Season 1, Episode 6 – Gelignite
“Gelignite” marks the beginning of Elizabeth’s complicated relationship with the media. After the not-so-hidden relationship between Princess Margaret and the royal family’s Group Captain Peter is revealed by a newspaper, Elizabeth struggles to strike a balance between the conflicting wishes of her family. The conclusion of the episode is, frankly, unsurprising, as Elizabeth’s compromising position eventually leads to her losing both the trust of her sister and the favor of the media. But writer and creator Peter Morgan structures the episode in a way that makes you anticipate the inevitable fracturing of Elizabeth and Margaret’s relationship.
It’s clear by now that Elizabeth is well and truly alone when it comes to figuring out how to function as the Queen. When Elizabeth gives in to her sister’s pleading of getting her blessing to marry Peter, it feels more like an omen of the things that are about to transpire in the episode. In almost every decision that Elizabeth makes, she is hesitant and wary. Without either her grandmother or father to turn to, Elizabeth’s source of advice comes from Tommy, the strict Private Secretary with a fundamentally traditional outlook. But as the episode comes to an end, it becomes clear that not even stone-faced Tommy can dole out effective advice as the Queen is forced to learn the hard way that her reign marks the beginning of a modern royalty; and as with any transition, it comes with it many difficult lessons.
The episode’s main conflict, of course, comes in the form of the media’s interest in the royal family’s lives. After the potentially scandalous reveal of Margaret and Peter’s relationship, Elizabeth is forced to make compromises that the couple initially accepts. However, as the unpredictable media turns and gives positive attention to Peter during a trip with Elizabeth to Northern Ireland, Elizabeth makes the crucial mistake to deny Peter and Margaret a brief reunion before they are forced to live in different countries.
This plot point, unfortunately, feels too convenient a mistake to dramatically stir up the divide between Elizabeth and Margaret. Peter’s media attention during the trip shouldn’t have caused Elizabeth to take such drastic actions in the first place because, as Peter himself states, what is 48 hours in the grand scheme of things? To deny the couple their brief reunion feels excessive, and I can’t imagine how either Elizabeth or Tommy came to the conclusion that cutting it short would’ve improved the situation at all. While I can appreciate Elizabeth’s position in the plot and the media’s fickleness serving as a harsh lesson to a royalty that’s entering a modern age, getting to this point feels a little contrived to me.
Still, it’s a compelling development to watch Elizabeth’s continued struggles because apart from having no one to fall back on, Elizabeth’s experiences are all very new to the few people who can lend support to her. They’re all walking into the unknown, being forced to adjust to the changing culture around them. Seeing Elizabeth walk deeper into Buckingham Palace after being abandoned by her own husband in her time of need is a powerful image that manages to speak a lot about the things to come. Although watching an unsure Elizabeth stumble through her first steps at being Queen has been riveting, I’m more than ready to see a confident, sure-footed version of her before the season ends.