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The Great

The Great season 3

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Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Tsiao

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.

But now that’s all changed. After Catherine staged a coup d’état, split Peter’s court in half and tried to stab Peter to death (fortunately for him, a lookalike bore the brunt of her assault instead), the monarchs are at an impasse.

As it turns out, Catherine and Peter actually love one another. And while they still don’t agree about Russia’s future, they do have one commonality: They want to make a better Russia for their son, Paul.

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 multiple same-sex pairings and orgies), extramarital affairs, binge drinking, drug use and frequent use of the f-word and c-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, it’s not uncommon to desecrate the corpses of your enemies. Peter asks his dinner guests to pluck the eyeballs out of several decapitated heads during dessert one evening. Another man has sex with the bones of Peter’s mother as a joke. And despite Catherine’s earlier pacificism, even she’s given in to “latent anger.”

The Archbishop has all but given up guiding the court toward peace and purity. That’s partially due to the fact that he’s a hypocrite, as well as 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 has been obliterated by the wantonness of her husband’s court. However, she still believes she can change Russia for the better. And that leads one to hope she might still become “The Great.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this show.

Episode Reviews

May 12, 2023 – S3, Ep1: “The Bullet or the Bear”

After failing to kill Peter, Catherine must find a diplomatic way to punish those who were disloyal to her during the coup without losing her husband’s newfound loyalty.

Prisoners sentenced to death are given a choice: the bullet or the bear. Created by Peter to serve as entertainment for the court, it allows the prisoner to choose how they wish to die: to be shot by a firing squad or mauled by a bear. While nobody is subjected to these particular deaths, a few people are shot nonfatally (and we see their wounds). Another man is accidentally shot in the head, and bears begin to devour his corpse. Catherine wakes to find blood on her hands and on the floor after attempting murder.

We hear the details of many other deaths and acts of violence. A couple sleeps with knives under their pillows. A woman punches a man in the stomach after he jokes about rape. Catherine smacks Peter in the face and then apologizes.

Several couples have sex. We see the aftermath of an orgy, with many unclothed people still fully on display. A woman offers to have sex with another, though the invitation gets turned down. We hear that Peter had sex with Catherine’s mother. Many women of the court wear gowns that show a lot of cleavage. We see people from the shoulders up in baths. People talk crudely about sex, nudity and male anatomy. We hear the Archbishop watched an orgy occur and allegedly wanted to join in.

People drink throughout the episode. A man says that he’s hungover. Catherine takes a potent sleeping draught. A crowd cheers gleefully at an execution. Various characters scheme and manipulate others to get what they want. Catherine decides that in order to become the leader she wants to be, she’ll have to become just as corrupt as everyone else at court.

When Catherine and Peter seek marital advice, they’re told “faith” is the answer, which they both scoff at. Later, the woman who advised this performs a ceremony in which she kills two doves and chants.

We hear at least 60 uses of the f-word as well as a few uses each of “b–ch,” “h—,” “p-ss,” the c-word, the s-word and a crude reference to the male anatomy. God’s name is also abused once or twice.

May 15, 2020 – S1, Ep1: “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 Tsiao

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 geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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