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HBOWatch Watches THE REGIME

by Jef Dinsmore
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This posting looks at episodes 2 through 6 of Kate Winslet’s latest limited series. Have you been watching? The premiere was covered already so, let’s explore the rest of the story. 

–Episode # 2 – “The Foundling”

TheRegime_Pic2-300x199The second installment is three weeks later. Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts) has gained the Chancellor’s ear since he saved her life and aids her in holistic remedies leaving her much healthier. Her relationship with him grows as her relationship with the U. S. falters after the stalemate regarding cobalt production occurred. She, Elena, (Kate Winslet) barely hears her ministers as they brief her on the matters and her husband Nicolas (Guillaume Gallienne) must endure watching her get mustard plasters from her new confidante and seeing her increasingly enjoying Zubak’s attention. All that absurdity is before the opening credits. 

One night after Nicolas puts an exhausted Elena to bed he races downstairs to meet with the ministers. They are trying to identify and route out Zubak, who has Elena practically in the cup of his hands. All of this could play as heavy-handed drama but under the writing of Will Tracey and the direction of Stephen Frears each scene plays out more absurdly than expected; still with dry humor in place. They hope Zubak is just another passing infatuation but can they risk it? He is influencing the Chancellor far more than they are and they can’t have it. Just what will their strategies be? They must dig deeper. The Palace Manager Agnes (Andrea Riseborough) awakening Zubak early the next day discovers that he is into self-harm; he beats and cuts himself. She looks after his inflictions.

TheRegime_Pic3-300x288The episode shifts plot for the second half as U. S. Senator Holt  (the wonderful Martha Plimpton) pays a visit. She came overseas to bolster the relationship between America and the regime since the cobalt deal iced over. She and Winslet have a great scene. Holt’s playing card? Pushing for Elena’s country to become a NATO country. The Chancellor wasn’t buying any of it and Zubak ended up putting some uncomfortable pressure on the good Senator, causing her to flee in fear. 

The Chancellor now feels empowered thanks to Zubak; they gave America the heave-ho and there is no stopping them now. But the ministers come up with a plot to have Elena become tired of him. If Zubak were to become more famous & adored far more than the Chancellor she would tire of him and let him go. They concoct the notion that he is descended from royal lines; that Zubak is from the lineage of The Foundling, he who established their beloved country. Will their ploy work?

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Yes, it sounds a bit absurd, but that is the nature of THE REGIME. Just embrace the notion as crazed as it is and run with it for this is how this little series works. 

Episode # 3 – “The Heros’ Banquet”

They’ve created a monster in Herbert Zubak! It is two months later in this episode. The palace is full of Zuback’s trusted guards as no one is to be trusted and Elena has just entrusted the handling of the latest Cabinet meeting to Zubak, much to the shock of the ministers. The Foundling’s heir has decreed that a new land reform policy of giving rich elite lands over to the working class must be executed. When there was a hint of dissent he bullied them down. It seems the Cabinent’s scheme is not playing out well at all. And all that happens before the title credits. 

TheRegime_Pic5-300x216The ministers have not given up as they put another clever ploy into play. The Chancellor is told in her daily briefings that she and Zubak’s plan to isolate their little spot on the map is quite successful. No one is paying her little regime any attention; the American media is not paying her any concern or heed in the slightest and that notion seems to hurt her ego as it means she is not a strong player on the world stage.  

The ploy does seem to be working a bit. Elena is beginning to see that not all things are going the way she hoped, that Zubak is forceful & controlling things too strongly. Zubak has suggested that her husband, Nicolas should not sleep in the same bed as her; he admonishes Agnes too harshly and that he has altered her deceased father’s birthday by having commoners to the feast as opposed to a formal state dinner. Plus, he has helped himself to give the official toast. He even wants the Chancellor to confess to filling her coffers with the unjustly gained funds from her people. She learns that far too much is now out of her control. 

TheRegime_Pic7-300x149Now the Chancellor, from time to time, enters the sanctum where father’s corpse resides in a glass coffin. She goes there to talk to him. After all that went down at his birthday festivities, she went to his side once again, and this time he spoke back to her. That certainly caused me to jump! He admonished her as [and I quote] a “vapid, feckless political whore with no principles. A comic figure, bereft of vision, easily ruled. All tits and no spine.” He tells her, “to be bold for once in your hollow little life, seize the mantle of history.” Of course, it was all a nightmare but it just might be the words she needed to hear to fix the mess she was in.

