The sixth and final season of “The Crown” doesn’t waste any time getting to its main controversial event: Princess Diana’s death.
Part 1 of the final stretch of the Emmy-winning drama, a four-episode block now streaming on Netflix, kicks off with a man in Paris walking his dog near the infamous Pont de l’Alma bridge. The quiet night is interrupted by a car zooming past him, the sound of a crash and horns honking. The man calls emergency services, and says in French, “I think it’s serious.”
This distant glance at Princess Diana’s (Elizabeth Debicki) fatal 1997 car crash is surprisingly tasteful — but when the show circles back to this topic, it becomes ludicrous.
After that first scene, “The Crown” jumps back eight weeks, when we see Diana take moody teen Prince William (Rufus Kampa) and a childishly enthusiastic Prince Harry (Fflyn Edwards) on vacation in St-Tropez with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla).
However, Dodi’s manipulative father, Mohamed “Mou Mou” al-Fayed (Salim Daw), is portrayed like a soap-opera villain, asking his staff for updates on whether Dodi and the princess “are intimate” (a maid confirms that they sleep in “one room, one bed”).
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) is chilly and austere, Prince Philip (Jonathan Pryce) doesn’t have much to do, and Prince Charles (Dominic West) is concerned with making everyone — from the public to his mother — like his girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams).
In other words, same old, same old.
This part of the story is a snooze, and it feels like the show is just spinning its wheels until it gets to the good stuff. For better or for worse, the tragic end of Princess Diana’s life is the main event, and everything else feels like stalling.
(There’s also a focus on Dodi’s relationship with his father, which also feels like a distraction and is full of tired lines like Dodi asking his dad to “see me for who I am.”)
The third episode gets into Diana’s final night alive, and the show tiptoes around its raison d’être.
The crash itself is off-camera — the screen cuts to black, and Diana’s body isn’t shown on-screen (Dodi doesn’t get that same consideration, as his corpse is shown in the morgue).
The sound cuts out when a palace staffer informs Charles, Elizabeth and Philip about Diana’s death (when Charles breaks down in tears), and again when Charles tells the news to William and Harry.
You can practically hear series creator Peter Morgan patting himself on the back for being “sensitive.”
There are some impactful moments of drama and quiet emotion — the doctors tear up in the hospital when it becomes clear they can’t save Diana; the palace staffer clutches his stomach before breaking the news to Charles and the queen.
But “The Crown” goes off the rails into melodrama, with some other moments such as Charles loudly wailing alone by the sea.
And, there’s Diana’s “ghost.” In the fourth episode, after Diana’s death, her likeness appears to Charles and the queen.
When Charles flies back to England after weeping over her body in the Paris hospital (only his face is shown), Diana appears on the seat across from him (bizarrely opening with, “Ta-da!”) and thanks him for how he was around her corpse: “So raw, broken. And handsome. I’ll take that with me. You know, I loved you so much … So painfully, too. That’s over now. It will be easier for everyone with me gone. Admit it, you had that thought already.” He assures her that he only feels regret about her death.
When her “ghost” appears to the monarch, Elizabeth tells Diana, “I hope you’re happy now. You finally succeeded in turning me and this house upside down,” and Diana replies, “That was never my intention.”
She explains to the queen, who is watching mourners on the news, “They’re trying to show you who they are, what they feel, what they need.”
These scenes feel cheesy at best.
At worst, they feel in poor taste, like the show is using Diana to do some heavy-handed moralizing about what everyone should think about her relationships with Charles and the queen.
It undercuts all the walking on eggshells that the show did before it, instead reducing Princess Diana to the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Part 1 of Season 6 of “The Crown” consists of four episodes, now streaming. Part 2 premieres Dec. 14.