Every season, the Drama After Dark team gathers ‘round the (currently virtual) conference room table to watch the latest and greatest in all things drama. This month, our colleagues at MASTERPIECE are bringing us Atlantic Crossing, a historical dramatization of the relationship between US President Franklin Roosevelt and Norwegian Crown Princess Martha set against the backdrop of WWII. I’m here to recap the show as it happens.
When we last saw our royal Norwegian pals, Martha and the kiddos were preparing for their Atlantic crossing to America (hey, that’s the name of the show!) and Olav and King Grandpa were enjoying the indifferent comfort of their hosts, the English royal family. So far, in Episode 3, not much has changed. In Scotland, Olav inspects, and then dismisses for the day, a brigade of young Norwegians who are, I’m assuming, the incipient satellite Norwegian resistance.
Military Guy: Ok, look, are they mostly whalers? Yes. But they’re pretty good with those harpoons, I think we’re gonna be just fine.
Olav: As much as I would kill to see them go full Ahab and stick Moby D*ckhead (Hitler) with a harpoon, where are their normal weapons?
Military Guy: Fun fact, we don’t have any! The Allies won’t give us any.
Olav: Are you serious right now?
Inside, he gets another update: the plan is for their new force to harry the coastline, while small resistance cells do their thing inland. Once the Germans are weak, they’ll invade. With what army, our boy asks? Unclear! But Military Guy seems to think that the Allies may eventually get back on board because Norway still has all that sweet, sweet iron ore that everyone needs to fuel their war machines.
Olav: Cheers, I’ll drink to that, bro.
Military Guy: Cheers. Let’s just hope your family gets through the blockade safely.
Olav: I’m sorry, WHAT?
Military Guy: Did you not get the report? Their ship is heading RIGHT for the German blockade. Apparently the Americans made a call to change course, and even though we asked them not to, they told us to pipe down and trust them.
Out at sea, the cute baby sailors on the American ship aren’t inspiring a lot of confidence in this recapper, if I’m being honest. These young fellas are dangling off the sides of the ship in lifeboats, where their job is to spot mines and enemy vessels. Thankfully, at least one of them has good night vision, and he sounds the alarm. Inside, Martha straight up lies to the kids and tells them the ensuing racket is probably just a drill. It seems like everyone is pretty used to it by now, so the passengers put on their life jackets and head to their evacuation points. Martha, who’s important enough to have to take charge, leaves the kids with Ragni to try and get more info, and boy, does she succeed, to her detriment. Looking over the port side of the ship, she gets an eyeful of the mine, which the ship just barely avoids. It seems like no one else sees it, but those who do are, understandably, puke-over-the-side-of-a-lifeboat freaked out.
Later, while the royal kids (and Ragni’s son) play on the deck, Harald, the youngest, and heir to the Norwegian throne, wanders off to look for Martha in their family cabin. She’s not there, but you know what is? Her purse. Apparently too young to have gotten the memo that one shouldn’t go through other people’s stuff, he starts digging around in there, where he notices the little box of cyanide tablets from last week’s episode. On deck everyone starts looking for him, but Martha gets there first. As is the habit of small children, he’s already shoved something in his mouth. She yells at him to spit it out, and thankfully, when he does, it’s some kind of lozenge and not the poison. Disaster averted, the voyage continues without incident, with the family soon arriving in New York. With lady liberty in sight, Martha drops the cyanide off the side of the boat, never to be almost accidentally swallowed again.
Having landed, the kids are just as excited about the ol’ concrete jungle where dreams are made of as everyone is when they hear “Empire State of Mind,” i.e. VERY. And the feeling is mutual! Crowds have gathered to greet the royal family, including the press, who are all eager to interview Martha even though she, having just finished an exhausting voyage, just wants a little peace. Lucky for her, the Norwegian ambassador has prepared a statement for her.
Norwegian Ambassador: Look, there are a lot of very excited Norwegian Americans who want to hear from you. Also, it’s going to be good for the folks back home. Win-win!
Martha: Totally, I get it, but I really want to talk to my husband now please. Get me a line to London!
Norewegian Ambassador: Uh, can you just hold your horses until after the press conference?
Martha: No, jackass! I haven’t talked to Olav in four months!
