'Victoria' Season 1: 'The Clockwork Prince' Recap

Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne in less angsty times. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)
Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne in a less angsty moment. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)

Previously on Victoria: The queen’s Uncle Leopold, the King of Belgium, comes to visit. He and Victoria’s mother immediately start campaigning for Victoria to get married. As for the queen, she’s not terribly interested in any of her current suitors, largely because she’s pretty much head over heels for Lord Melbourne. But, when she confesses her feelings for him, he does the noble thing and rejects her, putting his duty to England first. Though Lord M later backhandedly confirms that he shares Victoria’s romantic attachment, the young queen remains convinced that she will never be happy. But King Leopold has surreptitiously invited his nephew Albert to come to England for a visit, against the queen’s wishes.

This week, we finally meet Prince Albert. But the show may have waited just a bit too long to introduce the famous love of Victoria’s life. Not only have we all already developed crushes on Lord Melbourne (and the swoon-worthy Rufus Sewell) in the meantime, but his initial arrival kind of said “rude jerk” more than “perfect prince”.  Will Albert acquit himself a little better this week?  

Welcome to England, Albert. We pick up right where we left off, with Albert dramatically arriving at Victoria’s court just in time to turn the page for her while she’ s playing piano. They immediately hit it off in that way that that’s actually more like loathing, but is meant to indicate that their initial dislike of each other really hides attraction. Albert’s brother Ernest has also come along with him, and he’s much more charming, if you ask me. Or at least knows enough not to insult the queen’s piano playing ability and knowledge of art to her face.

At first Victoria spends a lot of time trying to get away from and/or ignore Albert. She’s frequently irritated by the fact that he seems to view her as vacuous and silly – he mocks her for talking to her dog and lectures her for not appreciating the technical marvel of a self-adhesive postage stamp enough. Albert, for his part, is very serious, and seems wildly unfun, Prince Ernest, along with Victoria’s mother and uncle are all already hardcore shippers of the two of them together though, and spend a lot of time trying to push them toward one another.  They manipulate the two into playing a piano duet together, and everyone’s taken with how well they play (and look) together. Albert of course ruins the moment by telling her that she should practice more often instead of wasting her time playing silly card games.

But, clearly, Albert’s opinion matters to Victoria for some reason, since she starts practicing scales the next day.

A First Dance.  Victoria hosts an after dinner dance for the visiting princes, despite the fact that she insists she’d rather eat dirt than dance with Albert. This is, as you have probably guessed, a complete lie. Lord M, in his apparently new signature move, sends her more rare flowers – gardenias this time – from his Brocket Hall greenhouse. But, before he can ask her to dance, he’s cut off by Albert, and must watch, stricken as Victoria and the German prince share a dramatic waltz together. Seriously, there’s slow motion and everything. The physical attraction between the two is obvious, which I expect is supposed to make up for the fact that up until this moment, Albert has spent the bulk of his time lecturing or criticizing Victoria about virtually everything. I guess there is really no accounting for taste?

After their dance, Albert tells Victoria a weirdly timed anecdote about how his dead mother used to come tuck him in and night wearing gardenias in her hair. Victoria, who for some reason finds this story charming instead of strange, insists he must have the flower she’s wearing. Albert, rather than just taking this offering like a normal person, yanks a knife from his boot and rips a whole in his shirt, while in the middle of the dance floor, so he can tuck the flower into his shirt. Um… I guess that’s romantic? Maybe? Victoria looks pretty swoony about it, so it must be working. 

Poor Lord Melbourne. Despite his and Victoria’s general agreement that nothing romantic can happen between them, the two are still constantly in each other’s company. They generally look as besotted with one another as ever. And Lord M is constantly asking veiled questions about whether Victoria views Albert as marriage material. (He’s clearly hoping for her to say no.)

It’s sort of sweet and sad – after all, Melbourne is the one who quite rightly realized that there’s no real future for them together romantically, and he clearly knows the queen well enough to know that she’ll never be happy in a life without a partner in it. But his feelings for her are still extremely obvious, and it’s clearly proving more difficult for him to actually let her go than it was for him to talk about the idea of it. In other words: Rufus Sewell’s sad puppy eyes hurt my soul. 

Albert is very nineteenth-century emo. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)
Albert is very nineteenth-century emo. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)

A Night Out at Windsor. Victoria, still on cloud nine after her dance with Albert, decides to take the whole court to Windsor for the day. Ostensibly this is because Albert mentioned that he preferred forests to gardens, since multiple people have already said how much the queen herself dislikes that palace. In theory, this is probably meant to be a charming gesture – a girl trying to do something to impress a boy she likes – but since almost everyone is archly mocking toward her about it, it kind of feels strange. She commands Melbourne to meet them there for dinner, since he would be at Buckingham Palace if they were staying in London. He doesn’t look thrilled about this, and tries to decline, as it seems obvious that he’s only willing to be a complete a masochist up to a certain point. But Victoria insists.

When Melbourne arrives at the castle for dinner, Albert gets obviously jealous again, and it’s once more quite apparent that this love triangle is just really uncomfortable to watch. It’s also oddly imbalanced, given that Melbourne has, for all intents and purposes, given Victoria up, so it’s a bit strange that Albert is so combative about him. The scene in which the three of them discuss Charles Dickens, and Albert takes the opportunity to dress Melbourne down about the sad state of the poor in England, is especially strange. (It’s even odder when one considers the historical reality that Victoria herself wasn’t exactly a champion of the downtrodden, and was deeply uninterested in the plight of the poor.) It’s one of those instance where what they’re discussing has almost nothing to do with the actual point of the conversation, and watching Albert get territorial about a woman he was pretty rude to right up until the moment he danced with her is kind of bizarre. 

