Peel’s call to “Choose the future, not the past” defines this week’s episode
This week, Victoria covers a lot of ground to tie several of the ongoing plot lines together. Sir Robert Peel (Nigel Lindsay) makes a push in Parliament to repeal the Corn Laws. The bill is stalled because many Tories are against repeal because they are the rich landowners who benefit from higher grain prices. We take the free trade between nations for granted today, but during the late 1840’s politicians struggled with how to manage capitalism. The Crown must stay neutral in party debates, but Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) intervenes because he believes helping the poor goes beyond politics. Drummond (Leo Suter) is standing right next to his boss as the debates escalate, but he is also contemplating the aftermath of the situation with Lord Alfred (Jordan Waller). Protesters and onlookers stand outside Parliament waiting for news on the repeal. Peel is risking the collapse of his government, but he believes England must prevent a repeat of the Irish Potato famine and move with changing times.
Within the palace, Baroness Lehzen (Daniela Holtz) is making decisions in the nursery Prince Albert isn’t happy with. She insists on fresh air in the nursery, and Albert believes the cold will make Vicky (Hallie Woodhall) sick. Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) wants to stay loyal to Lehzen because of their long history together, but it may cost her relationship with Albert. Vicky develops a fever, and now Victoria must decide which relationship is more important. Ernest (David Oakes) is undergoing mercury treatments for his syphilis, but he must decide if he wishes to pursue a marriage with Harriet (Margaret Clunie). Uncle Leopold (Alex Jennings) returns with a pony for the children as a bribe for affection and more unwanted meddling advice for Ernest and Albert. Downstairs, Mrs. Skerrett (Nell Hudson) and Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley) go out on a date to escape the drama of the castle.
What do our guests think about this action-packed episode?
Shannon (@Endy_92) – Cosplayer, Writer, Anglophile.
Melissa (@immelza) – Lover of period dramas, PBS, good books, kind people and all things Poldark
Katherine (@Lady_madchan) – Period drama lover. Anglophile. Poldark super fan.
Irene (@petitesoeur) – A lifelong fan of moving pictures, on big and small screens, particularly indie film and all things sci-fi. Irene writes for agnès films, a community that supports emerging and established women filmmakers.
Amanda (@amandarprescott) – TVAfterDark writer, founder of the Poldark Costuming Project, and contributor to Blacklanderz. Super PBS fangirl and period drama advocate. Can also often be found sewing costumes from her favorite shows.
1) Did this episode sway your overall opinion of Sir Robert Peel as a person and politician?
Shannon (@Endy_92): Nope, he’s still a smarmy politician. His morals mean nothing to me quite frankly- he’s not willing to act on them until it comes to a head and thousands of people have died. He knew action needed to be taken much much earlier but he sided “with his party” instead of with the good of the people.
Melissa (@immelza): I was thrilled to see him put people over party even when he knew that it would be the end of his political career. When he was giving his impassioned speech with the detailed background and costumes I felt like I was there actually witnessing history.
Katherine (@Lady_madchan) Not really. He’s been less memorable as a PM than Lord M. But there have been moments throughout this series that have shown him to be a decent person.
Irene (@petitesoeur): Nigel Lindsay’s thoughtful and poised portrayal of Sir Robert completely won me over. I had already taken a shine to Peel in episode 4 when he showed compassion for the plight of the Irish during “The Great Hunger.” Although historically Peel pushed for the repeal of the Corn Laws because he had become a believer in the principle of free trade, Lindsay made me believe his Sir Robert acted for more charitable reasons and that he truly was, in historian A.J.P. Taylor ‘s words, “the first rank of 19th-century statesmen.”
Amanda (@amandarprescott): My mind definitely changed on Sir Robert Peel. I found him annoying throughout Season 1 and very short-sighted early on in Season 2. Episode 4 represented a shift in his character where he became much more compassionate and willing to break party ranks. This episode cemented my respect for him. Peel learned from his earlier grave errors and fought the rich to end the Corn Laws.
2) Do you believe one or more characters overreacted to Princess Victoria’s illness?