Upstairs in her room, Martha finally has a chance to talk to Olav on a secure line. It’s a weird, crackly, long distance phone call, which makes the bad news Olav has to deliver even worse: he can’t come join the rest of the family in America, because King Grandpa and their weird tiny army of whalers really need him. Martha keeps it together on the line like a supportive princess must, but hangs up with, let’s just say, a little more force than is strictly necessary. Soon after, she collapses in a chair with what I am armchair-diagnosing as a panic attack. Struggling to breathe, and with a ringing in her ears, she takes a pill proffered by Ragni, and tries to prepare herself for the impending press conference.
Despite the cameras, her stress and reading a wordy statement written in not her first language, she does a pretty good job, at least until the questions start. They’re clearly overwhelming, and it shows. FDR, listening on the radio, asks his assistant Missy to invite Martha and the family to his country residence for a weekend so they can get away from the press. Travelling again so soon sounds super exhausting to me, but Martha actually seems to relax on arriving at the country house and being greeted like a dear old friend.
FDR, probably accurately: Unfortunately, my awesome wife can’t join us — she’s too busy running the country while I pretend to be president, lol. Anyway, you must be the kiddos, welcome to the US! Have some presents! And who’s this random man? A chaperone?
Norwegian Ambassador: Uh, no, I’m the Norwegian Ambassador. Nice to finally meet you for the first time.
FDR, totally lying: Yes, so nice, so glad you’re here. Anyway, lemonade?
The kids graciously accept their presents and the lemonade, which Martha is super jazzed about. The only one who’s not jazzed? Mr. Uninvited himself, the Norwegian Ambassador, who’s been fobbed off on assistant Missy. Once everyone gets inside, it becomes clear that our Ambassador friend isn’t just here to enjoy the lemonade: he’d like an urgent word with FDR. But Missy isn’t feeling it, and neither, it must be said, is the president, who whisks Martha off for a drive.
Martha: Uh… just the two of us?
FDR: Well, and the Secret Service. Unless you want to go get that wet blanket you brought along?
Martha: No way, he’s super boring. Joyride time!
Back at the house, Missy quickly and unceremoniously sends Norwegian Ambassador on his way. I feel like he might actually have something important to discuss, but whatever. I’m frankly too impressed by the subtle but ironclad work of Missy the Assistant to care all that much.
Out on the road, FDR is cheerfully singing along to the song “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which is a) probably true for FDR given how hype he is to have rescued Martha, b) apparently his campaign song from 1932 and c) super corny.
Martha: I’m sorry about the ambassador, what a drip, huh?
FDR: Don’t worry about it! Did you find a place to crash yet?
Martha, on very thin ice: Apparently he found us some place in Massachusetts?
FDR, being rude as hell: Why Massachusetts? Who wants to live there?
Martha, breaking my heart: Yeah, I would prefer to be closer to New York TBH. But I don’t really have a choice.
FDR: Well unlike me, you’re not up for reelection — you can kind of do whatever you want. Now hold onto your butt, you’re about to see my Vin Diesel in The Fast And The Furious impression.
And then, like one of the many presidential daughters in movies released in the late 90s, FDR proceeds to ditch his Secret Service detail. Over in England, the Norwegian boys play some cards with King’s Speech, who nicely toasts the safe arrival of Martha and the kids in the US. But the Norwegians aren’t here to play games, and start questioning King’s Speech about how prepared he is for a German invasion.
King’s Speech: Dude, this is a bummer, must we?
King Grandpa: Uh, yeah — things are serious! What’s the backup plan?
King’s Speech: I have a button in my office that rings an alarm!
Olav: Yeah but does it work?
King’s Speech: Yes, god, you guys are the worst. See, look, it’s right here.
Olav: I mean, that just looks like a lightswitch, how do you know it works?
King’s Speech: I just know, ok?
King Grandpa, the kid who gets you in trouble in elementary school vibes: Press it!
Olav: Yeah, do it! You’re the king, what’s the worst that could happen?
King’s Speech: Ugh, fine!
King’s Speech presses the button, and indeed, in short order, an annoying alarm goes off. Trying to prove a point, he leads everyone to a window to watch the guards do their thing. But to his chagrin, only like four dudes materialize, and then Olav and King Grandpa razz him about it. Rude, but funny, and you gotta get your laughs in where you can!
