Death is the inevitability of life, the one thing that links people across the globe, for no one can escape it. The second episode of The Crown is a study in death, loss, and the change it brings. While England and the royal family, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet mourn the loss of a benevolent king, Elizabeth must also mourn the loss of herself, the woman she was; and become the woman the crown needs her to be.
The episode features a literal death (the king) and a symbolic death (Elizabeth); it carries symbolic themes in how it stages these events. Elizabeth’s journey into the wilderness of Africa represents her “youth,” untamed and wild; her speech foreshadows her own future (a reference to the Nairobi that was, is now, and shall be; the Elizabeth that was, is now, and will be Queen). Margaret’s reaction to her father’s death, her shock that she must now walk behind her sister (and Philip), and her scene with Robert Townsend foreshadow later turbulent events in her life; thus, Margaret’s life also “ends” with her father’s death.
Philip facing down the bull elephant to protect his wife’s escape to the treetops is a metaphor for the role he desires to fulfill in her life; but he is soon thwarted, when it becomes apparent she must carry this burden alone. Instead of drawing cover fire for her, he must walk five paces behind her. She must face the world alone (as such, the episode features the death also of the protective side of their marriage; in a sense, of Philip, who must also die to himself… and who, as the series proves, finds that more difficult than his wife does).
One could also see Churchill symbolized in the bull elephant; a powerful but old patriarch of British politics who intimidates as much as he impresses, but at the mercy of the guns that surround him. Philip’s challenge of the beast echoes Anthony Eden’s attempts to undermine him with the king; only to have the king’s death bring about a resurgence for Churchill, as he stabilizes and reassures the nation with a powerful speech (as the elephant heads off Philip, and retreats back into his jungle). The defeat on Eden’s face at the end of the speech says it all: he has lost this round, and may be slightly put out with those who encouraged it.
The scene around the water hole becomes a metaphor for their lives, the spectators about to become the hunted; the quiet horror of not even being able to mourn without photographers crowding outside the hut to catch a glimpse of the new queen in her darkest hour of pain. Just as the beasts are at the mercy of the spotlight, so too is Elizabeth thrust into the forefront, forced to put aside the secretary she wants in favor of an old, creaking political machine (“He has seniority,” a grave-faced Martin says as he leaves them).
Perhaps the most powerful moment is at the end, when the Dowager Queen Mary enters and curtsies to her granddaughter. Elizabeth has endured the deference of her husband, her mother, her sister… and now, the woman who has guided them, whom she has looked up to, who seems a stabilizing force in their lives, has shown submission. You can see the shock, the fear, the intimidation, and the determination on the young monarch’s face, as the truth sinks into her… it is up to her, now. Whatever lies ahead, whatever challenges life throws at her, she is the matriarch, and in many ways, she is alone.
Even that parallels Churchill, for amid the Cabinet, no one truly stands beside him except his wife, who keeps her nose to the ground to sniff out political adversaries, the wary lioness protective of her great old lion. Soon, the Queen and her Prime Minister will need one another, but the question is, which one needs the other more?