“The Cinderella Thing” gets off to a rollicking start, but there’s an off-putting amount of stuff crammed into this single episode.
This recap of the 2023 Netflix series The Diplomat Season 1 Episode 1, “The Cinderella Thing”, contains spoilers.
The Diplomat begins with an international crisis. A British Navy vessel, the HMS Courageous, is attacked off the coast of Iran, causing the deaths of British sailors and sending the boat drifting in the direction of the coast.
Every character in “The Cinderella Thing” – and there are many – moves in response to this crisis. But the entire premiere rockets along with the same kind of urgency. It’s a flurry of introductions and setup for later payoffs, introducing major players on both sides of the Atlantic and a ton of competing agendas in a 50-minute runtime that feels like five minutes.
The Diplomat Season 1 Episode 1 Recap
Let’s try and round all this up into something coherent.
Why is Katherine Wyler really sent to England?
So, in response to the sinking of the HMS Courageous, presumably by Iran, the U.S. President, Rayburn, and his Chief of Staff, Billie, call Katherine Wyler to the White House for a meeting. She’s an ambassador working under Secretary of State Miguel Ganon and was supposed to be in Kabul, but Rayburn wants her to go to England and play nice with the British establishment since it seems very much like the vessel was attacked in retaliation for U.S. foreign policy.
However, before Kate arrives, Billie calls her Deputy Chief of Mission, Stuart Hayford, to tell him the real reason why Kate is being sent there. She’s being groomed as a potential Vice President.
For context, President Rayburn is old and, it seems, a little gung-ho. Billie has spent years working on developing a Vice President to replace him, but something has gone wrong there, and the current VP will be taking a leave of absence and subsequently resigning.
Very few people know about this. But one of them is Kate’s husband, Hal, also a very successful – and in his case quite famous and notorious – U.S. ambassador. He arrives in England with Kate, ostensibly to help her find her feet, though she openly despises his methods, connections, attitude, and public persona.
What’s going on with Kate and Hal’s marriage?
It’s obvious immediately that something is amiss with Kate and Hal. They have an easy familiarity, but no intimacy. At first, it seems they simply disagree on methods, and it’s strongly implied that Hal’s work has previously embarrassed Kate’s boss, Ganon, and the current U.S. establishment.
When Kate and Hal arrive at Winfield House, though, an absurdly posh estate with a “residence manager” named Frances Munning, Kate inquires about whether the sheets are on the bed in the guest suite. Hayford doesn’t get the implication of this initially, but the penny drops later when Kate mentions offhandedly that Hal won’t be sticking around – they sleep in separate beds.
As it happens, Kate and Hal are getting divorced. However, Hal is adamant that this won’t happen and that he’ll win her back, and he’s similarly adamant that his presence is totally necessary to ensure she passes the “test” for the Vice Presidency. Hal is extremely charismatic, a little smug, and, it seems, famously difficult, but he also seems to be aware of how American political power ought to work, dropping such gems to Hayford when he confronts him about the divorce as “Nobody with the temperament to win a campaign should be in charge of anything,” and “no one who likes power should have it.”
In other words, Kate needs to prove she should be the Vice President without ever knowing that she’s doing so – whether she wants the position or not.
Why does Ganon want to have Kate removed?
One gets the sense that Kate wouldn’t want the position at all. She’s entirely focused on creating real change – she makes several calls throughout the episode to Kabul, worried that talking about “women’s healthcare” is minimizing the atrocities going on there – and outright despises the idea of “the Cinderella thing”, which is what Hal describes her whistle-stop tour of London as.
The point is to play nice. She’s to dress up, visit the Foreign Office, sit in on meetings, lay memorial wreaths, and do a photo shoot for British Vogue in which she climbs into a horse-drawn carriage like a princess. The episode is structured around her itinerary, but virtually every stop goes wrong.
Kate can’t officially do anything until she has presented her credentials to the Foreign Office and the monarchy. However, when she meets the Foreign Secretary, Austin Dennison, she’s immediately pulled before Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge, who is concerned that Rayburn is going to give a crazy public statement decrying Iran before it has been comprehensively proved they were involved.
The British government wants Kate to talk down the U.S. government, but Ganon, believing Hal is pulling the strings, is deliberately dragging his feet in getting Kate’s credentials approved so he has an excuse to remove her from the position.
When Eidra Park, the CIA Chief of Station at Embassy London, tells Hayford about Ganon slow-rolling Kate’s credentials, he tells her. So, she decides to lean into the Cinderella thing to make herself an overnight media darling, making it harder for Ganon to oust her.
The Diplomat Season 1 Episode 1 Ending Explained
So, Kate does the photoshoot for British Vogue. She dresses up and poses for pictures. It’s during all this formality that all the details about Kate’s failing marriage emerge, not that the press would ever know. Kate and Hal make a smart couple. Kate looks like a princess, and the British establishment love those.
But something sinister is afoot! Quietly, without anyone noticing, Hal is drugged and taken away in the back of a car while Kate smiles for the cameras.
You can stream 2023 series The Diplomat Season 1 Episode 1, “The Cinderella Thing” exclusively on Netflix.