The Great: Did Pugachev Really Impersonate Catherine's Husband, Peter?

Warning: Contains spoilers for The Great season 2.

In The Great season 2, Peter’s best double, Pugachev, impersonates him when he needs to get away, but did Pugachev really impersonate Catherine’s husband? The Great advertises itself as “an occasionally true story.” While the key word in that phrase, especially by season 2, is “occasionally,” the show does draw on important granules of real Russian history even though The Great is not concerned with precise historical accuracy.

The Great season 2 opens on the ongoing battle between Peter (Nicholas Hoult) and Catherine (Elle Fanning) for the Russian throne. This brings about the introduction of a team of Peter’s doubles, one of whom is considered the best of the lot: Pugachev (who is also played by Nicholas Hoult). After Catherine ascends to the throne, the deposed emperor uses Pugachev as a distraction so he can move about more freely. Ultimately, Catherine stabs Pugachev in the back multiple times thinking that he is Peter. While Pugachev appears dead, Peter’s double then gets up and walks away muttering that it hurt.

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The Great has drastically changed a lot of timelines. In reality, Peter died a few days after Catherine’s coup, and Elizabeth died before Peter took the throne. In keeping with this, Pugachev was never a double for Peter and there is no evidence that they met. However, Pugachev’s portrayal in The Great does draw on a grain of truth. Yemelyan Pugachev was a Cossack and he lead an insurrection against Catherine the Great a decade after she took power. Pugachev’s Rebellion was the principal revolt during Catherine’s reign and was additionally fueled by Pugachev claiming that he was in fact Peter III and that he had not died but had secretly escaped from Catherine the Great instead.

In The Great, Pugachev is portrayed as looking almost identical to Peter and it is primarily his mannerisms that give away who he really is. History suggests that the idea that Pugachev bore a striking resemblance to Peter III is purely an embellishment added by later retellings of the story. This is supported by the contemporary depictions of Peter III and Pugachev, together with the fact that Pugachev was fourteen years younger than Peter III.

While The Great primarily uses the character of Pugachev for comedic relief and as an entertaining plot device, his survival at the end of season 2 could be part of a setup for The Great season 3. Pugachev’s Rebellion was also known as the Peasant’s War and one of the factors that played into its relative success was the dissatisfaction from the serfs who Catherine had hoped to free but instead ultimately made life harder for. A version of Catherine’s plan to free the serfs and her failure is included in The Great season 2, so with Pugachev now harboring Catherine ill will for stabbing him, the stage is set for The Great season 3 to include a version of Pugachev’s Rebellion.

Next: Why The Great’s Historical Inaccuracies Make The Show… Great



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