‘The Great’ season 3 review: New era brings us into the Age of Enlightenment, and it’s a sinner’s delight
Television’s raunchiest historical fiction show is back, and this time it’s a scandalous family affair for everyone involved. The Great returns to Hulu on May 12, with a season more adventurous and heart-wrenching than ever.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. And by sinned, I mean I enjoyed another delectable season of occasionally true stories of historical figures fucking, fighting, and killing their way through life. What I love about The Great is that even though these people are nobles, dining in halls of gold and being carried in their bathtubs by servants, they are actually just like us: Humans, prone to failure and figuring life out one day at a time, exhausted by getting knocked down over and over, but ultimately doing what they think is best for their families.
When we last left Catherine (Elle Fanning), she’d finally had enough of Peter (Nicholas Hoult) after finding out that he’d not only had sex with her mother, but killed her whilst doing so. This atrocious betrayal fueled her anger so much that she managed to kill the leader of the Ottomans, who were encroaching her border, and when returning to the palace she staged yet another coup to arrest all of Peter’s court, and, finally, kill him herself. Only, it wasn’t Peter that she’d stabbed in the back five times, but his look-alike, Pugachev – much to her relief.
For season three, we’re right where we left off: A couple struggling to move past each other’s betrayals, and a newly reset court that is learning to accept Catherine as their leader, as much as they may not want to. And after spending two seasons getting Catherine in a place of power, you’d think she finally gets the opportunity to rule greatly, but destiny has other plans for her.
After somehow surviving five stab wounds to the back, Pugachev, brilliantly performed by Hoult in a double role, gets hired by someone at court to pose as Peter and convince the residents of Russia that Catherine is not fit to rule, and begins to amass an army to unseat her. While in her own palace Hugo (Freddie Fox) and Agnes (Grace Molony) are scheming for ways to get into Catherine and Peter’s good graces, in hopes of winning Sweden back after losing it to their own people for the sake of democracy. All the while, her reputation is tarnished by bold decisions she makes in an attempt to create a new set of laws that will finally bring Russia into the Age of Enlightenment, much to the peoples’ chagrin.This woman just can’t get a break!
The Great’s third season is truly all about family. Whether it’s Peter, Catherine and Paul; Marial (Phoebe Fox), Gigor (Gwilym Lee) and Georgina (Charity Wakefield); Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi) and Tatyana (Florence Keith-Roach); Marial and Maxim (Henry Meredith); or even and Archie (Adam Godley) and the church, this season is keen on family and exploring the bonds that we have with each other. And in this exploration, we’re given time to get to know most of these characters in ways we weren’t afforded to before, with one glaring, horrible, awful exception: Orlo.
After making an abrupt exit in the first episode (how and why will need to be seen to be believed), that’s all we get of him, and he’s all but forgotten by those that he loved for the rest of the season. To say it’s a disappointing story development would be an understatement, given that Sacha Dhawan was the only person of color in a leading role. And while we don’t know the reasons for Dhawan’s departure, Orlo’s story could have been handled with far more grace and dignity than they gave him, which leaves a sour taste in my mouth despite how incredible the rest of the season is.
And that’s the most maddening bit, because the rest of this season is absolutely phenomenal, meaning Dhawan missed opportunities to be a part of a legendary piece of television. Returning to this season’s theme of family, there’s one particular event that happens midway through the season that absolutely shook me to my core, as well as every character on the show. An event so grand, so unexpected, and so left field that it leaves the rest of the characters absolutely unhinged as they figure out what to do next. It’s this second half that really sizzles, where not only do Fanning and Hoult give the performances of their lives, but so does every single ensemble member.
Godley’s interactions with Hoult as Pugachev are downright dizzyingly sexy and suspenseful; Wakefield brings multiple layers to Georgina as she tries her damn hardest to control a situation she really has no business trying to; Lee’s performance as Grigor, caught between his new love, his ex love and his best friend, is riveting and emotional; Meredith’s Maxim steals every single scene he’s in, and is probably my new favorite character; and last, but certainly not least, Belinda Bromilow’s Elizabeth continues to be an anchor for Catherine, and others, as a clear leader and lover of Russia.
By the end of the season, we’re left with something little resembling the show we were given years ago, with a dash more nerve and sense of wonder about where they’ll go next. Were it not for the abysmal treatment of their only POC lead, and a small handful of plots that make one scratch their head, it’s clear that if we get another season of this show we will truly be entering into the era of Catherine, The Great.
All 10 episodes of season three of The Great will begin streaming May 12 only on Hulu.
Photo: Christian Black/Hulu