Dear Readers: Where we left off, Xenia Godunova was supposed to get hitched to Prince Charming of Denmark, but then he keeled over unexpectedly and is in a coma. But don’t throw those bridesmaid dresses away just yet! A different wedding: Nechai and Sofia tie the knot, with Ileika as the best man, Tsarevna Xenia as the maid of honor, and the Clown as the Ring-bearer.
In other news, I AM OFFICIALLY IN LOVE with actress Alexandra Nikiforova, who portrays Sofia. The sexiest of all the “Godunov girls”, Alex is super-gorgeous, and I found her bio, such as it is, on American imdb. She was born in Sebastopol, RUSSIA, in 1993. Aside from her role in Godunov, in her filmography she has also portrayed a detective!
But back to the show, and her wedding to Nechai, who is clearly not good enough for her, being on the run from the law and a murderer and bandit and all… Still, he is a sort of a superhero, with super-human strength, and that always comes in handy during Times of Troubles.
It’s one of those “secret weddings”, like Romeo and Juliet. Ilya and Xenia make eyes at each other, as if to say, “I hope we’re next.” They all but catch the wedding bouquet. Their love is doomed, of course. Or is it? After the ceremony Nechai and Sofia spend their wedding night and consummate their lust under a tree in the forest. They are interrupted by the Clown, who urges Nechai to flee: The coppers are on their trail!
Back in the palace kitchen, Xenia and Ilya are sharing a moment, as he quotes to her from the latest Shakespeare play. (Ilya knows English, as well as Russian and Danish.) Annoying Kid Brother Fyodor interrupts their flirting, but he approves that his sister is learning something about European Literature. The sibs are summoned to the throne room to face Papa. They learn the horrible news: that the Great Dane Prince Charming has died of the plague. Xenia is not quite as cut up about this, as she was expected to be. Mom, as always hyper-critical of her daughter, notices that Xen has not dropped a single tear. She suspects that her daughter loves somebody else [hint: It’s Ileika!] and roughly interrogates Fyodor, but the lad won’t rat out his sister. Boris orders his wife to let it drop. It isn’t often that he puts the pants on in this family, but when he does, it’s all for the good. Masha Skuratova can be a real harrigan, sometimes.
Subtitle: The Estate of Prince Wiszniewietski
Grisha Otrepiev is coughing his lungs out [don’t worry, he’s only pretending to be sick] while crashing on the sofa of a Lithuanian Prince. The resident Jesuit monk asks him if he would like to convert to the “true faith” (=Catholicism) on his deathbed. Grisha “confesses” to the Priest that his true name is Dmitry Ivanovich, and that he is the Tsarevich. As “proof”, he shows off the coin that Xenia once tossed to him, and which he still wears around his neck like a talisman. The priest is revolted by him, but promises to go and tell Pan Wiszniewietski about his unusual claim.
Back at the men’s monastery, Fyodor Romanov is practicing his boxing and wrestling skills again, this time on his fellow monks. The Director of the Monastery summons him into his office, to give him a lecture about violence in the workplace. “Only a humbled soul can find peace,” he lectures this man, who clearly cannot control his violent temper. As punishment for beating up the other monks, Romanov will be sent to live in the woods with a hermit and a bear.
Back in the Kremlin, Fyodor is taking fencing lessons from Ilya. Careful, boys, you could take an eye out! Next comes the Geography lesson. Fyodor is a keen student, and is eager to open a Window to Europe. Once again, one regrets, for the sake of Russian history, that he did not become the Tsar for more than, like, a couple of days… Tsar Boris enters the chamber, and Fyodor shows off his new maps to Papa. Just like in the Pushkin play. Boris orders Ilya to return to Denmark and find another Prince Charming for Xenia. Once he accomplishes this mission, Boris adds with a knowing glance, Ilya should stay in Denmark as the appointed Ambassador. Check and Mate. Boris hands Ilya a portrait of Xenia that he can peddle around the Danish capital.