Our protagonists in the US are also having a nice time. While the gang picnics on the lawn, a new character emerges. Her name is Eliza Forbes, and apparently, she’s a really good massage therapist. It turns out that she was born in Norway, but emigrated at a young age and unfortunately for Martha, who’s looking for a pal, doesn’t speak Norwegian. It’s not clear whether this chill hang is always how FDR pals around with his staff and friends, or if it’s the influence of their drinks, but they’re having a grand time and I’m, frankly, super jealous.
FDR, again, rude: Look, I’ve been thinking about this Massachusetts nonsense, and I don’t think you should move there. It’s nice, but you won’t like it. It’s boring. You need a place with class, elegance, and sophistication. You need DC.
Martha: Hmmm… I was thinking about something more fun, like New York.
Missy: Makes sense, you’ve got friends there right?
FDR: Booooooooooooo. DC!
Missy, uncowed: Nah, go to NYC, way more fun!
FDR: I’m the president, you should listen to me!
Before this playful argument can continue, FDR’s advisor runs over and starts frantically whispering in the president’s ear. Whatever he’s saying, it’s not good, and FDR gets right to the point: London is being bombed. Martha, who obviously has more skin in the game than the rest of the gals at this garden party, runs inside to try and call Olav. In London, the Norwegian crew might be regretting joking about the palace security system now that England is actually under attack. Under cover of darkness, they walk through the deserted palace to take shelter in the basement, but not before getting a good hard look at the skyline, now lit up with aircraft, bombs, and fire. Stateside, Martha is beside herself. The London operator is unreachable.
FDR: We’ll have to try again later.
Martha: How bad is it?
Advisor Harry: Uh… real bad. Large parts of the city are on fire: they got attacked by hundreds of bombers.
FDR: The basements under the palace are very deep; they’ll be ok. And you know what, why don’t you and the kids come stay with us at the White House for a while? We have tons of room, lots of activities for the kids and a direct line to London.
Martha: That’s a super nice offer, but I’m kind of worried that my husband might be dead right now, so I’m gonna need some time to think about it.
FDR: Totally get it. Take your time.
Advisor Harry: And I’ll let you know as soon as we have news.
Under the palace, Olav again suggests that the Norwegian squad go to America where it’s currently much safer.
King Grandpa: Look, I get that you want to be with your family, but I have to stay here with the Cabinet.
Olav: They should go too! It’s clearly not safe here, and we’re not getting anything done — they barely speak English and are getting treated like farmers.
King Grandpa: Olav, I hate to break it to ya kid, but most of our ministers ARE former farmers.
Olav: If England caves, we’re going down with them, and then this whole thing collapses. Norway will be over. We have to build our army somewhere the Germans can’t get us.
King Grandpa: America is neutral, we can’t build a military there.
Olav: Not America. Canada. Right next door, and WAY better healthcare, plus: Tim Hortons! There are millions of Norwegian Americans who will join our cause.
Nikolai: Unlikely — the American papers made it sound like we caved like Denmark. They won’t want to help us.
Olav: But that’s fixable! We can actually get in front of the press and change that perception! I’m friends with FDR, I’ll be able to influence stuff. Just think about it.
Later, the Norwegian squad meets up with King’s Speech and Queen Mum to assess the damage. So far, it’s not too bad: only a few direct hits, and no one in the palace was killed (though some were injured, and 61,000 Britons would die from German air attacks in WWII so… let’s not count our chickens before they’ve hatched, King’s Speech).
King Grandpa: Have you thought about maybe evacuating your kids, at least?
Queen Mum: The kids won’t go without me, I won’t go without my husband, and he’ll never leave; basically we’re locked into a stiff upper lip-off over here!
King’s Speech: But don’t feel bad if you decide you want to go somewhere safe!
Queen Mum: I’m actually glad we’ve been hit; rather levels the playing field with the East End.
Well that’s a ridiculous statement to make while literally wearing a fur, but I guess royals are gonna royal. For those who don’t know, the East End is known as one of the most crowded and poverty-stricken parts of London, especially in this time period (Call The Midwife fans know what’s up). The area would go on to bear the brunt of attacks during the Blitz (the East End was an important import center) and see one of the worst civilian disasters of WWII, the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster. All that to say, this one line from Queen Mum covers a lot of ground vis-à-vis the thoughtless privilege of those in power. Anyway, back to the Norwegians, who are still arguing about the Canada proposal.
Olav: I just don’t get it, why are you so against this plan?
