By John Elliott
Just (finally*) watched the last episode on this second DVD (see what I had to say about the first here), which puts me about two-thirds through the series. Four more episodes, all focussing on Russia:
“The Last Tsar” will be, of course, Tsar Nicholas II, whose father the reactionary Alexander III considers to be hopelessly weak-willed. Father is right. Nevertheless, we see Nicholas' marriage to Alexandra, a German princess, and then his succession – as well as the story of the rise of Lenin.
“Absolute Beginners”: This episode is framed by sequences in which the dilettante Tsar Nicholas is far more concerned with his crow-shooting skills than with the growing danger of revolution. The main story focusses on the rise of “Vladimir Ilyanov” (Lenin) and his struggle for power in what will become the Bolshevik party. We also meet Leon Trotsky.
“Dearest Nicky” is basically the story of how Nicholas allows his cousin the Kaiser Wilhelm II (they – as well as half the royalty and nobility of Europe during the early twentieth century – are grandchildren of Queen Victoria) to goad him into what one of his own ministers promises to be a “short, victorious war” against “the yellow peril” in the East – Japan. It's neither short nor victorious. Nicholas is further distracted by the hemophilia of his son, Alexei, as revolutionary fires smolder and burst into flame in St. Petersburg – leading to one of the several “Bloody Sunday” massacres that appear in the history of the twentieth century.
“The Appointment”: “We're coming out of the Dark Ages. Civilization is almost upon us,” says Pyotr Rachkovsky, whose appointment in this episode as the police chief of St. Petersburg in the wake of the assassination of the Tsar's uncle the Grand Duke Sergei symbolizes the flailing and countervailing movements within the Russian government that just makes the chaos worse. (The statement itself is debateable, given the history of the twentieth century – was it really that much more “civilized” than what went before?) Rachkovsky ends up provoking a full-scale revolution in Russia, which he then puts down with ruthlessness and bloodshed – leading to a few years of deceptive peace as the fires that will engulf all of Europe continue to smolder.
Note: Calling attention to Patrick Stewart in my post for the first disk meant that I identified one of the five pivotal figures of the pre-World War I world, Lenin. The others portrayed on the DVD packaging are, from left to right: Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his Tsarina, Alexandra, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
The three heraldic eagles symbolize the three empires. I think the double-headed eagles represent Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while the single-headed eagle represents Germany. I could be wrong about that. I read something about it long ago, but don't have access to that book right now and can't find anything definitive with the resources I have at hand.
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* Note: It seems that even in the summer, at least this summer, even the break between semesters hasn't been allowing me to watch a whole lot of material. Admittedly, this summer is a bit different, for reasons I don't want to get into. But I'm doing quite a bit more running back and forth across the state from my home to my mother's home. It's a mess, but the long and short is that it's cut into my watching and reading time that I usually have during the summer.
Then a couple weeks ago came Netflix's big announcement splitting off the DVD mail rental program from the streaming program and almost doubling the price for someone who wants both. Long and short, I guess I'm playing right into their plan (which seems to be to get more people into the streaming side of things because it costs Netflix less) because I'm dropping the DVD program as soon as I finish watching this series, which I intend to do before the 1 September shift. Maybe next summer or over the Christmas holidays I'll re-up that side, but for the foreseeable future I'm going to be a streaming-only customer. I just wish their selection on that side of it were better – and that you could depend on something you seeing up for streaming this week will still be there next week. I'm going to be right pissed if I start a series only to see it disappear before I get to the end!
And I am investigating alternatives. Here's an interesting article, “How to Ditch Netflix and Still Watch (Almost) Everything You Want.”