I was a bit late coming to THE CROWN. When it came out, I didn’t have Netflix. Everyone talked about how good the show was, and I definitely felt like I was missing out. So it was one of the first things I saw when I got Netflix back, and it did not disappoint.

Whenever a show is hyped up like that, it often doesn’t live up to expectations. Season 1 of THE CROWN did. When I got to the end of the first ten episodes, I was desperate for more, especially since the show ended on a cliffhanger. Now, at long last, we have Season 2. This season covers the years 1955-1965, and it’s not been an easy decade for our favorite queen.

THE CROWN Season 1 Recap

First, let’s have a quick refresher on last season. Season 1 started off before Elizabeth was crowned queen. We first see her marriage to Philip, then a quick summary of the first few years of her marriage. Season 1 really kicks off when King George is having health problems. He asks Elizabeth to take on the royal tour in his stead, but unfortunately, he dies before she even makes it to the second country.

Elizabeth is rushed back to England. Her early reign is plagued by numerous difficulties that the young queen finds herself unprepared for. Elizabeth is faced with a natural disaster in the London smog, her prime minister’s health crisis, family scandals surrounding her sister Princess Margaret, and general unrest surrounding the place of the monarchy in the modern world.

THE CROWN
Glorious Gloriana

Personal crises abound, too. Soon Elizabeth must face the death of her grandmother. Margaret is furious with Elizabeth for preventing her marriage, as well as resentful of Elizabeth’s star-status. Elizabeth’s marriage is full of heartbreak and struggles as Philip deals with a wife of superior rank.

Season 1 ends with Elizabeth alone. Margaret has sworn never to forgive Elizabeth her “betrayal.” The Queen Mother goes to Scotland to process her grief. Philip is being sent to Australia. Her first PM, Winston Churchill, has resigned due to old age. Elizabeth is alone, overwhelmed, and eminently sympathetic.

THE CROWN Season 2: New Struggles

Season 2 doesn’t make things any easier on Elizabeth. Right from the start, she is faced with similar struggles to Season 1, as well as whole new difficulties.

Imperial Loss

The first season briefly mentioned the struggles that England was having maintaining its position of power in the world. Only a generation before, the British Empire had amassed much of the globe. Now, Elizabeth is faced with a disintegrating Empire as more and more countries spark revolutions against Western imperialism.

First up is Egypt, which is revolting against Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s actions. Led by President Nassar, the Egyptians have seized control of the Suez Canal, which is vital to securing oil for England. Eden asserts that they can handle the crisis by subverting French and English canal workers. Unfortunately, the USSR sees this as a great opportunity and assists Nassar. Eden is made to look like a fool, and England eventually loses the canal.

THE CROWN
Glamorous in Ghana.

Egypt isn’t the only African country causing trouble for Elizabeth, however. Later in the season, Ghana will call for a pan-African alignment. Ghanaian President Nkrumah is seeking funding for an important dam, which he had originally been planning on getting from America. However, once again the Soviets sweep in. Elizabeth is faced with the USSR gaining a stronghold in Africa and must resort to unconventional means to secure Nkrumah’s support.

The Soviets are a recurring problem. This is the midst of the Cold War, and while that is often thought of as a primarily American/Soviet engagement, THE CROWN shows us that England was in the thick of things too. The season finale showcases a prominent member of Cabinet engaged in scandal after attending a party with a Soviet spy.

Modernizing the Monarchy

Elizabeth also faces domestic problems when it comes to the role of the monarchy. Season 1 flirted with this idea briefly, mainly in the spectacle of Elizabeth’s coronation. Philip insisted that the coronation be filmed, to allow the common people to participate to some degree. This act of modernization was a huge deal at the time and served to boost the monarchy’s popularity.

Unfortunately, the monarchy is still in a perilous position. As countries around the globe revolt against their leaders, Elizabeth faces the terrifying possibility of deposition, or worse. This comes to a head when Lord Altrincham publishes a scathing review of a speech Elizabeth gave. Altrincham argues that the monarchy is outdated and needs to modernize. Elizabeth is hurt by the personal attacks, but in the end, agrees to several of Altrincham’s suggestions.

