control his life, and that’s quite admirable. These insights are so vital because they allow us to sympathize with Philip on a deeper, more personal level than we ever could in Season 1. And this connection only grows stronger throughout the episode.
Shortly after these events, their ship receives a distress call. All men aboard the boat but one have perished, and they’re the nearest ship. They arrive just in time, and though the man has substantial injuries, he will make a full recovery. The Flag Officer decides that they’ll drop him off at the next destination, but Philip won’t hear of it. They should turn back and return him to his home, instead of taking him to a foreign land far away from his family. The Flag Officer disagrees, as it will put them days, perhaps a week behind schedule. But Philip doesn’t care. Though his time on the ship has been fun, he hasn’t seen or felt much meaning to it. And here is a chance to do something meaningful. He won’t waste it. The Flag Officer says no, claiming that he is in command of this ship, as his rank is above even Admiral of the Fleet in this instance, if he’d recall is naval training. But Philip won’t back down that easily.
“I do recall my naval training, as it happens. Manning command posts on destroyers during the war. The same war which, I believe, you spent on shore duty. I have never abused my privileges, and I don’t intend to start now, but this is the Royal Yacht. I am on it representing the Crown, and I say turn it around and take this man home.”
The Flag Officer is humiliated and unhappy, but the Crown has spoken. And so Philip, accompanied by many officers, are able to go ashore and return this man back to his home, where he’s greeted immediately by his family, along with the entire tribe. Everyone is incredibly grateful, and they spend the night celebrating. And as Philip watches the interactions between family, he can’t help but look melancholy. It’s another moment of realization that as much as he loves life on the sea, he loves his family too. He misses them.
Speaking of, Christmas is quickly approaching, and the Royal family will still be separated. So officials thought it best that both Elizabeth and Philip deliver Christmas speeches. Elizabeth, of course, would go second because she has seniority, but having two speeches, though nontraditional, would reassure the people that “all is well”. It would be a sign of hope and unity, something everyone desperately needs at the moment. And so, having no idea what the other will say, Philip and Elizabeth prepare their speeches on opposite ends of the Earth.
Philip talks of the incredible cultures they’ve been introduced to. The different societies and governments, and how it’s all made them look at their own lives a little more closely. It’s made him realize the things he took for granted. Even though he can enjoy life aboard a ship, even though he is surrounded by a crew of fine men, this life is a solitary one.
“We are men together, but we each stand alone.”
Elizabeth is more than capable of reading between the lines, and smiles upon hearing her husband’s speech. In fact, it persuades her to make alterations to her own speech. In what is considered a bold move, she adds something much more personal and close to home. In between giving her best wishes to those of her nation and others, she speaks directly to Philip.
“A very large, united family is waiting for you here, and will always be waiting for you.”
He smiles, ever so slightly, upon hearing this, but that look of melancholy is still upon his face. He admits to Mike that his wife’s speech was touching, surprisingly so. And he never thought he’d feel this way, but he’s homesick. He misses her and he misses his life there. Perhaps this journey, though long, was necessary for Philip. It reminded him of what was important and, as he says, it made him realize what he took for granted.
Though Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is growing stronger, Mike and Eileen’s marriage could not be worse. Back in London, without Mike’s knowledge, Eileen attempts to divorce her husband. He is certainly guilty of neglect, though that isn’t a reason for divorce in the eyes of the law. Adultery would qualify as a substantial reason, but until she has concrete evidence, nothing can be taken further. So she goes down to the Gentleman’s Club and approaches one of the waitresses, Lily, before she goes in. She begs her to tell her anything she knows, anything that might make ending the marriage easier.
At first, Lily’s answer is a firm no. And it’s understandable why. She would be putting her job and her reputation at risk by speaking out against the Duke of Edinburgh’s right-hand man. But she can’t seem to get Eileen out of her head, and the more she thinks about it, the more she can’t stand the men’s crude behavior. She finds herself meeting Eileen and admits to the affair she had, though she didn’t know he was married at the time. She even tells the lawyer, but without a statement given in court, the evidence would still not be enough.
But Lily is determined to help Eileen and keep her reputation in check, and she finds the perfect opportunity when one of Mike’s letters to the club is left out in the open. She gives it to Eileen, knowing that it should be enough to file for divorce as he speaks of multiple encounters with women. And while this is certainly good for Eileen and her children, it is more than just her marriage at stake here. This is not a quiet secret, many members of the government know of Eileen’s plan and are trying to stop the divorce from going any further. Because any indications of infidelity on Mike’s part would by association reflect on Philip. Rumors would fly, and whether true or not, it would throw the Crown into disarray. For the stability of the country, this divorce cannot happen. But it may be too late to stop it.
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