Episode 7 of The Crown Season 5’s title is “No Woman’s Land,” which is somewhat ironic considering it is exclusively about one woman. For the first time this season, the show allows Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) to take center stage, surprising given she’s undoubtedly the main draw this year as we inch closer to her passing in the show’s timeline. She may be in the spotlight in this episode, but it sure is a lonely one. Peter Morgan takes great pain to show how isolated Diana finds herself in the wake of her separation from Charles (Dominic West): she swims alone (we get it, Peter, she’s adrift!), arrives at glamorous events solo, and sullenly watches TV by herself in her apartment. Unsure what to do with herself now that she is “neither royal nor normal.”
Worst of all, William (played by Dominic West’s son, Senan West) is 13 and off to Eton, the prestigious boarding school. Diana can barely let go as she says farewell to one of her last allies, drawing ire from Charles in the process. She’s not mothering, he asserts: she’s smothering. It appears William isn’t so jazzed to be off to school either — he can see Buckingham Palace from his new window and looks at it longingly. Little does he know his grandmother, the Queen (Imelda Staunton), is doing the same in reverse. She can’t believe he’s already thirteen and asks her aide to look into the possibility of hosting William once in a while for tea. But only if it’s not breaking any rules, of course. Elizabeth reminds us again that for her, duty always comes first.
With William gone, the only person in her life Diana feels comfortable confiding in is her acupuncturist, of all people — so much so that Diana insists on accompanying her to the hospital, where her husband is undergoing surgery. Little does Diana know another confidant is about to insert himself into her life, one with less-than-stellar intentions. Elsewhere at the BBC, a young and hungry reporter, Martin Bashir (Prasanna Puwanarajah), passionately pitches his boss on what he thinks should be their next big story: an exclusive TV interview with Diana. Their numbers aren’t great, and Bashir knows this scoop could be the solution the network (and his career) desperately needs. Bashir’s boss isn’t so sure — is this story investigative reporting worthy of the BBC, or just “celebrity tittle-tattle”? And even if they wanted to do the story, how would they access Diana or sell her in on an interview with the stodgy BBC? As opposed to, say, one of the more commercial American networks, which could fly her private and donate millions to a charity of her choice? Luckily Bashir has a plan.
Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer (Phil Cumbus), is the key. It recently came to light that his head of security, Alan Waller, leaked some of his private correspondence to newspapers for money. Bashir sees this security breach as an opportunity to breach the Spencers’ security further and secure an interview with Diana. Bashir hatches an audacious, if not wholly immoral, scheme: he falsifies documents showing that Waller was getting paid by the papers AND the Crown’s security services, and then uses this bombshell (and totally false!) revelation to get a meeting with Charles. The plan works and allows him to make another fake claim to Charles. If the Crown is spying on him, they are undoubtedly also spying on Diana. Bashir grimly reveals (lies) to Charles that his sister’s private secretary is also a spy, and he has the documents (forgeries) to prove it. While there has been much criticism recently around The Crown’s fast-and-loose playing with the facts, it turns out this is an entirely true subplot — the particulars of which only came to light recently. Bashir, you cheeky bastard.
Unaware of the plot unfolding, Diana accompanies her acupuncturist to the hospital, where her husband, Joseph, is undergoing heart surgery. Diana holds her acupuncturist’s hand as they anxiously await the result of the procedure until another hand catches her eye: that of the heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed). He clinically informs Diana and her acupuncturist of some complications with the surgery, but thankfully Joseph is stable. Diana doesn’t acknowledge the news, apparently overwhelmed by the sexuality of this average, mild-mannered doctor. As soon as Dr. Khan leaves, Diana insensitively skips any consolation or offer of support for her supposed only confidant and jumps right into discussing the “dishy” doctor’s gorgeous, warm eyes and nice hands. Clearly, Diana’s lonely, but she can’t wait 30 seconds for her friend to absorb the news her husband is alive? It’s another example of Peter Morgan’s insistence on showing Diana’s faults — the first of many in this episode.
