Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, Tom Austen, and Jake Maskall
My rating: ★★★1/2 stars
The king is dead! Long live King Cyrus?
I can see why E! renewed The Royals before the first episode aired. This first season had too much story to be told in a mere ten episodes, and the final episode offers few conclusions and many cliffhangers.
As with all the good episodes of the series, the rating must come with a “but” at the end, as in “this episode gets 3 ½ stars, but….” The episodes always have problems. There are usually those moments that are corny, ham-handed, contrived, melodramatic, and predictable. This episode is no exception. It has its share of such instances.
For example, at the end of the previous episode, the killer of Prince Robert confronts Princess Eleanor in an elevator. He tells her to meet him at midnight under a bridge if she wants the truth about Robert’s death. The full story is that the killer was a drone operator who was paid by an unknown person in the palace to scuttle the plane the prince was flying. Why couldn’t he tell her that in the elevator? It wouldn’t take that long to relate. Why did he want to meet her at midnight under a bridge? The answer is that, this way, she would have a reason to rescind her false accusations against Jasper and get him out of jail so that he could accompany her to the clandestine meeting. I can’t believe that people who get paid to write couldn’t think of a better contrivance to bring Eleanor and Jasper back together.
Speaking of contrivances, Prince Liam, on his way to Rio with Ophelia, just happens to find the royal doctor’s phone on the plane. This was after the doctor was summarily shipped to Gibraltar on that plane once he released the false report that Liam and Eleanor were not King Simon’s children. What a convenient way to plant suspicion in Liam’s mind and get him to change the destination mid-flight! Instead of going to Rio, he suddenly decides to drop Ophelia off in New York while he returns to London to avenge his father. I’m concerned about Ophelia’s intelligence that she didn’t think something was up when the plane window shutters were closed during the flight.
Who’s hoping Ophelia stays in New York? Show of hands, please. She’s the weakest character on The Royals. She’s supposed to be the one the audience identifies with in the wish-fulfillment fantasy of the ordinary, but plucky and independent young woman being romanced by the handsome prince. She’s not meant to be a boring drip. She doesn’t fit in with all the palace intrigue. Her story didn’t work like it was planned to. I hope show-runner Mark Schwahn realizes that and removes Ophelia from the canvas permanently. However, I don’t think that will be the case, since we learn in this episode that Gemma concocted a New York audition for Ophelia in order to get her out of the country and that Marcus (Ukweli Roach), Liam’s bodyguard, has a crush on Ophelia—obviously setting up a love triangle for next season. Why Liam and Marcus both want this wet blanket is beyond me.
Prince Liam’s suspicions were also aroused by the mysterious Domino emblem placed on his St. Christopher medal when he was passed out drunk the previous night. We see the emblem in this episode initially in a communication the queen receives, and then, at the end, it appears on a banner in the street. It appears to be some kind of secret organization that may be responsible for Prince Robert’s death and King Simon’s stabbing. One synopsis posted immediately after the episode suggests that Queen Helena is behind Domino, whatever it is. I’m not convinced of that.
A second synopsis also posted after the episode claimed that Cyrus was answerable for Robert’s death and Simon’s stabbing. If anything, however, when Prince Liam comes to this conclusion and starts beating him, Cyrus’s reaction convinced me that he is not the one responsible even though he benefited the most from those incidents—becoming king when Simon succumbs to his injuries without a legitimate heir. (How fast is the royal plane? Liam got to New York and back in what seemed to be about 12 hours.)
Nonetheless, we do know that Cyrus was behind the false DNA results that indicated that Liam and Eleanor were illegitimate (the test was never done). And the episode strongly hinted that Cyrus caused the assassination of Captain Lacey. Lacey’s death hit me harder than King Simon’s. Both events were sad. Both Lacey and Simon were good men whose murders were unjust and unfair. But Lacey died wondering if Liam and Eleanor were his children and, perhaps, if his true love had just ordered his murder. When Queen Helena receives a phone call at the end, and she reacts with her usual compulsive response to emotional trauma—putting on her make-up—I had to wonder if she had just received word of Simon’s death or Lacey’s.
The biggest surprise in the episode was neither of the deaths, but Prudence’s pregnancy with Cyrus’s child. I’ve suspected for a couple of weeks that Prudence was responsible for King Simon’s stabbing. She cultivated a friendship with him. She knew the route he would take on his secret walks through London. Her sexual exploitation by Cyrus set her up in the mind of the audience as a victim, but I have to wonder if she deliberately put herself in his path. When I saw the pilot episode, it was missing the scene, shown in the “Previously on” segments before subsequent episodes, where Cyrus first demands sexual favors from her. I’m not sure if the version of the episode I saw on Xfinity OnDemand was incomplete or if that crucial scene was sloppily edited out of the pilot before it aired. Regardless, I want to see it. (How much time did the first season cover? She looks awfully far along in this episode.)
With all this drama, I appreciated the lighter moments of the episode to break the tension. I liked the bit when Queen Helena tells her assistant, Rachel (Victoria Ekanoye), to burn Simon’s desk and then put the ashes in a container to shove into Cyrus’s nether region. Then, a moment later, Rachel, ever faithful, efficient, and literal, returns with a lighter and a gas can. I also enjoyed the return of the banter between Eleanor and Jasper. Despite my grave reservations about the beginning of their relationship, their scenes together have sparkling chemistry.
Jasper’s justification to Eleanor about his one-night stand with her mother shows good character continuity. In both instances when Jasper had been threatened with dismissal, he acted in desperate (and creepy) ways to keep his job. First, he claims to Eleanor that he had videotaped their sexual encounter and uses the non-existent video for blackmail. Then he acts on the warning he got from Ted about Helena’s jealousy of Eleanor and seduces Helena. I don’t buy Jasper’s explanation that he wanted to save his job so that he could stay near Eleanor, but, then, neither does she. Eleanor knows that Jasper is an opportunistic con artist who makes risky gambles when he gets in trouble. He admits as much to her.
I believe that if a scene needs music for its emotional impact it is not as strong as it should be. One element of the series that has bothered me all season is the use of wall-to-wall music throughout the episodes, with each episode ending with a music video-like montage over a melodramatic song. Usually, the music in the show has been, at best, distracting, and, at worst, manipulative. However, the two songs used to begin and end this episode were impeccable choices. “Wasting My Young Years,” by London Grammar, perfectly encapsulated the scene where Ophelia decides to give up her dream to be a dancer to accompany Liam to Rio. The mood between Liam and Ophelia is upbeat, both optimistic about their chance to start a new life, but the melancholy mood of the song reminds us that this is not the best choice for Ophelia.
The final song, Lorde’s version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” comments on the power struggles that have characterized the season as a whole and brings the episode to its shattering conclusion, leaving the audience breathless. The pregnancy surprise and the sight of Cyrus on the throne looking deliciously smug—although bruised and battered from his encounter with Liam—left me in eager anticipation of next season. That’s the main reason for the positive rating this episode gets. It left me wanting more, which is what a season finale ought to do.