DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Great Season 3 Episode 10, “Once Upon a Time,” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril. 

Huzzah! We’ve reached the end of The Great Season 3, friends. “Once Upon a Time” proves to be a significant marker in Catherine’s development as a human being and an empress. She rises like a phoenix from the ashes, shedding Peter’s skin and becoming her own ruler. However, she adopts some of Peter’s traits, such as his spontaneity, assertiveness and confidence. Seeing her honor him by holding close to those traits is lovely. Side note: I love how this episode plays a game of “musical baby,” where they all pass Paul back and forth with Catherine none the wiser. Again, she’s not winning Mother of the Year anytime soon. 

Written by Tony McNamara and directed by Tricia Brock, the outing serves as a series finale while leaving loose threads aplenty to explore in a potential fourth season. I, for one, want a Season 4. We need answers! Where did Grigor take Paul? How will Marial answer for freeing Archie? Did Arkady and Tatyana escape the cannons? Does Georgina still plan to marry Paul and overthrow Catherine? There are so many questions and approximately zero answers. 

Ready to delve into “Once Upon a Time”? Let’s get to it. 

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We open with Archie (Adam Godley) confronting Pugachev (Nicholas Hoult) after the latter’s rousing speech to the masses. Archie tells Pugy they must orchestrate a surrender to Catherine. The jig is up. However, Pugachev won’t stop until Catherine is overthrown and he is installed as emperor … as Peter III. He tries to persuade the church to join his crusade. Pugachev even kisses Archie. But instead of submitting, Archie backs away, refusing to align himself with Pugy. Then, when Pugachev’s back is turned, Archie shoots at him. Pugachev heads outside the building, where he runs into Petrov (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd). Petrov is there to take him back to Catherine. 

Pugachev flees again, clambering into a carriage where Maxim (Henry Meredith) sits, his gun trained on Pugachev. Finally, Velementov (Douglas Hodge) opens the doors and asks why Maxim isn’t in school. Good ole Pugy is caught. Huzzah! Later, Catherine (Elle Fanning) marches into the room where Pugachev is held captive. He pretends to be Peter, even putting on her late husband’s accent. She orders him to stop. Next, she reveals his fate: he’s going to be taken from village to village, where he’ll confess that he’s not Peter III and that he’s a fraud. 

Petrov stands outside in front of Catherine while holding a gun in The Great Season 3 Episode 10, "Once Upon a Time."

The Great — “Once Upon A Time” – Season 3 Episode 10 — Grigory Petrov (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and Catherine (Elle Fanning), shown. (Photo by: Christopher Raphael/Hulu)

Our imposter seems to be buying the vitriolic language he spouts at his followers. He reminds Catherine that Russians despise her. Catherine returns to her quarters, where she resumes her dangerous Russian roulette game. She puts a gun inside her mouth and pulls the trigger. Thankfully, it isn’t loaded. Imagine if it was, though? This finale would only last five minutes. Then, Catherine’s guards set out a lavish breakfast display. We learn Peter had planned their meals out well in advance. It’s incredibly touching and reminds me that my Peter wound is still gaping, spewing blood and oozing pus. I’m not crying; you are

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Marial (Phoebe Fox) sits in her quarters while Maxim complains about not being the one to kill Pugachev. Marial looks to be on the brink of stir-crazy. She needs something to do. Hugo (Freddie Fox) chats with Georgina (Charity Wakefield) about potentially combining forces. What if he and Agnes help Georgina ordain Paul in secret? What if, after that, Georgina marries Paul? Hugo recognizes George’s political savvy and willingness to play the long game. This move ensures Peter’s line remains intact and plants George in the running as leader of Russia when Catherine inevitably crashes and burns. 

