Season 1, Episode 7 – Scientia Potentia Est
Throughout the season we’ve really only ever seen Elizabeth as apprehensive and insecure while carrying out some of her royal duties. She’s been the fish-out-of-water character in her own series from the start, guiding the audience through the endlessly precarious position of being the Queen whose only power is to basically do nothing with regards to important matters. To make things even more difficult, Elizabeth is young and inexperienced, so the trial by fire that she’s being exposed to results in decisions that aren’t necessarily the wisest in hindsight. “Scientia Potentia Est” does two things: the first is to explore Elizabeth’s insecurity regarding her position, and the second is to finally end on a more positive note regarding the decisions that she’s made.
The episode starts out with another flashback of Elizabeth as a child, learning the proper ways of being royalty. Instead of receiving a normal education like most children her age (and doing so in a school that doesn’t even accept women as regular students), her classes involve government structures and proper etiquette. Later in the episode, an international crisis between the Soviets and the Americans prompts Churchill to plan a summit with the Americans (Eisenhower in particular) to help ease tensions among the nations. Overwhelmed by her ignorance to the finer details of the situation, Elizabeth takes it upon herself to hire a tutor to help her be more educated so that she can do her duties properly instead of feeling like a child in a room full of imposing world leaders.
The revelation that her lack of a proper education is a big part of Elizabeth’s insecurity as Queen adds an important dimension to her character. It’s clear that this shortcoming has been influencing her decision-making in the past episodes, which helps the audience understand her on a deeper level. It’s not merely the unpredictable responsibilities of the Crown that overwhelms her, it’s that she’s coming into it with the short end of the stick more often than not.
At least, it seems that way to her. After the Foreign Secretary fails to do his duties due to an illness and Churchill suffers a stroke (which he and his team decide to hide from the Queen), Elizabeth discovers that her seemingly paltry education was not so insignificant after all as she schools the Prime Minister on the importance of the Crown and the government trusting one another. It’s one of the best scenes of the show so far, as both Claire Foy and John Lithgow’s performances perfectly capture their respective characters’ positions in the scene: Elizabeth finally taking a stand to someone much older and more experienced than her, and Churchill being humbled by his mistakes. Elizabeth’s confidence and Churchill’s sheepishness are emotional states that haven’t been seen in both characters until this episode, and it properly feels significant and impactful.
It’s a victory for Elizabeth, which is a first in the show and comes just in time. In my review of the last episode I stated how I was looking forward to a surer Elizabeth finally taking control of the situation instead of stumbling around in the dark, and in the very next episode it’s fulfilled. It’s by no means a huge leap, but an important step forward nonetheless. Still, Elizabeth’s victory in the episode isn’t entirely complete as she is overruled regarding her choice for Private Secretary that will replace Tommy after his retirment, but it seems like a minor matter compared to the main focus of the episode.
I find myself looking forward to more episodes like this one, wherein we see Elizabeth face political problems instead of family ones. Although it’s clear that both will be a regular feature in the series, I do hope it strikes a more nuanced balance between the two because it’s obvious that this episode didn’t have the time to even reference the previous episode’s disastruous conclusion with Princess Margaret. This makes it feel like the show has to put storylines and characters on pause every now and then instead of flowing smoothly from one episode to the next, which can get jarring at times. Still, this is a relatively minor complaint on a show that has proven to be able to deliver such magnificent episodes even at the cost of its own momentum.