DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Great episode “Five Days” has spoilers. Proceed at your peril. 

Huzzah! The Great‘s eighth episode, “Five Days,” blesses us with more Gillian Anderson than you can shake a stick at and the unexpected appearance of the always-great Jason Isaacs. Anderson never fails to elegantly stir up trouble, injecting nuance and intelligence aplenty into Joanna. 

I love the masterful parallels between Peter and Catherine this season, from “Alone at Last” putting their respective traumas on display to “Five Days” showing them reckoning with their abusive parents. It’s a far cry from how vastly different they seemed in Season One. 

Nicholas Hoult gives one of his best performances on the series in “Five Days,” seamlessly conveying Peter’s struggle between his innate, animalistic urges and his desire to take the moral high ground. From the blistering, gut-wrenching vulnerability he shows in the scene with Peter the Great to committing the worst offense against Catherine in one go, Hoult showcases his versatile range.

Ready to delve into “Five Days”? Let’s get to it. 

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We open with Catherine (Elle Fanning) having lunch with Joanna (Anderson), Marial (Phoebe Fox), Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow), Archie (Adam Godley), Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), Katya (Jane Mahady) and Velementov (Douglas Hodge). Catherine strives to impress her mother, but Joanna complains at every turn and blatantly mocks everyone at the table. 

Catherine introduces peanuts to the group, and, unexpectedly, Joanna falls unconscious after eating a handful. As it turns out, she has a peanut allergy. 

She survives the near-death experience, with Doctor Vinodel (Julian Barratt) putting her on temporary bed rest. Joanna gives Catherine a “kill list”– people the empress should murder, and Elizabeth and Marial rank high on it.

Meanwhile, Marial, Elizabeth and Archie vent to each other about Joanna. Catherine morphs into a different person when she’s around her mother, and Joanna constantly spews condescending remarks. Elizabeth fears she has a vile plan up her elegant sleeve. 

Later, Vinodel measures the width of Catherine’s hoo-ha. After he examines her, the frog perishes on her stomach, signifying she’ll give birth soon. Vinodel prescribes bed rest for Catherine, much to her dismay. 

Then, we see Peter (Hoult) eating figs in his quarters. Joanna, recovered after her peanut incident, meanders over to him. She licks a fig in a sultry manner, trying to seduce Peter. For now, he doesn’t fall prey to her charms. Admittedly, Gillian Anderson licking figs would be enough to turn on anyone’s faucet. 

Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi) and Tatyana (Florence Keith-Roach) place bets on Catherine’s baby along with the rest of the court. Will she give birth to a child that’s half-human, half-horse?

Still of Florence Keith-Roach and Bayo Gbadamosi in The Great Season 2 Episode 8 Five Days

The Great — Tatyana (Florence Keith-Roach) and Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi), shown. (Photo by: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

Velementov and Orlo ponder their fates should Catherine die during childbirth. According to Velementov, Orlo is expendable, and the general might be as well, especially if Peter takes the throne. 

Elizabeth gives Peter a medication courtesy of Vinodel to help tamper his rabid libido when around Joanna. Grigor (Gwilym Lee) tells Peter he must partake in certain pre-birth rituals, even though he’s reluctant to do so. 

Catherine learns she must have a public birth before the court, which ensures her heir is legitimate, and this fact mortifies the empress. Joanna wanders into the scene and scolds Catherine for not heeding the doctor’s bed rest orders. She regales the room with the tale of when she gave birth to Catherine. Catherine was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her throat; she was blue in the face.

Thankfully, Joanna claims she willed Catherine to live. It’s a touching story. 

Meanwhile, Grigor, Arkady, Archie and the other noblemen gather around Peter in the forest. As is tradition, Peter must dig graves for his wife and son, lest one or the other dies during birth. Grigor leads the men in song as they belt out a frightful tune, almost like a haunting funeral dirge. Peter starts digging amid the singing. This scene cracks me up — Hoult has a knack for comedy. 

Joanna and Catherine’s maid ensure the empress is cozy in her bed. Peter makes zero headway, and the shovel breaks while he tries to dig. Arkady’s teenage son, Alyosha (Bill Bekele), taunts Peter and hurls insults at him.

Peter, enraged, chases after Alyosha with a new shovel courtesy of Grigor, but Arkady whips out his pistol and points it at Peter’s head. Fortunately, it’s enough to prevent Peter from killing a boy.

Joanna brings in a horde of ladies to entertain Catherine, much to Marial’s annoyance. Velementov assists Peter with the digging after the latter shoos the other men away. After her brief hang out with the women of the court, inspiration strikes Catherine. She wishes to make divorce legal for women in Russia. Oh, and she also wants to ensure women are not property. 

Elizabeth and Marial are delighted with Catherine’s progressive ideas, but Joanna is incredulous. Why poke the bear when you can find other ways to obtain power over men? She believes enacting forward-thinking laws like these will make Catherine a moving target. 

