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ASK MATTHEW

What if I don’t want to start at the beginning of ‘The Crown’?

If you jump in at season four, here’s what you’ll miss, and what you won’t

Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin play Prince Charles and Princess Diana in season four of "The Crown."
Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin play Prince Charles and Princess Diana in season four of "The Crown."Des Willie/Netflix

Q. Everyone seems to be talking about “The Crown,” a show I wasn’t particularly interested in because I’m not a fan of period dramas. I’m finally curious enough, with all the Diana and Thatcher stuff, and wondering if it’s OK to just start with season four.

DON’T WANT HOMEWORK

A. I’ve thought about this, because you are not the first person to ask. Usually, I encourage people to go back and start at the beginning, unless it’s a series like “Law & Order” that, despite a few ongoing subplots, is essentially made up of self-contained episodes. When you start at the beginning of a series that features an ongoing story line, you get the build, you get the callbacks, you get the full experience of discovery. If I’d started “The Americans” with, say, season four, I would have missed the conflicts that led to some powerful differences between Keri Russell’s Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys’s Philip. Their marriage, and the specifics of their scenes together, might not have made sense to me.

But I’m thinking you just won’t bother with Netflix’s “The Crown” at all if I push you to go back to the first season! And, in the case of something like “The Crown,” whose broad arc is based on relatively recent history as seen through the experiences of Queen Elizabeth, you can probably start with season four and still understand and appreciate what you see.

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You will, of course, miss some subtle things by jumping in at that point. You’ll miss the smooth way creator Peter Morgan has shown Elizabeth evolve from an ordinary royal relative into the heir presumptive (after her uncle, King Edward, abdicated) and, in her 20s, into a queen with much to learn. You’ll miss her growing distant from authentic engagement with others, as she retreats into royal protocol, and you’ll miss the show’s simultaneous shift from Claire Foy’s more innocent portrayal to Olivia Colman’s darker take.

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But then, if you do enjoy season four, you can go back to the beginning. Your perspective on the show’s Elizabeth will be different from those who started with season one, but so what. There’s not much in season four that constitutes a spoiler of what came before, if you’ve followed British history even slightly. I mean, learning that Charles married Diana and Margaret Thatcher became prime minister is not going to ruin the previous seasons, really. Now what are you waiting for? Jump in.

MATTHEW GILBERT