This episode title, “Favourites” — beyond perhaps being a winky nod to Olivia Colman’s Oscar — refers to the juxtaposition of Margaret Thatcher’s overt preference for her ne’er-do-well son Mark, and the Queen’s absurd journey to figure out which of her children she likes the best (it’s Andrew, everyone knows it’s Andrew, it’s always been Andrew even before there WAS an Andrew, and it’s idiotic to pretend the Queen didn’t also know it’s Andrew). It’s presumably a rumination on the perils of being a pampered child of privilege, and also another excuse for Peter Morgan to make sure the Queen comes off as self-aware as a box of hair. If you want to watch a short version, just skip all the Thatcher bits and watch the scenes with the four children; as ever, if you’d prefer to skip straight to the comments then click here.
Oh, just to clarify, I am calling Margaret “Maggie” not to be cute but because there is already a Margaret here.
The social context, which is almost afterthought: At the end of the episode, Thatcher sends the UK into The Falklands War, with a scene of the warship heading into battle juxtaposed with the idea of the Queen letting her kids keep marching toward their own trouble too. PARALLELS. Peter Morgan loves them almost as much as he loves stags.
Maggie’s idiot son Mark is missing. The Thatchers have twins, Mark and Carol, the former of whom is a handsome charismatic bounder and the latter of whom is a plainer journalist who didn’t come equipped to captivate her mother with showy smoke-and-mirrors. Mark’s portrayal in this show sounds true-to-life: He comes across as a spoiled, shady brat who is completely oblivious to the fact that he is not King Shit of Special Mountain, because of course to Maggie he IS King Shit of Special Mountain. Here, in 1982, Mark — a racing enthusiast — has entered the Paris-Dakar rally, which sounds like some kind of luxury road race, and gotten himself lost in the Sahara along the way. Maggie breaks down in a meeting with the Queen about it, saying she is bereft at the disappearance of her favorite child, the greatest child, the best, bigly fabulous child a mother could have, and Elizabeth is shocked SHOCKED I TELL YOU to learn that a parent might have a preference (more on that later).
Mark is found after 11 days, with absolutely no gratitude for or to his Algerian rescuers, insisting he pretty much knew where he was and everything was fine (in reality they were dangerously low on water when found, and it’s apparently true that he was a dick about it). Mark’s twin Carol listens in disbelief as he shows his full ass and Maggie still dotes on him; Carol storms off in a disgusted huff. Denis follows her and basically says that every family has its stars and its supporting acts — a notion we’ve heard before from this show — and that at least they have each other. Carol later confronts her mother about her preference, and Maggie barely wants to give her the time of day, then finally admits that Mark has all the strength and charisma, and Carol is weak. “There is a limit to what one can do if people are themselves limited,” she says, feigning kindness to the daughter she clearly thinks is a dullard. That is way harsh, Tai. FYI, Gillian Anderson’s performance remains agonizing. It’s more tolerable when she’s yelling, because she forgets to go quite so hoarse, but otherwise it’s plodding and miserable and more caricature than character, and I sincerely wish we could cut almost all of it.
The Queen’s Family
Elizabeth marvels to Philip that Thatcher was so comfortable announcing she has a favorite child. Philip is like, “Um, everyone does?” She cannot believe this, which… give me an absolute break. Even if you believe this version of the Queen would be oblivious to her own preferences, there is literally no way she doesn’t know that Philip’s favorite is Anne — which he admits cheerfully. He teases her that everyone also knows HER favorite, and she is like, “Whaaaaat? No.” I just can’t. In seasons three and four in particular, the Queen is written as having absolutely no self-awareness or emotional intelligence; Philip even SAYS here, “Sometimes your lack of self-awareness is breathtaking.” I understand why Morgan thought that about her reaction to Diana’s death, but it has bloomed into this notion that Elizabeth always checked out with regard to her family and is incapable of understanding herself or other people.
So, Elizabeth schedules lunches with each of her children.
Hey Look, It’s Edward!
