Fact vs Fiction: The Great season 2 episode 5, Animal Instincts

The Great season 2
Sacha Dhawan, Douglas Hodge, Elle Fanning and Anthony Welsh in 'The Great' (Image credit: Hulu)

This post contains spoilers for The Great season 2 episode 5, "Animal Instincts."

Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) coup took months to plan and execute in The Great, but the hard part has occurred in the episodes that followed this victory. Changing the attitudes of a nation is far from easy and even though her claim to the throne has been widely supported it is going to take a lot more than a striking sartorial statement to have a long-lasting impact. “Animal Instincts” points to how easily the court reverts to old attitudes and is easily manipulated by powerful figureheads — who are not Catherine.

The role of the church, and particularly the Patriarch (Adam Godley) — also referred to as Archie — has caused friction regarding Catherine’s intended plans, which comes to a head in episode 5. Archie is lucky he is alive as Orlo (Sacha Dhawan) has been harboring revenge fantasies, but Catherine knows his survival will help to maintain stability during the potentially fraught time. In “The Devil’s Lunch,” he apologizes for the way he behaved during their first-ever meeting and as a sign of his contrition cuts his finger off. This extreme gesture is Archie’s way of starting fresh. However, Catherine is not ready to forgive and forget, so the religious leader chooses a blackmail tactic in “Animal Instincts.”

The source of his discontent lies in Catherine’s choice to allow multiple faiths to be worshipped and Archie uses a crocodile (yes, a crocodile) at his disposal to force the hand of the new czarina because he knows this court is used to being ruled by fear. 

We'll separate fact from fiction in the second season of The Great. This episode-by-episode guide continues with a brief history of Catherine’s relationship with the church and how this plays out in “Animal Instincts.” Plus, whether Peter actually had lookalikes. 

Did Catherine battle with the Orthodox Church?

Adam Godley and Elle Fanning in The Great

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

During her coronation at the end of “Dickhead,” Catherine announces support for religious freedom and the ability to practice faith outside of the Orthodox Church. It is this statement that Archie wants the empress to recant, using the crocodile to force her hand. It isn’t all unpleasant threats as he promises he can introduce her to God with the aid of magic mushrooms. Archie’s direct line with the almighty is how he exerts power and pushes forward his agenda with his influential position as a spiritual advisor, and his secret method offers an enlightening moment. As with the majority of the regular characters, Archie is not based on one specific person in Catherine's court.

In reality, Catherine converted to the Russian Orthodox Church when she married Peter III and observed its rituals without complaint. However, Peter was less taken by these practices and his flagrant disregard for Orthodox rules meant he alienated what could’ve been a useful ally during his short reign. He also caused further outrage when he ordered the clergy to dress like Protestants in north Germany (including shaving their beards) and took away any iconography that didn’t depict Jesus (and therefore reducing their riches). This move away from secularization prompted the clergy’s support of Catherine as they believed she would restore the landscape to the way it was. Strategically, the czarina did revoke Peter’s decrees, but she did outlaw the Orthodox Church’s mission to convert Muslims from other countries and she supported religious freedom.

Did people think crocodiles were demons?

Belinda Bromilow in The Great

Belinda Bromilow in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

Archie had manipulated Peter (Nicholas Hoult) to do his bidding via these so-called visions, but that isn’t the only tool at his disposal. Using a crocodile proves fruitful to his current predicament because it exploits how reason quickly disappears when fear is heightened. The reptile is viewed with terror as this animal is not native to Russia and most people who witness this being in “Animal Instincts” don’t think to consult a scientific book to ascertain what it is. Witnesses also exaggerate its features: some claim it has wings and others believe it is a demon. Despite using logic to catch the crocodile and dismissing the notion that it is a bad omen — thanks to Archie complying — the animal meets a violent end thanks to a good old-fashioned mob mentality. 

While there is no evidence that a crocodile was used in Catherine’s court in this manner, there are theories that the story of Saint George slaying a dragon is based on an incident with a crocodile. Considering the prehistoric look of this animal it is not surprising if people thought this animal was a dragon or a demon. 

Did Peter III have lookalikes?

Nicholas Hoult and Belinda Bromilow in The Great

Nicholas Hoult and Belinda Bromilow in 'The Great' (Image credit: Gareth Gatrell/Hulu)

The Peter lookalikes have varying degrees of likeness (including one actually played by Hoult) and allow Peter to test the boundaries of the palace and escape the confines of his plush captivity so he can engage in pursuits like hunting. However, the reality is even more outlandish than the version portrayed in The Great

Despite Peter’s body being placed in public for two days at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery after his death in 1762, conspiracy theories bloomed and some were convinced the real Peter was alive and imprisoned.

Twelve years later when a returning Don Cossack by the name of Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev crossed from Poland into Imperial Russia it was noted how much he resembled the deceased Peter III. Pugachev posed as Catherine’s late husband and led a rebellion known as the Peasants’ War (or Cossacks Rebellion) that lasted between 1773 and 1775; he was far more successful against Catherine than Peter ever was. Catherine was ultimately victorious but it was the largest peasant revolt in the Russian Empire.  

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.

More The Great Fact vs Fiction

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.