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'The Great' stages a royal return for season two: Here's what we know so far

"The Great," Hulu's ahistoric series about Catherine the Great, is headed into a second season of sex, bloodshed and sarcasm. Here's what we know so far.
/ Source: TMRW

Get out your vodka, corsets and giant wigs, everyone: "The Great" is coming back to Hulu for a second season on Nov. 19.

"The Great," which lightly covers the rise to power and reign of one Catherine the Great of Russia, spent its first season as a great big romp, full of sexual exploits, power struggles and a formerly innocent girl's realization that she does not love her husband, Emperor Peter III of Russia — and that he should not be running the country.

Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great in "The Great"Gareth Gatrell / Hulu

Instead, she should!

A new trailer dropped in early August, revealing the couple at their warring best, with Catherine (Elle Fanning) pregnant and Peter (Nicholas Hoult) unabashedly shooting people in the hallways.

As fans of season one know, you do not watch "The Great" for its historical accuracy (the show itself often notes that this an "occasionally true story"). So let's catch up with this alternate, very skewed version of Russian history, to see what we need to be prepared for on Nov. 19.

Catherine (Fanning) with baby bump and Peter (Nicholas Hoult).Gareth Gatrell / Hulu

Who are Catherine and Peter?

In "The Great," Catherine — who is not even Russian — arrives in court with stars in her eyes and romance in her bosom. She then meets the great boor Peter III, her husband-to-be, who's keeping his late mom mummified in a glass case. (It brings new meaning to "mummy issues.") After giving his fiancee a bear as a gift, things go downhill from there: Catherine wants to educate women, Peter burns down the school she builds. Peter bans beards for men under 50. Catherine tries to escape in a trunk and fails, then sets about figuring out how to murder her husband so she can ascend to the throne — but she has assistance from unlikely quarters.

In "The Great," Catherine (Fanning) has unlikely friends who are sometimes betrayers in Marial (Phoebe Fox, left) and Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow).Gareth Gatrell / Hulu

Who are our secondary characters?

There's Count Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), a pal of Peter's who Catherine tries to convince to kill him. He declines, but joins forces with Catherine.

Peter brings Catherine a lover in Leo Voronsky (Sebastian de Souza), and she has a friend in her chambermaid, former aristocracy brought low, Marial (Phoebe Fox). Ivan (Charlie Price), Peter's half brother, could have a claim to the throne with Peter out of the way, but Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow) murders him to ensure Catherine has a clear way to the throne.

Peter (Hoult), here with Velementov (Douglas Hodge), is not entirely out of the picture in the second season.Gareth Gatrell / Hulu

Where did we leave off at the end of the first season?

Neither Catherine nor Peter have succeeded in offing one another, so Catherine decides to stage a coup. She's now expecting a baby, too. Marial, irritated that Catherine ordered the archbishop's death, flips and goes to Peter's side, revealing the conspiracy to remove him. Peter, who has imprisoned Leo, says Catherine needs to get her side to stand down or he'll kill her lover. Catherine makes the decision (with a little help from Voltaire) that Leo is a sacrifice she'll have to make to get control of the country.

So is Peter dead now?

Since he's in the trailer and some great newly released photos from season two, it's a safe bet that the answer to that is nyet.

Where are we going from here?

As Entertainment Tonight reports, Catherine does take the throne, but liberating a country that isn't interested in liberation is much harder than staging a coup. She's up against her court, her team and even her mom (Gillian Anderson) while she tries to bring the Enlightenment to Russia.

Catherine (Fanning) and Peter (Hoult) in "The Great." They just can't seem to quit each other.Gareth Gatrell / Hulu

Meanwhile, Peter is changing from her nemesis-husband into something else. What's next isn't clear. But, the summary notes, "Catherine will learn that to change a country, you must let it change you, that there is a fine line between idealism and delusion, and that becoming 'Great' will ask more of her than she could have imagined."

How much of this actually happened?

Without going too deep into Russian history ... yes, there was a Catherine the Great, who started out as Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, the daughter of a Prussian prince, explains History.com. After she converted to Orthodox Christianity, she became Ekaterina, or Catherine.

The unhappy marriage between Catherine and Peter led to extramarital affairs, and after she gave birth to Paul in 1754, rumor had it that a Russian military officer was the father. As for her other three children, their fathers were also in question.

Catherine did take over from Peter, but the coup was bloodless; six months after he became czar in 1762, he abdicated and she took over. Only a few weeks later he died, possibly killed by Alexi Orlov, the brother of Catherine's lover Gregory.

Over the years she faced many uprisings, including taking on armed Cossacks and peasants in 1773. But she ended up ruling until 1796, dying of a stroke. Of course, her enemies started kicking out all kinds of rumors to smear her name, including that she died on the toilet or while having intercourse with a horse (an incident referenced in the show).

While we know the real history, we'll have to watch the show to see what happens in their interpretation on "The Great."

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