The Crown: Moondust

Prince Philip: “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was expecting them to be giants, gods. In the end they were just three little men. Pale-faced, with colds.”

Prince Philip talks and talks.

Unlike many people here, I was alive during the first Moon landing. I was quite young, so my only real impression of it was my parents forcing my brother and me to stay up late so we could watch it on television. (I especially related to the little princes being dragged out of their beds for the same thing.) Anyway, to my young self, it was just a thing that happened, and I didn’t reflect on what came before or what followed. I only became aware of the American account of the Moon landing through movies and retrospectives. Watching how other people may have reacted to it – including people in other countries – was fascinating. I very much appreciated that part of the episode. It makes sense that Prince Philip, a pilot himself, is terribly moved. You feel how much he wants to be on that rocket. He is intrigued, too, when he learns that his wife was asked to send up a message, which she did.

Elizabeth and Philip go to church, and Philip thinks it’s a waste of time. Elizabeth – who, as the head of the Church of England, pretty much has to go – says she uses the time to take stock. Philip takes stock and says he’s not coming back (the old priest is rather doddering). His wife agrees with her husband’s assessment and arranges to get a new clergyman, choosing Dean Robin Woods. Woods approaches Prince Philip to ask for the use of a building, a place for priests going through middle-aged crises. Even though Prince Philip is not especially impressed by the needs of the clergy, he agrees.

Prince Philip is not happy. We see some of his discontent: training for polo; flying too high in an airplane; insulting middle-aged clergymen experiencing pretty much the same middle-aged discontent that he’s experiencing; and talking, and talking. His loquacity seems out of character (he even remarks on how strange it is). Many times the episode tells instead of shows, although showing inner discontent is rather hard to do. Few people actually respond to his many words, because, you know, he’s His Royal Highness, married to Her Majesty, and it’s not their place to speak bluntly to His Royal Highness. Besides, not only is what he saying embarrassing, most people (especially the younger ones) don’t know how to deal with a middle-aged crisis; each solution is different, depending to the individual, and how many people can understand the position of a prince?

The one thing that intrigues Prince Philip is the Moon landing. When he learns that the astronauts will be coming to Buckingham Palace, he petitions to have a few minutes alone with them. This is arranged.

Prince Philip’s conversations with the astronauts is awkward and odd. He wants them to restore his soul. But they cannot. They were just doing what they were supposed to do. So often that’s true when people do great things. They’re too busy to think, "Oh, I’m doing something wonderful and amazing!" No, they're generally concerned with aspects of survival.

The episode becomes charming – or less painful to watch – when the young astronauts start asking him questions, such as what it’s like to live in a palace. The discontented prince realizes they cannot help.

Finally Prince Philip goes to speak to the new church guy, Dean Woods, and admits he needs help. His mother died recently – we catch that in her empty room with the made bed and the lack of cigarette smoke – and even if a viewer somehow misses this, we're told in the next scene. Losing a parent, especially your last parent, brings you down, no matter how old you are. It makes you realize that in one sense there’s no one to ask for answers anymore, even theoretically, except yourself. However, some of her last words resonate with him: “You’ve lost your faith.” Those words are true; Prince Philip has lost his faith, not only in God, but in himself.

It turns our that giving the OK for a place for clergy experiencing mid-life crises turns out to be what mattered most. The episode tells us later that Prince Philip is especially pleased with his role in that; that it’s one of the things that has meant the most to him. And that’s how achievements often begin, without any clue to their future importance.

Queen Elizabeth’s role in all this is perfect. She knows she can’t be too overbearing in managing her husband – she never says “Get over it” as she might with Prince Charles – but she arranges for things to help him find his way. She is the one who finds Dean Woods (who ends up becoming a great friend for the prince); she is the one who approves the time alone with the astronauts; she is the one who understands that the astronauts have feet of clay, like the rest of us.

Title musings. “Moondust” is the title of the episode, and I love it. First, of course, is the literal meaning: the astronauts are landing in the dust of the moon, and one of their jobs is to collect a lot of dust and to bring it back to Earth. The word also evokes the idea of fairy dust – the magic that Prince Philip is looking for to give himself meaning. However, in the end it becomes mundane; dust is just dust, you know? In the end I remembered the phrase, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – the reminder that we are all mortal, and a very religious phrase too – suitable as Philip is making friends with men of faith.

Bits and pieces

This episode had fewer shots from the backs of people’s heads in this episode. I’m so glad they cut back on that bit of direction.

I understand that Neil Armstrong meant to say, “It’s one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind,” but he somehow dropped the “a”. Oh well. Perhaps phrases become more famous because of their imperfections, such as JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which, although uttered to show solidarity with the people walled in Berlin (and greatly appreciated by them) literally translates to “I am a jelly doughnut.”

Concrete, textiles, dental assistance – these may seem mundane, but they’re what Prince Philip has to encourage. They may not be trips to the Moon, but they matter.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” is from Psalm 8, verse 4.

I really liked the fact that all the astronauts had colds. That makes perfect sense. Who knows how long they were isolated and protected from germs while in training? And unsurprisingly, Britain has different viruses than the United States.

Quotes

Prince Philip: Why do we do this? Week in, week out. Like lemmings. What does it do for you?

Announcer: Man has landed on the Moon.

Prince Philip: Action is what defines us. Action, not suffering.

Prince Philip: Let me ask you this. Do you think those astronauts up there are catatonic, like you lot? Of course not. They are too busy achieving something spectacular.

Queen Elizabeth: They’ll spend the rest of their lives in goldfish bowls, scared to open their mouths, knowing it could reveal who they actually are and that it will inevitably disappoint. And for that, they deserve our pity.

Overall Rating

This is a hard episode to rate. There was too much soliloquy, or almost soliloquy, as Prince Philip unburdens himself to a pilot, to astronauts, to clergymen. Others were listening, but for the most part they said little (this is why you give heroes and villains sidekicks – so they don’t have to do soliloquies). Parts of it were painful to watch, but not in the “Oh god, the mountain of coal is going to wipe out all the children” sort of pain, but more in the “I can’t believe he’s going to say that to them” sort of embarrassment. Maybe I’m just emotionally squeamish.

Yet other parts really rang true. Often the things you become most proud of are things you started to do without much deliberation or awareness. The episode certainly got me thinking. I appreciated what it was trying to tell me, even if I didn’t always care for the execution. It reached for the moon, but we still got a lot of dust. Three out of four vials of moondust.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Much like the last episode with Prince Charles, this episode made me like Philip more.

I could definitely relate to how the moon landing affected him; I had a huge argument with a significant other once because I insisted on staying up most of the night to see a particular fly-by.

And Victoria, you're so right about how losing your parents makes you see things differently. I think of it as feeling that you've lost a significant barrier against death.

Victoria Grossack said...

Yes. I have a picture on my desk, taken when I was six, with many other members of my family. Now I am the oldest person in that picture still alive (although I am older than my brother by only a minute).

sunbunny said...

The scene between Philip and the astronauts made me cringe so hard. I like your Title Musings, Moondust really is as insignificant as Earth dust. I really struggled with this episode; I'm a little young for a mid life crisis and I really don't like Philip in general but I really enjoyed your review, thank you!