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- Nancy Bilyeau
PREVIOUS: Episode 3, “Windsor”
English weather has traditionally been known to be dreadful, but as it turns out, it can get worse. What has since been dubbed “The Great Smog” descends upon the country’s capital in “Act of God” and wreaks havoc over queen and country.
Though as we learn early in the episode, the eventually deadly combination of air pollution and London fog — as well as the mass casualties it caused — could have been prevented had Churchill actually listened to the scientists warning him of it. Instead, surprise, surprise, the Prime Minister made things worse by recommending people keep burning coal in an effort to bolster the economy and possibly, make my lungs hurt by proxy. (As if the cancer and respiratory ailments on this show weren’t enough.)
This is what leads a Downing Street employee by the name of Collins to go rogue — at least as rogue as a dedicated civil servant can go — by turning to none other than Churchill’s rival and predecessor, Clement Attlee, and revealing that the Meteorological Office has issued an urgent weather warning, the first of its kind. He also drops this incredibly prescient line, effectively proving that history does indeed repeat itself: “This is not a government, Mr. Hadley. This is a collection of hesitant, frightened old men, unable to unseat a tyrannical, delusional, even older one.”
But wait, there’s more! Collins also shares minutes from a Cabinet meeting that show Churchill ignoring any previous suggestions for precautionary measures or setting up a Clean Air Service. Imagine trying to convince him about global warming.
Meanwhile Philip, who has now been given the title of Duke of Edinburgh, is also concerned with ensuring the skies remain clear. However, this has to do more with the flying lessons Peter is giving him, and not any actual worry for the environment. (Royals. They’re just like us!) Unfortunately, this becomes a point of contention between him and Elizabeth, as she argues that her family’s private lives are in no way a concern of the Cabinet, because, you know, there are better things to do, like running a whole country.
In any case, the smog does settle upon London effectively grounding all planes and halting any transportation save for walking. As people slowly succumb to it, including Churchill’s secretary Venetia Scott’s roommate, it becomes increasingly clear that London’s hospitals are understaffed and underfunded.
NEXT: No one has the foggiest idea what to do