Catherine the Great – Recap Episode 4



I didn’t hate this episode.

I’m not saying I loved it, but the finale of Catherine the Great (2019) didn’t make me eye-roll anywhere near as hard as the last three episodes did. I’m not sure what made this episode so much better than the others, but whatever it was, I wish it had happened sooner. Most people will slog through the first episode and give up, let alone sit through two more episodes just to get to the last episode which has the payoff. Not that there’s a lot of payoff … Just, well, it doesn’t suck comparatively.

Anyway, so, episode 4 kicks off with Catherine grumpy about something, watching Potemkin and Countess Bruce being insufferable.  Potemkin introduces two new characters, the Zubov brothers. Bruce is gross AF about the younger one, Platon, which of course Potemkin has plans to offer to Catherine. Catherine is, of course, charmed by his lack of intelligence and immediately cheered up.

They are interrupted by Catherine’s secretary because the Turks are starting shit, so Catherine goes total hard-ass and decides to declare war on the Turks again. She also orders Orlov back to the council because she doesn’t think Potemkin can handle this uprising without him. This, obviously, pisses off Potemkin, and they bicker. She says he’s getting old, which is funny because again, the actor portraying Orlov is like 20 years older than the actor portraying Potemkin, so I’m not sure why we are supposed to believe he’s in any better situation age-wise.

Anyway, she once again has to remind Potemkin that he owes everything to her, but for once Potemkin doesn’t rise to the occasion. He reminds her that all of his success has been for her and basically gets her to admit that she’s cranky because she needs to get laid. Cool.

The next scene we see Catherine being dressed in the Preobrazhensky uniform she wore years before when she overthrew her husband. This costume is based on an extant outfit and doesn’t appear to deviate heavily from the original. The only major difference is that the over-robe in the show’s interpretation isn’t fitted the way the original was. Otherwise, it’s a pretty decent recreation.

Catherine II's Preobrazhensky uniform dress (1763, Hermitage).

Catherine II’s Preobrazhensky uniform dress (1763, Hermitage).

Once dressed, Catherine catches sight of her son’s German army doing drills in the courtyard, and she sails out of the palace to dress him down in front of his men for bringing a foreign army onto Imperial grounds. It’s a serious faux pas, obviously, but Paul was trying to offer his men to help with the Turkish uprising, but Catherine was having none of that.

Paul leaves with his army, and Catherine whips back into the palace just in time to see Potemkin being an ass with the war council. Pissed off, she reminds everyone again, for what seems like the millionth time, that she is a tougher bitch than all of them and will outlast them all. Orlov arrives just in time to enjoy seeing Potemkin get his ass handed to him by the Empress and thinks he’s going to have this whole thing dialed in. Except at the last second, Catherine basically sides with Potemkin and Orlov is forced to resign, which makes no sense … Why drag the man out of retirement or wherever he was, use him to spank Potemkin’s ego a couple of times and then, when he shows up, fire him? All of this happens in the space of about six or seven minutes, and it’s just all really weird from a storytelling standpoint.

Catherine then goes for a stroll with the new boy toy, Zubov, and it gets really weird, so we are going to just skip that part and move on to the next major plot development: the now-renamed Princess Maria Feodorovna shows up with Catherine’s grandson, Alexander, to drop him off at the palace for a little bonding time. I wasn’t so sure about Maria’s character when she first appeared in the previous episode, but now that she’s the mother of the next-in-line after her husband, she has a lot more development. She’s also usually shown wearing more fashionable 1770s gowns that don’t follow the style Catherine wears.

Once she has Alexander to herself, Catherine gets him to sign a document stating his father is unfit to rule and acknowledging that the Empress has named him her heir. Grandma is clearly up to no good.

Orlov goes running to Paul with a proposal to use the dimwitted Zubov as a tool to undermine Potemkin’s influence with Catherine, and Paul is skeptical but agrees to give it a shot.

The scene shifts to Ochakov where Potemkin’s army has been stationed in preparation for invading the city. Potemkin’s generals want to march on the city, but Potemkin keeps stalling for some reason, much to everyone’s frustration.

And we’re back in Russia with Countess Bruce apparently trying to press Catherine’s secretary for intel on Zubov, and Catherine and Zubov catch her in the act. She’s not exactly banished, but Catherine basically makes it clear to her that she’s done with her at court and Countess Bruce slinks away. I think this scene is supposed to be some broad reference to the falling out that the Countess and Catherine had in the late-1770s, ostensibly because Catherine caught her sleeping with one of her favorites. Countess Bruce was removed from court as a result, and it effectively ended their friendship. It’s really weird that the show didn’t take this route, instead creating a scene where it’s not really clear if the Countess is being banished or not … she just kind of stops showing up.

