Previously on Victoria: Victoria struggled to find her equilibrium again after the birth of her daughter, as both her husband and her ministers attempted to keep the news of Britain’s defeat in Afghanistan from her. Albert, who’s enjoying his crack at power more than he probably wants to admit, also seems quite taken with one Miss Ada Lovelace and her amazing Analytical Engine. Victora’s new Mistress of the Robes – the Duchess of Buccleuch – arrives, along with her niece Wilhelmina, who seems quite taken with Prince Ernest. And, as usual in a time of personal crisis, Victoria once again turns to Lord Melbourne for advice and a pep talk, and we all tried to pretend that he wasn’t looking quite as ill and tired as we feared. (More details can be found in our full recap of last week's episode.)
If any of us were under any illusions that this season of Victoria was going to be a frothy, light-hearted affair, this double-episode promptly put that particular fantasy to rest. While this installment does feature some soapy fun – a costume ball, several dramatic family revelations, and the unfortunate return of Miss Skerrett’s identity theft subplot – the bulk of the story revolves around sadness, depression and loss. There are moments where the supersized story handles these issues well (everything involving Dash and Lord Melbourne) and moments where it does not (the quickness with which Victoria bounces back from a fairly dark bout of post partum depression), but on the whole, the episode is pretty compelling.
There are some fun bits sprinkled in amongst all the sadness and crying though. The first half of the episode focuses on Victoria’s decision to try and boost the Spitalfields silk industry by way of throwing a fancy dress party and forcing all her friends and various royal hangers on to buy silk for their costumes. This altruism by way of shopping isn’t that weird though, the real Victoria actually did the same thing when she got married. The huge piece of Honiton lace she used as part of her wedding dress was so striking – and popular – that it boosted lace sales in Devon afterward. So, it seems safe to assume that her heart’s in the right place on this issue, even if this is possibly an extremely weird way to demonstrate it.
Unfortunately, her less wealthy subjects don’t seem to see it that way, and a large crowd gathers outside the Buckingham Palace gates on the night of her medieval-themed costume party, shouting and spitting and generally just looking like something out of Les Miserables. (Seriously, they’re like five minutes from breaking out into “Do You Hear The People Sing?”) Victoria’s upset by this whole business, convinced that no one understands that she’s trying to use the rampant excess of the royal lifestyle for good in this particular instance. Her decision to box up the party leftovers and send them out to the poor shows that she at least understands what bad optics this all is, though the show also makes it seem as though since that one weaver Victoria met has done well for himself out of the whole thing, that everything’s fine now. Shrug emoji, I guess?
Good news: The medieval costume party brings Lord Melbourne back to the palace once more, dressed as a not entirely accurate but certainly very attractive version of Dante. Bad news: He’s just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is determined to keep the news of his ill health from Victoria, because this show hates me and wants to deny me joy. At least they get to dance together one last time, even though Lord M practically fainting during their waltz somehow doesn’t seem to clue Victoria in that something’s wrong.
Albert’s decision to tell his wife the truth about Lord Melbourne’s condition is an admirable one, particularly given the fact that he’s never really seemed to like the man, or approv of his friendship with his wife. But maybe Melbourne’s pep talk about how Albert can still help to build the future of Britain in important ways, even without a crown of his own, left him feeling more charitable towards his old rival. (Which, on the one hand, yay, Lord Melbourne for being awesome again. But on the other, OMG, Albert, get over it, your wife outranks you! Sheesh.)
Victoria, naturally, immediately bolts back to see Melbourne again, carting a creepy yet somehow still adorable mechanical bird in a cage that “sings” Mozart for him, and does her best to act as though everything’s normal. It’s not, though, clearly, and both of them obviously know it. In a five-hanky scene, Victoria struggles not to cry and Melbourne tries not to get emotional and the pair does their best to both convey how much they mean to one another and say goodbye without actually saying any real words to that effect. Any of you who were around for my recaps during Season 1 know how much I adored Victoria and Melbourne together and even though this is breaking my heart, it’s a perfect, understated, emotional farewell for them. (And they left Melbourne’s demise open-ended just enough that I can pretend that he’s somehow still just fine and growing orchids in the country with his rooks like always.)
