Recapping Mr. Selfridge: Episode 2

Previously, on Mr. Selfridge: American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge is bound and determined to open the greatest department store the world has ever seen in London. This process is a dramatic one. He gets a shopgirl (Agnes) fired, joins forces with a semi-scandalous society lady (Lady Mae), develops a crush on an actress (Ellen), has the most awesome staff ever (Mr. Crab, Fraser, Henri Leclair) and hires about a billion random workers who all have varied storylines intersecting with each other (Kitty, Victor, George, Miss Mardle, Mr. Grove, etc.). It’s a lot of plot – and a lot of character names – to remember, and I didn’t even mention the actual members of the Selfridge family yet. Whew.

Anyway. Mr. Selfridge rolls on this week with its second episode, complete with debates over beauty products, scandalous affairs, flirting and all manner of drama. Click through for a play-by-play and come dish the latest developments in the comments.

Welcome to Ellen’s New Flat. Clearly, Harry Selfridge works fast. Last week, he sent Ellen a key to the new flat he’d gotten her as a “Thanks for having an affair with me” present. (Is there a greeting card for that?) This week, they seem fairly firmly ensconced in it. Our episode opens with Selfridge lounging on one of Ellen’s new sofas watching her theoretically “rehearse” a song from her show, sporting what appears to be a nightdress and feather boa. It also seems safe to assume that Miss Love did not achieve her current level of celebrity by virtue of her stellar singing voice.

Ellen prances around for a minute more, caterwauling some song about honeysuckles and honeybees and it’s all very double entendre laden. She pulls Selfridge up to dance with her and they start chasing each other around her new flat until they end up in bed. Some time later, Ellen’s putting herself back together at her dressing table and Selfridge – now unfortunately shirtless and reclining against her headboard – is saying how much he loves to watch her do her makeup and asking about her past as a showgirl. Ellen tells a story about how she ended up getting her big break and changing her name and it’s sort of interesting in the sense that it’s as calculated as anything else she does. (Also from the shallow end: Goodness but Zoe Tapper has the most gorgeous hair.) Anyway, Selfridge isn’t interested so much in Ellen’s stories anymore and drags her back to bed. 

Another of Those Modern Marvels as the Dowager Countess Would Say. Selfridge decides the store should start selling perfume in its front/lobby areas after he realizes that the streets immediately outside his establishment are kind of dirty and gross. He thinks the perfume will camouflage some of the muck from the streets and let them sell more of it at the same time. (Apparently perfume is currently being sold in the pharmacy which seems terribly bizarre to me, but congrats Mr. Selfridge for inventing the perfume department?)

The Selfridge’s staff is not so into this idea – the women all insist that perfume is like a Sekrit Ladies Item and should not be out where people can see it. Henri is into it, because he is French. Selfridge also suggests that he’s considering selling beauty products and possibly even makeup right up front alongside all the perfume and all the ladies on his staff are left gasping in shock at this blasphemy. (Don’t you just wish you could show one of them a Sephora and see what would happen?) Henri is still really into it, because it’s a whole new way to shop and I guess also because he is still French. And since as Henri goes, so goes my nation, I’m going to go along with it too. Mr. Crab basically responds to this suggestion as though someone has said they should sell heroin by the front door. He says he’d never approve of such a thing, and neither would his wife or any other respectable woman. He then archly points out that Selfridge’s wife would never approve either, which just goes to show that poor Mr. Crab really has no idea how little Selfridge appears to consider his wife’s opinion on anything. 

The Ellen Situation Continues. The staff meeting disperses when news that Ellen Love has arrived reaches Selfridge. She’s having some problems deciding on what fur coat she would like and Selfridge hurries off to help her sort out this important issue. The female members of Selfridge’s heads of department discuss the fact that Ellen is always in the store buying things with the boss’s credit. Crab doesn’t like that they’re gossiping, but apparently people are talking about Ellen and Selfridge now. (Which, really, it’s not like they’re subtle?)

Ellen continues not being subtle by putting on an impromptu performance of some other terrible song from a show that she’s in down on the first floor of the store. She’s drawn quite a crowd. Selfridge arrives and she drags him to the center of the circle of onlookers to be her dance partner and they do a twirl around the area together with everyone watching. Ellen’s still singing a love song and Selfridge has a ridiculously huge grin on his face and everyone’s staring at them because it’s obvious that there’s something going on between them. Of course, this is exactly when Selfridge’s mom shows up and gets an eyeful of them flirting.

Selfridge takes his mom to lunch in the posh store restaurant after his impromptu Dancing with the Stars performance and she archly points out that he’s still got lipstick on his check from where Ellen kissed him. She’s radiating disapproval and doing that thing where she’s talking about everything except the thing she’s actually angry about. Selfridge gets huffy and says it’s great for business that Ellen Love comes to the store to shop, because she encourages people to buy things. His mom argues that he has to maintain a professional relationship with her if he’s going to use her to endorse specific products and I kind of really love that Mrs. Selfridge the elder is such a business saavy lady.

