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The Royals S01E05: Unmask Her Beauty to the Moon; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

the_royalsOriginally aired on 12 April 2015
Written by Julia Cohen
Directed by Arlene Sanford

Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, and Tom Austen

My rating: ★1/2 stars

Series continues to suffer from inconsistency. 

One of the cardinal rules that all TV showrunners should follow: Don’t create scenarios that you don’t have the budget for.

I can understand why the powers that be at The Royals wanted to do a royal ball episode. It’s perfect for the show and the E! brand. The characters get to put on fancy clothes. The show gets a reason to be filled with music, not that The Royals needs one. A royal ball represents the glitz and glamour that are the mainstays of the series.

However, the series just doesn’t have the budget to create a quasi-realistic-looking ball. This one looks cheap and slapdash. The writers didn’t bother to include any pomp and ceremony that would add a sense of realism. They just cut right to the action of the characters’ talking about their love lives.

Neither the dresses nor the music gives a sense of realism, either. The dresses are too risqué for a proper royal occasion, and the music, by English duo Slow Club, is too contemporary. However, the music is good. I enjoyed the songs—more here than in the duo’s studio versions.

The ball just doesn’t seem classy enough, or big enough, or important enough.

Perhaps, if the stories had been more interesting, I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking about the shortcomings of the ball. Ophelia gets a lot of screen time in this episode, and I’m not impressed with her as a character. She doesn’t seem as smart, lively, or adventurous as she did in the first two episodes. With her whiny indecisiveness here, I can’t figure out why I should root for her as a heroine. She offers no appeal. I feel sorry for actress Merritt Patterson, who has to bring to life such an inconsistently written character. When Gemma creates a chance for Liam to dance with Ophelia and he wonders why, Gemma tells him that, if he spends time with Ophelia, he’ll realize she’s nothing special. I have to agree. The writers need to improve the character a lot because I’m starting to cheer on the spunky Gemma.

Nice guy Nick shows up again. I hope this is the last time. He so boring that I’m starting to fall asleep just writing about him.

Queen Helena gets her own romance in this episode. We finally learn more about the hint of a secret affair with the war hero Alistair Lacey (Noah Huntley) that was brought up at the end of the second episode. Now, we learn that she regularly shares assignations with him. She has two in this episode alone, one at her spa and one during the ball. The writer of this episode, Julia Cohen, must have realized that naturally the queen would be missed during the ball, so she deals with that pesky detail by having Alistair mention it and Helena respond that no one would. Having a character acknowledge something unbelievable is a trick writers use to get away with it.

Too much time is given to this relationship. We’re overloaded with a story we haven’t come to care about yet and that doesn’t progress forward. In this episode, the state of the romance between Helena and Alistair doesn’t change; all that happens is that we learn about it. We learn that Alistair was Helena’s first love and that she was unable to marry him because of his lower station and her family’s financial difficulties. The two also discuss someone named Henry, who died in a war. Who Henry was is never explained. The viewers can’t possibly care what happened to him or Alistair’s feelings about his death. We don’t care about Alistair yet. We don’t even know what war led him to become a hero. Afghanistan, I suppose. I guess the show doesn’t want to mention it because that would be too realistic or political.

The absence of the king at the ball strains credulity. I can’t imagine that a ball would be held while the king is away. My guess is that the king had to miss the ball for two reasons. The first is that the king would have definitely noticed that the queen was missing for most of the ball. The second is that after spending as much money as possible on the ball, the show couldn’t afford to pay any actors who weren’t absolutely necessary for the episode.

As with the previous episode, the scenes with Eleanor and Jasper prove the most interesting. As Jasper fears he’s losing control over Eleanor, he admits that he never drugged or filmed her. He tells her that he lied when she threatened to have him fired. I don’t know why he lied about drugging her. If she had no memory of the event, lying about filming her would have been enough to prevent his dismissal. I wonder if the writers think that the fact that Jasper didn’t drug her exonerates him. Coercive sex is still rape. Maybe this episode is the beginning of the retcon to ameliorate the problematic beginning of the show’s breakout couple.

While the ball is going on, Prince Cyrus invites members of the House of Lords over to a private party at the palace to ask for their help in delaying a possible referendum. He reminds them of the increasing loss of aristocratic privilege. I found this scene daring for the show. Sure, it doesn’t use the word “privilege,” but the scenes could easily be read as an indictment of the ridiculousness and unfairness of white, male privilege.

At the end of the episode, Cyrus again blackmails the unfortunate serving girl to provide him with sexual favors. This storyline parallels the Eleanor and Jasper one. I’m not sure, yet, whether this is to show the difference between the two relationships or to highlight the similarities. I’m not certain if this parallel storyline exists to make us feel better about Jasper and Eleanor or to remind us to feel uncomfortable about them.

I know the series has no intention of providing verisimilitude. I would, however, like the show to be consistent, to be realistic to the world it sets up. From what we’ve seen of them so far, the royal family in this series would not throw a cheap-looking ball, and the queen’s not trying to be the center of attention would be widely noticed.

Consistency, however, is a virtue the show has yet to attain. The season is half-over, and we have yet to embrace Ophelia, the heroine, and the romance of what should have been the foremost couple of the series, Ophelia and Liam. Short seasons have their virtues, but they don’t allow room for error. I’m not convinced there are enough episodes left for the series to fix its weaknesses.

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