Season 2 of The Crown has been exciting. It started out a bit slow with the same story arc as the first season - Prince Philip doesn’t like being married to the Queen. But those are just the first three episodes, and it gets resolved rather nicely. Then they start a sub plot with Princess Margaret (one of my favorite characters) trying to find a new husband. That lasts for two episodes. The longest story arc is of course, Elizabeth’s. Her arc is that she needs to become a “modern” Queen in an age where monarchies are the “exception,” as Lord Altrincham puts it in Episode 5. The fifth episode is when things really start to pick up with Elizabeth’s storyline. She continues to get advice from her old consort, Tommy Lascelles, her husband, her new assistant Michael Adeane, her mother, and later, a TV Evangelical preacher from America, Reverend Billy Graham. All of these people help her make her decisions as a young Queen, but after seeing this episode, Vergangenheit, the show makes us ask ourselves: Are these people really helping her, or using her as a means to their own ends?
Vergangenheit is by far the best episode of the season. Not only are the creators of the show not afraid of bringing up controversial history, thus showing they’re not totally romanticizing the royal family, but they’re also not afraid of bringing up religious ideology - which mainstream pop culture seems to be so wary of. In fact, the religious back bone of this episode is quite fitting, as we are reminded that the Queen is the head of the Anglican church. The episode starts out with the Marburg papers, basically documentation that contains back and forths with the then King Edward VIII and Hitler, yes Hitler. That’ something you won’t learn in the history books. Anyway, these papers resurface at the same time the Duke of Windsor is asking his niece, the Queen, for a government job where he could have a “purpose” and “serve his people.” Elizabeth, feeling generous due to the fact that she was religiously reinvigorated with a private session with Reverend Graham, is on the verge to forgive him. However, after learning about these papers and meeting with some trusted advisors who give her more information about her uncle, she doesn’t forgive him. He leaves, humiliated by his past, and she struggles with not being able to forgive him, as Graham says, it is the Christian way. However, he forgets that to be forgiven, one must be sorry for what they did, and the Duke of Windsor, never apologized or asked for forgiveness.
So what are the Marburg papers? It turns out Edward VIII, before abdicating, visited Hitler in the late 1930s. He preferred to be on the German’s side because he wanted to appease Germany rather than fight them. As he puts it, after the bloodshed of WWI, he never wanted Germany and Britain to be enemies again. However, after the abdication, we see that he and his wife continued talking to Hitler’s regime by giving them secret information that let Hitler take over Paris, telling Hitler to continue to bomb the cities of England because they would soon give in, and even making a deal that if Hitler won the war, Hitler would buy the Duke a house in Portugal where he would remain safe for the rest of his life. We see that the now Duke of Windsor didn’t want to help the British people, he had that chance, as Elizabeth so poignantly says, when he was crowned King. In reality, he just wanted to save his own skin, even if that meant making a pact with the devil and putting his own countrymen in danger.
This episode is the strongest thus far, not because of its shock value, but because it sheds a different light on the crown. It shows us that the monarchy is not perfect, but that we can learn from those mistakes, and even fix them. Elizabeth’s father covered up history, but Elizabeth rights his wrong. Though many people are guiding her, she alone makes the final decisions. She's not merely a marionette with someone else controlling the strings, rather, she's her own moral compass. In addition, the truth is uncovered by a group of historians who know how important the truth is. We learn that it’s better to end up on the right side of history rather than being selfish just to survive. Lastly, we are reminded that the Queen believes she is the closest being to God in her country. We are reminded that she really does think divine right gives her the right to rule. Though it may sound ridiculous to some, it really keeps her in check. Some people might take divine right to an extreme, as we’ve seen throughout history, but for Elizabeth, this is a huge responsibility she doesn’t take lightly. Though she has no governing power, she does have moral power, and that’s as good as anything.
21 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.