SERIES "The Crown" (Season 6, part 1)
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the four episodes that drop Thursday, Diana, Princess of Wales (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) meet aboard the yacht of his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), or rather are thrown together by the old man who has plans for these two — matrimonial ones. As the press swarms, Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton), Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) increasingly view the scrum with dismay from afar. Meanwhile, from Balmoral, Diana's sons William (Rufus Kampa) and Harry (Fflyn Edwards) wonder what's got into "mummy."
The last six episodes of this sixth and final season arrive Dec. 14.
MY SAY Every tragedy needs a villain, and the 6th season of "The Crown '' doesn't have to look far for one. It's not the usual suspects either (Charles, the paparazzi, Camilla Parker Bowles) but Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian tycoon and puppet master of his star-crossed son. In this telling, quite possibly accurate (or not), al-Fayed has decided that Dodi must marry Diana, and to hasten the nuptials, leaks word to a prominent photographer that the couple will be alone together on that yacht. The resulting pictures (both kissing; Diana's back to the camera; remember?) sell for half a million pounds and further stoke the marriage rumors. With really big money now to be made, the chase is on. That will end forever the night of Aug. 31, 1997 in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris.
Al-Fayed's fateful tip is what's called the "peripeteia" in Greek tragedy, or the turning point from which everything afterward collapses into one final and irrevocable calamity. You'll get that particular calamity by the third episode, "Dis-Moi Qui," but you'll also get the big questions too, or those who bother to ask them will. Diana already had a complicated you-scratch-my-back-I'll-do-the-same relationship with the army that pursued her, while big money had been on the table long before those shots aboard the Jonikal. Did al-Fayed's tip really make all that much of a difference?
Whether true or not, this story has been shrink-wrapped to suit series creator Peter Morgan's view of the royals these past six seasons, and his view of tragedy in general — itself long ago shaped by someone else who had much to say about the fates of kings and queens. The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children (per Shakespeare) and so must they be here. Fathers and sons. Mothers and sons. Fathers and daughters. You'll get a deep dive into each of these themes over these four episodes, much as you have over the last fifty. It's Morgan's and "The Crown's" way of establishing our common bonds of humanity, also their way here of investing so much power in the death of someone we thought we knew, and whom so many loved. The surprise is that it works as well as it does.
Not everything else succeeds quite as much. There are a couple of scenes in the fourth episode ("Aftermath") that have already attracted some prelaunch controversy in the press — Diana speaking posthumously with Charles and the Queen, and Dodi with his own father. They're nothing so hokey as ghosts or visitations and really just meant to be interior monologues. They're also used as a means to explain other characters' motivations, especially Charles and the Queen. Viewed that way, they feel melodramatic — or worse, unnecessary.
But set this aside and these four episodes are just about flawless — a cohesive and deeply moving picture of the final hours of two desperately lonely people. Much better still, Dodi is humanized rather than demonized. In hands of someone less skilled or humane than Morgan, the choice could have easily been otherwise.
BOTTOM LINE Satisfying, moving, powerful.