Photo: The Crown (Netflix)

If The Crown’s first season had a central theme it was Elizabeth finding her feet as the 20-something Queen of England. The opening prologue of “Misadventure” seems to introduce the new theme for the show’s second season: Marriage. Yes, mawage is what brings us together today. And it looks like it’s going to be a rocky road for Elizabeth and Philip. “Misadventure” opens with the pair at their lowest point yet—openly admitting that if they were a normal couple, they’d be discussing divorce now. But they’re not a normal couple (their fight happens on a ship off the coast of Lisbon with the press eagerly trying to snap pictures) and divorce isn’t a path open to them, so they must find some way to soldier on together. We don’t see the resolution of their argument, instead the episode flashes back to happier days five months earlier, just before Philip departs on his lengthy journey to open the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. But it’s an argument that hangs over the rest of the episode and, perhaps, the rest of the season.

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Knowing what’s coming, it’s almost painful to watch Elizabeth and Philip in the throes of marital bliss before he leaves on his trip. Philip grew to be an incredibly tiresome one-note character in the latter half of The Crown’s first season, and it’s nice to remember how charming he can be when he and Elizabeth are actually on good terms. Unfortunately, it’s not a happiness that lasts for long once Elizabeth discovers a portrait of a ballerina in his briefcase. “When you really adore someone as fully and as hopelessly as I think you and I do,” Lord “Dickie” Mountbatten explains to Elizabeth, “you put up with anything.” This season looks to be an examination of just how much Elizabeth is willing to put up with—both for herself and for her country.

This episode is filled with other complex marriages too, including that of Philip’s uncle and aunt Lord and Lady Mountbatten, who agree to maintain “mysteries on both sides” of their relationship. The Crown also gives Elizabeth a fascinating foil in Eileen Parker, the wife of Philip’s private secretary and philandering friend Mike. Eileen is in many ways in a far worse situation than Elizabeth. When her husband departs for months on end, she has no one to look after her children or maintain her house for her. Yet she’s also allowed to deal with her frustrations without the constant prying eyes of the public at her back. And, presumably, she’s allowed to divorce Mike if things truly get bad enough. Of all the threads this episode introduces, Eileen might be the one I’m most interested to follow.

There are the political marriages at play too. The uneasy partnership between Britain and Egypt is further threatened by Russia’s flirtations in the Suez Canal. And as the show established last season, the Queen’s unique partnership with the Prime Minister is nothing if not a kind of marriage between the “efficient” and the “dignified.” But it turns out Elizabeth is far more comfortable confronting her “work husband” than her actual one. During one of their meetings, Elizabeth makes it known that she’s not thrilled about Anthony Eden colluding with Israel and France to basically start an illegal war in Egypt—even if she does ultimately give him her support, as is her royal duty.

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Perhaps the biggest change between The Crown’s first season and its second is that Elizabeth has found her confidence. “This stuff used to wear you, now you wear it,” Philip tells his wife before sneaking a private romantic moment after casually instructing an entire roomful of people to turn around. And it’s not just Elizabeth who’s grown more at ease. We’re also more comfortable in Elizabeth’s world too, and that means the show can jump right into its storytelling without wasting time establishing who everyone is and what the rules of decorum are. Though I hope this season eventually gets back to the episodic, self-contained storytelling that was such an unexpected delight in the first, for now “Misadventure” feels very much like the opening chapter of a heavily serialized series. There isn’t necessarily a ton of narrative cohesion, but the episode does introduce some of the major topics the second season will presumably explore: the Suez Crisis, Margaret’s glamorous ennui, Eden’s declining health, and, of course, Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship.

Photo: The Crown (Netflix)

What hasn’t changed between seasons is the glorious, almost absurd opulence on display in just about every moment of the series. There are still fancy balls to attend and gorgeous gowns to wear. And the episode’s depiction of England’s invasion of Egypt looks impressively cinematic. But even more so than the impressive visuals, what makes this series work are its performers. I’m not sure any actor on Earth can do as much with as a little as Claire Foy does. The silent moment Elizabeth finds the ballerina portrait in Philip’s bag is more powerful than any explosive monologue ever could be. You can actually see a full emotional journey play out on Foy’s face—from confusion to realization to crushing disappointment. And through it all, Foy makes it clear how hard Elizabeth is working to maintain the composure befitting her position.

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One of the big themes of The Crown is that as much as they try to devote themselves fully to their positions, political leaders are merely human. The fact that Elizabeth is distracted by Philip’s potential affair stops her from fully paying attention to Eden as he describes the scenario in the Suez Canal. And Eden’s own personal grudge against Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser is presented as a major factor in the Suez Crisis. As it did in its first season, The Crown mines equal drama from something as big as a bombing to something as small as a father forgetting to call his daughter on her birthday. Despite their very different stakes, they’re both major events in our characters’ lives. And as both a political leader and the wife of a womanizer, no one understands that better than Elizabeth.


Stray observations

  • Welcome back to coverage of The Crown! New reviews will drop every other day at 3 p.m. EST.
  • It’s a relief to see Elizabeth call out Philip’s whining in their opening fight, but I’m worried that we still have to watch the five months until he hears the message.
  • I wish I had a better sense of what an average workday looks like for Elizabeth, beyond her meetings with the PM.
  • Eden’s deliciously smug speech to Eton was a great way to reintroduce him as a character.
  • I’m glad Elizabeth and Margaret are still on relatively friendly terms, despite the fall-out from Elizabeth forbidding Margaret’s engagement to Peter Townsend. Especially because in real-life, Elizabeth actually drew up plans to help make the marriage possible because she “would not wish to stand in the way of her sister’s happiness.” (Margaret and/or Peter broke off the engagement on their own accord.)
  • The scene of young Charles attempting to say goodbye to his father with a handshake is pretty heartbreaking.
  • Why does Elizabeth always carry a purse around Buckingham Palace and what does she have inside of it?
  • “Oh! I’ve woken up in this bed.”

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