QEII stars with Edward, who at 16 and in braces comes off like a git: When he worries this lunch means something bad has happened, the first possibility that leaps to mind is him losing his Civil List money. His jokes to her fall uncomfortably flat. Then the conversation turns to Gordonstoun, where Edward sounds like he’s a power-mad policeman of a Head Boy, which the Queen pushes back on a bit until it becomes clear part of why he’s savoring it is that he’s been bullied there for being royal. He describes this with no small touch of bitterness, and she’s astonished to hear it, but he eventually shrugs it off and makes the final swerve into awfulness: saying he doesn’t have to do well in school because he knows the Cambridge admissions people aren’t stupid enough to deny him entry, because he’s too good for business. At his arrogance and casual assumption of favors, the Queen looks horrified.
What’s Up With Anne?
Anne is feeling overlooked by the media, whom she believes doesn’t understand the importance of her work ethic: “All she has to do is put on a frock and everyone goes on about how wonderful she is.” The Queen blinks. “Who?” she asks. Oh, come ON. Even the horses grazing 20 feet away know she’s talking about Diana. Anne feels the media only cares for surface things — “Lovely her. Dumpy me. Smiling her, grumpy me. Charming her, awful me” — and that their shallow infatuation has devalued Anne and her steadier, but less flashy work. This is apparently true, at least in spirit. Elizabeth then has to bring up that she’s heard rumors of Anne having an affair with one of her Royal Protection Officers, and consequently — in grand royal style — he’ll be shipped far away and out of temptation’s reach. Anne sniffles that this is terribly cruel because he’s all that makes her happy. “I used to enjoy my reputation as the difficult one. I used to relish scaring people a bit because I could control it,” she says, fighting tears. “But recently, I’m the one who’s scared, because it’s starting to feel more like IT controls ME… a kind of recklessness where I just want to smash it all up.” Elizabeth has no advice other than saying that this too shall pass eventually, to which Anne viciously wonders if “just do nothing” is her mother’s solution to everything. As Anne stalks off, the Queen looks horrified.
I have a lot of thoughts. One, while I understand the need to balance Diana content, I’m not sure why we skipped straight from Unhappy Wedding to Unhappy Pregnant Lady. We could have been SHOWN the genesis of the media comparing Diana and Anne, rather than told it — something I am constantly harping on where The Crown is concerned. Second, and more importantly, we’ve had Erin Doherty’s Anne since last season. Where the hell was all this character development then? Obviously, Charles is a much easier character to tackle; the scenes with him and Diana hit home because we know so much of it by rote that The Crown didn’t have to do as much to lay it all out for us. Anne is way more of a closed book. But all of this seems rooted in truths we know, and even though I love Tobias Menzies as Philip, I would have gladly sacrificed him mooning over the moon and then sneering at American astronauts, in favor of building up Anne. Unfortunately, we already passed over her ENTIRE courtship and marriage, and the infamous kidnapping attempt that says more about Anne’s steely resolve than anything; we got her fling with Mr. Parker-Bowles but nothing about Mark Phillips. Frustrating, and a waste.
Sigh, And Now Here’s Andrew:
Andrew flies himself to lunch on a purloined Naval helicopter, just because. He swans into lunch with a quip and a smile, then casually asks what his title is going to be when he marries. He’s asking because he’s infatuated with his new girlfriend Koo Stark, an actress whose presence on his arm made a stir because she starred in a movie called The Awakening of Emily. Andrew describes the plot as a 17-year old woman who ends up in a house in the country where she meets “several twisted and perverted older predators who seduce the vulnerable, helpless young Emily,” and the Queen is like, “GASP, is that even legal,” and Andrew is basically like, “Who cares!” This entire exchange is very, very pointed. Because this is the first time we’ve seen Andrew in a real way, I absolutely understand them feeling like they need to address the elephant in the room. We know too much now; we’re too keenly attuned to his later grossness. So to introduce him as just a charming demi-rake might feel like whitewashing it, or turning a blind eye. However… we’re talking present-day accusations of pedophilia here, so winking at it this way does come across as troublingly glib. I don’t know how I would have handled this pickle, truly.