King Grandpa: I know you’re frustrated. But you’re making a difference, I promise!
Olav: I’m not doing anything!
King Grandpa: But if something happens to me…
Olav: I am SO sick of you playing the “what if I die” card! Oh boy, I immediately regret saying that… look, I’m sorry, I just really miss my wife and kids, don’t you get that?
King Grandpa, pouting: You know what, you should leave. Sorry I held you back.
Yikes! Later, Martha finally gets through on the phone. Olav tells her that everyone is ok, and that he misses them all.
Martha: They miss you too! Anyway, Franklin said we should all crash at the White House.
Olav: Uh, Franklin?
Martha: Yeah, we’re super close now. Anyhow, what do you think? Should we stay at his place?
Olav: Um, YEAH! It’s a great opportunity!
Martha: For what?
Olav: Martha, you just told me you’re “super close” with the most powerful man in the world — if that’s not an opportunity I don’t know what is!
Martha: Ok cool, what do you want me to do?
Olav: Get our ambassador an audience with the guy, for starters.
Martha: Ok! Also just FYI, he says you and the Cabinet are also welcome… did you talk to your dad about it?
Olav: Yeah. We can’t come right now.
Martha: Olav, what the hell?!
Olav: Look, I’m doing everything I can, you just have to trust me!
Martha: Dude, just tell me when you’ll be here!
Olav: Not while the war is on.
Martha: Olav. The war could go on for years! And what if Hitler wins??
Olav: That’s why I have to stay here; to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Just be patient and hang tight.
And just so we know how patient everyone is going to have to be, they lose the phone connection. The kids are bummed to not be able to talk to their dad, but on the plus side, the White House, where they soon arrive, has an indoor swimming pool. I’m not gonna lie, it seems like a pretty fun way to wait out the war, but obviously Martha doesn’t agree. Beyond the whole forced long distance thing, she’s also dealing with some pretty heavy flirting from the one and only FDR, which doesn’t go unnoticed by me, or indeed, by her pal Ragni. Additionally, Martha and Ragni have picked up on the close relationship between FDR and his secretary Missy.
Now look: there’s a lot of speculation on what went on between all of these people IRL, and it’s definitely worth a sojourn into the wilds of Wikipedia if you’re so inclined. I would just like to point out that a) just because people are famous doesn’t mean we actually know what’s going on in their private lives and b) if you only read about Missy to speculate on whether she was banging FDR, you’re missing the very cool fact that she essentially became the first and so far only female White House chief of staff (the title wasn’t adopted until the Eisenhower years). Anyway, let’s get back to it!
Martha: Uh, Ragni, what the heck is going on between those two? And where is Eleanor?
Ragni: Apparently she lives in NYC... with another woman.
Martha: But that must be a rumor, surely?
Ragni, surprisingly chill: I mean, seems like this arrangement works for both of them.
Martha: Yeah, but they have six kids!
Ragni: Look, what I heard was the president was going to be disinherited if he got a divorce, so they agreed to stay together for convenience. Also, as your friend, I have to say this: it’s clear that he’s got a thing for you. Keep an eye on that.
Martha: But I’m married! And Olav and the president are friends!
Ragni: He’s the most powerful man in the world, and he’s spending a lot of time with you in the middle of a reelection campaign. Just… be careful.
Martha: I’m fine, thanks all the same.
Meanwhile, Missy also questions what’s going on. Can’t FDR just collect something normal and chill instead of random royals? He insists he just wants to be helpful, but she’s, appropriately, worrying about the optics of the situation. Before FDR can get too grumpy about it, Advisor Harry appears with a message: a ship full of Jewish refugees is stuck in NYC, and Eleanor (and Advisor Harry) want FDR to grant them asylum. FDR promises to take a look, and then heads off for other duties.
Back in London, the Norwegian squad gets the latest news: a convoy of ships has been attacked in the Atlantic, with a lot of casualties. But before we can get into that, Military Guy walks in, and is immediately waylaid by Olav.
Olav: Military Guy! Sit with us, how’s it going? Any news on our air bases in Canada plan?
Military Guy: Yup.
Nikolai: Awesome! Sounds like the Cabinet is finally getting their stuff together; we can get across the pond soon!
Military Guy: No. We’re not doing that, at least not while I’m in charge. I think it’s a bad idea.