Finally, Potemkin gives in and agrees to invade, but while he’s participating in the slaughter, he realizes the city has already fallen to disease. The foreshadowing is palpable. But Potemkin makes it back to Catherine more or less intact and then has to face Catherine’s disdain when the crowds shout her down with cries of “Potemkin! Potemkin!”

Back in the council room, the German and English ambassadors show up and deliver an ultimatum: Russia is to return Ochakov to the Turks, or England and Germany will declare war on Russia. Catherine loses her shit and flat out refuses to even consider it, but Potemkin subdues her long enough to get the ambassadors to leave Catherine can have time to consider the demand. Catherine is pissed that he’s overstepped his boundaries, and they get into yet another row until Potemkin collapses into a coughing fit and admits to her that he is sick with whatever was plaguing the citizens of Ochakov. Forgetting her anger, Catherine bundles him off to her bath house where they have an actually sweet moment that doesn’t have anything to do with screaming at one another or fucking each other or other people.

Later, Catherine is awoken by Maria Feodorovna and her grandson. Maria asks Catherine about the document that she had Alexander sign, and Catherine straight up tells her that she thinks Paul is a moron and unfit to rule, and if Maria knew what was good for her, she’d back Alexander’s claim to the throne. Maria runs home and tells Paul what happened and Paul loses his goddamn mind, accusing Maria of taking his mother’s side, but Maria insists she’s only on his side. Paul then frets about leaving their son with Catherine, but there’s really no way for them to get him back so they just have to wait things out.

Meanwhile, somewhere on the Russian steppes, Potemkin is dying. He uses the last of his energy to pen a final letter to Catherine before falling over dead.

Catherine receives the news of Potemkin’s death and basically ages 50 years in one day.

Now the rest of the episode shifts into a surreal dreamlike state, which honestly I thought was really well done. As Catherine’s mental health appears to be slipping, she discovers traitorous books being written about her, so she orders the burning of all books, especially foreign ones, even her beloved Voltaire. She encounters Countess Bruce reading a book by Voltaire in the garden and the she chats with her about how fucking rad her life was. It’s all more or less downhill from here, folks … Catherine suddenly declines sharply and just collapses on the floor where she’s left to die while Paul is summoned. Paul comes storming in and all but kicks the body of his dying mother as he goes tearing through her papers to find the paper that Catherine made Alexander sign declaring Paul unfit to rule. Paul tears it up and shrieks invectives at Catherine until she’s dead and someone tells him he’s now Emperor.

Paul has a deeply disturbing moment with the exhumed body of his father before having his parents re-interred together while giving a speech about how Russia will never be ruled by a woman ever again. The scene pans back to Alexander looking at his grandmother’s casket.

The final scene is a flashback to 10 years prior, in some remote church, where two figures are seen laughing as they enter. Catherine’s fool sits on the steps of the church singing a Russian ballad, as the camera pushes inside the building to see the two figures standing before a priest. It’s Catherine and Potemkin who have eloped. They wonder if their marriage will be real if no one ever knows it happened, but they’re happy, so who cares?

And that’s it folks. The end of the series. Stay tuned for a wrap-up post next week that delves into the historical references seen in the costumes on the show.


Did you stick through Catherine the Great? What did you think of the final episode? Share your thoughts in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

5 Responses

  1. Katie Carroll

    I didn’t stick though. I love Helen Mirren but she was too old for this role. And Jason Clarke looked utterly ridiculous in his wigs. Imaging them having sex was just gross.

  2. Lorien Fletcher

    I actually fell asleep during this episode after slogging through the first three. I’l go back and rewatch, thanks!
    Sadly this was show not the Herstory we wanted to see, but if there are fancy dresses, Helen Mirren and palaces- I’m a sucker for punishment!

  3. Roxana

    Catherine wasn’t wrong about Paul though, was she? Marie seems to have managed to be happy with him, somehow, but eventually he was put down like a mad dog, with Alexander’s knowledge if not support.

  4. Nzie

    Paul and his father were both awful. But how much of that was actions like Catherine’s and Elizabeta’s where they just took the heir to the throne from the actual parents? Maybe Catherine’s death saved Alexander from being also totally screwed up.

    What’s with all the rouge on Maria Feodorovna’s face? Seems a little much for the era.

  5. Roxana

    A legitimate point. Having your caretaker literally at war with your parents has got to mess up a kid. Alexander had his own issues but they weren’t serious enough to impact his government.