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The final season opens with the death of Princess Diana

Season 6 of “The Crown” begins in Paris, the city where Princess Diana died. It’s night and the sidewalks are empty except for a man walking his dog near the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Suddenly a Mercedes flies by. He is followed by several motorcycles. A crash can be heard, followed by a distant car horn, which is then subtly blended into the notes of the show’s opening title track.

It’s an unexpectedly elegant choice from a show that favors the more straightforwardly pedestrian, creatively and thematically. The first four episodes of the final season, which Netflix will release in two parts, focus on the beginning of that fateful moment in the summer of 1997.

core community Season 5 Returning: Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth, Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip, Dominic West as Prince Charles, Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Fayed, and Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana, who will spend much of her final summer as a guest on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Dodi’s father is Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw).

Last season, series creator Peter Morgan laid the groundwork for Mohammed’s penchant for royal intimacy. Now with Diana’s divorce from Charles, Mohamed sees an opportunity and urges his son to take action. If Dodi marries Diana, his prestige and influence will elevate the family.

Despite Mohamed’s hopes, this turns out to be little more than a summer fling between two wealthy jet-setters. It starts out in relative privacy, but that fades away when the paparazzi take photos of them together. This is where Morgan speculates extremely complexly: What if Muhammad had been the giver of the information?

Then Morgan takes this even further. What if, after the couple stopped in Paris, Mohammed’s constant interference led to further aggravation of the hungry press and their deaths? Diana’s concerns that Mohammed was spying on her and had a bugging device on the yacht are missing (a detail her sister elaborates on). testified during the investigation). But the father-son dynamic is grippingly suspenseful, and Abdalla is particularly good as a spineless, useless man at the mercy of a controlling father. How controlling is he? We see a portrait made to make him look like a pharaoh; Perhaps Morgan is making a sly reference to the media by frequently referring to Al-Fayed as a “fake pharaoh.”

From left to right: Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana and Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Fayed in Season 6 of “The Crown.”

Dodi is the perpetual disappointment who wastes his father’s money, and Diana makes her case clear while dining privately at the Ritz in Paris just hours before the accident. For a show that spends an odd amount of time reducing its narrative to phone calls, there’s one scene that’s finally allowed to breathe. There’s an intricate dance between these two, and Morgan imagines Diana handling it with real skill and empathy.

Morgan finally captured the events depicted in the 2006 film “The Queen,” which follows the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death, when the hitherto unaware Queen Elizabeth had to be persuaded to perform a public display of mourning. .

If you’re wondering if he finds a way to repeat himself, Morgan more or less shrugs and replays most of it. But he’s not interested in Tony Blair anymore.

In the film, Blair provided the necessary counterweight; his continued bewilderment at the family’s baroque dysfunction is a commentary in itself. This perhaps explains why the show has always felt so narratively loose and self-serious.

The series tends to view the royal family as if they were trapped in a gilded cage, rather than as deeply eccentric people who can and should be held accountable for their choices. They all suffer from arrested development, their trauma wrapped in Bubble Wrap. But “The Crown” has nothing to say about the corruption from which they all benefit and which is perpetuated by the monarchy itself. Like “succession,” it criticizes individuals, but not the systems those individuals impose and exploit.

Imelda Staunton stars as Queen Elizabeth in Season 6 of “The Crown.”

The subtext of the film is that it is a farce for the royal family to co-exist with an elected government. The TV series was an exercise in walking many of these back. There were some changes in the movie. Morgan doesn’t seem ready for this anymore.

The remaining episodes will premiere next month and will feature British royals, including Charles and Camilla’s wedding (the next step in Charles’s obsessive focus on “Camilla’s campaign for legitimacy,” as he calls it) as well as Charles’ early days will follow his family into 2005. The relationship between Prince William and his future wife Kate Middleton.

Morgan spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about Mohamed Al-Fayed’s marriage plan. It’s fair to wonder if Kate sees her mother, Carole Middleton, in a similar light. As parents, they are mirror images of each other. This irony is seductive enough to finally give the series something meaty to sink its teeth into.

Will Morgan go there? Only time will tell.

“The Crown” Season 6 – 2.5 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: netflix

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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