Perhaps this is because I’m generally tired of the standard trope that characters who are antagonistic towards each other upon first meeting are destined to fall in love? Perhaps it’s because I’m destined now to forever be a Victoria/Melbourne shipper? I don’t know, but it’s very off-putting. Maybe Albert will be better for Victoria once they’re actually together, because watching the process of them getting together is kind of irritating. 

The Downstairs Story of the Week. For some reason, Victoria thinks that what we all really want is to have the much more interesting stories of Victoria and her ministers interrupted by tales involving the downstairs servants whose names we can barely remember.  So the servants’ B-plot of the week continues. At least this time we don’t have to deal with Francatelli’s weird flirtation with Skerrett. Instead, we get another hint about Skerrett’s secret past. Because she’s been having secret meetings with a strange lady in order to give her money.

At first these meetings look like blackmail, since the strange woman is demanding cash. She even goes to far as to encourage Skerrett to steal from the palace pay her off. (She can’t go through with that idea, in the end.) But it turns out she knows this woman – and that her name is not Eliza Skerrett.  The mystery woman is the real Eliza, and she’s her friend or cousin or sister or something, who was originally supposed to be the queen’s hairdresser. Only she got pregnant and FakeEliza took her place instead and now has to help support them. Whose child is this? How is Fake Eliza related to her? What’s going on? Guess we won’t find out until next week’s installment of As the Downstairs Turns. 

This is a Very Idyllic Forest.  The next day, Victoria, Albert, Ernest, their footman and Dash all head out for a ride around the promised Windsor woods.  Albert is very into feeling at one with the forest, and Ernest is very into a being a good wingman and selling his brother to Victoria. After he heads back to the castle, Victoria and Albert go for a walk together. Ostensibly it’s to see some tree that dates from the Norman Conquest but it’s really an excuse for a lot of standing close together, running through the trees, and laughing. And a rather lengthy slow-motion sequence, which I guess is supposed to tell us that running through the woods is a metaphor for falling in love?            

While they’re out wandering about, Dash gets caught in a trap and the cutest pupper on TV breaks his leg. Victoria is distraught, because Dash is her everything, and Albert comes to the rescue by both freeing the dog from the trap and ripping a sleeve from his shirt to make a bandage and splint. I don’t know what in the world kind of fabric his country makes their shirts from, but they seem entirely too shreddable with very little effort. Victoria tries to explain what Dash means to her, and how she had very few friends before she became Queen. She says it’s better now that she has Lord M and her ladies, but still, Dash is important. 

Albert, for some reason, decides that this is a perfect time to have an argument with her, and tells Victoria that he thinks Lord Melbourne is not serious. He insists that he spends too much time with her and too little on the people of his country. Albert knows this because he saw poor children selling matchsticks in the city that one time he visited it. Duh. Victoria, furious, says she’s been a queen while he’s been studying art, and that she doesn’t need him to tell her what to think, thank you very much. “That’s Lord Melbourne’s job,” says Prince Albert, because he is super petty and fixated on this one subject. (Shut up, Albert.)

Poor Lord M. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)
Poor Lord M. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Plc)

Melbourne Decides Its Time to Go. After a bittersweet conversation in which Victoria admits Albert doesn’t think she should spend so much time with Melbourne, the Prime Minister decides that it’s probably time for him to hang it up, professionally speaking. (And just to twist the knife on us poor Vicbourne shippers one last time, he says something devastating like “only a fool would turn you away, M’aam” under his breath after she talks about wanting Albert to smile at her. BRB, I just have to lay down on the floor for a minute. Poor Lord M!)

Anyway, Lord M decides yet again to be self-sacrificing, and informs Albert that he won’t be running Victoria’s government much longer. You know, since the queen has become so much steadier in her role as monarch and really relies on him less and less nowadays. (Ugh, such lies!) The undercurrent of this conversation is that he’s really telling Albert that he’s going to get out of the way so the prince can stop being such a jealous baby and be with Victoria if he wants to. Ernest has a look on his face that says at least he knows that Lord M is stepping aside for Albert, which proves once again that he might be the better of these pair of princes at the moment.

Victoria Pops the Question. It turns out that, as queen, Victoria is the one who has to propose to any future husband. So, after she waffles endlessly about what to do, she gets dressed in a really stunningly beautiful gown. She puts gardenias in her hair again, because she’s decided to indulge this weird mommy issue thing Albert has for them. (At least she has sense enough to not ask Lord Melbourne to get them for her this for this particular occassion?) . She nervously asks him to marry her, and Albert actually smiles when he says yes. The kiss and twirl around the room. The scene is beautiful to look at, and goodness knows these two are gorgeous together, but I’m still left kind of wondering about how they fell in love quite this fast.

I think I read rumors that Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes got together in real life while filming this show, and watching them onscreen together, I believe it. They have a really strong chemistry together – it’s sort of romantic, I suppose, but it also is just chemistry in the most basic sense of it’s incredibly obvious that these two people are extremely attracted to each other. Given that Albert has been kind of overbearing and terrible to Victoria thus far, their attraction is having to do a lot of heavy lifting in this relationship. Their courtship feels so rushed – particularly when compared to the fact that we had multiple episodes dealing with Victoria’s attraction to/heartbreak over Lord Melbourne. Sure, we all know that she loves Albert, because history told us so, but why? And that’s what I wish we’d spend an episode or two on. Because as it stands their relationship feels a lot more check the box than a real romance. Here’s hoping that they get more interesting now that they are together than they were while they were trying to get together. Fingers crossed, because I want to love them together. 

Otherwise, I’d rather just watch a completely made up historical alternate reality version where Victoria and Lord M run off to Brocket Hall and watch the rooks.