Military Guy: Well apparently, if we have bases in Canada they wouldn’t be part of our liberation efforts. The Brits have convinced our Norwegian pilots to fly for the RAF instead. They’d be fighting in England, for England, and not helping Norway at all.
Olav, unsurprisingly, is furious about THAT. He runs upstairs to interrupt a meeting King Grandpa is having.
Olav: Did you hear about the Norwegain airbase in Canada?
King Grandpa: Uh, yeah — Little Norway? Adorable. What’s the issue?
Olav: Why isn’t Military Guy involved in the plan?
King Grandpa: I don’t know how to break this to you, but the Cabinet doesn’t like him.
Olav: Why, because he’s the only Allied general to have defeated the Germans?
Cabinet Member: Yeah, and he’s a real jerk about it!
Olav: Dude, being a jerk is part of his job description!
King Grandpa: But he also has to be more diplomatic.
Cabinet Member: Military Guy wants to invade Norway!
Olav: Yeah, pal, what’s the problem?
Cabinet Member: We can’t do that by ourselves! Without Churchill’s support, we just won’t succeed. We need help, and the Brits are our best bet.
Olav: So the people at home have to just fend for themselves?
Cabinet Member: The best thing we can do right now is political, not military.
King Grandpa, seeing how betrayed Olav looks: Look, do you want to do something to help? Get Martha to arrange a meeting between FDR and our ambassador. We need FDR to support the Allied cause.
Olav, savvy: Yeah, but I think you’re forgetting something: that’ll depend on whether he gets reelected.
And with that mic dropped, Olav walks out of there like a sassy fellow who just made a great point (which, of course, he is). Speaking of FDR, back in the US, the president is actively complaining that he’s been given porridge for breakfast again. As a proud member of the Oatmeal Every Day gang, I have to protest, but he’s being pretty charming and funny about it, mostly for the benefit of the royal Norwegian kiddos, so I guess he gets a pass. Missy arrives at breakfast, with a shoulder touch to FDR that is not missed by Martha and Ragni, but the notable moment comes when one of the older girls calls FDR “godfather.”
Martha: Uhhhhh, that’s a little informal?
FDR: They have to call me SOMETHING.
Martha: Yeah, what about Mr. Roosevelt?
Housekeeper Porridge Pusher: Call him Grandfather, because he’s old.
Missy: LOL, you know that’s right. Anyway, Martha, have you thought about your more permanent living situation?
FDR: She’ll stay as long as she wants to!
Missy: Yeah, obviously, but a home of your own might make you and the kids more comfortable, especially since the war is probably going to go on for a while.
Martha: You’re right; the war probably won’t end soon.
Missy: Want me to introduce you to some of my realtor friends in NYC?
Martha: Actually, no. We’re going to stay in DC. The Norwegian embassy is here, and I like it here.
FDR: Awesome! Let’s find you a house!
Missy: Dude, you cannot reschedule your morning, we’re in the middle of a campaign.
FDR: Obviously not. Reschedule the entire day. Thanks girl, byeeeeee!
And without a backward glance at the uncomfortable faces of literally all the adult women in the room, he wheels off to create the weirdest possible version of House Hunters: International. In the countryside, Martha notices a lovely house. They agree it’s probably not for rent, but FDR, undeterred, pulls into the driveway so they can ask. Later that night, they arrive back at the White House to find a fairly perturbed Missy.
Missy: So, great, you found a house!
Martha: Yes! We can get out of your hair in only a few weeks, and it’s only 30 minutes away by car!
Missy: Wow. Great. So convenient!
Martha: Look, sorry to do this, but I have to say something: I am not a threat to you.
Missy: Why would you be?
Martha: I’m the future queen of Norway, and I have no interest in trading that position for your role.
Missy, pretty mad: My what?
Martha: When we move out things will be back to normal here, I promise.
Missy: Don’t be so sure of that. If Hitler wins the war, you’ll be queen of nothing.
Ok, well there’s no need for that! Martha maybe could have broached that conversation better (or just not at all?), but to be fair to her, she’s dealing with a language and cultural barrier in addition to the whole “left my whole life behind at a moment’s notice and in a surprise long distance relationship” thing. Will the interpersonal situation in DC get less awkward? Will Olav be able to actually make a difference for Norway from England? Will Ragni ever get a chance to talk to HER husband on one of these long distance calls? Check out episode 4 to find out.