Everything explodes on The Crown 5×08 “Gunpowder.” While it may have been more effective to have the lead-up to this be more even, the payoff is still spectacular. This episode really leans into the chaos, combining different genres and different tones, as well as revisiting earlier themes from the season. Not everything works. What does, works incredibly well. This episode features some of the strongest storytelling of the season so far.
This episode is really Elizabeth Debicki’s time to shine as Diana. This is her character in limbo at a critical juncture in her life. Her desperation to be herself and have her voice heard is viscerally relatable. Sure, the stakes are much higher here. It’s clear, though, that she is willing to do anything to get her truth out into the world, after so long having it suppressed by the massive firm of which she was a part.
The actual Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah) interview storyline plays like a very bizarre spy thriller. By all accounts, there is a lot of authenticity in terms of representing the lengths Bashir went to to obtain this interview. In many ways, the series presents Bashir as the villain in this story. However, he’s part of a larger system that was always willing to take advantage of a woman who was struggling. The entire saga feels incredibly exploitative. The British press was never going to stop at anything to conduct this interview.
Relatedly, The Crown 5×08 “Gunpowder” delves further into the relationship between Diana and her brother Charles Spencer (Philip Cumbus). This version of Charles is clearly very protective of his sister. He understands the British press for what they are. Although, in his quest to protect his sister, this character ends up causing far more trouble. It’s tragic in a way, this vicious cycle that all of these characters end up in. It’s a reflection of the real relationship that the tabloid press still has with famous people.
The episode also delves deeper into Diana’s relationship with her son William (Senan West). William as a character is so sweet. He is in need of the adults in his life to step up and support him. As a child, it’s devastating watching him be held up as a source of support for his mother. Although we’ve already established how much Diana the character clearly loves her sons, she has a massive blind spot in extolling the virtues of her eldest son and his strength, which he should never have needed since he is still a child.
Sadly, “Gunpowder” features way too much crying about how hard Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) worked. Of course, the show can’t be bothered to make a commentary on the Windsor family without backtracking immediately and trying to make them sympathetic. The episode doesn’t make an effort to interrogate exactly what this “hard work” entails. It’s disappointing because this would have been a great opportunity to really examine what it is this character does, outside of being sad that she can’t fully live her dreams of being a horse girl.
Finally, one of the highlights of this episode, surprisingly, is the showdown between Diana and Elizabeth II. Both of these characters are incredibly strong personalities. Often, they also each possess a stunning lack of self-awareness. When these two collide, it’s impossible to look away. The scene is framed as a concerned grandmother telling her (former) daughter-in-law some hard truths she needs to hear. This may not have any basis in reality, but it’s sure fun to watch.
As the fifth season comes to a close, The Crown is up to the same old tricks. The comparison of the interview to Guy Fawkes doesn’t exactly come together. There is, however, a sobering commentary on just how much of a bombshell the Martin Bashir interview was.
In a way, a lot of this episode is funny because it shows just how vulnerable this institution is. This is a moment of transition for these characters. While history tells us what happens next, there is still much open to interpretation.
The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix.