The Crown 5×05 “The Way Ahead” feels like an episode from the series that was promised in the previews. This is the focus on Camilla (Olivia Williams) and Charles (Dominic West) that everyone knew was coming. The series continues to show Charles as far too sympathetic. It doesn’t suit him in the least. Especially now that the real man is King, it’s important to reflect on his actual legacy, not only one that paints him in the best possible light.
The most offensive part of this episode could have been Charles discussing his fantasies of being a reproductive health product with his mistress. Instead, the continued adulation of the English language gets very gross very fast. There’s so much to unpack with referring to the English language as an “endangered species”. This storyline is peak colonialism and imperialism, touting the supremacy of language itself. The destruction of Indigenous languages has always been a feature of colonialism. It’s infuriating to hear the colonizer’s language touted as supreme when of course we know it’s not.
On this note, The Crown 5×05, “The Way Ahead” really distills the worst of these characters in arguably the best possible way. If we’re meant to cheer for this couple as long-suffering lovers, it might be helpful to show them with literally any redeeming qualities. Sure, they’re kept apart by circumstance and time. There are still no redeeming qualities to be found. Charles, for a man who’s not meant to have any opinions, certainly seems to have a lot of wrong ones.
Camilla and Charles’ story really just feels like a venue to promote the real man as he begins his actual regency. Much of this episode reads like a commercial for the real man. Hey, he’s not that bad, right? He’s just like you…right? Although the powers that be couldn’t possibly have known that the real Charles would be on the throne by the time this season aired, this just feels icky.
Perhaps the best and most satisfying part of Charles’ story on The Crown 5×05 “The Way Ahead” is watching Philip (Jonathan Pryce) consistently roast his son. Seriously, his burns are as devastating as they are pointed. It’s hard to imagine the real Phillip had the same level of awareness about his family’s dysfunction. It’s more believable that he spent a lot of time in private insulting his son in the most spectacular ways.
Relatedly, this episode is another not-great look for Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton). The character’s complacency is glaringly obvious. For all of her conflict with her son, it’s clear that she imparted her values to him. In many ways, they are opposite sides of the same coin. The character of Elizabeth II clearly raised her son with an entitlement that has followed him his entire life. It all culminates in a horrific break-dance scene. Apparently, that did actually happen.
The iconic “Revenge Dress” moment is all too brief. It still packs a major punch, however. What makes it so effective is the lead-up. By showing how terrible the Windsors are, Charles in particular, it’s a massive relief to watch someone step away from all of that. Elizabeth Debicki does a phenomenal job of showing a woman at the end of her rope. Her refusal to continue to be mocked is frankly cathartic.
At the halfway point, The Crown is struggling to find something compelling to say. Historical events, that many people alive today still remember, continue to be shown with little broader context. The at-times infuriating pacing is made more acceptable by performances that are incredibly earnest. These performances are what elevates the show from being a complete disaster.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.