Well, we’ve come full circle. Season five opened with a boat metaphor and it closes with one: “Decommissioned” might tell the story of Britannia’s final voyage, but it’s Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) who feels like she’s on her way out.
The Fayeds are also back in the finale, with Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) excited to introduce his father Mohamed (Salim Daw) to a special someone. The Crown plays with expectations here, knowing the audience assumes he’s talking about Diana (Elizabeth Debicki), but surprise! It’s model Kelly Fisher who has his heart (for now).
Post-divorce, Diana is holed up in her Kensington Palace apartment, watching a live special debating the merits of the monarchy. When the host tells the audience to call in and vote yes or no, Diana pulls up her phone’s antennae and keeps her finger on that redial button. “You have voted no for the monarchy” an automated voice tells her over and over again. Girl, move on with your life! Put that £17-million settlement to use and go do whatever you want! But she’s caught in her obsession over the possibility of a “King Charles and Queen Camilla.”
At this point, the show feels a bit stuck on what to do with Diana. The divorce has been played out to death, dominating the second half of the season. Season six will obviously wade into the tragedy of her death and the seismic impact it had on the royal family. But between now and then, what are they to do with her? Watching her mope around the apartment and get chased by paparazzi over and over again does not make for interesting TV.
The rest of the royals are gathered for Elizabeth’s birthday. As they sit down to eat, the conversation turns to the impending victory of Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel), who is projected to give the Labour Party its first win in 18 years, and Hong Kong’s sovereignty transferring from Britain to China. “China is taking Hong Kong away!” says the Queen Mother (Marcia Warren) to admonishment from the table. “They’re taking it back, Granny,” says Charles. Speaking out against colonialism! What won’t this season do to make Charles look good?
Turns out Tony Blair does win, in a landslide, and in his victory speech he says, “We have the opportunity to change Britain.” For the rest of the finale, the royals make this sentiment all about them. Will that change mean the end of the monarchy? Or will it mean, as Charles is hoping, a new monarch?
Elizabeth has a tender goodbye with Prime Minister John Major (Jonny Lee Miller), telling him she will miss his calm and stability, and that he ranks highly on her list of prime ministers. I was struck during this scene by how many times we’ve seen Elizabeth do this now—say goodbye to an old PM and welcome in a new one.
As Major leaves, Blair comes in for his welcome, and essentially their first order of business is the damn yacht. The Labour Party is committed to decommissioning it, but Blair has a proposed alternative: A new yacht, not paid for by the government, but by a private company that will then lease it back to them. “Like Avis?” mocks one member of the royal family when Elizabeth shares the idea with the group. The real punch to the gut is he would want to name the yacht New Britain. “Wasn’t that his campaign slogan?” scoffs Margaret (Lesley Manville). Elizabeth tells the new prime minister she would rather the yacht be decommissioned.
“After 43 years of service, a million nautical miles around the globe, the royal yacht will be retired,” the queen says miserably. Her last voyage will be Charles’ return trip from Hong Kong, as everyone agrees it’s not a good look for Elizabeth to attend the ceremony. Later, in conversation with Camilla (Olivia Williams) and Mark Bollard, Charles notices what the rest of us have been aware of all season. Elizabeth is not sad about Britannia, “her grief is for herself, for the institution she represents, like she was being decommissioned.” Glad you’ve caught up there, old sport. Still, he’s excited to go to Hong Kong because it’s an opportunity to sneak in a meeting with Blair.
Meanwhile, we get a little time with the Fayeds. Dodi requests Daddy send the jet to Los Angeles to pick them up (“Kelly, meet G4”), and they have sex and run lines and do some coke on the private plane. They’re having fun, but when they meet Mohamed and his wife Heini over dinner, the two men talk in Arabic and it does not go well. “Isn’t it enough just to fuck her?” Mohamed asks, unimpressed by his son’s new flame and irritated that his movies have all been flops lately. He wants more than a swimwear model for his eldest son. Someone like…a princess?
At a production of Swan Lake, Mohamed catches sight of a melancholic Diana alone in her box and invites her out for a meal after. They’re hounded by paparazzi, and when Diana shares the palace nixed her plans to take the boys to America for the summer, he invites them all to his house in Saint Tropez instead. There will be jet skis for the boys and “sunshine and shopping” for Diana, another callback to the premiere. She says she’ll consider it.
Charles attends Hong Kong’s official breakup with Britain, giving a speech in the pouring rain as the British flag is removed and the Chinese one goes up, marking the end of 156 years of British rule. Afterward, Charles welcomes Blair onto Britannia for a meeting, and the new PM says his tour of the yacht has him regretting decommissioning her. He’s struck by her “sense of tradition,” but Charles tells him not to bother. “There’s no point in clinging to the past. We must be excited about the future.”
Of course, Charles can’t help but make the conversation about himself. He says he wants the two of them to work together as young, modern men of Britain, bettering the country, but he quickly pivots to how he should be allowed to marry Camilla. Blair is impressed by his “genuine desire to engage and make a difference,” if a little surprised by how eager he seems to be throw his own mother under the bus.
But word of this meeting—and Charles’ use of the yacht to take a little holiday with Camilla on the way home—gets back to Elizabeth, of course, setting up the final confrontation of the season. She summons him and says she’s surprised by his use of the yacht for his affair. “My affair?” Charles protests. “I’m an unmarried man.” Things go south from there, with her reprimanding him for meeting with Blair, and him suggesting her holding on is damaging the future of the monarchy.
“In Hong Kong, I saw how easy it is to dispose of us,” he pleads. “If we don’t move with the times, the world will move on. And those who come after you will be left with nothing.” It’s the episode’s most dynamic scene, mostly because The Crown is at its most interesting when all the big, historical context becomes personal. Just two people airing grievances and fighting for control.
As Elizabeth attends her own private farewell to Britannia, Diana packs for her trip to Saint Tropez, Dodi proposes to Kelly, and Mohamed jets across the water. It’s the end of an era, but it’s also the edge of a cliff; so much of “Decommissioned” feels like setting up dominoes to be knocked down by the turmoil we know is about to erupt. See you for season six!
- At Elizabeth’s birthday, everyone gives her gag gifts (she loves the singing bass from Andrew [James Murray]) except Charles, who misses the mark with a framed landscape.
- John Major leaves a note for Tony Blair on the desk: “It’s a great job. Enjoy it!” Classy! And goodbye to Jonny Lee Miller, who has inspired complex feelings for many by making Major hot.
- The funniest moment of the episode is when Bollard tells Charles he hasn’t been able to get him out of business class for the flight to Hong Kong. Camilla, a gem: “You’re going to have to be very brave. But I promise you, you’ll survive.”
- Runner up: Elizabeth wants to turn down Diana’s request to take the boys to Saint Tropez but acknowledges it’s her turn with William and Harry for the summer. “I’m told it’s what divorced parents call parenting.”
- I’ll admit that by the end of the season, there wasn’t a trace of Umbridge in Imelda Staunton’s Elizabeth.