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The Crown Recap: Living in the Madness

I was a college junior on August 30, 1997, when my carefree evening was quickly replaced by constant Netscape refreshes on my Mac desktop, well into the early hours of August 31. So as someone who vividly remembers the night Princess Diana died, I’m not going to lie — watching an incredibly tense episode detailing her final 24 hours was hard.

But since The Crown couldn’t avoid covering this watershed media moment, I appreciate what this episode achieved. “Dis-Moi Oui” illustrates the real tragedy of Diana’s death, beyond the well-trod territory of the intoxicated driver and relentless paparazzi: For someone who had fought tooth and nail to regain her freedom, Diana wound up with zero control over the last day of her life.

The episode opens with a sharp portrayal of how doomed the relationship between Diana and Dodi Fayed would have been, even if the two of them had lived. While still vacationing on the Jonikal near Monte Carlo, Diana chats on the phone with Susie Orbach, her real-life psychotherapist, revealing that she’s souring on the romance. The press won’t leave them alone, and Dodi wrote her a sappy, mediocre poem engraved on a silver plaque. Yeesh. The therapist-friend advises Diana to stop “living in the madness” and to get the **** away from a family with such an “unhealthy dynamic.” Weirdly enough, she’s not talking about the royals.

As bad as that sounds, Dodi’s phone convo with his father is much, much worse. Mohamed is pressuring Dodi to propose marriage to Diana after knowing her for, what? Two months? Everything Mohamed says here is just red flag after red flag, promising Dodi that if he marries the Princess of Wales, he will “finally be my equal,” and worthy of becoming his father’s business partner. Dodi is downright pathetic here because he’s actually open to this emotionally manipulative idea.

Diana, however, takes Susie’s words to heart and agrees to return to London ASAP. What happens over the next 24 hours, The Crown theorizes, is that Diana’s attempts to take charge of her life were thwarted by a greedy businessman, his ineffectual son, and the merciless paparazzi.

Following the credits, Dodi and Diana head into Monte Carlo for some shopping and ice cream, but even this kind of basic fun is impossible when you’re the Princess of Wales. As soon as Diana is recognized, the couple seeks refuge in a jewelry store, where Diana looks like she’s about to have a panic attack — the first of many throughout the episode. To get her mind off the chaos, Dodi asks if she fancies anything in the store, and she points at a gold and diamond ring advertisement with the slogan “Dis-moi oui” (“Say yes to me”). Just in time for a crowd of fangirls to start banging on the jewelry store window and for the paparazzi to follow suit.

Once Diana and Dodi return to the Jonikal, she announces that the summer’s over. Princes William and Harry are coming back from Balmoral, so it’s time to go home. Dodi doesn’t want her flying commercial (understandable, because, crowds, hassle, photographers), but the only way Diana can take the private jet is to ask Mohamed’s permission — because Dodi doesn’t have any money of his own. Groan.

And that, according to The Crown, is why Diana had to go to Paris for one night: While asking to take the jet, Dodi lies to Mohamed and says Diana chose a ring. Except now Mohamed is demanding proof, so Dodi promises he can get the ring at the store’s Paris location. The more he lies, the more he screws himself, and Diana, over: Mohamed won’t let them have the jet unless they stop in Paris to procure the ring and get engaged. Sarene proceeds to scream into a pillow.

From the moment Diana and Dodi land in Paris, the stress is incessant. Never mind that I can’t breathe during these scenes — what Diana lived through was nothing short of a nightmare. Between Mohamed puppet-mastering the couple’s every move, and the paparazzi swarming them from every angle on motorcycles, they have no control over their lives or movements. First Dodi insists on being driven to his apartment, but the driver says Mohamed counter-insists they stop at Villa Windsor first.

So Diana and Dodi arrive at Villa Windsor, and Diana is not pleased about this change in plan because she has a phone appointment with her sons she can’t miss. (And we’re super-stressed about that phone call because we know it’s the last conversation she’ll ever have with William and Harry.) But the giant kicker? Mohamed isn’t even there at Villa Windsor to greet them! He calls them instead and gives Diana a creepy speech about how the Duke of Windsor’s former home is a gift to her and Dodi to “fill up with their love and happiness.”

Diana isn’t having any of this: Because Dodi is incapable of standing up to his father, the princess smoothly rejects Mohamed’s offer and hangs up the phone. Just in time for her to notice a disturbing portrait of Mohamed as an ancient Egyptian pharaoh …

The couple is then taken to the Ritz hotel (also owned by Mohamed — sensing a pattern here?), but between the Paris traffic and the paps smacking the car windows, it’s no wonder Diana spends the rest of this episode staving off panic attacks.

