The big‘s metaphorical chess match between Catherine and Peter in the Season 2 finale is based on a lie: Peter slept with Catherine’s mother Joanna and intentionally killed her because he would do things like that.
While the Russian Emperor has murdered for pleasure in the past, we saw in Episode 8 that Joanna’s death was, to put it bluntly, a “f–king and fall out of a window” accident. Showrunner Tony McNamara says writers have come up with numerous ways to let Joanna die, including car suffocation, before landing on her surprising fall from the top floor.
“We were trying to find a way to let her die — because we knew she had to die — and make it.” kind of Peter’s fault, but not really,” McNamara told TVLine. “How can it be [that] he’s kinda complicit in it, but he didn’t actually kill her? There were a lot of ideas about how she dies, but in the end going out the window seemed funny and pretty good.”
Peter is immediately blamed for Joanna’s death and for the first time we see him grappling with guilt for his role in the incident.
“He knows it will be painful for Catherine and it was a bad idea. It’s part of this season’s struggle for who he is with as a person, and whether he can be a better person,” explains McNamara. “It’s one of those times in the season where he thinks, ‘Oh, maybe I can’t do it,’ and that’s something he has to struggle with.”
Peter’s role in Joanna’s death shattered any hope Catherine had that he would change for the better, propelling her forward with the plan to kill him once and for all. In the final scene of the season, she put down a bait assuming it was Peter, and immediately caved in over her husband’s presumed death. It was a moment of realization for the Empress who, despite her negative feelings towards Peter, still loved him on some level.
“She knows she loves him before that happens, but I think once she kills him, she essentially realizes she doesn’t want him dead,” McNamara notes. “She’s in it all of a sudden” [mindset of]”I don’t want him dead, but I just tried to kill him and now we’re stuck together. And I don’t know how we’ll be because he killed and killed my mother, and I just tried to kill him. And now we’re going to try to be together somehow?’”
The Hulu comedy hasn’t been renewed for season 3 yet, but McNamara has already started thinking about next season — including what married life is like for Marial and her child groom (“Sure, we’ll see a lot of [Muriel’s] new married life”) and how Peter and Catherine try to co-parent after plotting each other’s murder. The pair bonded in season 2 about their son’s impending arrival – Catherine softened on him due to his eagerness to become a father – but parenting said child is a different beast altogether.
“Once they’re raising a child, and their values are so different and the way they see the world so different, it’s probably going to be a nightmare,” McNamara added.