One of ‘The Great’s Best Characters Deserved Way Better Than … That
The Great, Hulu’s rowdy, sexy, offbeat period drama starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, returned to streaming over the weekend with a season three premiere that was nothing short of shocking. Where seasons one and two had chronicled Catherine the Great’s rocky rise to power and her complicated romance with husband Peter (Hoult), season three steers Catherine through muddier waters, and the premier makes it exceedingly clear just how high the stakes are going forward.
This article contains heavy spoilers for the season three premiere of The Great, now streaming on Hulu.
Though the show’s normally bold, unruly sensibilities work in its favor, The Great‘s season three premiere makes one shocking decision that already feels like a grave mistake (no pun intended)—killing off Sacha Dhawan’s Count Orlo.
I told you there’d be signficant spoilers—you read that right. At the end of the season premiere, The Great suddenly and unceremoniously puts a bullet in the head of Count Orlo—Catherine’s ambitious but soft-spoken advisor and close friend. Now, The Great is no stranger to violently killing off major characters. Lady Svenska and Catherine’s mother Joanna both got sudden, shocking deaths last season after playing a significant role in the story, but where those were arguably unlikable characters who had come to the natural conclusion of their time on the show, the sudden death of Orlo feels nowhere near as measured, thought out, or even justified.
Since season one, Orlo has gotten the short end of the stick—constantly being mocked by Peter and Velementov for his lack of sexual prowess, and made to be the doormat of Catherine’s royal court. Even though he has secured a seat of power at Catherine’s side after the coup, Orlo is still very much at the bottom of the social ladder, despite the fact that he’s often a crucial voice of reason for Catherine and one of the few people genuinely qualified to make policy decisions in Russia. Yes, he may be conniving and backstabbing (who in Russia isn’t?), but he’s nowhere near a villain like the cruel Svenska or duplicitous Joanna—quite the opposite.
Orlo has been one of The Great’s most consistently endearing, lovable characters—a sweet, genuine, well-meaning, and at times almost innocent (though trying fiercely to be a power player) personality who has always been a welcome presence whenever he would dorp by Catherine’s chambers. His relationship with Catherine has also been a key through line for her character—they started of the series in near absolute ideological alignment, and the more she has given in to her relationship with Peter, the further she and Orlo have drifted in terms of beliefs. He’s been the perfect barometer for Catherine’s descent into apathy, and their sweet, honest friendship in season one helped give the show some crucial warmth and charm in its early days.
Since the beginning of season two, though, it’s felt like The Great hasn’t been sure of what to do with Orlo—and finally, the soft-spoken count has been not-so-kindly put out to pasture. After spending all episode waiting to see whether a group of political prisoners would be killed by the “Bullet or the Bear” (shot or chased and mauled by the wild animal), it’s Orlo himself who’s given the titular bullet/bear treatment. Through a series of comedic hijinks that are on par for the show’s sense of humor but disheartening when used on such a likable character, Orlo is accidentally and unknowingly shot by Catherine, who thinks she hears a wild animal while hunting.
That’s all—a simple hunting accident, and one Catherine has no idea even took place. She continues chatting with Peter on their leisurely stroll, none the wiser that she’s just murdered one of her closest friends, and to add insult to injury, the aforementioned bears then amble along and devour Orlo’s body. Not only does his death go unwitnessed, but his body is also completely unable to be found—there’s no way for anyone on the series to acknowledge or confirm Orlo’s death. One would think that the death of a major character would send lasting ripples through the rest of the season, but the truly ghastly part about Orlo’s death is that it goes nowhere.
It feels as if The Great couldn’t be more eager to completely rid itself of this character, aside from one or two throwaway lines where Catherine wonders “where good old Orlo is?” and Velementov muses that he probably just got mad and left. Catherine accepts this answer and never comes back to question or mourns Orlo’s disappearance again. Considering she spent a season and a half mourning Leo and was shell-shocked by the death of Joanna, Catherine’s (or anyone at Court, for that matter) lack of reaction to Orlo’s death isn’t just out of character; it’s flat out insulting to the memory of how wonderful a character Orlo was.
It’s also worth mentioning that Orlo was the only main character of color on The Great. Other than recurring scumbag Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi), the series now has no major non-white characters. In fact, there’s a whole slew of characters who soak up the screen time left by Orlo’s absence, including Jane Mahady’s Katya and Henry Meredith’s Maxim, both of whom are white. Between the betrayal of the narrative/themes, disrespect to the character, and poor taste of axing one of their few people of color, The Great’s decision to kill off Orlo is a bold but ill-conceived stain on an otherwise strong season premiere.
(featured image: Hulu)
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