Thanks to the Villa Windsor detour, Diana is now too late for her scheduled phone call with her sons. While she tries to calm herself by wrapping a birthday present for Harry, Dodi heads out to buy the Dis-Moi Oui ring.

Diana and Dodi eventually brave another swarm of paparazzi to go to his apartment, where she is, at least, able to speak with William and Harry – and more importantly, provide some clarity on the state of her relationship. It is beyond clear that the boys don’t like Dodi (Harry calls him “the poser”). So they ask their mother, point blank, if she’s going to marry him (because it’s all over the papers, obvs). She assures them she is not getting engaged to Dodi, but the question forces her to reassess her behavior over the past couple of months. William notices something is up in her voice, and she says she’s okay – even though we know she’s not. “Don’t really understand how I ended up here,” she says. Yeah, I get that.

“Mummy just needs to make some changes in her life, that’s all.” If only she got that chance.

As evening falls, Diana remains trapped in a permanent state of claustrophobia. Dodi tries to take her to a restaurant, but the paparazzi render this plan impossible, forcing the couple to return to the Ritz. But there is no peace there either. At the hotel’s restaurant, Diana can’t ignore the stares; certainly not one from a little girl. Elizabeth Debicki is superb here, showcasing Diana’s efforts to prevent another anxiety attack by constantly turning her head and keeping her hand over her mouth, but soon enough, the emotions overtake her. Diana starts sobbing silently, necessitating an escape upstairs into a suite.

Then, Dodi, winning the award for Dude Who Can’t Read a Room, makes a feeble marriage proposal with the Dis-Moi Oui ring. But Diana, finally displaying growth and maturity after two painful seasons of being treated like the royal family’s oddball cousin, shuts it all down.

This scene in the Ritz suite is one of the many behind-closed-doors moments of The Crown where Peter Morgan has no choice but to make several creative decisions based on the facts at hand. The only two people who were in that hotel room that night are both dead, so while there is confirmation that Dodi bought the Dis-Moi Oui ring, did he actually propose? And did Diana say yes? We will never know for sure, but the only person who continued to insist that the couple got engaged following their deaths was Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Do I wish that Diana’s makeshift therapy session with Dodi was what really happened on the last night of her life? Of course I do. After learning the extremely hard way that even marriage to a prince isn’t always a fairy tale, Diana drops some wisdom nuggets onto her ******* paramour: “Just because the world wants you to get married, doesn’t mean you should.” Also, this isn’t some romance for the ages — it was a summer fling. Oh, right, and don’t marry someone because you think it will make Daddy love you more. Lastly, stop obeying your father’s every command and take charge of your own life because you’re ****** 42, for chrissake!

When Mohamed inevitably calls Dodi’s mobile phone and asks if he’s closed the deal (because that’s all Diana is, a commodity), Diana encourages Dodi to tell his father the truth. But have we seen any indication that Dodi is capable of such a self-reliant gesture? Absolutely not. He informs his father that he and the princess have come to an agreement — then, he secretly ends the call but proceeds to give a remarkable, confident speech for Diana to hear, where he tells his dad to go scratch. It’s a cowardly move, and if you look closely at Elizabeth Debicki’s face, she’s playing the scene as Diana being sad and disappointed, not proud. It’s just a shame Dodi never had the ***** to give that speech for real.

What’s also a shame is Dodi and Diana’s refusal to heed the advice of their security team. When Diana says she’d prefer to spend the night at Dodi’s apartment, Dodi ignores his bodyguard’s recommendation that they stay put due to the paparazzi. Now their driver, Henri Paul, who thought he was off-duty for the rest of the night, has been called back into service, leaving two empty glasses on the bar in his wake.

As Diana and Dodi wait for their car in the hotel’s back hallway, The Crown gives them the most satisfying ending possible: Dodi confesses he hung up on his dad, and Diana, as evidenced by her ****** expression upstairs, admits that she knew all along. Probably because Dodi and Mohamed’s conversations are always in Arabic, and Dodi’s “speech” was in English.

Then, the camera cuts to the Parisian man from episode one walking his dog. This, paired with a shot of Prince William unable to sleep — and a shot of Diana and Dodi in the car, grasping hands, Thelma and Louise-style — is just too much. We know what’s going to happen, but we hope, through some freak of time or nature, that it won’t.

But it does.

Crown Jewels

• I noticed the gaming console Diana wrapped for Prince Harry in advance of his birthday was changed from an Xbox (an inaccurate claim from Harry’s memoir, Spare) to a period-correct Playstation.

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