The Great





Emily Clark

TV Series Review

As the new Empress of Russia, Catherine has a few ideas about how the country should be run. In her fine opinion, arts, literature and science must be embraced and accessible to everyone if Russia is to be brought alongside Europe’s Age of Enlightenment. The people must be taught how to read. Serfdom should be abolished. And above all, women must be treated as equals (or at least as human beings).

Unfortunately, her husband, Peter, doesn’t quite agree. Prior to their marriage, the only thing he had successfully managed during his reign was turning his insipid court into a mockery, starting a pointless territorial war with Sweden (that Russia was losing) and entombing his dead mother in a glass case.

Perhaps if the two monarchs could find some common ground (other than their “prettiness”), they could change Russia for the better. But Peter’s insistence that “women are for seeding, not reading,” has Catherine desperate for a way out—be it running away, committing suicide or perhaps staging a coup d’etat?

An Occasionally True Story

If you’re looking for an accurate portrayal of Catherine the Great’s rule over Russia, consult a history book. Because as the disclaimer in The Great’s title suggests, this story is only occasionally true. And with that fictional license comes a slew of other issues.

The debauchery in the court of Peter III is reminiscent of what you would find in the fraternity houses of National Lampoon’s Animal House. Casual sex (including some same-sex pairings), extramarital affairs, binge drinking, drug use and frequent use of the f-word all reign supreme in the Russian monarchy.

The show is also disturbingly violent. Beating a servant for insubordination, starting a drunken brawl with your comrades or even shooting a bear at a party are all regular and unquestioned occurrences in Peter’s court. And if you’re a woman, you have even more to fear since even Catherine herself isn’t immune to the threat of rape.

Furthermore, the war with Sweden has resulted not only in the deaths of many soldiers but their dismemberment as well. Peter is quick to mock these poor souls and even asks his dinner guests to pluck the eyeballs out of several decapitated heads during dessert.

The Archbishop does what little he can to guide the emperor and his cohorts toward peace and purity; but considering how deeply involved he is in the war effort, it’s a little hypocritical. Not to mention the fact that nobody really respects him. He is revered for his faith in God but also mocked for his celibacy. And it seems that the Russians’ views on the church and clergy are more than a little skewed since they consider the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to actually be God.

Catherine’s innocence is quickly corrupted by the wantonness of her husband’s court, but the fact that she at least somewhat keeps her moral values leads one to hope that she will indeed become “the Great.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this show.

Episode Reviews

May 15, 2020: “The Great”

After traveling to Russia to marry its emperor, Catherine realizes that the fairy tale life she pictured is not at all what it seems.

Peter and Catherine have sex. (Both are fully clothed.) Catherine joins her husband and another woman in bed (where we see Catherine’s bare behind and Peter’s bare chest). She later learns that the other woman’s husband approves of the affair between his wife and the emperor. Peter gropes Catherine’s chest in public. Couples kiss on the lips and cheeks. A man sensually kisses Catherine’s hand. Women’s gowns reveal cleavage. A woman pulls her nightgown down to reveal her shoulder.

Catherine gives a romantic and detailed description of what she hopes sex will be like. There are multiple references to male and female reproduction organs. Someone is mocked for being a virgin, and it’s hinted he might be gay.

Catherine is informed that the Archbishop must physically examine her to ensure she is a virgin; we see him lick his fingers in preparation (she is greatly disturbed by this and later suggests that he enjoyed the act).

Someone carries a decapitated head on a pike. A man is shot in the leg. Peter shoots Catherine’s pet bear. Catherine gets punched in the stomach by her husband after slapping him in the face. Peter shoots at rabbits while hunting (but misses). Men grapple, punch and kick each other frequently (one man is kicked in the groin and another in the stomach). A woman has to duck when a man throws a glass at her head. People threaten to beat their servants (sometimes quite graphically).

When Catherine attempts to flee the palace locked in a luggage trunk, Peter scares her by having the trunk submerged in water so that she nearly drowns. Catherine later holds a letter opener to her wrist, ready to kill herself; but she’s stopped by her lady-in-waiting.

People drink throughout, often smashing their glasses on the ground and walls when they finish. Some women snort a drug at a party. Someone says that ducklings were drinking vodka.

God is described as a cruel master, and the Archbishop is both mocked and revered as His servant. It is mentioned that the Archbishop receives visions from God and that one such vision is what led him to choose Catherine as Peter’s bride. He wears a crucifix around his neck (as does Peter) and offers to be a spiritual mentor to Catherine. A chapel in the palace has a skull next to a picture of Jesus and his mother, Mary.

We see a skeleton in a glass case and a dead bird in a library. Peter burns a school down when he learns it was meant for women. Peter’s aunt has servants that crawl behind her on their hands and knees. We hear the f-word and s-word multiple times as well as “b–ch,” “d–n” and “a–.” There are also a few misuses of God’s name paired with “d–mit.”

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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