“The Boy” proves another strong episode, dealing with Bloody Sunday, the sickness of Alexei, and the arrival of Rasputin.
This The Last Czars Episode 2 Netflix recap for the episode titled “The Boy” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The Last Czars Episode 2, “The Boy”, opens with the Romanov’s French tutor, Pierre Gilliard (Oliver Dimsdale), pushing the woman who claims to be Anastasia on the circumstances of her survival. But she isn’t the focus of this second episode. As a physician explains, she might have been left alive simply because she wasn’t important. The targets of the assassination were Nicholas II and his sickly son, Alexei, the heir apparent to the Romanov dynasty.
For all his apparently God-given power, Nicholas still cannot produce an heir with Alexandra. Together, they pray — even during sex, which is a bit weird, and makes for one of those funny scenes in which servants gathered outside a bedchamber must listen to the no-pants-dance at full volume. Nicholas and Alex’s relationship is very warm and believable; Robert Jack and Susanna Herbert have great chemistry together, and they’re able to sell what is, on the face of things, quite a ludicrous sex scene. Along with the pressures of being unable to father a son, Nicholas is also dealing with the responsibility of expanding the Russian empire, which brings him into conflict with the rising industrial and military power of Japan.
“The Boy” makes it clear that Nicholas is hopelessly idealistic; seduced by the history of the Romanovs and their great accomplishments, and constantly swayed by his domineering Uncle Sergei, he consistently ignores good advice from good policymakers and catastrophically declares war on Japan. Meanwhile, his son, Alexei, is born and is quickly revealed to suffer from hemophilia. He’s likely to die before Nicholas. With medical science being what it is, the Romanovs need a miracle. And who better to provide one than Rasputin?
Rasputin spends most of The Last Czars Episode 2 cutting about the palace, seducing young women and performing minor miracles. The various talking heads are careful to emphasize quite how charismatic and charming this man was; how he always knew just what to say, and how he gave quite genuinely humane advice. He was a self-professed mystic healer, but he wasn’t an extremist. At the time, he represented a real hope of divinity amid social and political turmoil.
Nicholas and Alexandra agree to keep Alexei’s condition a secret in “The Boy”, and thus retreat further from the Russian people, becoming increasingly paranoid and making ill-advised political decisions to preserve their privacy. Nicholas despatches the entire Baltic fleet to engage the Japanese, risking Russia’s staunch military reputation, while on the home front, the war continues to ravage the peasantry, whose discontent Nicholas devastatingly underestimates.
Bloody Sunday. That’s the name given to the events in St. Petersburg when a peaceful protest for better working conditions resulted in the deaths of several hundred, if not more than a thousand, innocent Russian workers. Nicholas, caught in a well-acted disagreement between Alexandra and his mother, fled the Winter Palace, leaving behind a regiment of troops with instructions to fire upon the protestors who got too close. They did, firing warning shots into the trees and accidentally killing children, leading to mass carnage. Imperial Russia’s Czarist autocracy would never recover.
Public outrage is seen to swell in “The Boy”, with revolutionary sentiment being stoked among the educated and massive workers’ strikes bringing Russia’s industrial centers to a halt. The people call for a Duma, an elected legislature, despite Nicholas’s determination to hold onto the monarchy. Sergei, a bloody-minded and highly dangerous adversary, is assassinated by the revolutionaries. While Nicholas is too afraid to even attend his funeral, Sergei’s widow visits the assassin in prison, further highlighting how ignorant Nicholas is of public feeling. He’s losing control of the country and also losing the war overseas — the entire Baltic fleet is eradicated in 40 minutes, further fostering discontent.
In desperation, The Last Czars Episode 2 sees Nicholas establish the Duma, a body nominated by a large electorate but that nonetheless holds no real political power. The Czar remains the autocrat and can overrule its decisions. The whole thing is for show, and meanwhile, Nicholas doubles down on hunting revolutionaries, which only encourages anti-establishment sentiment.
We see Gilliard meet the Romanov children in “The Boy”, and also return briefly to his investigation into the woman claiming to be Anastasia. She has been raped, attempted suicide, and birthed a child. In reality, Anastasia’s death has been conclusively proved. But The Last Czars might be running with the idea of her survival. On the subject of the survival of Romanov children, at the end of The Last Czars Episode 2, we see Alexei fall very ill. Finally, Rasputin is summoned.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.