Shannon: Given this is pre-antibiotics and pre-most childhood vaccines, absolutely not. Fevers killed kids every day. Things could turn very quickly, and the Hanover family had had a beast of a time with their children taking ill and dying many, many times. (Victoria’s aunt Adelaide had given birth to a daughter who died soon after birth- from a defect that caused a malformed intestine, in addition to three stillborn children, and another princess who died within hours of her birth). Victoria was the only heir of her generation left between the three Hanover brothers who were eligible to take the throne in England. To put that in perspective her paternal grandparents- George III and Queen Charlotte- had had FIFTEEN children. Albert was very right to worry about Vicky.
Melissa: Back in those times a fever and sickness were deadly so I didn’t think they overreacted but dismissing Lehzen was too much! I’m sure all of us reached for our crying towels as soon as we heard little Vicky had a fever, even though historically we know she lived a long life. When the carriage was pulling away and Lehzen opened the bottle of Madeira from Penge I was sobbing.
Katherine: I don’t think Albert overreacted, but he definitely played the part of the concerned father. He wasn’t wrong to make sure that his children get the best care and attention. I expected Lehzen to have a better sense for stuff like this? I was expecting her to have a good sense of whether a child was really “sick” or not. Wasn’t she the governess of the heir to the throne? A little paranoia goes a long way!
Irene: Not at all, child mortality in Victorian times was high and fact-based comprehension of disease was low. What I couldn’t fathom was Baroness Lehzen’s under-reaction and her seeming lack of concern for Princess Victoria’s well-being considering that she had been such a devoted governess to Queen Victoria when she was a child. It was difficult to watch the adults in the room more absorbed in arguing about which of them was right and in control than focusing on how ill the child was.
Amanda: Prince Albert definitely didn’t overreact to Vicky’s illness. He knows that sudden infectious illnesses were the only reason why Queen Victoria had the throne in the first place. He also has a better grasp on health and science compared to the others around him. Lehzen ignored very real signs of sickness such as coughing and pale skin just to prove a point to Victoria that Albert was too controlling. She miscalculated badly.
3) Poor Mr. Drummond! How shocked were you by this plot twist?
Shannon: Shocked! Very. Upset. VERY! I knew he wasn’t going to end up happy but Jesus. Did we have to kill the poor guy off? He’d barely had a beginning. The bit with the Duchess of Buccleuch didn’t surprise me at all; she realizes how the world works. While she may not have approved of a man and a man loving each other she understood it. The heart wants what the heart wants.
Melissa: Poor Drummond never made it to his secret rendezvous with Alfred. The funeral scene was definitely a tearjerker. I wonder what will happen with Alfred next season?
Katherine: Incredibly shocked. I really didn’t see THAT coming. I was out of commission for the rest of the evening.
Irene: There was no way that Drummond and Lord Alfred were going to get a “happily ever after.” At least Drummond got to die heroically as well as tragically, unlike his historical counterpart who, mistaken for Sir Robert, was shot in the back by a deranged man. And the events following the shooting provided a bonanza of emotional moments for the actors playing Lord Alfred, Duchess of Buccleuch, Wilhelmina Coke and Sir Robert Peel. Not a bit of scenery was chewed ~ indeed everything was underplayed which made the post-death scenes tender, sincere, and heartfelt.
Amanda: I expected a random footman or soldier to die from the many assassination attempts so far, but not Drummond! Especially as he had so much hope for his meeting with Lord Alfred. I should have known better than to expect a happy ending for Drumfred, but their story was so compelling this season. I really hope the other characters can be as understanding to Lord Alfred as the Duchess of Buccleuch was. I do have questions about the tone of his death given his identity that I am not sure what the answer is.
4) Is Ernest facing the truth of his condition or do you believe there’s more to come in next week’s episode?
Shannon: The fact he turned Harriet away after he saw the rash gives me hope he’s facing it. I’m praying for an ending, unlike his real ending. Historically he died of an STD with no children (it’s almost certain he infected his young wife Princess Alexandrine with syphilis though we don’t know which STD for sure- and rendered her sterile though Alexandrine always blamed herself for their childlessness). Ernest in the show can be quite a cad but he lacks the heartlessness the real Ernest had. I desperately want him to end up happy with Harriet but don’t think it’s likely at this point. I really do think it’s going to be Ernest who gives her up because he does love her.
Melissa: Ernest is definitely in denial. I knew as soon as that bath scene and the “what’s that on your back” before his date it was going to be bad. It was maybe he’ll just take his syphilis infected mercury poisoned self back to Germany.
