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Apparently many of you have written in to ask if we’ll be reviewing The Empress (2022), Netflix’s offering amongst a spate of Empress Elisabeth of Austria/Sissi films and TV series out right about now. And because enough of you have said the costumes are terrible, and because Trystan is a big meanie, she suggested I go ahead and recap this for Snark Week instead of doing my usual thing of asking you what I should review. Now, I already hate mid-19th century (the death of fashion), although thankfully this is set in Europe and not some dusty American small town, but just know that I am cursing you as I watch/write this!
Make sure you’ve read my recap of episodes 1, episode 2, and episode 3!
There’s some flashbacks to the revolution in which Franz came to the throne. Franz tells his mom that his dad is the heir, she says no, dad is too weak. They’ll do it together (i.e., Franz’s Mom will support him).
Elisabeth and Franz have been married two months. They’re still shmoopy.
The matron makes Elisabeth drink raw eggs in the hopes that will help her get pregnant. Elisabeth hopes it will “just happen.” The matron is aghast, nothing is more important than AN HEIR. She also brings Elisabeth the placenta from a woman who’s given birth to a gazillion kids. I think maybe to eat.
The matron goes to wake up Franz’s Mom. They think maybe Elisabeth is pregnant, as it’s been 30 days since her last period.
Franz, Franz’s Mom, and the council argue some more about whether to get into the war between France and Russia. Franz is pro-peace.
At a breakfast in which no one is shown clearly enough to bother screencapping, but Elisabeth is wearing this sheer blouse with ridiculous black lace appliques, Franz discusses that the Tsar of Russia’s son and his wife are traveling nearby and this could be a good opportunity for progressive diplomacy. Franz’s Mom says no, there isn’t time to make all the formal preparations. Elisabeth suggests they meet them informally, going hunting at Franz’s dad’s lodge. Franz thinks this is a good idea, and tells his mom she will stay home.
Franz’s brother Maximilian is bored. He and Franz have a fencing session that gets tense. Franz offers Maximilian the job of head of the navy. Maximilian scoffs, saying the Austrian navy is a joke; he wants to be governor of Bohemia. Franz says no, Maximilian doesn’t have a head for politics. Maximilian is pissed.
Elisabeth and her ladies are doing embroidery in the garden. Revolutionary Lady-in-Waiting sucks at embroidery and does things like say “shit!” when she makes a mistake. Elisabeth clearly likes her, because she’s unconventional.
Franz shows up, saying he has a free hour, let’s go for a walk. Elisabeth has a better idea.
Elisabeth takes Franz to a river where she sketches him, making him stand naked in the river. The two have a RIDICULOUS shag on the mud/rocks.
Elisabeth goes back to the palace and has a passive-aggressive conversation with Franz’s Mom about whether she’s pregnant. Franz’s Mom took six years to get pregnant and thinks Elisabeth isn’t focused enough.
Franz’s Mom is pissy about not being invited and about Elisabeth not being more stressed out about getting knocked-up.
Franz and Elisabeth are getting ready to leave for dad’s house to meet the Tsar’s son. Franz signs a contract for the railroad, as the money is finally ready. Despite having been told to stay home, Franz’s Mom just shows up and gets in the carriage. One of the ladies-in-waiting is getting suspicious of the Revolutionary Lady-in-Waiting.
Franz and Elisabeth are grumpy about Franz’s Mom just showing up.
Everyone arrives at Franz’s Dad’s house. Franz’s Mom lectures Elisabeth more about pregnancy.
That evening, everyone lines up for the Tsar’s son — I think the future Alexander III — arrival. He shows up with his wife and her dog:
Meanwhile, Maximilian meets with various powerful men — and one woman — who are concerned about the fact that France has cut off diplomatic relations (because Maximilian told the ambassador that Franz wasn’t going to get into the war for his own benefit, which no one knows). He basically says France won’t work with Franz, but they will work with A New Emperor, hint hint.
The next morning, everyone gets ready to go hunting. Elisabeth assumes she’s going, but she gets pawned off on Alexander’s wife. She’s at least able to get rid of Franz’s Mom, who wants to come with.
After the walk, Elisabeth sits around waiting for the boys to come back. Maximilian shows up and the two joke a bit. She says that he brings out the worst in her.