The news of Melbourne’s illness isn’t the only emotional blow Victoria must bear during this episode. Upon her arrival home, she discovers that her beloved dog Dash has passed away, and suddenly both her oldest companions seem to be gone from her life all at once. It’s another exceptionally emotional scene as Victoria sobs in her husband’s arms – crying possibly for both Dash and Lord M, in the end. Though one does have to wonder what on earth the servants of Buckingham Palace get paid for, if not to keep the queen from finding her beloved pet dead on the floor of her bedroom. I know this show likes to pretend – for some reason – that only eight people actually work at the palace, but that is so very inaccurate. Surely someone could have spared her that discovery? Ugh.
Unfortunately, the difficulties for Victoria are far from over. In fact, here is where the fact that this is a super-sized double episode actually works against Victoria this week. This episode aired in the U.K. as two installments rather than one, which gave the narrative, and us as viewers, some time to breath between the double whammy of losing Dash and Lord M and the introduction of a fairly heavy handed post-partum depression storyline. The sadness this week feels positively relentless, and it’s a lot of heaviness for one Sunday night. (It’s also why this recap is so massive. I’m sorry.)
Victoria succeeds in her most important queenly duty: Giving the country a son and heir. But she’s far from happy about the birth of the Prince of Wales, shutting herself off from everyone, avoiding her child, and generally moping about the palace. Jenna Coleman does an admirable job of portraying a young woman with everything who feels ashamed that she doesn’t feel the way she’s always been told to feel. And while Victoria handles this plot in a rather heavy-handed fashion – the depth of Victoria’s depression and unhappiness is clumsily telegraphed in places, and the idea that the sudden gift of a new puppy is enough to resolve her sadness is almost laughable – but the series deserves praise for tackling this often-ignored issue at all. The broad strokes of Victoria’s experience feel real and relatable, and her triumphant arrival at the opening of the Thames Tunnel – without Albert, who is lost in his own bout of sadness – feels like a much earned personal victory. (And the scene in which she and the Duchess of Buccleuch discuss their shared postpartum experiences was wonderful.)
The Duccess of Buccleuch: You're not the only woman who has felt in low spirits after the birth of a child. I experienced something similar after the birth of my daugher Mary. And yet I only had an estate to oversee - not a country.
What feels much more ridiculous is Albert’s storyline. It’s not enough that his father dies – during a scandalous encounter with his mistress, no less – and Albert has to embark on a very uninteresting return to Coburg. The show also decides to float the idea that Albert is illegitimate, and secretly Uncle Leopold’s son. The purpose of this twist is unclear – it’s lazy, and obviously done solely for drama. It adds nothing to the story going forward, except possibly to give Albert a secret he can’t share with his wife, or to give him a reason to feel even more inadequate than he already does. Surely no one cares whether or not he and Leopold manage to build a relationship or not, and since this twist is based on a piece of history that didn’t happen, can it really drive that much story going forward?
On some level, it almost feels like it’s simply there to give Albert a reason to re-hire Skerrett once the whole mess of her secret/stolen identity comes out. No matter how much Victoria liked the girl, there’s really no justification to keep her on once the depth of her lies and deception was uncovered. I mean, it’s not like she nicked some bread. Skerrett’s entire identity is a lie. But now, thanks to this last minute paternity twist, Albert understands what it’s like to be a fraud and pretend to be what you’re not, and wants to give her a second chance? It feels….so unnecessarily soapy.
To be fair, Victoria’s certainly featured ridiculous twists like this before. But the show’s usually more elegant about this sort of thing, and pulls them off more cleanly. It’s why the Albert and Skerrett plots this week land with such a thud – they make so little sense that they feel out of place within the rest of the narrative. The only positive here is that maybe, finally we’ll never have to talk about either of them again?
What did you think of this week’s Victoria? We have a lot to discuss, so hit the comments!