Katherine: Probably more to come. Syphilis symptoms come and go unless it’s treated the modern way.
Irene: Sending your valet with a message that your “indisposed” to the women who think she about to be proposed to by you are not facing the truth ~ it’s hiding from it. If Ernest tells Harriet the truth next week ~ well that’ll be one helluva Christmas present.
Amanda: Ernest to me is definitely avoiding the reckoning of the consequences of his condition. The only thing he can do definitively is rejecting all of Uncle Leo’s random German princesses. He can’t face Harriet and he doesn’t even make eyes at Wilhelmina. I believe next week may not deliver a “Christmas Miracle”, but he may finally summon up the courage to face Harriet.
5) On a scale of 1-10, how much did you swoon over Skeretelli and why?
Shannon: He can cook, the accent is adorable, AND he’s he’s pretty good looking. He’s no Ernest, but he’s a solid 8.5. He does make some very good tarts- and he gets points for not having an STD. We could skip the boat trip as I get awfully seasick but otherwise, I will share my parasol with him anytime.
Melissa: Francatelli totally redeemed himself tonight with the romantic rowing date by the Serpentine, the strawberry tarts and the parasol kisses were very sweet and endearing. It was nice to see Ms. Skerrett so happy. I always love when they film the scenes outside it really shows the beauty of English countryside.
Katherine: Yes! I love watching them. The slow burn is exquisite.
Irene: 11 ~ because being rowed around a river & being fed strawberry tarts by the ever-so-charming Ferdinand Kingsley, err I mean Charles Elmé Francatelli, turned out to be the best romantic path to Ms. Skerrett’s heart, better even than a reel in the Scottish Highlands. Their banter was endearing and the strategic deployment of Ms. Skerrett’s parasol was an amusing touch. And I bet that there are few Doctor Who fans who would not swoon over the line: “Life is like a souffle.”
Amanda: Definitely a 10!! I’ve shipped Skeretelli since the pilot. I was so worried Skeretelli hit the skids after Skerrett’s Scottish fling, but their outing was incredibly romantic. Francatelli is just as handsome rowing a boat as he is stirring cake mix! He also can see past Skerrett’s slightly dodgy origins. There better be a Christmas wedding proposal next week or else!
6) Were you surprised by the conclusion of the Baroness Lehzen storyline?
Shannon: Yes and no. I’ve seen and read quite a bit about Victoria’s life, I knew Lehzen left after Vicky’s illness. The way Goodwin handled it seems very plausible from what we know. “Officially” she was sent away for her health “for a time” and just never returned. That is a case where you had to read between the lines. It was time for Victoria to grow up. It was time for Victoria to move beyond the woman who had for all intents and purposes been her mother far more than Princess Victoria. Albert was there. Albert loved Victoria. It was time to move on from the nurse who had cared for her from the time she was a little girl. Lehzen had Victoria’s best interests at heart- and those of Victoria’s children- it was just time for Victoria to move on. Not going to lie the bottle Pench gave her had me crying like a baby.
Melissa: This episode we really got to see the emotional caring side of the Baroness. It really showed the depth of knowledge she had about every daily happening in the palace. The way she broke the news to Albert and consoled him really showed that her character had more depth other than the usual complaining she usually amuses us with.
Katherine: Not really. I knew that Lehzen wouldn’t be around forever and I knew the general reason why. I figured that it had to be coming.
Irene: It was inevitable that the Baroness’s dour face and demeanor would be banished from the Victoria/Albert household. There’s been a smoldering fire of animosity between Lehzen and Albert waiting to be set ablaze by a conflict that Victoria would be forced to put out by making a choice between her governess and her husband. Shout-out to director Daniel O’Hara for the blocking of the final scene between Victoria and Lehzen. Tons of emotional resonance in having Victoria turn her back on Lehzen and stay that way until the final moment of tearful reconciliation to the necessity of letting go: “It is difficult to hold two people in your heart.”
Amanda: I was expecting Lehzen to get the boot for being rude to Albert. This season was all about finalizing the break from the past for Queen Victoria so she could forge a life with Albert. Lord M showed her that she had to put Albert first in her life. Lehzen was the final holdover from the Kensington System, and Victoria’s arc this entire season has been all about moving to the next stage of maturity.
7) Victoria believes her and Albert are “on the same side”, but are you convinced by her words?