TheRegime_Pic6-300x274Let’s just say she takes the bull by the balls and proceeds with her own plan to bring the annexed region of her regime back into the fold. You can’t repurpose the land if you don’t have it all back as a whole reunified nation. Zubak is thusly appointed to head that task, yet no one knows what sort of retaliation such tactics might bring. This bold measure has the world stage all abuzz! And the Cabinet’s plot, in a roundabout way, works. 

There is far more interplay and dynamics to it all and the relationship between Elena & Herbert has become quite complex. They started off sharing a dream, but don’t any longer; they started off aloof, then attuned, and then not so much of either. They flirt until they don’t. It is quite interesting to observe. In the end, the Chancellor gains control; Zubak falls out of favor and the regime, and THE REGIME rolls on.

Episode # 4 – “Midnight Feast”

TheRegime_Pic8-300x200It is four months later and Zubak is in prison, the Chancellor acts like she is in control and the regime is in an agreement with China for the cobalt trade. We are very much in a state of wonderment about how the odd little relationship at the heart of THE REGIME unfolds going forward and what fine mess he will try to pull her out of once they are on speaking terms once again. That is bound to happen, right? 

Well, not anytime soon because Zubak is slowly going mad listening to The Chancellor’s radio broadcast to the people on a daily basis. He can’t stand the sound of her voice. And Elena cannot stand the sweltering heat; she says it is like “laying in a camel’s asshole.” However, to keep up with the absurdities this series throws at us, the rest of the palace is freezing. And they hide their coats and chattering jaws around her. What, off The Butcher’s old folk remedies, are you?  

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Finally, Hugh Grant appears. He is in the role of Edward Keplinger, the former chancellor who was ousted seven years earlier and has since been held prisoner in a cell located beneath the palace. He makes Zubak’s acquaintance during their incarceration. While there are economic woes and civil strife above, there is good conversation but not a solid friendship forming. Eddie tells Zubak during their midnight feasts down in the bowels of the palace that he should just forget Elena. Eddie posits that he has read through the propaganda she spews in her daily messages that she is stumbling and failing and that he & Zubak should just bide their time and watch her regime crumble. 

TheRegime_Pic10-300x228We know Eddie is not wrong in his assessment. The Chancellor has held a live televised Q & A session with the children of the heartland and it devolves into a classic meltdown for her, including a healthy nosebleed. She flees to the dungeons, but why? Is she out to seek advice from Zubak? No, she goes to Eddie instead. She is scared of the fact she is not rallying her people and that protests are mounting. Eddie calls her out on it before she can admit it, and she calls the whole thing off leaving Eddie to be beaten up by the guards. Elena finally does heed the advice of someone though, her husband Nicky. He tells her she is far too distant from the people, that she needs to understand them and go among them and see how they live and what struggles they face firsthand. 

All that does, as can be expected, is escalate the debacle. And then the most absurd sequence of THE REGIME plays out and we are left just scratching our heads. Mr. Laskin, Minister of Security, (Danny Webb) brings Herbert Zubak back out of prison as he seems to be the right solution to the problem! Huh? Sort of a lame way to get Zubak & Elena back face-to-face. The episode ends with them starting to make love as Laskin escorts Nicky out of the room.

Episode # 5 – “All Ye Faithful”   

Amid escalating violence, Elena remains determined to stay in the palace at all costs and do so with the one person she is bound to, which is Herbert Zubak. Surely, her advisors will have something to say about that. And whatever, they say must be a bigger plan than the ones they’ve used before. 

TheRegime_Pic11-263x300We find the story now six months later and Elena, Herbert, and Oskar are a happy little family at Christmas time with blessings of “Happy Noel” to all on their lips. Agnes is attending to them as they try their best to ignore the bombing and aircraft overpowering the sounds of Christmas. Agnes is doing her best by putting on a strong front for the staff who are waiting for the palace to be bombarded or a coup to run the gates. But she has in her back pocket an outside source, possibly U. S. counterintelligence, who is trying to sway her loyalties via phone messages for any inside intel. That means a safe out for her & Oskar, but she hasn’t taken the bait quite yet.

Of course, the Chancellor is not listening to reasoning. A tense scene, with a bit of silliness thrown in naturally, plays out in which the ministers spell out the dangers of the rebel’s advancement, the dire stresses to her beloved people, and the anger brewing against her. With a brash rebuttal from Zubak, the ministers are silenced. But Christmas Eve rolls around and they are all surviving. Though Zubak and Elena seem to be stumbling; they hate the gifts they receive from the other and Elena looks longingly at a Yuletide message from her husband who we discover is away on a ‘medical leave’ to the Swiss Alps. Agnes’ big gift to Oskar is to take him away to France! She took the offer. Will they succeed, however, is the question. 

