“Margaretology” followed a similar pattern of introducing a domestic drama and complicating it with politics. Elizabeth has the crown, Margaret’s got the charisma, and each sister envies the other. And when Britain needs a bailout from the United States at the same time that Margaret and her husband are on a tour of the U.S., the diplomats set up one of my all-time favorite kinds of plot: “You have to go to this fancy dinner in order to save the day.” Again, very Gossip Girl.
While the first two seasons of The Crown balanced love, sex, and secrets with stuffy state dinners and sitting for oil portraits, it’s all combined in the third. And here, the party is in the boardroom and the personal is political. As I watched members of the royal family jockey for status, I was reminded of HBO’s Succession, another series about a powerful family ruling over an empire.
Episode three, “Aberfan,” is a somber episode, though, centered on a disaster that killed over a hundred schoolchildren in a small mining town in Wales. But even with the serious subject matter, the story is dramatic—and more emotional than ever. In fact, feelings are the whole point: Elizabeth laments to Prime Minister Wilson that, even after witnessing the devastation firsthand, she can’t cry. She fears there’s something wrong with her. Wilson reframes her disposition in a positive way, characterizing it as strength and admitting that he, like all leaders, is different in public than in private.
I thought about that scene for a while. Was it appropriate to make a devastating tragedy all about whether or not a woman, who didn’t even lose anyone, cries? And what’s with the focus on her tears? But…Hillary Clinton caused a whole to-do 50 years later when she shed a tear publicly. And while I didn’t love how this thoughtful, capable woman was insecure about her own emotionality until a man told her it was OK, how many other people can truly relate to a monarch? It’s not like she can text the Boss Ladies Heads of State group chat. Ultimately, her Royal Highness listens to a recording of the townspeople singing a hymn and a tear wells up in each eye. In that moment, I understood exactly what that scene was all about: making sure Olivia Colman wins a well-deserved Emmy.
To be clear, it’s not like The Crown has suddenly turned into a soapy drama the level of Gossip Girl or even Succession. Rather, there’s a subtle—and, in my opinion, necessary—shift in the focus and pacing of the storytelling. Fans of The Crown will still see the show they loved, but things have picked up just enough to be noticeable. And according to my highly unscientific analysis (i.e. I Googled a few things), the season three’s episodes are on average five-ish minutes shorter than previous seasons. That tracks: The world in The Crown is moving quicker, too. It’s the sixties, and nobody is writing letters or wiring across continents. The news cycle is speeding up, which means so is the palace’s response, which means a whole scandal can fit into one episode, which means there’s room in the season for more drama. And isn’t that what we really want from a royal family, anyway?
I can think of no higher praise for The Crown‘s third season than this: After the third episode, I was supposed to start writing this review. Instead, I clicked play on episode four. Because for the first time, I didn’t just want to watch The Crown—I wanted to binge it.
Elizabeth Logan is a writer and comedian based in New York.