Listen. If I’m going to wake up at sunrise to work, it better be worth it, but my hopes weren’t high for a series about one of the most oversaturated couples in recent history. What new information could they really offer me at this point? I wondered. The answer, it turns out, is very little. The much-anticipated, slightly delayed Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan, which for some reason has six one-hour installments (three of which were released today at 3 a.m. ET), promised to give me, a lowly member of the general population, a “first-hand account of Harry and Meghan’s story” with details from their “never before seen personal archive.” It delivered—but only insofar as I saw a lot of cute, previously private photos of the couple.
If I’m being honest, I watched the three episodes at 1.5x speed, and I’d highly recommend you do the same. There is no reason to drag out the first “volume” for three whole hours. After a montage of scathing anti-Meghan headlines and black-and-white scenes reminding us that this is not a happy story, the couple launches into a retelling of how they met in 2016—a good old-fashioned meet cute. Like any modern romcom, it involved a (quickly ditched) self-proclaimed “single girl summer,” a Snapchat selfie, Instagram stalking, back-to-back date nights in London, and an earnest desire to see where things can go. Harry then throws the first bit of the series’ many instances of mild shade at the royal family, saying, “I think for so many of the people in the family, especially the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who fits the mold as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with.”
And these two do really seem to belong together; their relationship appears as genuine and loving as the next, if not more. H & M (yup, the soulmates refer to each other by their first initials) really lived a bit of a fairytale at first: A month after they met, the two spent their only week off (Harry was doing conservation work in Africa, Meghan was filming another season of Suits) in a tent together in Botswana, blissful as can be. After that, it was all systems go: The two began secretly dating, with Meghan flying out to London every two or so weeks to see Harry. Meghan, who swears she’d never looked Harry up before they met (which, honestly, is fucking weird), really got to “know him for him.”
With quintessential American charm, Meghan cheerfully explains how little she knew of British royal protocol, recalling that she met William and Kate wearing ripped jeans and no shoes (how quirky!), and learned how to curtsy moments before she met the queen (stressful!). Then, a tabloid was tipped off to their relationship in November 2016, and it became public days later. As they say, the rest is history.
This is as much credit as I can give the documentary (so far): Everything after this moment is a rehashing of the past four years of pro-Windsor, anti-Meghan media coverage, with little new insight. We learn that when Harry brought the topic of Meghan’s harassment to his family, they were as stone-cold as you’d imagine the British royals to be, calling it a “rite of passage.” The British tabloids followed Meghan across the pond too, knocking on all of her neighbors’ doors and bribing them to install cameras to see into Meghan’s house in Toronto. And while stalking is obviously a serious matter, I can’t imagine that—at least at this point—anyone is particularly shocked that she went through this.
I did enjoy that the documentary showed how genuinely excited the British public was that Meghan would be joining the royal family. A young Black girl on the news shared that she hoped Meghan would help the royal family “change their minds about racism,” while others thought she’d bring a “fresh sparkle” to the family. Unsurprisingly, she also made a lot of the Black British community “feel seen.” “Who dreamed that Britain would’ve had a Black princess? It was a conclusion so improbable as to be astonishing,” Black British author David Olusoga says in an interview for the documentary. “Could this really be a moment in which, in essence, the Royal family caught up with the rest of Britain?”
But like any centuries-old institution built on colonization and pulsing with contemporary racism, the monarchy let them down. The tradition of dredging up the absolute worst—and usually fake—shit about members of the royal family is one that long preceded Meghan. In the third episode, Harry gives us a crash course in British tabloids, explaining that their mentality is: “This family is ours to exploit. That trauma is our story and our narrative to control.” As a mixed-race American, Meghan was caught up in the worst of it.
It’s very obvious that Meghan was perfectly cut out for the job of being a senior royal: She cared deeply about philanthropy long before she meant Harry; she’s comfortable speaking in front of and dealing with the public; and she seems to be able to charm just about anyone (except, obviously, her in-laws). Instead, she’s now reigning over a kingdom of empty content, to which this documentary can now be added—seriously, there was no need to tearfully hash out wedding invitation drama for 20 minutes straight.
Leading up to the documentary’s release, the members of the royal family planned to keep their heads down and let the criticism from the couple “blow over,” but as far as I can tell, they’ve got nothing to worry about: A bad institution already looks like a bad institution all on its own. If you ask me, the only thing that could really get their knickers in a bunch is the genuine, deep love and care that permeates Harry & Meghan. Unfortunately, no royal protocol can ever teach you that.