Petra (Emily Coates) puts a sedative in Hugo’s tea. He passes out on George’s floor. She mulls over Hugo’s words, and it sounds like she might do just that: ordain Paul and then marry a baby — as one does. Archie advises Maxim regarding how to temper his anger and when to act on it. He leads Maxim to the room where Pugachev is confined. Maxim enters and shoots Pugachev in the head. RIP, Pugy. Before Pugachev dies, he says, “What is it with you, kid?” Maxim’s response after the kill shot is so Maximesque: “Call me Maxim.” He’s a highlight of this season. 

Then, Marial asks Catherine for a job. What if she comes on as Catherine’s chief advisor? Marial tries to light a fire under Catherine’s ass, who’s still utterly unmotivated to do much of anything. Welcome to depression. I notice she’s still wearing Peter’s pearls and a blouse in his signature, flowy style. Once she’s sitting at her desk, we see a balloon fly into her workspace. A scientist from her science department, Nikolai (Damien Molony), enters behind it. Nikolai reveals a comet that passes near the Earth every 75 years. It’ll be close to Russia this year, and everyone can watch it. Nikolai proposes Catherine make an event out of it for her people. They can show that “the heavens” can be known to humankind and not a total mystery. She loves this. 

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Well, that is until Petrov drags a cart with Pugachev’s body on it. In shock, Catherine stares at his corpse while Petrov makes a beeline for Nikolai. He demands they duel the following day despite Catherine outlawing dueling. Why? Because Nikolai was the man who slept with his fiancée. Archie, Petrov, Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow) and Marial offer Catherine advice regarding her next steps. Catherine seems to think the problem will vanish because Pugachev is dead. However, the public will believe she killed Peter III. Overwhelmed, Catherine storms out. 

Marial and Catherine stand outside the palace and talk in The Great Season 3 Episode 10, "Once Upon a Time."

The Great — “Once Upon A Time” – Season 3 Episode 10 — Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Catherine (Elle Fanning), shown. (Photo by: Christopher Raphael/Hulu)

Meanwhile, Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi) speaks to Pugachev’s followers in Moscow about working together to usurp Catherine. Treason, y’all. Arkady heads upstairs to find Tatyana (Florence Keith-Roach) lying in bed with her dress situated atop her naked body. His wife is waiting for Pugachev to return so they can make the beast with two backs. Of course, they don’t know he’s dead. Nikolai visits Catherine in her apartment, and they talk about his inadvertent womanizing, science and ruling a country. Catherine orders him to f*ck her. The “Peter” jumped out of her here. The pair have sex until Elizabeth interrupts them. Nikolai departs. 

Elizabeth has a “come to Jesus” chat with Catherine. Catherine must snap out of it and do what’s best for Russia. Elizabeth’s line about life being a series of walking through fires is brilliant. McNamara’s dialogue is unparalleled. She offers Catherine an ultimatum: Catherine steps up to the plate, or someone else will come along. Perhaps it’s Elizabeth’s destiny to rule. Elizabeth reveals that she might sit in Catherine’s chair and never get up. I like seeing this side of Elizabeth. There’s a ruthlessness to her that she shares with Peter III and Peter the Great. It’s all in the family. 

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After his impromptu sleep on Georgina’s floor, Hugo stumbles into the corridor, running into Agnes (Grace Molony). He tells his wife that George’s in on their plan. Agnes believes they should implement their backup plan should Georgina decide to hijack their ideas. Meanwhile, Georgina finds Grigor (Gwilym Lee) outside with baby Paul. Georgina believes they could raise Paul together, especially since Catherine’s on a downward spiral. Of course, we know George is thinking about ordaining Paul and marrying the child herself. She mentions that she could rule the country, which garners a guffaw from Grigor. 

Grigor reminds her that he loves Marial and wants to be with her. Being outside these past few days has put things into perspective. Besides Marial, the only other person he truly cares about is Paul. Before she can spout more tripe, Grigor knocks Georgina unconscious. He reassures Paul that she’s alive because she’s breathing. Then, Elizabeth chats with the ghost of Peter the Great (Jason Isaacs), who tries to persuade the former to overthrow Catherine. Elizabeth won’t actually do it despite what she told Catherine — she loves our empress. She finally stands up to Peter the Great and calls him out for what he is: a monster who treated his son like excrement. Get it, girl! 

