Titled “From Sea to Salty Sea”, the 11th episode of the third season of “The Grand Tour” is a “mini-special” that follows the boys – Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – as they traverse a corridor of territory wedged between Russia and Iran that will allow them to drive the Aston Martin DBS [Jeremy], Bentley Continental GT [Riachard] and BMW M850i [James] from the Black Sea [salty] to the Caspian Sea [freshwater].
The road trip begins in the former Russian state of Georgia – which fails to be recognized by any of the car’s voice navigational systems – where, for some unknown reasons, they begin the grand tour by visiting the boyhood home of deceased Russian dictator Josef Stalin, whose chief notoriety is gained from repressing and killing millions of people.
The road trip continues with Clarkson and May supposedly [we never see them actually do it] place the head of Stalin – aka Nigel Mansell – that they have supposedly gleaned from a nearby statue onto Hammond’s Bentley as a hood ornament. They move on to visit a disputed border area with Russia and encounter some Georgian BMW-driving yobbos on their way to Rustavi International Motorpark where they take the cars on bladder-bursting hot laps before finally finishing up at a wine spa with May taking a bath in some red wine.
They purchase some items at a flea market and enter Azerbaijan but this time do not visit the boyhood home of the former KGB agent-turned-authoritarian dictator and nutball, Heydar Aliyev and instead ignore that to focus on oil fields whose money was all funneled to Aliyev and his family members and recant a list of daily items made with oil or oil-based materials.
A race created by May to pit their track driver, Abbie Eaton, in an aging Renault 9 GTi against Clarkson and Hammond in their cars across a real-time traffic course of 50 miles with Eaton being given a two-minute head start looked promising at the beginning but deteriorated into a too-heavily-scripted mess at the end [except for the bit with Jeremy cutting his hand on pottery].
A drag race on the main straight of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix course was conducted in wet conditions, which eliminated Jeremy’s Aston and gave three straight victories to James in his BMW over Richard in his Bentley – ending in a universal agreement at the end of the show that the Bentley was the best of the three for grand touring purposes.
This episode began with significant promise but gradually missed the mark with a prolonged focus on the former head of a brutal regime [Stalin] while ignoring the repressive regime of Aliyev [therefore lacking consistency] and presenting the oil industry’s importance as a list of products without balanced relevance. As the icing on the cake, there was no Conversation Street segment. ASN awards a disappointing 83 out of 100 to this episode with the best bit watching Abbie Eaton drive an old Renault through the streets of a Azerbaijan.