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'The Crown' recap: 'Smoke and Mirrors'

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Alex Bailey/Netflix

The Crown

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
run date:
11/04/16
author:
73768
broadcaster:
Netflix
publisher:
Touchstone
genre:
Drama

PREVIOUS: Episode 4, “Act of God”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we finally get our first glimpse of an actual crown — no, George’s Christmas paper/felt creation does not count — as well as an officially minted Queen Elizabeth II. But in telling the story of her coronation, the episode also delves into what the titular Crown means to another royal, her Uncle David. It’s also notable because while we do gain a Queen in Elizabeth, we lose one in Mary, her grandmother.

The episode kicks off on a childhood memory of King George asking young Elizabeth to help him practice for his own coronation 17 years earlier, with Jared Harris skillfully milking the scene’s sweetness for all it’s worth. We then cut to Elizabeth practicing in front of her own kids, as she tries on the crown, which clocks in at 5 pounds, though symbolically its weight is immeasurable. It’s a nice moment that once again underscores the bond she’d had with her father.

As for the other man in Elizabeth’s life, Philip, the soon-to-be-crowned Queen decides that she wants her husband to be chairman of her coronation committee. After some bickering before and at the ballet, she agrees to grant him carte blanche in terms of planning the ceremony, but she does ask him to reign in some of his wilder ideas.

However, Philip’s ideas might not be so bad, as we see during Mary’s funeral, which Philip notes is exactly like her fathers. Here Philip states that he doesn’t want to look to the past for inspiration. Rather he wants to showcase Elizabeth’s youth and the change in times she represents — and to be fair, I’m on Philip’s side with this one. If only because it will no doubt annoy Churchill and the other committee members.

Turns out, the other members are definitely annoyed by Philip’s suggestions — namely that he wants to televise the whole ceremony. (Sidenote: Could Mark Burnett be a distant relation? This feels like something he would do.) In any case, they turn to Churchill, who in turn has a talk with Elizabeth. This series of unfortunate events leads to a huge fight between the royal couple. Elizabeth, who really had been trying to make this marriage work, does not have an issue with televising the event. Rather she takes issue with whether or not her husband will be bowing to her once she is crowned. (#QueenProblems) Philip vehemently refuses, stating that he does not want to kneel for his wife, even though she insists he’ll be kneeling to her new title as Queen. It all at once underscores the growing distance between them, as well as his own lack of agency as her husband. (#QueensHusbandProblems.)

However, when it comes to the big, televised day, Philip does indeed swallow his pride and kneel before his wife. Though it would seem that he isn’t exactly thrilled to do it, which is understandable. After all, he was forced to give up his job and home, while his own kids aren’t allowed to keep his family name. He might have even given up his attempt at breaking the record for earning his pilot’s wings in the shortest amount of time to plan Elizabeth’s big day. 

NEXT: The Once-and-No-Longer-Future King 

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Elizabeth’s coronation isn’t just a big deal for her, it’s also a big event in her Uncle David’s life as he himself notes, he never made it to his actual ceremony, choosing to abdicate and spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves instead.

Speaking of Wallis Simpson, we finally get to meet her, as a reporter questions the couple about the home they’re renting in France. Over the course of the interview, it becomes clear that Wallis’ lack of title and recognition by David’s family still stings, even though they appear to be in a mostly happy and loving relationship. They even paid to be able to give the magazine some of their “tips” on entertaining — photo shoot included! (Suddenly David’s request for an even larger pension make sense.)

David is then called back to London with news that his mother has become even more ill. While in town, David is informed by the Archbishop, and the Queen Mother’s right-hand man Tom, that his wife won’t be able to attend the coronation ceremony. Outraged, he calls the clergyman an “Old Lang Swine” before pointing out that not only did he abdicate the throne 17 years ago, but that he is his niece’s favorite uncle. Unfortunately, the answer is still a no. If things couldn’t get worse, this is also when he learns that his mother has passed away. Because what is insult without a little injury thrown in? 

Lucky for us, Wallis’ banishment from the big event allows her and her David to throw a viewing party for their friends as they all gather around their TV to watch the coronation. This lets the show use footage from Elizabeth II’s actual crowning, while still capturing what a big deal it is that people across the world can watch it. This is especially highlighted in David’s running commentary during various parts of the ceremony, as he describes the significance of each ritual and jokes about different politicians. Though this predictably does stumble a bit, as his niece gets anointed by holy oil — something his brother had earlier deemed the most important part of the ceremony — off camera. Alex Jennings’ response of, “We are mortals” to a guest’s question perfectly captures his deepening realization of just how much he has given up for his wife, more so than his nostalgic bagpipe playing at the end. 

As Wallis watches as her husband works through his private pain — and possibly grief for his mother’s passing — it becomes clear that you can take the crown away from the man, but you can’t quite take the man away from the crown. 

Episode grade: B+

NEXT: Episode 6, “Gelignite”

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