Review: Catherine is Better than Ever in 'The Great,' Season 3
Matthew Creith READ TIME: 3 MIN.
"He is my fate. You are my choice."
Full disclosure: The Hulu dark comedy "The Great" is one of my favorite television shows taking over modern streaming. Starting with the first season in 2020, creator and frequent writer Tony McNamara has delivered a hilarious series revolving around Catherine the Great of Russia (Elle Fanning), her fractured marriage to Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), and the use of historical relationships to craft a fictitious premise. Some events in "The Great" actually happened, some have been made up for television, and others are blatantly delusional.
The result is a series that grounds its characters with delightfully crass dialogue, a shake-up of documented norms, and a playground for gifted actors to make light of their corset-laden presence.
"The Great" ushers in a new world in its third season, debuting on May 12. Given the way Season 2 ended, with Catherine becoming Empress, overthrowing Peter, and her most significant attempt ever at ending his life, Season 3 has its work cut out for it. When last we saw Peter, he was busy having sex with Catherine's mother, accidentally killing her when she fell out of a window, and Catherine stabbed an innocent man named Pugachev, whom she mistook for Peter. Awkward, to say the least. The season ended with the two royals wondering where they go next, just as the Ottomans are advancing on Russia's border regions.
Season 3 picks up right after Catherine tries to kill Peter. It's a new day, with many of the same problems. Yet, with all their schemes and assassination attempts, the two leads simply can't keep their hands and hearts off one another. They must face a court full of loyal friends and joyful backstabbers, as well as an impending war with Sweden.
As has been the case since the beginning of the series, Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning prove to be solid leads in an ensemble show that relies on their particular brand of chemistry mixed with sadistic humor. Their characters set fire to many longstanding friendships, including former servant Maria (Phoebe Fox) and coup strategist Orlo (Sacha Dhawan). But this new season builds upon the strength of its talented supporting cast, including Peter's best friend Grigor (Gwilym Lee), Grigor's ex-lover Georgina (Charity Wakefield), Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromulow), and Archie the Archbishop (Adam Godley). Their roles become crucial in furthering a narrative that blends historical fact and McNamara's unbridled passion for playing with fiction.
As in real life, Peter's lookalike Pugachev (Nicholas Hoult, in a dual role) takes center stage and organizes a rebellion against the powers that be. Unfortunately, that's pretty much everything about Season 3 that can be explained at this time, as there are too many directions that McNamara and team have chosen to travel to in just 10 episodes. Big surprises await viewers who have stuck with the series since its inception, upending everything Catherine and Peter have worked towards from day one.
Nicholas Hoult is always a sexy and maniacal treat as the likable monster of a leader, Peter. He pulls out all the stops this time to showcase his range as a performer with his take on Pugachev, as well. Elle Fanning is flexing her muscles as Catherine, trying to keep the citizens of Russia happy while attempting to outlaw murder, introducing lawful divorce, and wanting critical thinking to rule above all. With substantial pushback from members of the court and peasants of her land, she retakes control of the situation with every breath and every speech.
Yet, Catherine struggles with the idea of killing Peter, as vile as he has become to her. They share a child now, in Paul, and she wants nothing more than for Paul to grow up to be unlike his father in every way. As Fanning approaches this fractured relationship throughout the new season, she forces Catherine front and center, for it is her destiny to rule over Russia.
"The Great" retains its reputation as a consistently witty and well-acted television show, with possibly the most vulgar and expletive-laden retelling of historical events still on television. It is at the top of its game, dangerously funny and seductive without relying on old jokes to further story development. Characters are fleshed out, sexuality is explored from all avenues, and the two leads are best when fighting one another in an occasionally true story.
The series does jump the shark a bit this season, but it's for the betterment of moving overall events ahead. It leans on some historical elements as it always has, but Tony McNamara is smart enough to lead his audience in a controversial soap operatic direction. With Catherine in charge, the series can't go wrong.
"The Great," Season 3, streams on Hulu starting May 12.