As a loyal brother, Fyodor arranges one last tearful meeting between his sister and Ilya. Their love is doomed, and everybody knows it. They rendezvous in the kitchen. Ilya informs Xenia that his job is to find her a Danish husband. She would prefer a Danish pastry. He sarcastically asks what is her preference, blonde or dark, etc? They will never see each other again; or so they think. They kiss passionately, then Xenia runs away, crying.
Fedya And the Bear
Fyodor Romanov is on his disciplinary walk-about through the Russian forest. He meets the one-eyed hermit with the bear, but neither will speak a word to him. Romanov sets his sleeping bag down.
We re-encounter Pronka and his large family. One of the choir-boys who used to study under Kapellmeister Grisha Otrepiev, sings a sad dirge while the Pronka family bury still another bairn who died of hunger. Take note of this singing boy, he will play a big role in a future (and extremely disturbing) scene in a later episode. Mrs. Pronka gives the boy a coin for his song, but he would have preferred something to eat.
Pronka goes to the marketplace. At the very same market, coincidentally, is Sofia, who thinks she sees Nechai. (She didn’t.) As she runs after him, Pronka hears some woman screaming “Nechai!” and his ears prick up. Recall that it was Pronka, the rat-fink, who got Nechai into this whole mess from the beginning, by denouncing him to the cops. Pronka’s conscience bothers him, as well it should.
Speak of the devil: We encounter Nechai again, but not in the marketplace. He and the Skomorokh are learning to survive in the woods. With the Clown’s ability to quack like a duck, and Nechai’s skill in crafting a bow and arrow, they are able to bring down a succulent poultry for dinner. With the duck on the spit they are happy campers. But their meal is interrupted by a gang of Russian forest robbers carrying baseball bats: Razboiniki! Superhero Nechai engages the gang, who conveniently come at him one at a time, and he defeats them all. After the fight, they all become friends and share the duck.
A political discussion ensues around the campfire. Nechai shares that he used to serve the Tsar as a loyal Musketeer, but then turned against the Tyrant. The Robber Chief shares that the “legitimate ruler” has appeared among them, none other than Tsarevich Dmitry, back from the dead. Dmitry has put out the word that he is gathering troops to take the Kremlin. (Soros is paying the bill, of course.) All agree it might be a good way to earn some cash, if nothing else.
Treason Is Afoot!
Moscow. Prince Shuisky is sneakily meeting with his Polish guest, Prince Mniszek. They gossip about Boris, his numerous ailments, he is not a well man. The Pole is all crushed up about the fact that the Russian people are suffering from hunger. Boo hoo! Mniszek has been following the Russian political situation very closely. He knows that the Russian people blame their woes on the Tsar, God’s punishment for their ruler’s sins, blah blah. He slyly brings up the rumor he heard, namely that Tsarevich Dmitry is maybe still alive? And wouldn’t you know it, Pan Wisniewietski is sheltering the young Imposter there, at his Livonian estate! Or somebody claiming to be him… The plot thickens.
Next we meet Mniszek’s beautiful but evil daughter, Princess Marina. She is, in Shakespeare’s words, “A piece of work”. As they travel to Wiszniewietski’s estate to meet up with “Dmitry Ivanovich”, Papa and daughter plot relentlessly, how to seize the Russian throne. Papa tells Marina that she is to marry the Pretender. Marina is not happy, she heard a (true) rumor that the Pretender is physically repulsive.
Speak of the devil: Now we are in Grisha’s chamber as he tries on his fancy new Polish outfit and practices sitting on the throne. With his knife he spears an apple and prepares to eat it. Just then the servant bursts in and announces the arrival of Pani Marina. Despite their mutual contempt, the two young folks soon hit it off and become friends. They even find a sort of vulgar attraction in one another.
In the throne room, the Consigliere delivers the bad news to Boris. People are saying that King Sigismund of Poland has already recognized False Dmitry and appointed him Grand Prince of Muscovy.
