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

Huzzah! The Great‘s seventh episode, “Stapler,” brings the legendary Gillian Anderson into the royal fold as Catherine’s formidable, imposing mother, Joanna. As per Anderson’s usual, she kills it, depicting Joanna as simultaneously frightening, blisteringly sharp and funny. 

“Stapler” elicits the “young girl” in Catherine as she vies for Mama Joanna’s attention, and it’s an all too relatable scenario regardless of your station in life. We all want our parents’ approval, especially the disapproving ones. It’s a calmer outing than the previous episode, with more lighthearted notes, blithe behavior and endearing crudeness. 

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

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We open with Catherine (Elle Fanning) reading a book outside amid a flurry of soldiers. Peter (Nicholas Hoult) falls deep into meditation with Dimitri Kang (Jon Chew) while Grigor (Gwilym Lee) yells for him outside his quarters. Orlo (Sacha Dhawan) attempts to write a letter to Catherine. 

Meanwhile, Marial (Phoebe Fox) gleefully meets Catherine with the daily schedule in hand. 

Catherine begins to doubt Russia’s ability to adapt and her people’s knack for change. Marial encourages her to go inside and start the day. There’s a science competition afoot, and Russia winning could raise morale. 

Finally, Peter lets Grigor inside his room. Grigor’s bewildered to find a wholly zen, entirely peaceful Peter, with Dimitri’s help in meditation and reclaiming his center of calm.

Peter confesses he no longer wants to be emperor, and he’s not sure he ever wanted the throne to start. Now, Peter is a man who enjoys the finer things and loves to brag about his cucumber. Grigor’s flabbergasted and wonders where this leaves him in the equation. Why did he leave Georgina again?

Grigor insists Peter’s merely sexually attracted to Catherine, nothing more. 

Still of Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in The Great Season 2 Episode 7 Stapler

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

Catherine judges the contestants’ inventions at the science competition, from a stapler to forceps to what looks like a rollercoaster that kills you. Katya (Jane Mahady) submits a design with a fabric combined with tree sap that facilitates the dressing process — essentially, it’s velcro, and it’s amusing considering Katya’s last name is “Velcra.”

Catherine deems the stapler Russia’s representative for the rest of the contest against Europe. I love that these inventions are currently in use today. 

Later, Catherine and Peter have breakfast, and Peter reveals his desire to abstain from the throne. He’s content with Catherine ruling the roost; he only wants happiness for her. Catherine’s unimpressed with the stapler serving as Russia’s entry in the next level, so Peter resolves to invent something wholly original to replace it.

Then, Catherine reunites with Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow) after the disastrous serfs versus nobles skirmish. Catherine understands Orlo and Velementov turning against her, but she expects Elizabeth to side with her. She dismisses Elizabeth for now. 

Meanwhile, Dimitri puts Grigor in his place with some well-executed moves. Arkady (Bayo Gbadamosi) finds Grigor on the floor, and the pair develop a plan to unseat Catherine. Peter might not be interested in continuing the mission, so they’ll forge ahead in his honor. 

Marial informs Catherine that her mother is coming, which sends the empress on an enthusiastic rampage. She wants the palace in tip-top shape for her mama’s arrival.

Orlo apologizes to Catherine regarding their argument. Catherine urges Orlo to support her, and he reasserts his allegiance to Catherine the Great. 

Joanna (Anderson) arrives in all her glory, much to Catherine’s delight. After mother and daughter embrace, Catherine shows her mama around the palace. Initially, Joanna seems impressed, but Catherine fails to ask how her sisters are doing, and you can see Mama Joanna isn’t as friendly as she looks. 

Next, Orlo finds Velementov (Douglas Hodge) passed out on top of a woman. After freeing her, a still-intoxicated Velementov divulges his concerns about Catherine. He claims he’s losing faith, but Orlo urges him to hold fast to it. If they can get Catherine to listen to them more often, they’ll be golden. 

However, Velementov insists the Ottomans will be their undoing.

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Then, we see Catherine and Joanna enjoying tea together. Joanna gushes about her daughters and how she married them to kings and emperors. But Catherine’s youngest sister, once betrothed to King Louis of France, failed to secure her husband because of Catherine’s coup. Joanna blames Catherine’s ambitions for the dashing of her sister’s hopes. 

Joanna learns Peter is still alive, which she almost finds more shameful than dethroning him. 