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Later, Elizabeth again faces fears of being outmoded, although this time it is even more personal that Altrincham’s attacks. When Jackie Kennedy visits, Elizabeth is faced with a modern, intelligent, sophisticated woman… and finds herself lacking. When Jackie says cruel things about Elizabeth, she is spurred to action. This leads Elizabeth to her actions in Ghana, which end up helping the world at large, in the end.

However, it’s important that, in both of these cases, Elizabeth is attacked personally and for what she represents. One of the things THE CROWN does so wonderfully is humanizing these superhuman characters. Elizabeth is hurt by the things said about her. She is already self-conscious and shy, and to have cruel things said about her cuts deep. She takes both opportunities to change, however and does improve herself and her position.

Main Theme: Everyone is Terrible

The most notable theme in Season 2 of THE CROWN is that everyone is terrible. So many of these characters are just appalling people, and you really find yourself rooting against almost everyone.

Get Rid of Margaret, Please

Princess Margaret was one of my least favorite characters from Season 1. She was cruel, self-centered, spoiled, and utterly uncaring about anyone else, least of all her sister. Margaret delighted in pointing out to Elizabeth that she was their father’s favorite, tainting Elizabeth’s happy memories of her father, who was one of few genuinely decent people in the show.

THE CROWN
She’s just terrible.

The worst of all was when Elizabeth blocked Margaret’s marriage to Peter Townsend. On the one hand, this is a terrible loss for Margaret, and you want to feel bad for her. But she handles it so poorly that you really don’t care that she’s unhappy. She hits back at Elizabeth, uncaring of how precarious her actions make her family’s position.

Season 2 doesn’t make Margaret much better. Her actions are still that of a spoiled child. When Peter decides to marry someone else, Margaret decides to get married herself just to spite him. Despite telling her current paramour that she never wanted to marry, she pressures him into marrying her.

When Elizabeth reveals that she is pregnant — preventing Margaret from announcing her engagement — she responds harshly. She doesn’t care that Elizabeth is only following protocol, she sees it as another attack. Later, when Elizabeth attempts to warn Margaret of her fiance’s infidelity, Margaret lashes out. She only cares about herself and refuses to see things from her sister’s point of view.

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Margaret ridicules and belittles Elizabeth. She does not even seem to care about her new nephew since he has only hampered her own plans. I was sick of Margaret before the end of Season 1. Season 2 didn’t endear her to me anymore.

Uncle David is a Literal Nazi

Continuing the trend of terrible family members is Elizabeth’s uncle David, the former King Edward VIII. Like Margaret, Season 1 did not showcase a positive look at David. He was shown to be vain, self-absorbed, and cruel. He mocked Elizabeth and her entire family. Worst of all, he blamed everyone else for his downfall rather than taking credit for his own actions.

Season 2 manages to up the ante by making David a literal Nazi. Obviously, THE CROWN is based on real life so it’s not like this was made up for reader response. But what a masterful job the show does of pointing out how despicable this person really was.

THE CROWN
Go to hell, Nazi Uncle.

David returns to England to seek work. His life as a socialite is unfulfilling, so he wants to reenter public service. Unfortunately, his abdication agreement stated that he would disappear from public life. So he must seek out work in secret, lying to his niece. He uses secret connections to secure a position in the government, only he needs Elizabeth’s approval.

And Elizabeth is all set to give her approval until she learns the truth. Not only did David abandon the monarchy and his family, but he directly supported Hitler. He even put his own people at risk, encouraging the Nazis to continue bombing England. He assures Elizabeth that it was in pursuit of peace, but she seems to be finally done listening to him. Hopefully, he stays away now. Elizabeth doesn’t need more family drama.

Say It Ain’t So, Jackie O

This one is a little more difficult. Jackie Kennedy is one of the most beloved American figures of the past century. She represents sophistication, beauty, and American royalty. So I was excited to see that she would appear on THE CROWN. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

THE CROWN
Poor Jackie.

At first, Jackie is presented as bubbly and flirtatious. However, when left alone with Elizabeth she reveals a quiet, shy, and unconfident persona. Elizabeth finds herself charmed against her will. Unfortunately, this later comes back to haunt Elizabeth when Jackie later makes cruel remarks about Elizabeth at a party. She calls Elizabeth, among other things, dull, unintelligent, and possessed of thick ankles.

