The most surprising thing about Harry & Meghan is how unsurprising it is. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some explosive revelations, they just mostly revolve around incidents we’ve heard them talk about before. The first three episodes focus on their childhoods, the early days of their romance and all the royal family landmines the twosome had to navigate.
The first episode features them as the disgustingly in love married couple at a dinner party telling an extra long version of the “how we met” story. It’s clear both felt an instant connection, but the couple kept things secret so they could get to know each other without the whole world watching. Very early on, they spent a week together in Botswana, something they both thought was the litmus test for their relationship. After that, things got serious and they never spent longer than two weeks without seeing one another. It’s all very cute, but not necessarily the bombshell that viewers were expecting.
The episode really hits its stride when Harry talks about his life in the spotlight and what it really means to live in a very fancy, gold-covered fishbowl. He talks about his mother, Princess Diana, and the tragic price she paid to be a part of the royal family. The revelations about how bad things were for his mother, his brother and himself, add a new depth and context to growing up surrounded by cameras.
“The pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution … I remember thinking, ‘How can I ever find someone who is willing and capable to be able to withstand all the baggage that comes with being with me,’” Harry says. “Every relationship that I had, within a matter of weeks or months, was splattered all over the newspapers and that person’s family harassed and their lives turned upside down…So when I got to meet [Meghan], I was terrified of her being driven away by the media, the same media that had driven so many other people away from me.”
Episode Two of Harry & Meghan features their relationship going public, which is where the Suits actress started to realize that her life would never be the same. Meghan was still working on the USA Network drama in Toronto and the minute the world discovered she was Harry’s girlfriend, the set was besieged by paparazzi. She was provided private security, but her friends and family also became media targets. It was during this time that Meghan met Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William and Princess Kate for the first time. While the story about her curtsey coming straight from Medieval Times is cute, it also signaled to the future duchess that there’s no off switch in the royal family.
“I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside, that there is a forward-facing way of being, and then you close the door and you go, ‘Oh, alright, OK, I can relax now,’ but that formality carries over on both sides, and that was surprising to me,” Meghan says.
Being in such a high-profile romance led Meghan to confront race and identity in a way she hadn’t previously done. Racist attacks from British tabloids made it very clear that her Blackness would be a mainstay in the headlines. At one point, Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, expresses regret that they didn’t have a candid discussion on racism earlier.
“It’s very different to be a minority but not be treated as a minority right off the bat. I’d say now, people are very aware of my race because they made it such an issue when I went to the U.K. But before that, most people didn’t treat me like a ‘Black woman.’ So that talk didn’t happen for me,” the Duchess of Sussex says. “At that time, I wasn’t thinking about how race played a part in any of this. I genuinely didn’t think about it.”
It’s in Episode Three where everything we’ve learned about the family and how it operates comes to a head as the couple prepares for their wedding. In a particularly sad turn of events, Meghan is “guided” not to invite her niece Ashleigh, because the communications team doesn’t want to explain why Meghan’s half-sister—who was selling stories to tabloids—wouldn’t be invited to the ceremony, but her biological daughter would be. Then the scandal with Meghan’s father staging photos breaks and she realizes her father wasn’t being truthful about everything, which ultimately led to him not attending the wedding.
“Someone texted back on his phone. It was really weird. You know how people text, right? Like, you know, my dad used a lot of emojis and a lot of, like, ellipses and dot-dot-dot and this was just the opposite,” Meghan says. “And it called me Meghan. I was like, ‘He’s never called me Meghan any day I’ve lived on this planet.’ Meg—all my friends call me Meg and my parents call me Meg. And I was like, ‘That’s not my dad.’ So then, we knew that his phone had been compromised. And we said, ‘Pick up the phone. We need to know it’s you.’ [I] never spoke to him.”
“Of course, it’s incredibly sad what happened. She had a father before this. And now she doesn’t have a father,” Harry adds. “And I shouldered that. Because if Meg wasn’t with me, then her dad would still be her dad.”
The first batch of episodes ends on the sad note of Meghan realizing her father has betrayed her just days before her wedding. Knowing all that’s happened with the couple since they were married, I hope the series does leave space for them to celebrate the joyful moments of their life and doesn’t just focus on how terrible things got before they decided to leave the royal family.
The first three episodes of Harry & Meghan are now available on Netflix, with the final three episodes premiering Dec. 15.