Franz’s Mom is haunted by visions of a young daughter she’s lost. Franz’s Dad tries to comfort her, but she rebuffs him.
Back at the hunt… the guys come back. Alexander and Maximilian go to pee, and Maximilian tells Alexander that his brother is staying out of the war for his own profit. The Suspicious Lady-in-Waiting catches Revolutionary Lady-in-Waiting in some awkward lies, and is clearly trying to catch her up.
Then everyone decides to go out hunting again. Oily Alexander separates Elisabeth from everyone else. He both leers at Elisabeth and tries to get her to tell him her husband is up to something shady. She rebuffs him on both counts. The two come across a huge boar. Alexander tries to shoot it twice, but is struggling to reload in time. The boar is charging at them, so Elisabeth shoots it. Alexander is PISSED.
That evening, everyone’s trying to party but Alexander fights with Franz and the two basically agree to go to war. Alexander storms off, wife in tow.
Franz wants to go back to the palace, and tells Elisabeth to stay at the dad’s house. Instead of following his orders, she rides back with Maximilian. He comforts her by telling her their positions suck, and the two get tipsy. Back the palace, Franz is pissed Elisabeth disobeyed him. She yells at him, telling him not to treat her like a child; he yells back that she should stop acting like one. He stalks away; she squats down IN THE COURTYARD, sticks her hand up under her skirt, and brings out bloody fingers. She’s not pregnant.
Revolutionary Lady-in-Waiting goes to meet her Revolutionary Boyfriend in the gardens. He’s pissed she didn’t tell them about the trip, as it would have been a great moment to strike. She tries to say that maybe the royals aren’t so bad. Revolutionary Boyfriend tells her to remember where she comes from.
Get ready for the last two episodes tomorrow!
Did they perhaps repurpose Mama Franz’s first skirt from a Cirque Du Soleil tent?
Every time I think this show can’t get more out there, a new episode recap comes out and it just gets weirder
To clarify which Alexander: At this time it would have to be Alexander II of Russia since he reigned until 1880. His wife was Marie of Hesse and by Rhine.
Yes, I remember there was a bit where he refers to a Hessen estate, so that makes sense.
That is Marie of hesse not dagmar of Denmark, dag mar was married to alexander the 3 this is Alexander the 2 dagmar’s father in law
The matron looks like Tilda Swinton’s clone.
Those sunglasses are hilarious. Would love an article about period-accurate tinted glasses, or glasses more generally; they rarely pop up in period drama except in a very ahistorical/steampunk way
I did LOL when I saw those specs – Maximillian’s ones seem a bit more period-accurate to me, but it looks like the actress just came back from a break and forgot she was wearing her modern ones!
I believe that sunglasses weren’t really a thing before the 1920’s/30’s (being basically the first time in Western fashion that hat brims couldn’t be counted on to shade the eyes). Before that tinted glasses were only worn by invalids or people suffering from eye strain.
I can’t help wondering: were those glasses actually part of the costume, or is that just a behind-the-scenes shot, with the actress wearing her own? Anybody know?
Hideous. Still flunking history and costumes are dog 💩
Love the mop hat! And the picture captioned “The back of her dress is similarly pleated” even shows the handle they got it from.
Is there any explanation of how a totally random woman – presumably of low birth – got a post as a lady-in-waiting? The Austrian court was highly regulated, bureaucratic and conservative. Ladies-in-waiting to the Empress would have been carefully selected, and of impeccable lineage, with proper education and excellent manners. It’s not like they just put job adverts in the press.
Even if she was a daughter of an aristocratic family who run off and became a revolutionary, she would not get the job.
I get that shows try to make things sexy but the real Elizabeth was seemingly pretty disinterested in sex, and even disliked it. It bothers me a bit to see that interesting aspect of the historical figure removed in favor of sexing things up, but I suppose that’s to be expected with shows like this
Seriously, the Reign set is thataway!:)
I think the only thing I don’t loathe is Alexander’s weird hair style. Those weird rolls are actually almost 1850s-ish; CDVs show some really interesting things on un-hatted men. The rest of it is so bad I can’t even find it funny! I actually really like this period and know a lot about it.