Originally aired on 15 Nov 2015
Written and directed by Mark Schwahn
Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Tom Austen, and Jake Maskall
My rating: ★★ stars
Too much bad, not enough good.
The Royals returns for a second season, and it’s still the unabashedly trashy soap from the first season. It’s not angling to be a critical favorite. It has to be judged on its own terms. The show wants to be outrageous. It wants to surprise viewers with shocking twists. It wants to revel in campy melodrama. Unfortunately, this episode lacks enough twists, camp, melodrama, and outrageousness to make for an exciting season opener.
As with the previous season, Alexandra Park is a standout as troubled Princess Eleanor. She has her best moment when Eleanor chooses to abase herself before her uncle, King Cyrus, in order to bring about her and Liam’s return to the palace. The rest of the episode doesn’t give Eleanor enough good material. She is adrift in sex, drugs, and rock & roll. We get it.
Elizabeth Hurley has come to embody fully the character of Queen Helena. Hurley doesn’t get much credit as an actress. But she’s using everything she can—movement, gait, stance, gaze, expression, intonation—to create the character. She seems very natural playing a character who is inherently unnatural. The queen is a performance that the character Helena puts on. Hurley conveys the multiple levels of performance well.
Joan Collins returns as Queen Helena’s mother, the Grand Duchess. Her appearance last season seemed like one-off, a neat cameo. Now, the Grand Duchess seems to be deeply involved in the season’s plot. Collins is perfectly suited to this material. She’s a master at scheming and snapping insults.
William Moseley had a moment where he didn’t seem awkward and artificial. In one scene with Pryce, he plays coyly shy very well. Sure, this is faint praise, but the series is stuck with him, so it’s nice to see some improvement.
Ophelia, last season’s failed attempt to create an audience identification character, has been cut from the show. While there might have been some merit to having a lone sane character among the insanity, Ophelia ended up being a giant wet blanket.
What this episode needed, what was missing, was a huge revelation or plot twist—something to create momentum for the upcoming season. We got some progress on the plot threads that were left hanging in the season finale, but there wasn’t enough movement. There weren’t any big twists or shocking surprises.
We know something’s going on with this Domino conspiracy, but we don’t know enough about it for it to interest us yet. We got one scene picking up on the Prudence pregnancy revelation from the season finale, but the scene ended limply with no hint of anywhere for it to go. Liam is investigating the deaths of King Simon and Prince Robert—okay, that’s a plot thread that could underlie the season, but nothing happens in his investigation in this episode to suggest any forward movement.
One of the cliffhangers at the end of the episode was the return of Eleanor’s ex, Beck, a minor character from last season whom we weren’t that interested in to begin with. This return doesn’t seem to hold much plot potential besides keeping Eleanor and Jasper apart for a few episodes. Now, if the episode had reminded us that Beck was a friend of Prince Robert and had it suggested that Beck knew something about Robert’s death, maybe then this return would have been more intriguing.
Why did E! insist on having their logo, an announcement of The Royals season premiere, and a hashtag in the corner throughout the whole episode? After a minute, we got it. We knew what we were watching. The network could have flashed that business for a minute at the beginning of each act. It didn’t need to be on the whole time, drawing the eye away from the action and burning in on my television.