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What Was ‘The Crown’ All About, Anyway?

Over the Christmas season, my household completed watching the sixth and final season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” finishing up a multiyear relationship with Peter Morgan’s lightly fictionalized version of the House of Windsor.

In recent years, there’s been enough quality television, and few enough hours in the day, that I rarely find myself sticking with a show across several seasons unless I feel like I have a strong relationship to whatever purpose the series is trying to achieve — even if that purpose is just being loose and entertaining, as with the late lamented “Winning Time.”

With “The Crown,” though, the experience was more like taking a mild and mildly addictive narcotic. The show was always just handsome enough, just well-acted enough, just surprising enough in its historical arcana to keep you gliding onward to the next episode, and the next, until before you knew it, you’d reached the almost-present, the familiar figures of Charles and Diana, Dodi and Camilla, and it felt like poor form to give up. So you went onward to the end, through Diana’s death and Tony Blair and Wills and Kate, only to sit up after the finale thinking, What was it all for?

If I’d given up sooner, ideally when they introduced the roguishly handsome Dominic West as the neither handsome nor roguish Charles for Season 5, maybe I would have been less befuddled at the end. In its earlier seasons, “The Crown” could be watched primarily as a period piece — a portrait of the dissolution of the British Empire from the unique vantage point of its youthful sovereign, an introduction to aspects of 20th-century British history (the Aberfan disaster, the entire phenomenon of Princess Margaret) with which I was only glancingly familiar, a showcase for plummy accents and famous actors and Highlands hunting scenes.

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