Review: 'The Great - Season Two' is Addictive and Truly Original

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 29, 2021

'The Great - Season Two'
'The Great - Season Two'  (Source:Hulu)

While watching "The Great," Hulu's addictive and truly original take on power, madness and depravity, one can't help worry that this material is based on a true story, the rise to power of the magnificent monarch Catherine the Great, Empress of All Russia. This being the case, one agonizes that history is a set property. The storyline of this comedy-drama series is so enticing, and the characters are so bizarre and intriguing, it leaves us wondering, as all great narrative does, "What will happen next?" But that's preordained, fixed, solid and unwavering. History leaves very little wiggle room when it comes to defying our expectations of it.

Primarily, we know one thing to be true. Catherine the Great came to power when she overthrew the leadership of her second cousin (and husband), Peter III. And this means that at some point Peter will have to assassinated.

Now this is a caution because Catherine, played with honest confidence by Elle Fanning, is clearly the best choice for a leader, but Peter, played with devilish yet terrifying naiveté by Nicholas Hoult, is seductively charming. This is especially true in Season Two.

In last season's finale, Catherine's advisors--the inept-in-life but, amazingly, successful-in-war General Velementov (Douglas Hodge) and the sexlessly sexy Count Orlo (Sacha Dhawan)--have instructed her that the uprising must happen, her approval rating is at an all time high. If the rebels strike at that moment, they will be successful. The problem is Catherine has spent the entire season fretting. She knows what she has to do--kill Peter. She just can't do it. If Catherine attempts a coup d'état, Peter will execute her lover, Leo Voronsky (Sebastian de Souza). Catherine chooses Russia.

This season, we face Catherine's choices. She has control of the government but she has lost Leo. Peter has beheaded him. (This husband of hers is too much. She's really got to kill this guy.) And history lets us know that his death is eminent. But Peter in this season is more captivating and sympathetic than ever. It's going to be hard to let him go, and where will the show go from there.

Australian screenwriter and showrunner Tony McNamara (the creator of critically acclaimed feature "The Favourite") started "The Great" as a play, then tried to make it into a screenplay, but he was always stuck with the same problem: The subject matter seemed far too vast for the amount of time he had to cover it. This is true. The story is spralling but the essential problem remains concise: Will she or won't she kill him? This epic simplicity is what make this satire so perfectly absurd and brilliantly charming.

Luckily, McNamara isn't a slave to the history textbooks. (In fact, very much the opposite. This series is subtitled, "an occasionally true story.")

In reality, history will happen whether we like it or not. It's just a matter of when it will happen on the screen. Fortunately, our showrunner is willing to play, generously play, with all the official textbooks.

What will happen in this season? We can only anticipate. Perhaps Peter can live in imprisonment under Catherine's command, or there are a number of very impressive Peter lookalikes. Maybe he can live on in this kind of an iteration. With McNamara as the showrunner, history is flexible, this series could go in any direction.

At present "The Great" is available to those who subscribe to Hulu.