Meet Henri’s New Lady Friend. Henri consults his friend Valerie about the great women’s beauty products at the front of the store debate. She works at an American advertising firm and is sort of like shopping’s answer to Don Draper apparently, and she agrees to come into the store and talk with everyone about the whole mess.

She takes the group through a variety of products, including power, lipstick and rouge, and explains what they are, while noting how different gender groups tend to respond to seeing them in stores. Apparently a lot of these products are in some way connected with prostitutes, which is of course enough to give Mr. Crab apoplexy. He is insistent that London is not Paris and that attitudes in their city toward such things are different.  The meeting adjourns and Henri and Valerie retire for a romantic afternoon, in which Valerie attempts to convince to come to New York to work, but he says he’s promised Selfridge to stay with him for at least the first year. 

Time for a Boys Night Out. Selfridge notices that Henri is kind of down during their grand reorganization of the front of the store displays and decides to take him out to cheer him up. Because Selfridge is a terrible friend, he takes Henri to see Ellen’s latest theatrical production which – believe it or not – actually looks worse than Typewriter: The Musical from last week. This week’s theatrical disaster involves girls in hot pink pajamas having an imaginary slumber party with teddy bears, including one that Ellen throws into the crowd, directly into Selfridge’s box. The best part of this whole thing is watching the variety of expressions Henri uses to convey his hatred of the experience, from yawning to fake smiling to looking bored to throwing back a martini during Selfridge’s big catch. It’s possible there should be a website devoted only to Henri reaction GIFs because his expressions are fantastic. 

After the “show” is over, Selfridge and Henri go back to Ellen’s dressing room. Selfridge tells Ellen she was wonderful while Henri continues to look bored. Ellen finally gives Henri a frosty look and asks if he liked the show. Henri says it was “amusing” in the same tone of voice you use when you describe visiting irritating family members as “pleasant.” Selfridge tries to save the day by saying that Henri is more of an opera fan and Henri agrees, claiming those women sing like goddesses. Ellen picks up on the obvious slight to her (poor) singing ability and asks if he means that she doesn’t. Henri, because Henri is awesome, simply says that Ellen has other assets. Ellen is angry and says that Henri’s only a window designer who doesn’t have any assets either. Selfridge says they have to stop fighting because he needs both of them, but I wish they wouldn’t because this is tremendously enjoyable. 

The three of them then head to a posh party at what appears to be a gambling establishment and Ellen then gets angry at Selfridge because he ignores her to play cards with Lady Mae’s whiny young paramour Tony. She tells him she’s not the kind of girl who likes to wait around, but Selfridge isn’t listening. He then proceeds to win a lot of money from Lady Mae’s boyfriend, which is a plot point that is obviously going to come up again. 

Ellen and Henri end up sitting together for a bit because Selfridge has abandoned them both. Ellen says that Henri doesn’t like her because she called his photos rubbish. Henri says that’s only one of the reasons he doesn’t like her, claiming that she’s trouble, particularly for men like Selfridge who are drawn to troublesome women. Ellen archly observes that Henri is very fond of Selfridge and asks if he’s gay. Henri laughs and says no, that he’s really just a perfectionist. Ellen says that she is too and she turns the charm up to eleven, saying that she didn’t mean to be rude to him. Henri says next time he shoots her he’ll let her pick her own photo poses and it sort of looks like they might be on the way to being friends, but since Henri clearly hates her I doubt it. 

Everyone goes home alone after the posh party – Selfridge to his wife who’s faking being asleep to avoid dealing with the fact that she’s clearly unhappy about his late night ways and Ellen to her shiny new flat where she spends some time singing the Annoying Honeysuckle Song again and snorting a white powder that appears to be some form of snuff or cocaine or whatever out of a compact. Winners, all around. 

Agnes and Her Dramatic Home Life. Agnes comes home to find her father has been sacked from his job (and is clearly never leaving her flat now). It also turns out he’s pretty drunk, as evidenced by his decision to start berating Agnes – about her job, her personality, her treatment of him – pretty much immediately. Agnes looks sad and depressed, but points out that her father did a pretty terrible job of parenting. She says she doesn’t ever remember him being sober and Reg decides the appropriate response to this accusation is to punch his daughter in the face. He immediately apologizes and looks contrite, but Agnes is already running away with a hand over her face. 

Some time later – and I mean way later, we seriously don’t come back to the Agnes storyline for twenty minutes – Agnes is sitting in front of a mirror, trying to cover up her black eye with face powder when Victor shows up at her house. She’s apparently been staying home sick and Victor’s brought her breakfast and wants to see if she’d like to walk to work with him. Agnes says no and hides in the shadows so he can’t see her face. Agnes returns to work and has to awkwardly explain her injury to the Mean Girls of Accessories once Kitty points it out totally tactlessly. She says she fainted and hit her head and it doesn’t really look like anyone believes her.

There’s also some flirting going on between Agnes and Henri – he’s explaining the new perfume situation to her and actually ends up sniffing her neck at one point, which seems awfully forward for the early 1900s. He then asks her to help him figure out what their new in-house perfume scent ought to be and they bond over flowers and childhood stories. Agnes learns that Henri at one point asked Valerie to marry him but she turned him down. We all decide that Valerie is an idiot.      