Later, Diana pauses from fantasizing about Dr. Dishy to call William. She pushes for updates about school, like if he’s settling in, does he have any friends, but most importantly, in another show of childishness, if he misses her. Williams’s elusive, which is understandable because he’s, you know, thirteen (who wouldn’t do the same thing at that age), but Diana is hurt all the same. William does find the words to let his mummy know he’s going to Granny’s for tea, which Diana sees as an opportunity for William to “put in a good word for her” with the Queen. Diana alludes to not seeing the Queen (or anyone) anymore but stops her commiserating when she becomes convinced there’s a click on the line. As they end the call, Diana warns William that they must be careful: “There are people out there who want to listen in on our calls. There are bugs everywhere,” which totally sounds like something a calm, sane mother would say to her teenage son.
Diana’s paranoia reaches a fever pitch in the following scenes. First, when she complains to her private secretary, Patrick, that someone has tapped her phone. He somewhat exasperatedly suggests she may be imagining it (it’s clear they’ve had this conversation many times before) but agrees to check the light fittings for bugs as well (just to be sure). He also lets Diana know her brother called but doesn’t say what about. Intrigued, Diana ditches her tin foil hat in exchange for this infamous number and hops in the car to see what’s on her brother’s mind. While en route, a car full of nosy chaps starts to photograph her, and she speeds away to ditch them — only to realize in horror that she can’t stop. Her brakes are out. The faulty brakes force Diana to go full 007 as she dodges and weaves through London traffic, barely managing to avoid an accident before screeching to a halt. She catches her breath, all the more convinced that some unseen force conspires against her. Not that she should, you know, get a driver or take her car to the shop.
When Diana arrives at her brother’s, he conveniently provides the scapegoat she’s looking for. Charles tells her all about Martin Bashir’s supposed findings, including that her secretary Patrick is likely a spy. Diana is reluctant to believe the betrayal at first but then concedes it’s likely as she knows the Crown has been spying on her for years (should have checked those light fittings, dude!). Charles suggests that Diana meet with Bullshittin’ Bashir to learn more, assuring her that he’s “above board” (D’OH!). She doesn’t necessarily agree, but she also lets on that someone may have fiddled with her brakes, confirming that her increasing paranoia will eventually drive her right into the arms of Bashir.
Over in Buckingham, a more pleasant conversation occurs between Elizabeth and William over tea. William’s having some trouble adjusting to Eton but is surprised that Elizabeth knows all about the school (and male puberty, for that matter). She even wanted to send William’s father to Eton, but Philip, always the prick, wouldn’t allow it, which brings their conversation to… Mummy. William uses the opportunity to put in a good word for his mother, just as Diana asked, saying Diana never sees her anymore. Elizabeth scoffs at this — she’s one of the most famous people in the world; Diana can find her whenever she wants. The offer is hilariously absurd; Elizabeth may be physically available to Diana, but she has never been available emotionally. Still, Elizabeth senses William’s trepidation and asks if he worries about his mother. He sweetly remarks that he just wants her to be happy rather than let on how she’s starting to sound like a character in a 1970s Pakula movie (the bugs are everywhere!!!).
Perhaps to distract herself from the walls seemingly closing in (or more likely to try and organize a chance run-in with Dr. Normcore Dreamboat), Diana begins to spend more time at the hospital where Joseph had his surgery. There she befriends patients and staff until she finally gets Dr. Khan’s attention. After a flirty conversation, Dr. Khan thanks her for her support and asks if she’ll join him for a romantic midnight rendezvous at the… vending machine? Doc, we’re talking about a princess here — step it up! Despite the banality of the offer, Diana enthusiastically accepts and even makes no fuss as the good doctor makes her wait. When he arrives, Diana makes her intentions as clear as day. She calls Dr. Khan’s love for junk food sexy, admits her fantasy of having a Pakistani husband, and even goes so far as to bring up the vow of virginity she took to marry Charles (both implying she’s not a virgin and that she’s now free to do as she pleases). Hubba, hubba. Dr. Khan responds in kind by offering her a pudding and explaining how she probably couldn’t hang with traditional Pakistani values (even if she identifies with them due to her restrictive upbringing). Swoon! Undeterred by Dr. Khan’s apparently asexuality, she doubles down and asks him on a date to see 1995’s sexiest movie: Apollo 13. Viewer discretion advised, amirite?!
