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MILITARU: Rules of political games

As depicted in the popular series "The Crown," the short scene which highlights the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten touches upon the tension of British-Irish relations as well as the social struggle between the weak and powerful. – Photo by commons.wikimedia.org

Before you read, if you are in fact planning on reading this article, please take 1 minute and 29 seconds – approximately 2 minutes to accommodate for the time it takes for you to click and load the video – to watch this scene from Netflix’s new season of "The Crown." 

While I understand that "The Crown" may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you should watch and re-watch this scene. Unlike the rest of the series (which I, admittedly, have not finished watching yet), this short scene does not mention Princess Diana, Prince Charles or any other tabloid news from the period.

This scene is a somber representation of the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten, by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). This scene is not revisited or referenced in the rest of the series but rather stands alone as a poignant piece of political commentary. 

I am not sure what Irish folks are reading this, so for the Americans in the audience, I will provide a bit of context. The conflict between the Irish and the British is one that goes back centuries and echoes even in the U.S., but for now, let us look at the conflict leading up to the assassination.

While vacationing with his family in Ireland, the retired member of the British royal family was killed by the IRA, a group considered by some to be liberators and by others to be terrorists. The assassination of Mountbatten was a political kill meant to demonstrate that even members of the royal family were not safe from the wrath of an oppressed class. And that the Irish have been historically trampled by the British.

Before we get into the thematic implications and social commentary that was somehow squeezed into less than 2 minutes of an episode, let us take a moment to identify and explain what those themes are (I might not be an English major, but I certainly like to pretend to be one).

If you have watched this clip (which you should have by now), you will notice how beautifully the tension is built, how slowly the foreshadowing picks up and aims its deadly blow, directly at Mountbatten. This scene should leave you with a sense of devastating shock.

The build-up is masterful in that it does not reveal exactly what is going to happen but certainly builds within the viewer a sense of unease and anticipation that is released with one somber explosion.

I have watched and rewatched this scene to catch the little details, and each time that explosion leaves me feeling empty and sad. The juxtaposition of the joy of a family gathering on the boat with their sudden deaths makes it all the more devastating. The loss of life seems senseless, but the operative word there is senseless.

The deaths are predicted by several vignettes displaying members of the royal family hunting and fishing. There are four parallel stories going on at the same time, and each storyline builds from the stalking point of the hunt to the dead animal with one exception – the victim himself. The music builds as each scene cuts from images of dead pheasants, bludgeoned salmon and captured lobsters.

Each animal is brutally disposed of, except for one lobster caught by Mountbatten, who releases it back into the water. Lobsters hold a special place in media, from articles about their death to beautifully absurd movies and sitcoms to the College Avenue campus. For such an ugly creature, the lobster certainly is center stage and is considered to be a symbol of extravagance, love and violence.

In this scene, seconds after the lobster is thrown back, Mountbatten's boat detonates. The lobster that was gently floating to the bottom of the bay was blown away, collateral damage. This particular detail suggests that the IRA picked the wrong target, a retired, harmless old man, instead of picking a fight with their oppressors directly. 

The question that is being asked by these scenes – if you consider it in a vacuum and not in the larger Diana-Charles context – is whether this political assassination is worth it. As a show that is written more or less with the royals as protagonists, you might be tempted to say that, of course, political assassination is a horrible thing with terrible consequences.

I would direct you to a quote from Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth II’s mother) earlier in the show. She claims that hunting is for conservation, not for businesses or money. As the royal family slaughters wild animals, they are doing the ecosystem, as a whole, a favor. 

Let us consider the political ecosystem. Perhaps, assassination is to politics what hunting is to nature, if you reduce human life to that of an animal – which no matter how vegan you may be, you surely agree is not traditionally seen as equal to human life.

If you agree that the rules of political games are set by the parties participating rather than a God (an eye for an eye over the Ten Commandments), then murder can be justified by other murders. The murders of Irish citizens throughout British history is evident. Under an eye for an eye law, it seems as though the killing of Mountbatten is not just expected, but justified. 

But what is the result of killing Mountbatten? It is very similar to the effect of the royal family’s hunting trips – trivial. Their hunting is nothing more than a cathartic experience, a display of power over the powerless. They do not rely on that meat for sustenance the same way the IRA did not gain any material ground by killing a man so harmless he catches and releases lobsters (based on "The Crown" portrayal, not necessarily historical fact). 

The show writers are making a silent argument that his death was pointless. It is never mentioned again, his name is never uttered and the IRA’s killing is never properly addressed. To argue that his death was justified without producing a noticeable effect is naive. The point of this scene is not just to condemn murder because murder is bad, but to highlight the senseless killing that the powerful exercise on the powerless.

The explosion leaves us breathless because we have subconsciously internalized this message. While watching birds limply tossed onto a pile, a salmon beaten into a pulp, we feel the powerlessness of hunted wildlife and feel that someone on screen is about to be targeted in a similar way.

Letting the lobster go back into the sea is the mark that distinguishes Mountbatten. We know he is going to die moments before the boat goes off. The tragedy lies in the fact that mercy is indirectly punished. The message almost seems to be to kill or be killed. 

I will end this rambling with another link, slightly longer, to John Lennon’s "Imagine." I am reminded of the line, “Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for." I am not a hunter (or an assassin), so perhaps the necessity of both is lost on me, but I would like to think such a world exists, somewhere.

Alice Militaru is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in economics. Her column, "Opinions No One Asked For," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 


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