An insecure and poorly educated young woman, buffeted by sometimes-sinister forces, learns to fight back against the limitations imposed on her and blossoms into a queen right in front of our eyes (almost literally, as we’ll see).
It’s not quite a tale as old as time or even one that most of us can relate to on the surface, but this was a surprisingly empathetic portrayal of how limited Elizabeth’s experiences truly were and how much that was by design. Everyone around her insists that she be a silent, blank slate; so much a figurehead she might as well be a statue. But Elizabeth is realizing that not only is it extremely difficult for her to be so, but there might be times where she needs to ditch all the advisors and do what she thinks is right.
You guys. There is SO much going on here on a symbolic level. This scene and the one immediately following it set off a string of motifs and references to future scenes. In it, we see that Elizabeth got a highly singular – and outrageously limited – education. We can also see the beginning of an interaction that will seemingly play out over and over again for the rest of her life: a dark male figure boxing her in, telling her what to do and pulling her away from the things that interest her. In this case, she can’t take her eyes off the raven, which we can say symbolizes her longing for real knowledge. The allure of knowledge vs. the Dark Man determined to keep it from her.
Note the overwhelming brown of her ensemble. Given her later costumes in this episode, which are surprisingly colorful, we could say this represents a withered plant or flower.
No, really. Stay with us on this.
We can also say that this earth-toned ensemble calls forward to the one man not in black in this tale. The one man who will help her catch her own raven.
Okay, okay. We’re getting a little too poetic about it. But come on:
The symbolism is thick here. She’s buffeted by an army of Dark Boys, and yet she’s excited and intrigued by them. They don’t threaten her so much as represent a life she wants. A schoolyard full of little ravens.
Elizabeth and her mother are in coordinated outfits and – as always – in pearls. Note her mother’s three strands to her one. Elizabeth is feeling small, insecure and somewhat stupid. She’s beginning to blame her mother for that. In this scene, even though her mother is truly powerless, Elizabeth sees her on a subconscious level as a powerful figure who forced a limitation on her. This will play out in a later scene in which the Queen Mother’s costume calls back to the one she wears here. In both cases, her floral makes her seem somewhat flighty and frivolous in comparison to her daughter’s more sober dress.
The Dark Man motif continues.
All of these men are lying to her, withholding something from her, or exerting a control over her. The sudden brilliance of her day wear is heightening that effect in all these interactions.
Now it’s true that Martin doesn’t truly represent a man trying to block the Queen or define her against her will. Tommy Lascelles is a constant Dark Man to her and in this episode, with his bold-faced and dangerous lying to her, Winston crosses over into Dark Man territory as well. But as agreeable a chap as Martin is, he’s something of a problem for Elizabeth this episode. It’s one she takes on willingly, as she attempts to fight with Tommy for the right to pick her own Private Secretary, but it sets off a strong reaction against her; one that contributes mightily to her growing frustrations about her limitations and insecurities. And just as the raven and the schoolboys had an allure to Elizabeth, so too does her Dark Man. She thinks of Tommy as a family member practically. There are times when she almost worships Winston and she clearly adores Martin. Hence her state of constant confusion. Everyone around her is smarter than her and claims to want the best for her, which makes her insecure and forces her to long for the kind of knowledge and self-assurance all the men around her seem to have.
Note that the blue dress in the above interactions was worn on separate days, several days apart, seemingly in the same week. We know this by the passage of time noted and the fact that she wore several outfits in between the blue dress scenes. This sort of repetition isn’t common in the same episode.
Note also the royal purple of her dress in the last scene above. This isn’t a color we’ve seen her wear often – if at all. And even more notably:
She wears it in a second outfit.
Not the triple strand of pearls here and in the scene above it. Purple and Power Pearls. She’s staking a claim for Martin as her Private Secretary, knowing she’ll face opposition, and she’s confronting Tommy about her true desires and her frustration with being constantly told what she can and cannot do. She’s making a power play.
What spurred on this change?
A professor named Hogg. A man totally different in affect, attitude and dress, in comparison to every other man around her. He’s rumpled and tweedy and isn’t wearing one black item. Instead he’s dressed in the earth tones that call back to her earlier outfit as a child, not to mention the dutiful greens of her own ensemble. He is the only man in this story other than her father and (occasionally her husband) who has ever been costumed in a manner that suggest a unity with her rather than a status as an imposing or opposing figure.
Note that his outfit has subtle touches of blue when she wears the color.
And in a later scene, as she blossoms into a more royal purple we see the same color suddenly bloom on his tie. Her truest ally and least threatening male figure.
And speaking of royal purples:
In an ironic twist, Elizabeth’s the Dark Woman confronting the frivolous, Queenly figure in this scene. Her mother’s outrageous robe not only makes her look like the silly one in this scene, but it calls back to the floral dress she wore earlier. It’s very rare to see her in florals. At the very least, like purple for her daughter, it’s an unusual and notable choice.
Pearls of Power check: Furious Betty’s got two. Mama’s got none.
In the end, Elizabeth opts to confront her Dark Men on her own terms:
In her royal purple robes (in yet another repeat dress this episode) and pearls of power. Like the scene with her mother, this is her flipping the script on these interactions. Her queenly affect is not something boxing her in anymore. Quite the opposite. Professor Hogg taught her how to use her singular station and its limitations as a weapon. She’s gone from the girl in a withered brown, longing to be accepted by the Dark Man, to the queenly figure in brilliant color confronting him and putting him in his place.
And once she conquers her Dark Man…
Her husband literally strips the darkness off him – and she literally (but thankfully, off-camera) falls to her knees in front of him.
She’s a very complicated woman buffeted by competing desires and a whole lot of limitations placed on her despite the wealth and influence that is hers by birth. Philip teases her in this scene, and we don’t think there’s any question that his request for a royal beej was a power play by an insecure man. On the other hand, Elizabeth is a young woman who’s clearly hot for her man and has a sexual appetite. Given that the entire conversation was about how powerful and queenly she’d become all of a sudden, we like to take the more empowering point of view and suggest that Elizabeth wasn’t acquiescing to him, she was getting what she wanted. After all that power-wielding, there’s a huge part of her that just want the man she’s hot for to make a play for her. She’s feeling herself here. She knows exactly what she wants – and more importantly, why he wants what he wants. That’s a knowing smile, not a girlishly blushing one.
[Photo Credits: Alex Bailey/Netflix – Stills: Netflix/Tom and Lorenzo]