Shuisky’s greenhouse. While Marina was on her way to meet the Pretender, Papa Mniszek found his way to Shuisky’s estate, where they can continue conspiring incessantly. The crafty Pole works on Shuisky’s sin of Pride: See, Godunov’s family were merchant-class nobodies who used to sell furs, whereas Shuisky stems from the highest nobility ever. “The time has come to introduce a new ruler,” Mniszek announces. Having planted that treasonous seed, busy-bee Mniszek hustles off to the Kremlin to meet with Tsar Boris.
Speaking of whom, the Godunov household is under a lot of stress right now, and Boris has to restrain his wife from murdering the kitchen staff. Masha is turning into Lady Mac-Scottish-Person before our very eyes, and just lashing out at everybody. She is terrified that the boyars will murder her son, and her terror is making her go mad. (Maybe also guilt, ’cause, remember, the writers of this series stipulated that she ordered child Dmitry’s death.)
The Mniszek pair, Papa and Daughter, ride in their pimped-up carriage, gloating over their successes in this glorious Russian adventure. Soon they can return to Kraków and report to King Sigismund. Who will organize a huge wedding for Marina right there in the Polish capital. “No,” says Marina suddenly. She doesn’t want to get married in Kraków. She wants her wedding to take place in Moscow! As properly becomes a Russian Tsaritsa.
Back in the forest, the one-eyed hermit is taking a stroll with his bear behind, while Fyodor Romanov gathers sticks for the fire. Unbeknownst to him, in the female monastery, wife Xenia Romanova is very ill (albeit still beautiful). Turns out, she is living in the exact same convent as Maria Nagaya (mother of the real Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich).
In this TV series, the men age and their beards get long and grey, which is why I can’t even tell them apart any more; but the women stay youthful and fresh. Although they can also be hard to tell apart, because their hairdos are completely covered in medieval headgear. An embittered Maria Nagaya is jealous because Xenia’s son (Michael) is still alive, albeit in hiding; whereas her own son (Dmitry) is dead. Suddenly oprichniki burst into the convent unexpectedly and demand that Nagaya come with them back to Moscow. The former Tsaritsa threatens to burn them with a candle, until they share with her, that her son Dmitry has (allegedly) come back to life. She faints and drops the candle. They drag her out. Xenia Romanova bribes one of the guards to tell her the truth: Whether her husband and son are still alive? The guard shares that her hubby is a monk now, is alive and well; and that her son is alive and being cared for by the Hegumen. Whew! What a relief for the suffering woman!
Fyodor Romanov brings his bundle of sticks to the Hermit’s hovel. It is time for his first Anger Management Training Session, as mandated by the Bishop. For the first time, the Hermit actually speaks to him. Turns out, they have met before – what are the odds! Turns out, they were past enemies during Maliuta Skuratov’s campaign against the city of Novgorod. The Hermit mentions the town of Torzhok; that is, presumably, where he lost his eye in the battle. After that horrible experience, for years he dreamed of vengeance; until he finally found closure and peace by accepting Christ as his savior and moving into the woods with his bear. Quenchless anger and rage are an intolerable burden for any man to bear. Or any bear to bear, for that matter.
The Hermit’s final advice to Fyodor Romanov: “Be grateful that God left you alive. Beg for forgiveness. Pray that God will show you the right path. Be obedient to God’s will.”
Tsar Boris has an audience with Prince Mniszech. Bishop Varlaam is present as well, to add his two cents that Grisha Otrepiev is no Tsarevich Dmitry. Mniszek assures the Tsar that King Sigismund has nothing to do with this hideous Pretender and considers himself to be Godunov’s “partner” and kingly brother. He would never dream of violating their peace treaty. Yeah, right. Don’t worry, Mniszek assures the Tsar, they will apprend the Pretender and send him back to Moscow in chains. Haha – never trust a lying Pole!
After the two-faced liar leaves the room, Varlaam apologizes to Boris for having initially trained and curated Grishka: “I couldn’t see him for what he was. He had me fooled.” Boris shrugs. What can you do?
After this meeting, the Tsar makes his daily, painful, gouty climb up the Bell Tower. He prays to God: “Please don’t punish my people just because I am a bad person. Don’t take it out on them, I implore you!” God responds with silence, as per usual.
[to be continued]