Meanwhile, Grigor enlists the aid of Peter’s lookalike, Pugachev (Hoult), to ambush Norway’s scientist and steal his invention. Orlo and Katya share post-coitus drinks when Uncle Varnya (Ramon Tikaram) barges in unannounced. He thinks the serfs and nobility skirmish was a disaster, along with whispers of Ottoman conflict. Varnya wants assurance that Orlo will still assist his home region even if Catherine perishes during childbirth. 

Oh, and Varnya cuts off a lock of Katya’s hair for his mother. Creepy. 

Still of Phoebe Fox in The Great Season 2 Episode 7 Stapler

The Great — Marial (Phoebe Fox), shown. (Photo by: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

Joanna meets Elizabeth, who greets her with a butterfly, Sergei. Unfortunately, Joanna crushes Sergei, citing Elizabeth’s fickle nature and a belief she’s merely supportive of Catherine because of Paul, the unborn heir. Elizabeth sometimes makes my Spidey sense tingle, so I appreciate this call-out moment. 

Peter, Grigor, Arkady and Tatyana (Florence Keith-Roach) enjoy the fruits of Norway’s labor — an icebox. They’re all floored with how cold it keeps fruit, vodka, chocolate and more. Much to Arkady’s dismay, Tatyana finally fulfills her desire to stick her tongue in Peter’s mouth. 

Elizabeth waltzes in, urging Peter to warm up to Catherine’s mother. Later, Peter presents Catherine with the icebox, and she quickly figures out he subdued the Norwegian scientist. However, if this helps Russia win the science competition, Catherine’s all for it. 

Joanna mingles with Tatyana and her pals, eager to try vodka for the first time. Elizabeth shows Catherine the outdoor vigil Archie (Adam Godley) hosts for the fallen, including Shakey and Antonia. Elizabeth reveals that while Russians kill in cold blood, they grieve like everyone else. 

Orlo steals gold from Catherine to give to his uncle, and Varnya apologizes for nicking a lock of Katya’s hair. It was weird. 

Catherine and Joanna enjoy a lovely dinner, but Joanna’s incessant judgment of the empress quickly sours it. Joanna fears Catherine won’t keep a lid on Russia, considering the gossip running rampant through the court. 

Then, Joanna wishes to meet Peter, Catherine’s husband, in confinement. Catherine urges Peter to “be something,” whatever that might be. Joanna barges in and interacts with her son-in-law, although she’s unimpressed. She believes Peter’s humoring Catherine by letting her run the country as empress. Joanna insults Peter and departs, citing boredom. 

Catherine’s skin rash flares up, most likely due to her mother. Joanna surreptitiously returns to Peter’s quarters, calls him “thrilling,” grabs his family jewels and then leaves. 

Marial and Grigor lie entwined post-boning, and the pair vent about Catherine and Peter, respectively. They enjoy having each other as confidants and bone buddies. 

Later, Leonora (Annabel Baldwin), a servant, approaches Catherine with an idea for Russia’s science competition entry. It’s an updated version of that roller coaster, except without all the death. Everyone, including Velementov and Orlo, gathers around Leonora’s model. Funnily enough, the actual Catherine the Great loved roller coasters and had them constructed on her property. Well, Russia’s version of a roller coaster at the time, that is. 

Meanwhile, Marial visits Archie, but the latter’s not doing so hot. He informs her about him kissing Father Basil and that now he wants to fork everyone and everything — even Marial. Marial suggests he self-flagellate, and maybe the pain will help keep the urges at bay. 

Then, we see scientists from across Europe compete in the science contest. One country submits a condom for consideration, while another tries to employ a diving suit of sorts that doesn’t end well. Catherine and her mother enjoy ice cream, and we see the Norwegian scientist is back in action and unharmed. 

Still of Elle Fanning and Sacha Dhawan in The Great Season 2 Episode 7 Stapler

The Great — Catherine (Elle Fanning) and Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), shown. (Photo by: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

Next, Catherine’s “Roll and Coast” invention goes off without a hitch, as her workers spent all night crafting it. However, Joanna condescendingly voices her belief that it’s not science-related. Catherine looks crestfallen as her mama walks away. 

Lastly, Peter tells Elizabeth about Joanna’s nighttime advance, and his auntie urges him to stay away from Catherine’s mother. No good can come of it. Peter vows to abstain, but something tells me he’ll break that promise. 

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Will Joanna remain at the palace for the birth of her grandson? Can Peter refrain from banging his mother-in-law? Will Catherine ever stand up to her mother?

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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