Marial and Catherine stand in front of each other while talking in The Great Season 3 Episode 10, "Once Upon a Time."

The Great — “Once Upon A Time” – Season 3 Episode 10 — Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Catherine (Elle Fanning), shown. (Photo by: Christopher Raphael/Hulu)

That night, Hugo visits Catherine. He offers her a way out. She can flee Russia and head to any country in Europe where former monarchs are treated like they’re still monarchs. He claims there will be a carriage waiting for her and Paul should she choose to leave. Hell, he’s even willing to find Paul for her. We know why he wants Paul — so he can ordain the child and ride on his coattails. After this encounter, Catherine puts the barrel of one of the guns on her desk in her mouth. However, before she pulls the trigger, an intruder bursts into her room and tries to kill her, thinking she’s in bed. Catherine quickly shoots him in the head. 

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Gobsmacked, she stares at the once-loaded gun. She could’ve easily died from that weapon had the traitor not appeared. Grigor crawls through the wall into Marial’s chambers and proposes to her. He wants to flee the palace with her by his side. They could even raise Paul together. Marial isn’t fond of the idea of raising Peter’s son; however, the concept of marriage sounds lovely. Seeing a steaming hot tub of water before him, Grigor lowers himself into it fully clothed. Maxim barges in, irritated that Grigor stole his bath and is still entangled with Marial. Marial pulls Maxim aside and scolds him for killing Pugachev. 

Later, we see Petrov and Nikolai standing back-to-back, their guns poised at the ready. It’s almost duel time. Catherine enters the scene with a new purpose following her near-death experience. She reminds them that dueling is illegal, but she will step in and serve as Nikolai’s second. Petrov objects but participates anyway. Right as someone says, “Three,” Catherine shoots Petrov in the leg. Then, she orders him to meet her in her office. That’s my girl. She’s back. Grigor finds Velementov holding Paul. He tries to take the child back, but Velementov trains a gun on him and orders him to leave. Grigor needs to find his purpose without Paul. 

Velementov and Paul walk through the corridors, with the former daydreaming aloud about baby Paul becoming the next emperor of Russia, just as Peter the Great wanted. Suddenly, Georgina knocks Velementov unconscious and scoops up Paul. She reassures Paul that Velementov is alive because he’s breathing. This callback made me chuckle. Georgina and Grigor are cut from the same cloth. She brings him to Archie, who’s pleased as punch. Meanwhile, Marial brings Catherine Archie’s letters to Pugachev. She tells the empress that Archie is behind the uprisings. 

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Meanwhile, Archie ordains Paul with Georgina as a witness. She urges Archie to hurry through the ordination so he can get to the wedding part. Hugo and Agnes arrive with the cadaver dog in tow. I think the pup might belong to them now. But the interruptions don’t stop there — Grigor barges in, guns blazing, and orders Archie to hand over Paul. Georgina demands Archie finish the ordaining, which he does very hastily, much to Grigor’s dismay. After Archie, Hugo and Agnes depart, Grigor holds Paul in his arms and points his weapon at George. He tells her that they’re through. She’s okay with it this time because her sights are set on someone else. Ew. Grigor leaves with Paul. As much as I love Grigor’s fondness for Paul, he’s still Catherine’s baby. That’s straight-up child abduction. 

Catherine stands before Pugachev, who sits in a chair while bound, in The Great Season 3 Episode 10, "Once Upon a Time."

The Great — “Once Upon A Time” – Season 3 Episode 10 — Pugachev (Nicholas Hoult) and Catherine (Elle Fanning), shown. (Photo by: Christopher Raphael/Hulu)

Then, as promised, Elizabeth sits in Catherine’s chair. Catherine returns with her new demeanor. She launches into a game plan. Firstly, she thanks Archie for teaching her how to be politically savvy. She wants the church to tell the country they asked God for a sign, and that sign is the comet. It’s a reminder of Catherine’s destiny to rule Russia. Marial hands Archie something to sign to make it so. Velementov, Petrov and Maxim arrive. Catherine asks Maxim to go on a speaking tour and confess to killing Pugachev. Then, he’ll attend a military school, where he’ll receive proper training and return to her. Marial likes this idea. 

