Note: While this is another brilliant episode of The Great, there are mentions of some gory violence and sexual humor depicted during the episode. We advise those who don’t feel comfortable to not read beyond this point.
In this episode, Catherine’s new ideas are challenged by those who want to remain in power, while a smallpox epidemic causes chaos in the court. Orlo deals with the emotional effects of killing the Swedish solider as Leo wrestles with his feelings about Catherine’s growing bond with Peter. “A Pox on Hope” was a more dramatic episode than we’ve seen so far, and it sets up the endgame of the final few episodes nicely. Will Catherine succeed in bringing new ideas to Russia? Read on to find out …
Catherine is celebrating her new influence over Peter by hosting an art gallery. It seems to be going well, and Catherine is self satisfied at the result of her efforts. Peter weeps with joy at one of the paintings, saying “f*cking paintings, who knew?” Archie is mourning the loss of his power over Peter and lamenting the new art to Marial. He calls one painting an abomination, wondering what it means. Marial, ever the jokester, says “I think it means sometimes you get off on odd things, and that’s okay.” Orlo talks to Velementov, who is checking in with him after Orlo’s ordeal in the forest. Orlo feels unsettled by the experience of killing a man, and Velementov offers him vodka to numb the pain.
At a council meeting, Peter proposes a suggestion box for his subjects to anonymously voice their complaints. He thinks it’s brilliant, saying “if I can’t be Peter the Great, maybe I can be Peter the Great Idea!” It seems his transformation is really complete. Catherine arrives with a gift for Peter: a printing press. Archie is outraged, since he had those banned in order to control the population’s news information. Catherine turns on the charm, telling Peter of all the benefits of a printing press (including funny illustrations to cater directly to Peter’s preferences.) Archie continues to voice his objections, but this backfires when Peter says he’ll keep it just to spite him. He orders everyone out to give Catherine his gift … which turns out to be oral sex. Catherine likes it, despite her best efforts, and is now more confused than ever. Peter is happy she’s pleased, and Catherine leaves.
Catherine goes to Bet, who immediately recognizes Peter has used her “tongue trick” on Catherine. Catherine wonders why she was able to enjoy herself with both Peter and Leo. Bet reassures her that physical attraction and love can be two different things. Catherine is satisfied by this explanation, and pivots to discussing her plans for Russia and Peter. Archie goes to Peter trying to get his influence back, pointing out that he’s increased taxes on each church to give Peter more money. Peter says he’s forgiven for his earlier deception, but it’s clear he’s still not back in Peter’s good graces. Marial and Vlad are talking when Vlad boldly asks Marial if they can have sex after having looked at her adoringly for several episodes. She agrees, and he is thrilled. But their joy turns sour quickly when Marial sees smallpox marks on Vlad’s back. Recognizing that Vlad is as good as dead if anyone at court finds out, she hides Vlad in a cupboard until they can figure out what to do.
Catherine goes to Orlo to brag about the success of her “coup of ideas.” Orlo grumbles that she essentially copied his idea, but gives her credit for what she’s achieved. But Orlo thinks Peter’s new attitude will change, and it won’t bring lasting changes to Russia. This seems to be confirmed when they see Peter’s “science party.” It turns out he’s mostly interested in how science can be used to hurt people, with electrocution and anatomy lessons being a main feature of the gathering. Catherine asks Peter not to mention his technique from earlier to Leo, not wanting to offend him. Peter agrees before Marial urgently pulls Catherine away.
Georgina has also lost her hold on Peter, lowering her social standing. Leo defends her to the other ladies, and they talk about the changes in the emperor. Peter tells Leo what he did with Catherine in the name of improving his own technique, and Leo walks away upset. Catherine and Marial discuss what to do about Vlad. Catherine calls for Chekhov the doctor to treat him, but the best he can offer is burning Vlad alive. Apparently this is how the pox is dealt with in Russia, especially among the servants and the poor. There’s an outbreak in the servant’s hall that must be contained. Catherine insists he try to cure Vlad, and Chekhov reluctantly agrees.
Catherine goes to Peter about the outbreak. Peter suggests they just burn all the servants and get new ones. Catherine proposes they quarantine everyone in tents far from town, but the other nobles don’t like the idea of helping the serfs. Archie senses Catherine’s hold weakening on Peter and convinces him not to listen to Catherine. Catherine goes to a very drunk Orlo for help. He proposes variolation (an old form of vaccination). He’s never gotten it approved before since it would involve medical expertise, but Catherine is hopeful. Velementov and Orlo continue drinking together, and Orlo accidentally tells him about the coup. A drunk Leo creates a lewd drawing of Catherine on the printing press, putting copies all over the palace. Bet notices the posters and gets Peter, pointing out that the posters disrespect their authority, but Peter says free speech should be allowed as long as it’s funny (we’ve come a long way!).
Catherine goes to Chekhov with the variolation idea. He’s willing to help her as long as she’s the one to present the idea to Peter. Vlad sweetly asks if this will help him, and while Marial wants to lie Catherine tells him it will only help those who aren’t already sick. Vlad is happy no one else will get smallpox now and asks for a book to keep him company in his wardrobe (Vlad is adorable.) Catherine goes to Archie to flatter him into helping her with her vaccination plan. Instead of helping her, he races to get to Peter first to convince him not to follow the plan. But they are both interrupted when Catherine sees the drawings. She realizes Leo is the only one who could have made the posters, but pretends to find it funny so that Archie can’t use her reaction as an excuse to crack down on the court. Catherine tells Peter about the variolation, but Archie plants doubt in Peter’s head. He also issues a thinly veiled threat that the church will no longer support Peter if he goes through with Catherine’s plan. An overwhelmed Peter throws both of them out.
Grigor and Georgina discuss their status at court, with Grigor thrilled Peter hasn’t touched Georgina in weeks. Georgina is more disappointed than she thought she’d be. Leo and Catherine also discuss their relationship, fighting about Leo’s drunken escapades and Catherine’s new closeness with Peter. But they eventually come to an understanding. Marial sees Vlad leaving and goes to stop him. But he says he’s realized he has a deadly kind of smallpox and doesn’t want to risk infecting anyone else. He sadly thanks Marial for kissing him before his impending death, and a tearful Marial watches him go. Peter summons Georgina and Grigor for help since they “don’t want anything from him” (Georgina’s predatory gaze says otherwise.) He asks for their advice, and Grigor agrees with Catherine. But seeing a chance to get rid of Catherine’s power, Georgina says it sounds ridiculous. Adding to Peter’s anger is the content of the suggestion box, which is mostly just letters telling Peter to kill himself. Georgina shrewdly points out things were much better before Catherine’s changes.
Catherine runs to the quarantine site where Vlad is. He’s barely alive, and Catherine is stunned that just a few hours ago he was fine. Chekhov pulls her away to keep her from catching the disease. Back at court, Catherine decides to take matters into her own hands. Using a knife, she gives herself a DIY variolation in front of the court to prove it is safe (a detail taken from the real-life Catherine the Great.) Her speech doesn’t work, with Peter outlawing vaccination. Peter goes back to Georgina (to Grigor’s dismay.) That night, Catherine tells Marial she saw Vlad dying. Walking through the halls of the palace unable to sleep, she looks out the window only to see the quarantine camp is on fire. It seems the brief reign of science and art is over.
The Great is available now on Hulu.