However, THE CROWN does redeem Jackie somewhat. She returns to England to apologize for Elizabeth, where she reveals the truth behind her actions. At the time, Jackie was suffering from post-natal depression, as well as tensions in her marriage. Additionally, her doctor had drugged her before the party, and she didn’t even remember saying those things.

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Elizabeth reveals that Jackie seemed so sad. This is a heartbreaking moment. The glamorous woman we all think of is stripped away, exposing a troubled woman. In this one particular case, THE CROWN gave a terrible character redemption.

JFK, Man

Going hand-in-hand with Jackie is her terrible husband, JFK. JFK is one of America’s favorite presidents. He represents a younger, newer generation of politics. His assassination cemented his place in American history as a person of lost potential.

THE CROWN undermines that historical revisionism by presenting a truly terrible JFK. Everything that it seems Jackie is, JFK really is. When we first meet him, he bumbles a meeting, and it seems that he is a poor, shy man living in his wife’s shadow.

THE CROWN
JFC, JFK.

However, the real JFK we get to see is cruel and scheming. He encourages Jackie’s treatment of Elizabeth because it supports his own goals. He congratulates Jackie on her “success” of spurring Elizabeth to action in Ghana, although Jackie is mortified at her own behavior.

Most appallingly, JFK seems to assault Jackie at one point. While Jackie is recounting to Elizabeth her troubles, we see a flashback of the Kennedys fighting. There’s a sinister overtone that might imply JFK raped his wife. If not that, he at least treated her with overt violence.

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Whereas Jackie got redemption in THE CROWN, JFK only got death. It makes it harder to hate his character when he dies at the end of the episode, but I persevere. JFK’s assassination was a truly sad moment in this season. However, it does not excuse his behavior.

Keeping Up With the Parkers

An early conflict in Season 2 is the unfolding divorce of the Parkers. Mike Parker is Philip’s best friend and personal secretary. Thus, his divorce reflects badly on the monarchy. It comes out that Mike is cheating on his wife, Eileen. She decides to sue for divorce.

Unfortunately, I find it hard to like even Eileen. You expect to dislike Mike. He’s rude, brash, boastful, and he’s cheating on his wife. It’s a no-brainer. However, I want to like Eileen. She’s going through a rough time. It’s not her fault her husband is terrible, and she deserves sympathy.

THE CROWN
Tool.

That is until her own actions show her to be harsh and cruel herself. Eileen lashes out at a woman for sleeping with her husband. Like Margaret, Eileen doesn’t care about other people’s struggles. The woman will lose her job if she testifies against Mike, but Eileen doesn’t care.

Later, when Elizabeth comes to visit, Eileen lashes out at her too. None of this is Elizabeth’s fault, but Eileen clearly blames her for the failure of her marriage. She is harsh when Elizabeth asks for time for her people to prepare for the announcement. Eileen cruelly claims that she is done doing favors for “you people.” Not only is she cruel, but she is rude.

Philip is The Worst

But all those people pale in comparison to the worst figure of all in Season 2, Philip. Philip was problematic in Season 1, sure. He was insecure, seemed to have a wandering eye, and frequently fought with Elizabeth. But in Season 2, Philip is all guns blazing terrible.

Philip represents toxic masculinity at its worst. What’s most interesting is that Philip showcases an ironic paradox of toxic masculinity: a deep-seated insecurity that results in machismo and cruelty. Despite marrying the crown princess of England, Philip never seems to have forgiven Elizabeth for ranking above him.

THE CROWN
I name thee Prince of the Whiny Man-Babies.

In Season 1, Philip nearly refuses to bow to Elizabeth. In Season 2, he takes things up a notch. He blames Elizabeth for his poor treatment at the hands of palace staff, claiming it’s because he’s of low rank. He forces Elizabeth to name him a Prince of England, claiming it as his price to not be an utter douche. Philip claims he will stop his philandering and his poor attitude.

Poor Charles

Of course, this is not what actually happens. Even worse, he uses this agreement against Elizabeth. Elizabeth agrees because she needs to keep Philip in line to avoid scandal and keep her crown. However, when Elizabeth wants to send Charles to Eton, Philip threatens to break their agreement to get his way. To make it clear — he is threatening to cheat on and humiliate the queen of England just to get his way.