Velementov is to go south and tell the public about Peter’s icy death and drowning, while Petrov will go to Moscow and “claim the death of Peter III.” Oh, and he can set off some cannons at the traitors who followed Pugachev. Next, Marial will prepare various statements claiming Peter III died from hemorrhoids, smallpox and was killed while fighting the uprising. Oh, and she’s Peter the Great’s daughter. She wants multiple causes of death running through the grapevine so she can control the narrative to suit her needs. 

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Lastly, she orders her guards to take Archie prisoner, remove his beard and bury him alive. But that’s not all: she wants them to piss on his grave. Ouch. She demands Archie sign a document that frees the church’s 10 million serfs. Then, she wants 25 acres of land to go to each serf. She hopes this will encourage the nobles to free their serfs, too. There she is. After the guards lead Archie away, she orders Petrov to bring her his head once he’s buried. Elizabeth claps and gets up. She reveals she was merely testing Catherine’s mettle, and the latter passed the test with flying colors. 

Then, we see Catherine screwing someone for the fun of it. Afterward, she orders the man to leave. She picks up two guns on her desk and fires them at the floor, discovering they’re loaded. She’s done playing with her life. Meanwhile, we see the empress’s guards peeing on Archie’s grave. Petrov and the troops fire cannons at Pugachev’s headquarters, sending Arkady scrambling to protect himself as Pugachev’s head rolls toward him. Marial digs up Archie’s grave and discovers he’s alive. She got to him before Petrov decapitated him.

Catherine wears a dark blue dress and sits on the floor while moving her arms around in The Great Season 3 Episode 10, "Once Upon a Time."

The Great — “Once Upon A Time” – Season 3 Episode 10 — Catherine (Elle Fanning), shown. (Photo by: Christopher Raphael/Hulu)

Our empress enters with a new hairdo: A short cut that extends slightly below her ears. She dons a simple dark blue gown — no more wearing Peter’s clothes and pearls. She gazes out her window at the comet as it streaks the sky. She hears cheers from her people. Catherine decides then and there that she did this for herself, not destiny or fate. Then, the episode ends with her dancing while “You Shook Me All Night Long” plays. She collapses on the ground, and her joy turns to tears. 

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“Once Upon a Time” is a cleverly-crafted season finale with a handful of plot twists and delightful character moments. It allows characters like Catherine and Elizabeth to flourish while others like Archie get their rightful comeuppance (except for Marial rescuing him). The end moment is satisfying to watch as we see Catherine let loose. It’s the happiest we’ve seen her since before Peter’s death. Plus, the scene is very much in the style of The Great‘s flair for modern sensibilities and campy fun. 

Season 3 is a different beast than the rest for obvious reasons: the deaths of Peter and Orlo. I think Orlo’s death, in particular, was handled poorly on the writing front. He was given a villain’s death, and he was far from a villain. I understand they had nowhere else to go with the character, but Orlo was integral to Catherine’s rise to power. The show should’ve at least mentioned him more than a few times before forgetting him entirely. With the bears devouring him, Catherine won’t even realize she killed him. It’s a bit sloppy all around. 

That said, I still loved this season. It’s darker and more emotionally rich, delving into the complexities of the human spirit and how we grieve. The series is still as bitingly funny as ever. Perhaps less so once Peter dies, but I still chuckled in some instances during the later episodes. I love the character growth and the intriguing dynamics the season experiments with. The thematic exploration of legacy and what it means to different characters is also fun to dissect. 

All hail Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. They are acting titans, and their sizzling chemistry is off the charts. I hope they work together again someday. 

The Great Season 3 is now streaming on Hulu

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Melody McCune
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