Shannon: They are but Albert is always there to challenge her to be a better person. Albert is an idealist. Victoria is a realist. They’re opposite sides of the same coin. They complement each other. They need each other. They understand each other. Victoria knows that. You can be on the same side as someone and not always agree with them. Albert wants her to be the best queen she can be- they just don’t always agree as to what that entails.
Melissa: I think ultimately they are on the same side as they are bound in marriage and service. But, day to day they I think they probably argue frequently because they are young and navigating royal life together. Also, Victoria is the boss, she knows she’s the boss so it has to be hard for Albert to assume a more subservient role.
Katherine: In terms of the big picture, yes. They have each other’s backs especially in comparison to many of the couples of the period. But there is always going to be a back and forth power struggle between them due to inherent differences in their positions, and the way that the balance can shift as Victoria has more children.
Irene: I believe that she believes that marriage should not be a battlefield. I also believe that, as much as they love each other, there’s bound to be a clash of royal wills. I doubt we have seen the last of their conflicts, disagreements, and arguments. Nor the last time Victoria uses her ‘I am not *just* your wife, I am your Queen’ card.
Amanda: I believe Victoria knows Albert is the person she relies on the most. She can see he has a much better grasp at sharing power and responsibility. However, during the next argument, I fully expect her to forget the bigger scheme of things and focus on the immediate situation. Especially if he tries to pull the mansplaining card or the argument involves his reform projects.
Fans watching “The Luxury of Conscience” endured an absolute rollercoaster of emotions
Many fans wondered if this was the season finale. In a way, it was because this episode was the UK Season 2 finale. Due to avoiding spoilers, PBS is airing the standalone Christmas special as the finale next week. The direction and pacing were critical to keeping the tears, smiles, and suspense for each scene. Throughout the episode, candlelight and brown toned lighting set the mood for emotional conflicts. The events that led to Drummond’s death have been carefully developed since Season 1. Daisy Goodwin planted every angry protest scene and dodged assassination attempts until this point as a precursor, making the fatal shot have the most emotional impact. The real Edward Drummond also died, but the staging on the fatal shot made his tragedy so much more painful on screen compared to the history books. The Duchess of Buccleuch (Diana Rigg) deserves a shout out for completely flipping the script on her character and being incredibly kind instead of tearing down an already broken person. Jordan Waller also brilliantly captured the conflict between society’s expectations and the heart in Lord Alfred’s grief. Nigel Lindsay’s portrayal of the end of Peel’s leadership was especially compelling. Many fans who didn’t like Peel’s leadership, in the beginning, were sad to see him go in the end.
Related | Drama After Dark Issue 13: The Deuce continues with season 2, Justin Hartley signs with CAA, and more!
Although Drummond’s death highlighted just how turbulent politics was in the late 1840’s. Several European countries went through violent revolutions, and Queen Victoria was largely spared this fate due to Parliament passing critical reform legislation, However, there is a question of whether Drummond’s death is an offensive example of the “Bury Your Gays” trope according to TVTropes. Several TV shows in the past year have been heavily criticized for killing off LGBTQ characters as a way of provoking drama. We have observed fandoms raise this issue and advocates demanding more positive representation.
There is a counterpoint to this question which must be considered. Victoria is a period drama where the odds of Drummond living out of the closet wouldn’t lead to unhappy endings are stacked completely against him. The recent complaints about the trope come from science fiction or modern dramas where acceptance of LGBTQ identity is a given. In addition, Drummond was introduced as a prominent government official who was at risk of being targeted because he made public appearances as Peel’s right-hand man. We do not believe that Daisy Goodwin intended for Drummond’s death to be interpreted as a punishment for his feelings. In the script, Drummond’s death is most likely an unintended consequence of condensing several incidents and real-life historical figures into one character. However, this is a question that was not addressed by UK reviewers of the episode. Although this question is raised, we believe it would be best fully answered by more knowledgeable viewers.
Christmas in February might feel a bit odd, but we’re looking forward to a bright and cheery episode next week. There should be plenty of cute moments for the royal children and Vicbert kissing under the mistletoe. We are especially excited to see the story behind Sarah, the Queen’s black adopted child. This moment of diversity is already generating excitement among POC fans of the series. Prince Albert is also responsible for a lot of our current holiday traditions so this history will also be interesting for viewers.