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'The Crown' Season 2 Offers a Startling Message about Marriage

I had begun to despair of ever finding time to watch Season 2 of The Crown but, as luck would have it, I came down with the flu. So, now I’m all caught up! The show, which airs on Netflix, is popular largely for its ridiculously opulent scenery and costumes (which makes it excellent sick-bed viewing), but it also features impeccable acting throughout, and thought-provoking themes that often get overlooked.

Season 1 followed England’s Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) as she began her reign, offering us a portrait of a woman struggling to balance the responsibilities of the crown with her personal role of wife and mother. Season 2 finds Elizabeth more settled in her role, but dealing with scandals — both in her family and her country — and the growing public opinion that the monarchy is obsolete.

The season is a little all over the place — jumping from family drama to historical narrative, and even taking an episode-long look at Prince Philip’s early life and schooling — but, as with Season 1, it seems to be offering an underlying theme that has gone somewhat unnoticed. (For my take on Season 1’s underlying theme, click here.) This season, the underlying theme is marriage. (Spoilers ahead.)

Much more than in Season 1, this season of The Crown delves deeply into the events of the day. It depicts the Duke of Windsor’s ties to the Nazis, Elizabeth’s interactions with Jackie Kennedy, the Profumo scandal, Elizabeth’s intervention during a crisis in Ghana, and the crown’s efforts to modernize the monarchy (though how accurate those depictions are is, apparently, up for debate). But running underneath all that — beginning in the first episode and culminating in the last — is the question of what to do when your marriage isn’t as blissful as you’d hoped. And the conclusion the show seems to come to is rather startling, particularly in our current culture.

In the very first scene of the season, we see Philip (Matt Smith) and Elizabeth discussing how to save their marriage faced, as they are, with a unique conundrum. “The exit route which is open everyone else . . . divorce, it’s not an option for us,” Elizabeth tells Philip. (As head of the Church of England, Elizabeth is unable to get a divorce.) So they are stuck with each other, for better... or for worse.

Worse, we come to learn in a three-episode-long flashback, is what they are currently experiencing. On a five-month tour abroad, Philip has gone full party-boy, carousing, flirting, and, it’s suggested, doing more than flirting, with women in every port. Their marriage, it seems, is in a shambles, one that — today, certainly, but even back then — might easily end in divorce. But they can’t divorce. So, what are they going to do? Or, as Elizabeth puts it, “To be in, not out, what will it take?”