Tuesday, December 3, 2019

They went (only) so far : The Crown, S3 E7 Moondust [Media Notes 24]

The episode is framed by Apollo 11’s lunar landing. Was it profound?

Not in any message one might distill from it, such messages would be as empty as those that Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins offered Prince Philip in a private audience in Buckingham Palace. But perhaps in the flow of it.

Philip is feeling dissatisfied in his middle age. He’d wanted a life of adventure. Instead, he got a life of protocol. The new Rector uses an unoccupied house on one of the royal estates to establish a retreat house for priests seeking to revivify their faith. Philip is asked to speak with the first cohort and, as they tell him why they’ve come to this retreat, he gets restless and ridicules them. “Action, that’s what you need, action” – not an exact quote, but the spirit of the thing is there.

And then he watches the moon landing in the palace surrounded by family – and (liveried) servants, of course. When Philip learns that the astronauts are being toured about the world and that they’ve been offered to the British royals he’s eager to see them, even requests a private audience. Just him and the astronauts, pilot to pilot(s).

The meeting doesn’t meet his expectations. At all. As they tell banal anecdotes and give pedestrian answers to his questions, and Philip realizes that they are not going to give him whatever it is he doesn’t even know how to ask of them, we’re thinking of those disaffected priests Philip had ridiculed. One wonders whether or not their spiritual seeking is what Philip wanted from these engineer/pilots, but not so much the seeking as the having found it and now overflowing with it. But it’s not there.

He shares his disappointment with his wife, the Queen. She understands. Those astronauts didn’t ask for this. Now they’ll be on public display the rest of their lives. She knows what THAT’s about. In an earlier episode she’d revealed that she’d have been much happier breeding and riding horses.

And so the episode closes on Philip once again talking with the priests, this time apologizing for having ridiculed them. And asking for their help.

Very nicely turned.

* * * * *

This episode bares comparing with a post from last year, First Man and our capacity for experience.


  1. Thanks for this, Bill. That scene with the clergy and astronauts is very powerful.

    Okay. If "religion" fails to offer the sense of mystery and wonder, and "science" in the form of going to the moon (dust, mainly, as if a reminder of "ashes to azshes and dust to dust" unfortunately) doesn't assuage the quest to "meaning" either, something we might term "imagination" or "spirituality" -- perhaps falling somewhere between the two, or in triangulation with a meditative "peace", might still do the trick. Anyway, that's the direction my own "quest" / "questioning" is leading me in..

    I'll be very interested to see if the next coronation, assuming there will be one, will manage that blend of orchestrated mystery and glory which has been the tradition since (at least) the time when Handel wrote "Zadok the Priest" for the coronation of George II.

    -- Charles

    1. Yes, it was a powerful episode. But, given that we are seeing an enactment of real lives, I can't help but wonder what really happened in those meetings, with the priests, and with the astronauts. Did you happen to see First Man, which was a depiction of the moon landing? In that film Neil Armstrong drop the infant identity bracelet of his (recently) deceased daughter into a crevice on the moon. It seems to me that that event had the spiritual depth that Philip was seeking, though not necessarily the valence he wanted. Was the Neil Armstrong he talked with in the interview THAT man? After, all that's not the sort of thing you are likely to share with a stranger, even a royal stranger.

      But is that a query about life, or art, or the intersection of the two?