After her sweltering conversation with Dr. Khan, she arrives at her brother’s house to speak with another Pakistani: Martin Bashir. Again, Bashir lays out a Royal surveillance conspiracy via his falsified documents, and again a member of the Spencer family buys it hook, line, and sinker. Her driver, the police, security services, MI6 — they’re all in on it. The Royals are threatened by her popularity, afraid of the information she might go public with. Bashir says his “contacts” (the balls on this guy!) at MI6 believe it’s a plot to drive her out of the country. Bashir ever so conveniently suggests that the best move is for her to give an interview telling her side of the story. Diana isn’t against it but admits other notable suitors are interested: Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and David Frost have thrown their hats into the ring. Bashir tries to play it cool but clearly has an easier time telling flat-out lies than keeping a poker face at the mention of more successful journalists. His final pitch is that the BBC would give her complete control and is the best brand for journalistic integrity (HAH!). They agree to meet again, but not before Diana lets on her affinity for Pakistani culture — something Bashir realizes he can use against her, later bragging about his “special connection” with her.
Speaking of special connections, Dr. Khan arrives for his big night at the movies with Diana. He can’t seem to locate her until she emerges from the crowd wearing a disguise that looks like something Bugs Bunny might wear to fool Elmer Fudd. It inexplicably works, and they have an uninterrupted, private night at the movies, complete with tender hand-holding. Afterward, Diana takes Dr. Khan back to her place, where she continues to lay it on thick over beer and pizza. As Mazzy Star plays in the background (the go-to “it’s the ‘90s” music sync these days), Diana makes repeated double entendres as Dr. Khan demonstrates how heart surgery works. These include “trust me, I feel everything,” a request to physically touch her where her heart is, and then finally, “thank you, you’ve mended my heart.” This last one is too much for the prudish Dr. Khan to bear, and he makes a beeline for the door. At this point, one wonders what the deal is with this cold fish of a man. A literal princess, beautiful and adored worldwide, is throwing herself at him, and he wants no part of it. In a last-ditch effort to seduce this poor, prudish doctor, she asks for a proper kiss before he leaves. He finally relents, asking what we’re all wondering: what does Diana see in him? She says she has “already had a prince,” and now she’s “just looking for a frog” to make her happy. At this, finally, Dr. Khan gives her a peck (but nothing more!) because, apparently, all it takes to get him going is to compare him to a frog.
At Buckingham, Elizabeth invites Margaret (Lesley Manville) for an exploratory lunch. She’s curious to hear about Margaret’s relationship with Diana, her neighbor at Kensington. Elizabeth expresses worry about how Diana is doing and hopes Margaret has some insight to share. Margaret concedes that she sympathizes with Diana’s plight and sees a bit of herself in the Princess of Wales. Margaret goes on at length about their similarities, how they are both emotionally complex outsiders with flair and character who struggle to live a straightforward life in the Royal system. Yet, in another hilarious display of Royal intimacy, she admits that despite all this, they never talk, and she has no idea what’s going on with her. Elizabeth seems increasingly aware that the Royals have abandoned Diana on an island to fend for herself.
Which Diana must think she’s doing when she decides to meet with Martin Bashir again in a covert meeting in an underground parking garage. Maybe Diana has been spending all her time alone watching All The President’s Men on repeat because her paranoia is at an all-time high (she even signals Bashir with flashing car lights). There Bashir confirms (lies) that the Crown tapped her phone, security services are following her, and her private secretary is in on the whole operation. Then Bashir executes a near-perfect manipulation. First, Bashir urges Diana to trust no one except for, well, him. Then, he expresses empathy for her position as an outsider, for he, too, has struggled to fit in at a cherished British institution (comparing the BBC to the Monarchy feels a bit of a reach, but ok). And finally, in the most sleazy move, he capitalizes on her affinity for Pakistani culture by quoting an Urdu proverb. It works perfectly, and Diana agrees to the interview. In a brutal close, Peter Morgan again chooses to drive home Diana’s naïveté as she tells Bashir how good it feels “to finally have someone on her side.” Little does she know that Bashir is just another in a long line of men who will betray her. She’s alone in “No Woman’s Land,” indeed.