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The Royals S01E08: The Great Man Down; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

the_royalsOriginally aired on 3 May 2015
Written and directed by Mark Schwahn

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

My rating: ★★ stars

What a wasted opportunity!

I had high hopes for this episode after last week’s cliffhanger that left the king lying outside the palace gate, bleeding after an assassination attempt.

This week’s episode starts out strong, with the remainder of the royal family being rounded up by security and placed in a safe room under the palace. The tension of the situation causes the royals to snap at one another and even to suspect the others of having a role in the king’s attack. The added complication of Cyrus and Eleanor suffering from withdrawal when separated from their stashes of drugs seemed a promising way to increase the pressure of an already explosive situation. In a narrative revolving around a clash of personalities, one of the most interesting moves a writer can make is to get the characters in a room during a crisis. Had the episode stayed in the room, it would have been stronger.

Once the royals leave the safe room, the episode starts to fall apart. The characters no longer interact in conflict with one another. Instead, most of the interactions revolve around either furthering the plot or bolstering or advising one of the characters. Two of the best scenes involve Princess Eleanor confronting Jasper and then the queen. The scenes work because the characters face off in conflict and because Alexandra Park remains the most compelling performer on the show.

Unfortunately, the episode spends too much time with Prince Liam, as he struggles to come to terms with his new position as prince regent. William Moseley fails to make Liam either interesting or moving in these scenes. The role of Liam is a difficult one. In most of Liam’s scenes, he must be unsure and insecure about his future and responsibilities, but we viewers need to apprehend that the prince has a core of capability, confidence, and charisma that will sustain him as king. Too often, we don’t see these necessary qualities and are left with a character that seems dithering, irresolute, and weak. However, in other moments, Moseley presents Liam as full of strength and confidence with no hint of insecurity. Thus, in failing to convey the two sides of the character at once, with one or the other side appearing stronger depending on the situation, Moseley, instead, plays the character inconsistently—weak with no suggestion of underlying strength in private moments or assured and winning with none of the self-doubt the character shows otherwise.

Watching this episode, I failed to be swept up in the drama as I was with the previous episode. I noticed bits of sloppiness that wouldn’t matter had I been engrossed. When the family emerges from the safe room, the queen is informed that the news that a member of the royal family is in the hospital has leaked to the press. She tells her subordinate to issue a false statement that Princess Eleanor has been taken ill with flulike symptoms. Yet, even as she does so, the queen prepares to go on national television to reassure the country in the wake of the assassination attempt. Why should she bother to issue a false statement if she immediately plans to tell the truth? It makes no sense.

I also noticed minor technical problems, like the sound level changing when characters started speaking when facing away from the camera, as if the lines had been dubbed in later, which they probably had been. Furthermore, the quality of one actress’s skin changed from shot to shot, suggesting that the scenes were filmed at two different times—when she had an acne outbreak and when she didn’t—a possible scenario if reshoots were involved. However, in some shots, her skin looked suspiciously smoothed as if it had been given digital help, another possibility. Yet, for some reason, the digital enhancement wasn’t consistent from shot to shot. Perhaps, I imagined the difference. Regardless, I shouldn’t find studying the actress’s forehead more interesting than what is going on in the scenes. But that’s what happened.

This episode does feature a major plot twist. Prince Cyrus stops the ceremony where Liam officially becomes prince regent and announces that Liam and Eleanor are not the king’s children and, thus, ineligible for succession. This makes Cyrus himself next in line to the throne and the rightful prince regent. Queen Helena fails to defend herself in the moment, suggesting that Cyrus is correct. This twist would be a whopper if it had any potential to be true. However, I feel confident that Cyrus is lying or incorrect. The show is not called “The Ex-Royals.” If the prince and princess are truly illegitimate and stripped of their position, then the future of the show is in doubt.

For the same reason, I find the king’s quest to dissolve the monarchy lacking in suspense. However, what this storyline and the plot twist have in common is that, despite their lack of suspense, they both plunge the royal family into conflict. It’s the resulting character clashes that allow storylines without inherent suspense to work.

In this episode, however, we don’t get to see that discord play out. I don’t get the sense that writer-director-show-runner Schwahn understands that wild plot twists aren’t inherently interesting and that audience involvement, rather, is fomented by how the characters react to and are impacted by the development.

As the twist unfolded, I got the sense that Schwahn wanted to create an “OMG” reaction in the viewers, which would then be discussed on social media. He doesn’t understand that throwing in a plot twist out of nowhere, one that has no chance of being true, is manipulative, bad writing. It takes more craft to create a legitimate shocked response in the audience. For example, the attempted assassination of the king last week worked as an “OMG” moment because it developed naturally as a result of his actions earlier in the episode. This week’s twist was more “WTF” than “OMG.”

Regrettably, The Royals continues to suffer from inconsistency—in quality, performance, characterization, and writing. After last week’s episode, we know it can reach its potential of being engrossing campy, soapy fun. Too often, though, the attempts to be outrageous are transparent and the efforts to be engaging prove boring. Just because a show has no aspirations to be taken seriously doesn’t give it a pass to be awkward, sloppy, or inconsistent.

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