History arrives much sooner than we expected on the fourth episode of Marie Antoinette, as the young Dauphin and Dauphine officially become King and Queen of France. It's an elevation that it is immediately apparent neither of them is ready for, given that this is also the episode in which we see the duo bumblingly attempt (and fail) to have sex for the first time. But destiny waits for no one, and all the problems they two were hoping would work themselves out with time suddenly feel much more immediate than before.
That the event happens almost immediately following the pair's first public triumph is particularly disheartening, as — awkward failure at marital consummation aside — "Queen of France" is the first installment of the series that shows us either of the young royals experiencing anything like fun or joy. The episode opens with the two flirting adorably and plotting a late-night bedchamber visit to try royal babymaking before they head off for a private lunch date (complete with smooching!) on the grounds of the Petit Trianon. Everyone at court (except Provence and his acidic new wife, Josephine) seems relieved to see the royal couple finally getting along. They have certainly come a long way from the days when Louis ran away from the room when he accidentally locked eyes with his wife!
Things are going so well for them that King Louis has decided it's time for the people of France to meet their hot young future heirs, and the date of their first public appearance together in Paris is set. The best part of this is the way that everyone at court acts as though Louis and Antoinette are about to embark on some perilous journey to a far-off land instead of getting in a literal gold carriage to go what is maybe ten miles into one of the wealthiest and most famous cities in the world, but, hey, the French are nothing if not dramatic.
There's a certain amount of dramatic license at work in this episode — the real Antoinette and Louis had been married for three years by the time of their first public appearance in Paris and for four when King Louis XV died in May of 1774. But, there's certainly something to be said for the way that crisis inevitably brings people together and the way the young monarchs instinctively turn to one another in both their anxiety over their Parisian debut and their worry over the king's fading health is incredibly sweet. Teamwork making the dream work, y'all.
DAlthoughit's incredibly obvious that these are just two teenagers who have no idea what they're doing, Marie Antoinette does an excellent job of showing us glimpses of the people they'll one day grow up to be. It probably shouldn't surprise us that the moment Antoinette finally learns to wield her strength as a future queen revolves around fashion. Determined to look great for her first big public outing, she refuses to wear the frumpy horror Madame Etiquette recommends and bullies Madame du Barry's stylist into switchings sides to create her first official royal look. Antoinette even designs most of it herself. Honestly, what can't this woman do?
And, of course, she's right. Her dress is immaculate; her vibes are perfect. She looks every inch a future queen of France, young and fresh and beautifully modern. Antoinette may not understand the intricacies of court, but man, does she get people and what they expect to see when they look at her. Emilia Schule perfectly captures the Dauphine's shy triumph on the balcony of the Tuileries Palace as she waves to a crowd of tens of thousands of rapturous onlookers. (In real life, their visit encompassed much more than the show depicts, including a tour of Notre Dame, the then-Church of Sainte-Geneviève, and a grand banquet with many guests.)
Nothing gold can stay, however. Their Parisian success is almost immediately undercut by the announcement that Provence and Josephine are expecting their first child, putting even more pressure on the heir to the throne to produce an heir of his own. This doesn't help Antoinette and Louis perform any better regarding the technical details of doing so. (You wish these poor kids just had access to Google.)
King Louis, visibly weakened from his earlier sickness, is shoring up contingency plans for the future. He's giving his grandson lectures on how to rule in his absence and declaring his plans to marry Madame du Barry to shield her from the fallout of his death. It's wildly unlikely that this ever actually happened — everyone involved in this relationship was painfully aware of the short shelf-life granted to favorites whose royal lovers were dead, no matter how powerful they believed themselves to be. (Unfortunately for du Barry, she would ultimately be guillotined by the Jacobins as a symbol of the old regime, even though she had left court decades before the French Revolution.)
This episode's strange compression of time means that the events surrounding King Louis's death are murky and confusing. He ultimately contracts smallpox despite his fainting and subsequent wasting sickness throughout the episode's first half. He dies with much of his family kept from visiting his deathbed for fear of infection. The visual depiction of his illness is suitably gruesome. Although Antoinette's visit almost certainly did not happen, the pair's final moment together, in which she promises to care for Louis, is a lovely coda to their occasionally rocky relationship. (Sexual harassment, bad; horseback riding lessons, good!)
Though it's a bit disappointing to see Marie Antoinette rushing to put its titular character on the throne — I don't think many of us would have minded a few more episodes focused on her adjusting to life at court and learning to navigate relationships with its various members — it makes a certain amount of sense that the show would conclude the season's first half with this big moment.
Much of the rest of this run of episodes will likely involve the fallout from King Louis' death, from the inevitable way the French court will reshape itself around its new leaders to the increased pressure the newly crowned royal pair will face in producing an heir as quickly as possible. (And since history tells us they have a few more years of disappointments ahead of them on that front, there is plenty of drama to mine around that particular failure.)
But how will Antoinette and Louis adapt to their new roles, and how will their newfound power impact their relationship? That remains to be seen.