The Great Season 2: Hulu’s Ahistorical Romp skillfully plays emotional chess

As Archie (Adam Godley) puts it, “Russia… a prehistoric creature full of anger and thoughtless disregard for life. Anarchic and selfish, for no reason. These are the things we have to face metaphorically. But Tony McNamara’s bombast Great, back for another 10-episode season on Hulu, is dealing with these things literally. What makes the show so great isn’t that it solves any of these issues, or even comes close to it, it’s that its characters constantly yearn and strive, run wild and cry with a mixture of humor and humanity unlike anything else on television. It is perhaps nothing more Russian than that.

Of course, historical or regional accuracy shouldn’t be the primary concern when looking at Great. Did things turn out as shown in the show? Certainly not. Does the series nevertheless bring an emotional correctness? Indeed; houzzah. The little figures vying for power, incompetence and waste, the horribly difficult task of doing something worthwhile (with Russia, in particular, a notoriously fractured area to control) all work together to capture the essence and humanity of the thing, even comically augmented. , this lack of a more suffocating historical series. And Great is anything but stuffy.

In Season 2, we see how the power dynamics changed after the hit was successful. Catherine (Elle Fanning) has Peter (Nicholas Hoult) cornered and imprisoned. This assertion of dominance alongside her pregnancy is enough to control Peter through a love he has now discovered for her (and especially for their future son, Paul). But Catherine’s feelings for her violent and chaotic husband are equally complex. She hasn’t killed him yet, although her list of sins against her is long. Yet she comes to believe that she needs him – even as he frustratingly rephrases that he “gave” her the throne rather than taking it – as she struggles to command respect or control. loyalty of the court.

And so, Great Season 2 is essentially a sort of flamboyant Russian divorce, full of artfully vulgar dialogue, indiscriminate violence, and the constant threat of death from all sides. Even when diplomacy is desired, it’s hard to argue that the easiest path is to simply order and shoot down anyone who doesn’t agree – and yet Catherine stubbornly pursues her ideals with stunning self-confidence. The Empress takes in real Hillary Clinton / Tracy Flick vibes in the new episodes, a trigger character for the frustrated overachieving women of the world. But that’s okay, because it’s the women other than Peter who have the most interesting stories this time around. With Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), Archie and Velementov (Douglas Hodge) more sidelined, it is allowed the rise of Marial (Phoebe Fox), who has been restored alongside Catherine, and Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow ) of Peter, who becomes a key resource and conscience for Catherine. (A late-season appearance by Gillian Anderson as Catherine’s mother is also worth noting.)

As Catherine faces constant uncertainty about what to do with Peter and the gruesome nobles at court, and faces a looming war with the Ottoman Empire, the series continues to have fun dabbling around. in jokes and anhistoric references. From the creation of roller coasters and “velcra” to crocodiles in the palace and a (very British) understanding of Russian customs and traditions as Catherine tries to drag the European Enlightenment to Eurasia, Great‘S exceptional joke is matched only by its willingness to treat its setting as a satirical playground.

The show’s biggest trick, however, is how, much like Season 1, it manages to weave an astonishing amount of pathos. When truly shocking moments happen and real tears fall, it always feels deserved. Sometimes things calm down just enough to tenderly discover the real sadness that lurks beneath the carelessness and japes that the characters deploy so easily. They are never cartoons; even among supporting actors, there is still humanity to be found and revealed. Their jokes and violence conceal a difficult reality, where everyone is haunted by loss in many and varied forms. It is never an excuse, but rather a context that makes the show all the richer.

That said, for all her pleasure Great doesn’t always know when to leave the party, or even how. Its episodes are long and crowded at times, and the carousel of Catherine and Peter’s grueling love / hate relationship goes beyond any other storyline (or potential storyline) of the season. But there are few things bigger than Fanning and Hoult exchanging witticisms and slurs back and forth, sometimes stumbling into real feelings before backing down just as quickly.

The two actors are once again magnificent; Hoult’s job is more fun as a violent jester baring her heart (it’s okay to be the king or the emperor. Or the former emperor), but Fanning is not to be overlooked for the way she commands. every scene, oscillating between optimistic and cold ethereal and courageous. Peter has his own journey in Season 2, and Hoult exquisitely plays these subtle changes, seeming to enjoy doing it. But it’s also amazing how Fanning holds all of those raging thoughts, feelings and desires inside Catherine and lets them take turns playing, pushing us to the edge of wanting to follow her and then pulling us back inside. Huzzah!

Like Russia itself, Great is an amalgamation of many disparate parts, all of which end up aligning whether out of duty or fate. The series is a carnival of weird, funny, ridiculous and rolling ideas, genres and characters. He is excellent both for his size and his quality: ambitious, reckless and always a joy.

All episodes of Great Season 2 premieres Friday, November 19 on Hulu.

Allison Keene is the TV Writer of Paste the magazine. For more TV talk, pop culture talk, and general talk you can follow her @keeneTV

For all the latest TV news, reviews, listings and features follow @Coller_TV.

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