Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, and Jake Maskall
My rating: ★★★ stars
Episode is moving enough to earn a positive rating despite ludicrous elements. Barely.
The penultimate episode of the season, like most of the others, is wildly uneven. Here, I credit the episode with enough good points and inherent interest to outweigh the bad.
The episode begins with the announcement that, according to the DNA tests, Liam and Eleanor are not the biological children of the king. (I still don’t think that that’s the last word on the matter. If they were truly proven not to be royal, the premise of the show would fall apart.) In short order, Cyrus has himself sworn in as prince regent, and Princess Penelope (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Princess Maribel (Hatty Preston) realize that they are the next two in line for the throne (in that order). Much of this business is played for broad comedy that belongs on a different series. Had Penelope and Maribel been made remotely realistic characters, they could have been leveraged for storyline possibilities down the road. As they are, they’re at best a one-note bit of comic relief every now and then.
Jake Maskall reaches new heights of sneering smarminess in this episode. I half expect comic Paul Lynde to rise from the grave and sue Maskall for stealing his shtick. On the one hand, Maskall understands the camp nature of his character. On the other, I’m still disturbed by the series’ continued and escalated use of the devious bisexual stereotype.
Liam and Eleanor, in this episode, face a situation that is hardly funny. Both have had their world upended; their futures and their entire notions of identity have been shattered. Liam reacts by going to a pub and getting drunk, most concerned with his own loss. Eleanor cleaves to King Simon’s bedside. Both imagine King Simon appearing to them. In a nice visual metaphor, Liam sees him in full regalia while Eleanor envisions him dressed casually. Liam feels most keenly the loss of position and the identity that came with it. Eleanor, however, mourns the loss of her father. Even if Simon were to survive, the DNA test negated the relationship Eleanor depends on most—at least, biologically.
Director Tom Vaughan, who also directed the best episode of the season so far (“Your Sovereignty of Reason” S01E07), proves that he has the best sense of the material of all the directors of the series. Here, he shoots most of the scenes using an unusual amount of close-ups, particularly of Eleanor, Liam, and Queen Helena. The feelings of those characters are the most important part of the episode, and the camerawork reflects that. Vaughan also manages to get an adequate performance out of William Moseley this episode. I found myself moved by Liam’s scenes, which feature a number of high-angle shots that make Liam look small and powerless.
Ophelia still bores me. She puts off her trip to America to help Liam through his time of trouble. I found myself talking to the TV, saying “Get on the plane! Get on the plane!” The return of Gemma in this episode further undercuts Ophelia’s role. Gemma continues to be a more interesting, complex, intelligent, and original character than the young woman who is supposed to be the heroine. The scene where Gemma gives the queen some sage advice has now eliminated all doubt that I am “Team Gemma.”
In bringing quality to the episodes he directs, Vaughan seems at odds with writer Mark Schwahn, who undermines the episode with ludicrous dialogue and plot twists. The plot that the queen cooks up with the head of the anti-monarchists has no basis in reality. The show does not take place in some lawless, medieval fantasy kingdom. The modern UK has a constitution that must be followed.
Not quite as absurd, but more pointless, was the information that the queen’s head of PR is a dominatrix on the side. I suppose dominatrices are trendy now. The episode also featured a variation on one of the most clichéd lines in history, “That’s not a threat. That’s a promise.” Here, it was “I’m not threatening. I’m promising,” but that doesn’t make it any less groan-inducing.
Finally, in the last scene, Eleanor is confronted by the main suspect in the assassination attempt on King Simon. He reveals that her brother, Robert (the crown prince who died off-screen in the first episode), was murdered. After he asks her to meet him again to get more information, he claims that he knows for certain Robert was murdered because he’s the one who killed him and walks away. It’s a bombshell final line, but, in reality, it would be counterproductive to his goal of getting her to show up for the rendezvous. It’s the kind of line that bad writers use to create shock in an audience without any basis in what real people or characters, for that matter, would say. No one would say, in essence, “Come meet me under a bridge at midnight. Oh, by the way, I killed your brother.”
I did like that the series is revisiting Robert’s death, an event that was given too little importance at the beginning of the season. It becomes apparent now, if it wasn’t already, that this season of The Royals has too much story for ten episodes. So far, we’ve had the death of the heir, a possible abolishment of the monarchy, an assassination attempt, a question of legitimacy and a resulting succession crisis, not to mention all the romantic and sexual shenanigans that have been going on. This amount of plot in one short season is just too much. Furthermore, so many calamities and big events leave the series nowhere to go in subsequent seasons.