Doing the Season. Rose goes to see Lady Mae about the fact that her daughter, Rosalie would like to do the London Season. She admits that as an American she’s at a loss as to how to proceed. Mae is totally excited about it and says that she was right to come see her, given that her husband only has “shopkeeping associations” to help her out with it. She even offers to host a tea party for Rosalie and archly insists that everyone will want to come because the Selfridges are such a talked about couple in town. 

Mae then brings up Ellen Love again, implying that there’s gossip about Selfridge and the actress. Rose admits that in her experience her husband’s infatuations don’t last that long and ignoring them outright is usually the most efficient way to handle things. Why Mae is taking such an interest in all this is unclear, but she points out that this particular interest of Selfridge’s is quite ambitious and that she herself is evidence that chorus girls can rise in the world. She also breaks the news to Rose about Selfridge getting a flat for Ellen and Rose looks horribly shocked. 

Turnabout is Fair Play? Rose leaves Mae’s house, still looking stunned, and heads straight back to the building where Edwardian Hipster, the young artist she met at the Portrait Gallery, lives. She says that he must think her very forward, just showing up at his flat like a stalker like this, but Edwardian Hipster reassures her, claiming that he’s just been haunting the museum in the hopes she might come back there again. He wants to know why she came back and Rose says she came on an impulse and wanted to see what he was working on. She looks a bunch of his paintings and compliments them and then suggests that maybe he ought to paint her. This is awkward to watch, because it’s so obvious that Rose really just wants someone to pay some attention to her and tell her she’s pretty because Selfridge is straight up ignoring her, but you just know this isn’t going to end well. 

Henri Leclair is Awesome. Henri’s working on the photoshoot for the new Selfridge’s perfume with Ellen, who’s going to be the face of the product for them. He’s unhappy with all the photos so far, but Ellen tells him to send everyone from the room because she has a lot of ideas. She then proceeds to pose somewhat seductively with the bottle while Henri tells her how great she looks. He tells her to have fun with it and lets her do another noseful of snuff/cocaine/whatever it is, as her photos start to look more and more dramatic. 

Henri and Ellen then go to present their work to Selfridge. Henri says the pictures are a bit experimental, but claim they are Ellen’s vision, etc etc, and this is how you know that things are about to Get Real. Selfridge flips through the photos and his face falls further and further as he sees more shots of Ellen kissing the perfume bottle and generally looking kind of Cleopatra-style suggestive ridiculous. He tells Ellen he can’t use any of these pictures because they’re a family store and obviously these are scandalous. Ellen simpers at him, but Selfridge isn’t having it. He tells Ellen to leave and says he has to talk to Henri, who is busily smirking behind his chair. Ellen shoots him a Look of Death and storms out, finally catching on that she’s been set up. Selfridge says that Henri is ruthless. Henri merely says he has another suggestion for the perfume design, and goes with the lily of the valley theme Agnes had helped him come up with early. He wants to call it “Unforgettable” and Selfridge likes it a lot.

Relationship Drama Everywhere. Surveying the store, Crab admits to Selfridge that their new perfume venture is going swimmingly and that their house brand is selling very well. He hesitantly asks how Selfridge is feeling about makeup these days and Selfridge very solemnly says that they’ll still sell things like powder and lipstick, but they’ll do it discreetly and under the counter. Crab is tremendously relieved, saying that Mrs. Crab wouldn’t have liked it. Selfridge agrees that his wife wouldn’t’ have either, and it suddenly sounds like he’s talking about a lot more than a pot of rogue. Meanwhile, back at the Terrible Theater, Ellen is doing her hot pink pajama teddy bear number again, only this time, Selfridge’s box is empty.  

Agnes is pleased about the new perfume window that’s based on her ideas, and Henri says he won’t forget how much she helped him come up with it. Victor the waiter is watching the two of them together and looks sort of creepy and unhappy about it. 

Selfridge tells Crab it’s time they both got home to their wives, but it turns out that his wife is busy having another painting session with Edwardian Hipster. He wants to paint her doing something, not sitting still, so they settle on having her pose as if she were painting. He arranges her hands and takes her hair out of its clip and it’s all sort of a early twentieth century version of Ghost and Rose is clearly smitten with him. Uh oh, Mr. Selfridge, maybe you should have had that revelation about missing your family a little prior to now?

Verdict on this Week? Hmm. Jeremy Piven seems to have dialed it back a bit on the sweeping American mannerisms, so this episode was more fun to watch on the whole – plus it featured a lot of Henri being awesome, which I always support. That said, it’s almost got too many storylines going on – we wander away from specific characters for huge chunks of time, even when something important has happened to them (like the situation with Agnes being abused b her father) – and some of the plots feel a little neglected. (I also don’t understand why we had to waste time with characters like Valerie, but whatever.) But I’m still curious to see what happens next week!

Thoughts on this episode? Leave ‘em in the comments.