Marie Antoinette airs Sundays at 9:00 pm on WTTW and is available to stream by WTTW Passport members. Recap the previous episode.
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Louis doesn’t know it, but he’s paving the way to his execution. The French Revolution, inspired in part by the American Revolution, will eventually claim his and Marie Antoinette’s heads—but that’s more than a decade off. For now, it’s 1780, and Louis is covertly supplying arms to the American revolutionaries against British colonial rule. The British know this, and their ambassador to France asks Provence to speak to Louis and prevent war between the two great powers.
But Louis wants war: he’s hoping his rival Britain will attack France when he publicly declares support for the American revolutionaries. Then France can avenge Britain’s “theft” of Canada and Louisiana and win naval superiority in the English Channel.
Provence overhears Louis planning all this with the ailing Maurepas and relays what he has heard to the female members of his family, who laugh at the scheme. Provence feels powerless before his brother, but Josephine suggests that he portray himself as a steady hand that could replace Louis if the war goes disastrously wrong.
Rumors of the war have spread so much that even a new arrival at Versailles has heard of them. Count Axel von Fersen, the handsome Swedish noble who caught Antoinette’s eye years ago in Paris, has appeared in France. Both Louis and Chartres look on in displeasure when Antoinette fawns over him. Fersen has heard about the possible war, and wants to take part in it on behalf of France in America.
France’s support of America finally becomes public with the arrival of another visitor to Versailles: Benjamin Franklin. Louis’ official acknowledgment of Franklin’s fledgling country sets the British ambassador off—he storms out of the room.
Lamballe also leaves upset: she gives Antoinette an ultimatum between herself and Yolande, and Antoinette refuses to choose, so Lamballe leaves Versailles, to Mercy’s disappointment.
With war almost certainly coming, Antoinette moves to the Petit Trianon with her daughter, Yolande—not Lamballe—and Yolande’s two lovers, giving them her own rooms while she moves to the attic. That’s not all Yolande and her men ask from Antoinette: they also request a large sum to cover their debts. Louis is skeptical, but Maurepas—a relative of Yolande—advises him to allow Antoinette to have free rein with her household.
Once Yolande’s debts are cleared, her lovers urge her to ask for more: a pension and a duchy. But when Yolande poses the request to Antoinette, the queen says Yolande should be satisfied with what she already has. The lovers tell Yolandethat they all may have to leave the court if Antoinette won’t grant their request; Yolande says she’ll appeal to Louis.
From Austria, Antoinette’s mother the empress and her brother Joseph are worried about Antoinette’s relationship with Yolande. The empress’s health is declining, and she wants to visit her daughter in France—but Antoinette declines, instead sending her mother a portrait of herself. She ignores her mother’s letters.
Yolande is controlling visitors to the Trianon, preventing Mercy from seeing Antoinette and throwing his letters away before they reach the queen. She also invites Fersen to visit on behalf of the queen. As Antoinette, her friends, and Fersen play games in the night, the jealous Chartres tackles Fersen, to Antoinette’s disgust.
Luckily, Chartres will soon be sent away, as a naval officer for France. He and Provence publicly argue over the merits of the war, but then Provence privately sows some resentment in Chartres, who believes Louis should award him a higher military rank. We both benefit if Louis screws up, Provence tells Chartres.
For now, however, Chartres is on Louis’ side. When the British attack a French ship and instigate war, Chartres heads off to lead a naval squadron. Louis is obsessed with the war, poring over maps and updates—but the diplomatic consensus, Mercy reports to the empress, is that he will not win.
Mercy tries to keep tabs on Antoinette despite his lack of access, spying on her with a telescope as she walks outside with Fersen. Fersen tells Antoinette he doesn’t want to marry; he wants to love freely. Later, she nearly kisses him while she and her friends play a game.
Mercy finally comes directly to Antoinette’s room to deliver a letter from her mother warning against Yolande; Antoinette again dismisses it and doesn’t write a reply.
After Fersen ends up in conversation with Louis, he tells Antoinette that whatever they have must end—he was reminded that she is the Queen of France, and that her husband is good and honorable. She agrees, but admits that being with Fersen is the first time she has felt free since coming to France. She kisses him; they pull away. They kiss; part; kiss; and finally pull away from each other for good.
Antoinette’s encounter with another admirer goes much worse. Chartres appears at the Trianon in the night, demanding to see Antoinette. France has defeated Britain in a naval battle—he has come to tell her even before Louis. He tells her he’s in love with her, then slaps her when she laughs. He assaults her, telling her she “belongs” to him, but she pushes him off and he leaves. Lamballe was right about him, she sobs to Yolande.
The ill empress is becoming desperate for a reply from her daughter. She’s punishing me because I have been a bad mother, she tells her son. But you have been a good ruler, he replies.
Maurepas’ health is also failing. He congratulates Louis on the naval victory from a wheelchair, with tears in his eyes.
But not everything surrounding the victory is happy. France’s naval commander tells Louis that Chartres is a traitor as Antoinette watches: he fled the battle before it was fully over in order to bring news to Antoinette. Perhaps his friendship with the Prince of Wales outweighed his loyalty to his home country. Chartres asks Antoinette if she is retaliating against him, but she says it has nothing to do with her; she just wanted to see his face at the news. Louis dismisses his cousin from the Navy and bans him from Versailles.
Before he leaves, Chartres cements an alliance with Provence. Josephine watches through a door.
Louis gets rid of another romantic rival by accepting Fersen’s request to serve on behalf of France, and sends him to America.
Antoinette loses not just Fersen, but also her mother: the empress has died. Mercy calls Lamballe back to Versailles to comfort Antoinette.
So both Lamballe and Yolande are there when Antoinette gives birth to a boy—an heir to the throne, at last—as are all of her enemies within the royal family—even Chartres.