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His treatment of Charles is even worse. Philip often lamented that Charles was too sensitive, and thought to “toughen him up” by sending him to a harsh school. This is another aspect of toxic masculinity. He refuses to let Charles be himself because that doesn’t fit Philip’s definition of a “man.” This hurts Charles deeply, and causes a rift between Philip and Elizabeth when she disagrees with his actions.

Horrible Husband

Even aside from the rank disputes and cruel parenting, Philip is just terrible. Towards Elizabeth, he is at turns condescending and lecherous. Philip reinforces outdated and unfair stereotypes of marriage that a wife is meant to be submissive and serve her husband.

When he’s speaking to Mike, after being named Prince Philip and therefore making a deal with Elizabeth, Philip bemoans that Elizabeth wants to have more children. This is strange, as one of Philip’s redeeming characteristics from Season 1 was his devotion to the children. Now, he acts like this is another trap from the ol’ ball-and-chain.

THE CROWN
Man-babies love a beard.

Later, Philip totally gaslights Elizabeth in the season finale. Elizabeth learns that Philip has been at his old antics, participating in scandalous house parties and lying to him. Worse, she is having a difficult pregnancy and suffering political problems. He treats her as if all her problems are of her own making. When she confronts him about his actions, his immediate response is to lie and act as if she’s crazy.

To make it all worse, he then manipulates Elizabeth into forgiving him. He repeats the words King George had said to him: “she is the job.” He asserts that he is doing his job by taking care of her, that he is there for her, that he loves her. She forgives him because he makes himself seem blameless, and like he is the only one she can trust. By the end of the season, I was about ready to fly to England and punch a 96-year-old man.

Not Everything is Terrible!

Of course, there are a lot of good things and good people in THE CROWN. Elizabeth is portrayed as eminently sympathetic. She is going through a lot of difficulties, and she manages with dignity and grace. I lost a little respect for her when she forgave Philip so easily at the end, but she is dealing with a master manipulator.

THE CROWN
Also good: babies!

Most surprising was the revelation that Dickie, Lord Mountbatten, is not terrible. Dickie was one of the worst characters in Season 1, but Season 2 redeems him and then some. In Season 1, Dickie is self-serving and annoying, but this season he is there to help. He helps Elizabeth, but more importantly, he helps Charles. When Philip is being cruel and harsh, Dickie is there to help. We even see Dickie help Philip in a flashback. It’s an unexpected redemption.

Charles also has a remarkably sympathetic portrayal. He is shown as a quiet and sensitive child, struggling with his position in the world. He shows determination and does not give up. It is all the crueler that Philip disregards him when he is portrayed so wonderfully as a good child.

Overall Impressions

THE CROWN Season 1 was a masterpiece of cinema. It won a host of awards, including a Golden Globe for leading lady Claire Foy and Best Television Series — Drama. More than that, THE CROWN fueled the flames of a longstanding obsession with the monarchy. Season 2 was long anticipated… but did it deliver?

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In my opinion, it did! Season 2 gave us more drama, more scandal, more glamour, more glitz. Season 1 gave us a taste of a more human look at this famous people, and Season 2 delivered an entire entree. Claire Foy remains excellent as Queen Elizabeth, and Matt Smith balances charm with awfulness as Philip. Familiar minor characters return, such as the wonderful Martin Charteris and Elizabeth’s good friend Porchey.

We also had great new faces, like Jodi Balfour’s Jackie Kennedy and Matthew Goode’s Tony Armstrong-Jones. The season provided a deft blend of domestic and foreign problems, avoiding the trap of becoming too one-note. I greatly enjoyed Season 2 of THE CROWN, and it seems I’m not alone. The show has received good reviews, and has even been nominated for more Golden Globes.

THE CROWN
Claire Foy will be missed.

All this begs the question — what’s next? We don’t know much. We do know that, sadly, Claire Foy and company are not returning. The showrunners intend to show the Queen’s entire reign and are planning to move on with older actors. All I know is, I can’t wait to see what we get next time. THE CROWN was an excellent show, and I look forward to more!

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