Image of Elle Fanning as Catherine in a scene from Hulu's 'The Great.' She is a white woman with chin-length straight blonde hair wearing an 18th century black dress. She is kneeling on the floor of an ornate office in her palace mid-dance with her arms extended to her left.

Elle Fanning Breaks Silence on ‘The Great’s Cancellation as We “Huzzah!” a Great Final Season

Hulu’s The Great, based on series creator Tony McNamara’s 2008 play of the same name, was unceremoniously cancelled during the SAG-AFTRA strike after its third season had been released. Now, we’re finally hearing how the show’s star really feels about it.

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The timing of the cancellation meant that none of the show’s actors could comment on the news without breaking strike rules. Now that the strike’s over, series star Elle Fanning took to social media to express her feelings about the end of her Empress Era.

**Spoilers for the final episode of The Great after Fanning’s post.**

Fanning says goodbye to the show that “has meant the world” to her

Fanning took to Instagram to post a carousel of behind-the-scenes photos featuring her co-stars on The Great along with a message talking about not only how much the show meant to her, but how much of a formative experience it was. Fanning wrote:

“Tony McNamara is a certified genius. The last 3 seasons have shaped me. Through playing Catherine I discovered parts of myself I didn’t know I had. I love every crew member and cast member deeply. And although I won’t get to lace up my corset one last time, I am forever proud of what we accomplished together. In my mind Catherine is left ‘shaking it all night long’ finally stepping into the leader we always knew she would become, a multitude of lovers thrown in for good measure, many macaroons, vodka shots, long winded speeches, battles of wit, and of course HUUU-FUCKING-ZZAHHHHSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Co-star Nicholas Hoult, who played both Peter the Third and his smarmy (but somehow still hot) look-a-like Pugachev, replied to the post saying, “Too many brilliant moments on and off screen. YOU ARE THE GREATEST.” Aww. I love those two!

Catherine’s “metal” final moments were so satisfying

And I agree with Fanning that by the end of The Great, we’ve had the privilege of watching this sometimes lovable, sometimes infuriating protagonist come into her own in a way that few women protagonists are allowed.

This was summed up in a brilliant and totally anachronistic (what on this show wasn’t?) final scene. Catherine, having cut off the long blonde curls that defined her and wearing a black dress to mourn the guy she loved despite anyone’s good judgement declares, “Destiny didn’t do it. I did it.” After three seasons of wondering if ruling Russia was her “destiny,” she finally acknowledges that no. It wasn’t her destiny. It was something she wanted. And so, she did it.

Catherine’s final moments of The Great find her rocking out to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” dancing in a way that made me surprised it wasn’t at least partially choreographed by Ryan Heffington, (who did The OA‘s “Five Movements” and several of Sia’s most iconic videos). The dance was actually choreographed by The Great‘s long-time choreographer, Polly Bennett. And as Fanning told former Mary Sue staffer Keisha Hatchett for TV Line, the song choice was entirely hers.

Oh, what could’ve been …

Image of Elle Fanning as Catherine in a scene from Hulu's 'The Great.' She is a white woman with long, wavy blonde hair wearing an 18th century green floral robe and white nightgown. She is sitting at the end of a long dining table with food spread out before her. She's wearing a serious expression.

The third and (now) final season of The Great was a risky departure from its first two seasons on a show that was risky throughout. An anachronistic, Gen Z alternate history take on … Russian royalty? It shouldn’t have worked, and yet it did. Despite being set in 18th Century Russia, so much of The Great spoke to the current moment’s discourse about patriarchy, class struggle, and what words like “revolution” and “progressive” really mean.

I mentioned earlier that the Catherine of this show is both lovable and infuriating—lovable because of her seemingly genuine desire to make Russia better and improve people’s lives, Infuriating because she, like so many well-meaning wealthy people, is only willing to take that so far. She certainly wouldn’t condone something so radical as abolishing the monarchy, nor would she get rid of the stratified classes. But she would give peasants books and let people get divorced, so … progress?

While the show hinted at this in its final season, what with a rebellion brewing and common people increasingly hating Catherine, she never really had that point made to her in a way where she truly had to face it. She knew people hated her because Pugachev was stirring up dissent, but she didn’t really take it in when Marial (Phoebe Fox) told her that he was saying things that the people were relating to.

Indeed, when Catherine went out in disguise to hear Pugachev for herself, or even when she watched Katya’s (Jane Mahady) satirical play about her, she was too busy being angry about the things they were saying about her relationship with Peter to really listen to the complaints being made on behalf of the country’s poor.

Her final act, despite claiming to want enlightenment for the Russian people, is using her knowledge of science to play the people’s superstition against them. Knowing that Hailey’s Comet is going to arrive, she has her advisors tell the people to look in the sky for a sign from God on a specific day that will tell them that she’s destined to rule. When she sees the comet from her window, and hears the people’s cheers below she smiles, knowing that this “sign” will cement support for her. At least, for a little while.

I would’ve loved another season of The Great where we got to see Catherine fully in charge and having to deal with the ethics of her actions not really aligning with “enlightenment” or “progressiveness” at all. Her character arc was basically going from naïve, oblivious German noble to hardened, hypocritical Empress. Even at her best, she was a political dilettante. That’s the brilliant about Catherine on The Great. She is a “great” leader, but not necessarily a “great” person.

Men get to be that all the time in fiction, and it was so satisfying to watch a fiercely talented woman like Elle Fanning in a nuanced role like that.

Thankfully, The Great ended on a great note

Image of Nicholas Hoult as Peter and Elle Fanning as Catherine in a scene from Hulu's 'The Great.' Peter is a white man with short, dark hair wearing a black fur coat. Catherine is a white woman with blonde hair wearing a brown and white fur hat and a matching fur coat. They are sitting outside in the snow in front of trees, and Catherine is resting her head on Peter's shoulder as they both look out into the distance.

Still, despite season three of The Great not being shot as its final season, it serves as a solid one. While another season would’ve been possible, it wasn’t necessary. There were few burning questions left unanswered, and just about every character came to an appropriate end.

The choice to have Peter die halfway through the season was a brave and brilliant one that let every character process their grief in a unique way and allowed for some of the best acting of the show. And though every character changed a lot since the beginning of the show they were, in many ways, still exactly the same.

Catherine grew up and became more coldly calculating, but she was still a dilettante, just a more confident one. Elizabeth remained the politically savvy aunt who could probably take the throne herself, but is at her best supporting a good leader. Marial was still a noble who, despite her stint in the lower class never had any grand awakening about the court that made her rethink her desire to be part of it. Georgina remained a conniver, secretly marrying baby Paul (eew), which gave her a direct line to the throne. But it’s unclear if she ever divorced Grigor. If she didn’t, would that marriage to Paul even count? Her conniving could bite her in the ass one day. Good! Just another day of comeuppance in the Russian court.

Since the characters stayed so very true to themselves throughout, changing about as much as any of us would in a relatively short time, it’s easy to imagine how they’d go on for several more seasons of show. And yet that’s exactly why the current ending works perfectly as it is. We can easily imagine the betrayals and political machinations that could’ve been while allowing this perfect little nugget of a show to go out on a high note with an ending that felt inevitable and satisfying.


(featured image: Hulu)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.