Potemkin had built his legendary villages to be viewed from a distance as the Empress passed by in her carriage. They were meant to be merely glanced at, for effect, like a neon sign or a fashion model, and were created accordingly.
But what if the Empress decides to leave the designated path, what if she even deigns to step down from her carriage and see the village for herself, close-up? The unsuspecting peasants, not wanting to be implicated in the grand deception, run away in terror at their ruler’s approach. Her entourage is likewise frozen with fear; small, indelicate lines of sweat collect underneath their wigs.
The Empress herself enjoys the trepidation she feels as she is about to encounter the real life of her subjects. This is the first time. Everything seems strange to her — the houses, the silence.
On entering the village streets she finds it odd that there’s no one else walking them. She makes her way toward the town center where the inhabitants will inevitably be found, but quickly discovers that there is no town center and that she might as well be walking through empty fields.
She walks back to her carriage in a bad temper and without a word. Her terrified courtiers return her silence, for what can they possibly tell her? She orders her driver to continue on to the next village where the entire scene is repeated. She sees a sudden gust of wind blow down one of the hastily constructed house fronts.
On her ride back to the palace she wonders whether this is what a village is really like and whether all villages are just as empty and artificial. She wonders whether this holds true from one end of her Empire to the other and, if it does, whether she is even really an Empress at all.