The Crown Episode 9 review: Assassins features John Lithgow’s best performance yet

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Churchill is, in essence, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, obscured further by both cigar smoke and the weight of his own legend – meaning there’s a lot of pressure on a series like The Crown in terms of their depiction of him.

As is characteristic of The Crown, though, it elects for a hagiography. True, Churchill is depicted as an anachronistic throwback of an earlier time, grappling with his increasing irrelevancy and the realisation he needs to take a step back from the role that has come to define him.

In many ways, it’s an excellent episode; it’s got some of The Crown’s most subtle and intelligent writing of the series, and surely John Lithgow’s best performance as Churchill yet. And yet there’s something about it that still feels quite reductive, because The Crown again refuses to engage with anything other than a wholly positive depiction of its characters – there’s no room for subtlety, as ever.

Yeah, this was quite good. But it’s also disappointing in the context of the series at large – a series that was unfailingly positive in its depiction of individuals who were rather more complex than that, and a series that never seemed particularly interested in giving Elizabeth, its supposed main character, an episode on this level.

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The Crown Episode 7 review: The Cold War is brewing but ignored in Scientia Potentia Est

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Yes, it’s clear enough what the episode is trying to say – despite the lack of formal education and a clear lack of confidence, Elizabeth does in fact have the ability to stand her ground and hold her own with these elder statesmen. But is that quite the right message to send? After all, it is essentially validating the education she received – a final note to turn around and say “well, actually”, dismissing Elizabeth’s well-founded grievances about her lack of schooling.

In many ways, it’s actually quite bleak; ever since her youth, Elizabeth has been groomed for one specific role in mind, limited and curtailed and most of all controlled. It’s perhaps not that different from breeding animals, depending on the comparisons you want to make. For a while it’s criticised, but then finally excused. It’s okay because it works. It doesn’t matter what happened to her, because the eventual aim is achieved.

This episode, I’d argue, is the one most diminished by The Crown’s abject refusal to admit to any flaws the Monarchy may have. It’s the only one that even comes close to launching a meaningful critique of the institution – before going on to make some fumbled apologies and continue glorifying them. For all that Peter Morgan can insist he “wants his independence”, it’s hardly apparent here.

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Was The Final Problem the perfect last episode for Sherlock?

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In many ways, yes. Most immediately, it’s clear that The Final Problem was dedicated to ensuring that all the best aspects of Sherlock got their moment to shine; in that regard, no stone was left unturned. Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson – even Moriarty got to return, bringing with him the same frenetic energy that characterised the show in its early days. There were plenty of classic Sherlock rug pulls too; look at how it was revealed that the prison governor was under Eurus’ control for an example of the quiet intelligence that has always characterised the show. With The Final Problem we got an episode that was as tense and engaging as The Great Game, as intimate as A Scandal in Belgravia, and as intelligent as The Reichenbach Fall – surely this is an episode that, even in its own right, would go down as a classic in Sherlock’s history?

More than that, though genuinely felt as though this was an episode dedicated to completing the story we’ve seen unfold for years – note the call backs to The Great Game and The Abominable Bride, and the subtle allusions to A Scandal in Belgravia. There’s something almost holistic about the construction of this episode, drawing together the sum total of the programme’s almost decade long history, and concentrating it into one 90-minute story.

An article I wrote immediately after The Final Problem ended. Broadly speaking, I do actually stand by it still; The Final Problem was far, far from perfect, and better critics than I have already done a good job explaining the flaws inherent within it. However, I’ll always maintain that as an episode, it was an excellent conclusion to this seven-year journey.

Plus, I finally used “holistic” in an article, so I’m reasonably pleased regardless.

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