Recap of ‘Mary & George’ Episode 5: ‘The City of Gold’

Mary and George

The Golden City

Season 1

Episode 5

Editorial review

4 stars

Photo: Starz

Look, you can’t do a sexy gay history show and suddenly drop us into a random room with a guy we’ve never seen before talking to another newbie about the Spanish and a fight we also have no idea about. These men don’t even kiss. Would I want that? Probably not, but it would be better than their inscrutable conversation, which is followed by the other being stabbed in a particularly violent manner.

We eventually discover that Man No. 1 is Sir Walter Raleigh (the stabbing, not the stabbing). That’s right, the Sir Walter Raleigh of the Elizabethan era! Here he is 66 and just returned from Guyana, where he was looking for El Dorado. Okay! On the way there he attacked the Spanish, even though he specifically promised not to (there is a peace treaty). Now the Spanish ambassador, Count Gondomar, is angry and demands the banishment or execution of Raleigh.

The show is pretty explicit about Raleigh and his men attacking first, though it’s apparently more complicated than that (Raleigh doesn’t seem to have been there?), and Raleigh comes across as a real jerk here. His real goal in the episode, however, is for George to come into his own and wield real political power through James. Even though I found the plot of Raleigh boring, I’m mostly angry that I was expected to tell Gondomar and Raleigh apart. They’re both new characters! They both have beards! When Gondomar came in, I thought, “Ah, I see the crossed man from the boat has cleaned himself.” Then they brought in Raleigh, and I had to go all the way back to the beginning of the episode to verify that he was in fact a statuesque skipper. It doesn’t help that this episode felt particularly dimly lit. So it’s just bearded men in the shadows.

But about the characters we know and love: Mary takes a leap into the world. James buys her a house in London and creates her Countess of Buckingham, telling the court to “smash your fat palms before the great star in our firmament.” Overall, this week’s episode was a bit of a letdown since the rest of the show was so solid, but “smash your fat small palms” was a highlight. Mary has plans, which I probably don’t even need to mention right now. Of course she has plans. What would she do differently? Sit somewhere, enjoy life?

Mary wants George to marry Katherine Manners, the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, mainly (only) because she is extremely wealthy. This works out great for Katherine, aka Katie, because she thinks George is super cute. Her father isn’t into it and neither is George, so both obstacles must be overcome. Mary also remains determined that John’s marriage to Frances will work, even though Frances is messing around in court and John has proven himself capable of extreme violence and in need of help. I disagree, Mary. Neither does Sandie, who, after helping Frances through an abortion, demands that Mary release Frances or Sandie will leave. Lesbian love wins again and Frances can leave.

Meanwhile, George becomes completely full of himself, despite his often proven incompetence. Mary encourages him to put himself forward, and although that does win him a seat on the Privy Council (NICE), he immediately ruins it by acting like an idiot. Literally, the first thing he judges is Raleigh and the way he brought them to the brink of war with Spain. Raleigh goes to George because he sees that he is a soft target, and he is everything. ‘I was so close to finding El Dorado, but here I am, back in England. My son died in this battle against the Spanish, and his dying wish was definitely that I go back and look for more golden cities that I had in mind. George says “SOLD” and everyone on the council is extremely ashamed of him. James is furious and it takes some time before George gets back into good graces. Now Britain is even closer to war with Spain, damn it, George.

Speaking of James, we’ll be seeing his son Charles for a few more! Hello, Karel! Charles will eventually become a failed king, but for now he is a grumpy youth who hates George. To be honest, he thinks Queen Anne is dying and that James doesn’t care but only cares about George. Not great of James, if true. Anne is coughing ominously, so that doesn’t bode well for her. But when Mary speaks to her, we get some good information about her husband. Mary wants to know how she can get closer to James, and Anne lets slip that James was raised by men in a world of men, and that women don’t really matter to him. Interesting.

Mary isn’t sure how to follow through with this ‘George marries the Earl of Rutland’s daughter’ idea, but her daughter Susan, it turns out, has plans too. Susan’s plans include marrying a baronet’s son, which cannot happen until they have Katie Manners’ money for a dowry, so Susan forges a letter from John asking George to visit, after which the servants Locking George in a bedroom with Katie. This is cowardly behavior, but then again, George is very annoying. I like Katie too, so I approve. Katie says if they spend one night together, her father will have to maintain a marriage. She tells George that she knows who he is and that she’s fine with it, which he can’t guarantee about anyone else. Otherwise, she’ll have to marry a rando of her father’s choosing, which doesn’t sound fun. Katie also tells him that everyone is making fun of how quickly he gave in to the Privy Council for Raleigh. Celebrate for you, Katie! I hope we see more of her in the final episodes and that she continues to be funny and have a personality. Not that this show is afraid of women with personalities.

George returns to court after agreeing to marry Katie, and he goes to see if James has forgiven him yet. He encourages James to think for himself. George’s later conversation with Bacon suggests that this was a manipulation tactic, but it really seems like George is sincerely telling James that he should finally trust his own advice and not do what everyone else demands of him. James wants peace with Spain, so what does he do? Well, Raleigh is being executed. This really makes The People angry, but the Spanish happy, so here we are. Raleigh tells a nervous executioner to strike, which is apparently real. There is an apocryphal story that his wife, Elizabeth Throckmorton, carried his embalmed head with her for the rest of her life, but that’s 99.5 percent untrue. Still a nice story!

Bacon tells George that Mary and Sandie killed a man, and George is then very rude to both of them. After he leaves, Mary says that if George doesn’t bow down, it means war. Exciting! Does Mary still have actual power over George? How can they go to war when he has the king’s support? I think she has plans and plots on her side and he just makes sulking and stupid decisions, but still! I’m really looking forward to our last few episodes.