Liz then blurts out that his title will be York, and he’s stoked because the last two Dukes of York both became king. Elizabeth is like, “Wellll, only after an untimely death and an abdication,” and points out that Charles would have to die AND Andrew would have to murder his children. Andy cracks an unseemly unseemly joke about Rickard III — also a Duke of York — having a history in that department. As he laughs at his cleverness, the Queen looks lightly horrified… until he wins her back a bit by asking her to promise him that he can serve on active duty in the Falklands if the war happens, because he wants todo his part and earn his place. This direct opposition to Edward cheers up the Queen considerably.
Charles and Diana, You’re Up:
The only glimpse of Emma Corrin we get here is of her hugely pregnant, lying in bed, and completely ignoring Charles banging on her door. He’s invited Liz to see his new country digs, Highgrove, but Diana won’t come out of her room and won’t even acknowledge that he’s talking to her. Her being in this funk tracks with how we last left her, but Anne’s scene is the one reminding us that we’ve missed an enormous amount of her becoming the Princess of Wales. However, I am hit-or-miss so far on Emma Corrin — the stuff where they’re imagining how she acted is fine, but so far (I’ve only watched THIS far) in any scene based on available real-life footage, I think she is doing too much mimicry and not enough digging in to connect with emotions. Thus, I don’t think she makes sense of Diana in those moments, so much as copies her. I actually think Josh O’Connor is veering in a weird direction too? The hunching. He is so STOOPED this season as Charles. Stooped and pinched in a way I don’t recall Charles actually being. STAND UP STRAIGHT.
Anyway. Charles waxes poetic about how his garden will represent everything that’s important to him and be his Shangri-La, his Xanadu, all of which Liz clearly finds insufferable, and then he finally admits that Diana seems miserable. He thought she’d like the country, given her Balmoral success and her youth near Sandringham, but she misses London. He thought it would cheer Diana up if he awakened her to culture, which is shorthand for, “mansplained poetry and prose and architecture to her and generally treated her like a complete rube,” but in fact she doesn’t seem to appreciate the intellectual gifts he is giving to her (I am rolling my eyes heavily as I type that; I have always liked that Charles IS intellectually curious but I also have no doubt that he was condescending and heavy-handed with Diana about his own erudition). And now she’s pregnant and having a hard time. Elizabeth archly why Charles chose Gloucestershire, if Diana prefers London so much; it hasn’t escaped her attention that Camilla lives 15 minutes from Highgrove. Charles insists the two of them only occasionally get together now to hunt, though they do talk on the phone “as often as is necessary” when he needs cheering up. Elizabeth is disgusted — but unlike with her other three children, she lays into Charles, telling him to focus more on his wife’s well-being and less on on “the army of sycophants” making his house a tribute to himself. Charles hangs his head, because it’s all he does anymore. He’s practically bent at a 90-degree angle.
Shell-shocked, Liz summons her mother and Margaret over for a cocktail, and they talk about how they dropped everything to get there… and then Peter Morgan drops it. If there was any more of that scene, it sadly got cut in favor of a long conversation with Philip. Which is itself a very good scene, but we have enough of Philip steering Elizabeth emotionally; I would have loved to hear Margaret’s and the QM’s thoughts. After cutting abruptly upstairs, Philip teases Elizabeth about whether she’s finally realized her favorite is Andrew. Olivia Colman here is stuck picking up the cricket bat to beat this horse: “It’s our children that are lost, not the Prime Minister’s. Each in their own deserts.” Philip is in a bit of denial that any of the other than Charles is in trouble, and Elizabeth says she’s shocked about Andrew the most: “If he doesn’t change…” This notion that she’s concerned he will become a douchebag rings a bit false to me, but okay. She later admits to Philip that she wanted Andrew and Edward to prove to herself that she could be a better, more attentive mother than she was to Charles and Anne, but still found herself too timid and wanting. Philip bracingly tells her she’s “a perfectly good mother” and that the kids’ failings are on them to sort out: “In the meantime, it’s your job to…” “Stick around, stay alive, and keep breathing,” she says, dryly. He nods. “For all our sakes.” So basically, the Keep Calm and Carry On at work here is also coming from Philip, and as we all know, the kids keep drifting into trouble. Like, say, a warship sailing to the Falklands.