Nothing like watching someone else’s dysfunctional family to get us ready for the holidays, amirite?
Warning- Contains spoilers from The Crown Episode 3.02: Margaretology.
As the title would suggest, this episode is a study of Margaret. More than that, though, it is a study of siblings, of the roles we play (or are assigned to) within a family, and how difficult it can be to break free from a part to which you’ve been assigned. However fairly or unfairly, we are often assigned a specific place within a family and that position often comes with constraints. When asked what she most looks forward to in America, Margaret simply answers, “liberty.”
Since childhood, Elizabeth and Margaret have been assigned to the respective parts they play. Margaret is literally told Elizabeth will feature center stage while she will be assigned to a life in the wings. As actors, these are their roles and there is no room for understudy or promotion; Elizabeth is the lead, while Margaret is a bit player.
Within the smaller dynamics of their family they fall into roles that are familiar to even us non-royals: the dutiful daughter versus the troublemaker, the unpopular introvert versus the popular extrovert, the homebody versus the social butterfly. These are patterns familiar to many of us with siblings, regardless of noble heritage.
And those roles are even harder to break, for we often form our identity against an other. As much as Elizabeth perhaps wishes Margaret would fall more in line, she experiences a certain schadenfreude when Margaret fails…and a paradoxical sense of disappointment when Margaret actually does something right. If her sister is the “bad one,” then Elizabeth must be the better person by comparison. Disruption to that family order threatens everyone’s identity.
More than a study of Elizabeth and Margaret’s relationship, this episode explores two other characters who are also familiar with being relegated to a secondary role. Tony is a man who is well-known within his own right and for his own talents, but that often exists secondary to the notoriety that comes from his marriage. Elizabeth isn’t even aware he has published a book…an achievement that would be momentous in any other family.
Like Tony, President Johnson lives in the shadows of royalty. He is portrayed here as a man constantly trying to establish his own limelight…a man haunted by having to follow in the footsteps of Kennedy, America’s self-appointed King of Camelot.
Whether or not Johnson was so openly insecure is debatable. He was an established statesman long before he became president, and surely he would have felt comfortable moving in posh DC circles. Regardless, he is shown here as a person who wants everyone to know he is a big man with a big voice from a big state with a big…erm, johnson. He is a man who literally whips his dick around trying to exert dominance.
Like Margaret and Tony, Johnson is trying desperately to make a name for himself separate from those who would seek to define him. He refuses to attend the funeral of a great man, perhaps afraid of how he is seen by comparison. He is obsessed with winning an unwinnable war and being better (and better liked) than his predecessor. He is motivated by pride and what others think of him. I have to say, it all feels very…relevant.
Margaret, for all her faults, is better at reading people than Elizabeth…it takes a troubled soul to know one, after all. Like Johnson, Margaret places a great deal of self-worth in popularity. Her relationship with Margaret mirrors Johnson’s with Kennedy’s: a resentful sort of love, filled with mixed feelings of bitterness and respect.
It makes Margaret and Johnson a perfect sort of match…we all know there’s nothing like a good shit-talking session to help forge a friendship. Her performance at the White House is easy for her, but it is still a performance. Singing and limericking, she is like a literal court jester. Being the center of attention is the role for which she was born, as she tells Elizabeth early in the episode. Despite everyone’s reservations about Margaret she manages to win her audience over.
But although Margaret can play the role of the bawdy commoner with ease, she still returns home to a castle. Her ability to slip rather seamlessly between the two suggests she is quite the actor, indeed. And we see that reflected, so to speak, in the final scene as she gazes into the mirror. She takes off her false eyelashes almost as performer would remove their makeup following a show. Who is the real Margaret? We leave her examining herself…an ongoing study of Margaretology.
p.s. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. Safe journeys to you and yours.