Fact vs Fiction: The Great season 2 episode 3, Alone at Last

The Great
Phoebe Fox, Elle Fanning and Belinda Bromilow in 'The Great' (Image credit: Hulu)

This post contains spoilers for The Great season 2 episode 3, "Alone at Last."

The third episode of The Great opens with Catherine uttering an expletive upon waking and she spends the majority of “Alone at Last” trying to punch the emotions back into her heart. It has been more than four months since she sacrificed Leo (Sebastian De Souza) and she is haunted by dreams that suggest how she could’ve saved him. Rather than confront her pain, Catherine wants to forge ahead with plans to breathe new enlightened life into Russia, but the wheel of progress is not spinning quick enough for the empress.

Love and truffle season are on the mind of Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) as he continues his ill-advised attempts to woo Catherine. Unfortunately, his impulsive violent actions at the end of the second episode ensure his relatively easy imprisonment shifts gear. His wife is furious with him for another senseless killing and orders the guards to beat him before she banishes everyone from his apartment. Being left alone is not something Peter responds well to, and this punishment is no doubt tied to his role in killing Leo. When Catherine finally relents and gives him the chance to join the truffle hunt, his blunt comments about her part in Leo’s death are ill-timed. Catherine storms off with his new truffle-hunting dog and her sorrow turns into anger. 

At the end of the Season 2 premiere, Peter gave Catherine Leo’s decapitated head and until this point, she was holding out hope he had survived. Peter professes his love, but his lack of empathy and breezy attitude toward murder is going to be a sticking point — and the potential other suitors waiting in the wings.   

We are going to separate fact from fiction in the second season of The Great. This episode-by-episode guide continues with the truth behind Catherine’s broken heart in “Alone at Last” and her voracious love life.  

Is Count Leo Voronsky based on a real person?

Sebastian De Souza and Elle Fanning in The Great

Sebastian De Souza and Elle Fanning in 'The Great' (Image credit: Ollie Upton/Hulu)

No, he was not. This is a common fictitious thread among the majority of the supporting cast on The Great

In the first season when carnal relations between Peter and Catherine are at a low, Peter gifted his wife a man with impressive physical attributes. At this point, Peter had no sentimental attachment to his bride and Leo would be her plaything (as he had many). A real attraction developed between the pair and Leo’s romantic streak and thirst for knowledge made him an ideal partner. “I never thought being doomed would feel so pleasant,” Leo observed when he realized their love affair was never going to have a happy ending. 

When Peter started falling for Catherine it was only going to result in Leo’s imminent death. Seeing Leo gift Catherine a ring set the plan in motion and Catherine’s ultimate choice between Russia and Leo only had one outcome.

In reality, Catherine did have a string of lovers, though none died in this violent manner during the coup. The other major difference is Peter did not consent to these affairs, as each one was top secret. Catherine had elaborate methods of sneaking out to rendezvous with the likes of Sergei Saltykov (who is rumored to be Paul’s father). However, it is unlikely that Leo is the father of her unborn child as his sterile status (due to mumps as a child) is noted when he is introduced.   

Who was Catherine in a relationship with at the time of the coup?

Elle Fanning in The Great

Elle Fanning in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

When Catherine discusses losing Leo, Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow) is optimistic when she observes “First love is good, but I also recommend twenty-first.” 

Catherine didn’t hit this number but she had a dozen lovers in her lifetime. At the time of the coup, she was engaged in a liaison with Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov. Orlov and his four brothers were instrumental in the plot to overthrow Peter (and his suspicious death). Several months before Catherine rose to power she had a child with Orlov. Peter was unaware of this event. 

It is also notable that on the day of the coup in 1762 when she rode between thousands of men (estimated somewhere between 14,000 and 20,000) she met Grigory Potemkin who is considered the most important man in her life — although they didn’t become romantically involved until 1774. The loose adaptation has not introduced Orlov and it is unclear whether he or Potemkin will make an appearance.    

Is it Russian to suffer?

Elle Fanning in The Great

Elle Fanning in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

“To cry is very Russian,” Leo told Catherine when she couldn’t stop her tears in season 1 episode 4, and yet she has been doing everything in her power to stop the waterworks. Punching herself in the face has temporarily stopped this raw emotion from springing forth, but when she finds herself in the clearing where she last saw her great love the floodgates open. 

When Marial (Phoebe Fox) and Elizabeth discover Catherine in the middle of the woods they offer comfort. “I am very, very sad,” she admits. Elizabeth reminds her “the dream is just a wish” and not a solution she could’ve come up with at the time. She broke her own heart for this country and Elizabeth adds that she will “suffer for it, shed bitter tears for it and yet live anyway” as this emblematic of this nation.

“Today, I am very Russian,” Catherine admits and this sentiment is one that runs throughout the series — particularly when it comes to love. “The most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything,” said Fyodor Dostoevsky in A Writer's Diary, and the idea of the “Russian Soul” is derived from his work. The novelist wasn't born until 1821, but Catherine’s love of art would likely have included the acclaimed writer and his concept of Russian identity.    

The Great season 2 is available to stream (in its entirety) on Hulu in the US. In the UK episodes air weekly on Channel 4 in the UK.

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Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.