Still of Nicholas Hoult in The Great Season 2 Episode 8 Five Days

The Great — Peter (Nicholas Hoult), shown. (Photo by: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

Orlo and Velementov barge into Catherine’s room with a massive chest containing candles from the Ottoman Sultan. The Sultan even included a note stating he’d love to meet with Catherine, and the candles are a gift of peace. Catherine and Orlo are buzzing with excitement, but Joanna’s not impressed, and she storms out, irritated that her daughter won’t rest. 

Peter apologizes to Alyosha, marking a significant point of growth for him. Old Peter would never deign to apologize to someone, and Peter feels remorse and acknowledges his wrongdoings. Huzzah!

However, once Arkady’s son departs, Peter’s ire reignites when Arkady and Grigor suggest he can quickly move on if Catherine dies. He attacks the pair and orders them to leave. 

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Elizabeth tries to patch things over between Joanna and Catherine. You know, mother to mother. Unfortunately, Joanna finds a way to offend Elizabeth, even blaming her for her young son’s death. An emotional Elizabeth departs. 

Elizabeth tells the empress Joanna merely worries for Catherine’s safety. Marial, Katya and the schoolchildren show up to help Catherine draft her new laws for women. 

Meanwhile, Joanna finds Peter near the graves. Peter must remain there for three days, as per the ritual. Joanna flirts with him again, and Peter even imagines the tree against which they’d fork. He turns her down, and she meanders away, claiming she’ll wait for him. Peter guzzles the tincture Vinodel gave him.

Libido no more!

Later, Catherine slinks out of her quarters while her servant lights one of the candles from the Ottoman Sultan. Catherine slips under the covers next to Joanna, and her mother embraces her. Yes, Joanna’s immensely condescending and possesses no filter, but she does care for her daughter. She worries Catherine will face assassination.

Next, Peter starts hallucinating thanks to the tincture. He finds his father, Peter the Great (Isaacs), sitting in one of the graves. Peter’s father taunts him relentlessly. He believes Peter should revert to his old ways of womanizing, drinking, hunting people for sport and throwing parties. 

But Peter’s trying to be a better man! His father continues to spew vitriol, causing Peter to brandish his knife and leap into the grave. Of course, the vision of his father disappears. 

Velementov examines his war plans, hellbent on attacking the Ottomans. Peter tells Elizabeth he hallucinated his dad and almost slept with Joanna. Catherine wakes and returns to her quarters to find her servant dead on the floor. The Ottoman candle exploded, undoubtedly killing her with some kind of poison meant for Catherine, most likely in retaliation for the Sunduk murder. 

Elizabeth chats with Joanna about the latter’s intentions. It’s apparent she wants Catherine to abdicate her throne to Peter and become a babymaking machine. Then, with Catherine unseated, Joanna can marry her youngest daughter off to the King of France. 

Archie asks Joanna what hymns would she like sung at Catherine’s future funeral, considering the assassination attempt on her life that morning. 

Catherine sits with Orlo and Velementov, strategizing their next move. The men urge Catherine to let slip the dogs of war — the Ottoman’s deadly candle is an act of aggression. Finally, much to Velementov’s delight, Catherine agrees to fork them up, and she asks him to produce war plans for her the following day. 

Then, Joanna forces the men to leave so that she can chat with her daughter. Joanna urges Catherine to reconsider giving the crown to Peter. She wants Catherine to be safe. Catherine retorts that Joanna never supported her. She spent her life vying for Joanna’s approval, but the latter doesn’t believe in her. 

Still of Nicholas Hoult in The Great Season 2 Episode 8 Five Days

The Great — Peter (Nicholas Hoult), shown. (Photo by: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

So, Catherine orders Joanna to leave. S**t or get off the pot. You go, girl!

After the argument with her child, Joanna decides to stick it to the empress by having Peter stick it in her. Peter finally succumbs to his carnal desires and the pair bone against a window. You know how this ends. 

The window flies open, and Joanna falls out of it, hitting the ground with a splat. She’s dead as a doornail. Elizabeth witnesses the horrifying incident, and she promises her nephew she’ll take care of it.

Elizabeth seeks Marial’s help by making it appear Joanna left hastily, not died after having sex. 

The following morning, Catherine admires the progress on Paul’s nursery, notably the massive family painting. She finds Peter sitting next to the graves, and Catherine sits beside him, telling him her mother left. Of course, at this point, she doesn’t know Joanna perished, and Peter fails to disclose the truth.

Catherine feels a swell of love for him, and just as they’re about to kiss, Catherine’s water breaks. It’s baby time!

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Do you think Peter will confess to Catherine his part in Joanna’s death? Will Catherine still love Peter even after giving birth? 

Keep watching The Great on Hulu, my Greaties, and stick around for more recapping fun, only on Geek Girl Authority. 

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Melody McCune
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