TheRegime_Pic12-300x200The Christmas gift the ministers give themselves is the notion that the only recourse is to oust the Chancellor from office before it is all too late for the regime. If they can pin a medical issue upon her, say, psychiatric episodes, after all, they are watching her televised Christmas special while they are under civil war, then they can remove her from power. But the rebels claim territory first. Taking over State T.V. they claim political control But, Elena throws the biggest wrench into the whole thing when she announces she will resign as Chancellor and appoint the logical successor to the role – the Foundling Heir himself, Herbert Zubak! 

You’d think that would be the concluding scene of the episode but it is not. Elena starts to waver in her resolve once before the camera for her social media declaration. But the rebels make a palace breach and Elena must flee for safety. But it all ends shockingly – By the episode’s end we have not seen Elena able to escape the besieged palace; Oskar is left behind and poor Agnes cannot get to him, as she lies on a marble floor bleeding out due to gunfire. Happy *fucking* Noel!          

 Episode # 6 “Don’t Yet Rejoice” 

Here we go with our look at the Series Finale of THE REGIME. How does Chancellor Elena Vernham survive? I think it safe to say she does in some form or fashion but how does she and who does she keep close to in the end? Oh, and she’s just Elena now, she lost her government. She and Zubak were last seen sneaking TheRegime_Pic13-300x163through the tunnels under the palace. At the opening of this final episode, we see them climbing out of an escape hatch a few fields away from the palace. Zubak is so much in soldier mode and forces Elena to calm down and follow him. But there is no plan until she comes up with one – to find a phone and call Nicky in Switzerland who would surely arrange for their retrieval. They hold up in one of Nicky’s poetry centers with no chance of a phone or at least not yet. Is Nicky their only hope? 

After almost being discovered there they move on. They stop an olden drunken sot named Tomas in his old TheRegime_Pic15-300x208jalopy and hitch a ride to hopefully find an operable phone. All mobile service has been cut, but perhaps a landline was still functional. Tomas gets them to his apartment dwelling and lures them to a phone only to lock them behind a strong security door Tomas calls his cousin in Security Services and it proves to be Mr Laskin, who is working for the rebels! Mr, Laskin has great moments here as he separates Elena from Zubak. He reads Elena her offenses against the State and he breaks down Zubak by telling him how Elena used and humiliated him and broke down his people, the working class, right in front of him. Laskin posits that Zubak could renounce her publicly and save himself, full well knowing that would likely break down Elena enough to face her fate. Zubak’s disloyalty and betrayal would be the nail in her coffin.

At the halfway point in this episode, one just has to wonder if and how anyone walks away from this tale. Well, Laskin isn’t done. He is brilliantly seizing the day. He tells Elena that Zubak has betrayed her and there is nothing left for her to do but confess her crimes to her beloved people over the television, a spotlight she may not be able to resist. And she doesn’t, but another twist plays out. Man, have I lost track of how many of TheRegime_Pic16-300x234those there have been! Laskin is stopped short as he tries to move her to a new location to broadcast her confession when loyalists or was it Americans overtake him and his small squad. Elena is rescued as an armored van whisks her away. She briefly meets back up with Zubak just so she knows he is alive and that he did not betray her. Awaiting her in a haven is Emil Bartok (Stanley Townsend), the top businessman from earlier episodes. He is now a key player as a Loyalist in bed with the Americans, namely Judith Holt. Do you remember her, Plimpton’s character? It seems to Bartok that Elena’s only out is a shift of allegiances to America’s interests. Only one catch, now she is asked to ditch Zubak; she is asked to betray him. Trust & betrayal is a fine line these two dance on and it rears again. 

If you have stuck with this examination of this wonderfully absurd and odd tale, you’ll know it is quite a shame not to reveal the closing moments. Let’s just say a heartfelt discussion between our two leading players had to happen. Elena stresses how she needed Zubak and cherished every moment with him but it was time for them to sleep & dream. Were they giving up? Zubak’s dream seemed to indicate that he would be killed, a common dream for him over the past year. Elena seemed to dream that she was happy, healthy, and in charge; in the palace once again with a loving Nicky by her side. In conclusion, I’ll say that it dawned on us in the last seconds of THE PALACE that those moments were reality.

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Gasp! THE PALACE isn’t for everyone’s sensibilities and there were moments that didn’t quite gel, but in the end, it was a winner for Kate Winslet. If you read this far, you just might agree.

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