Previously on Victoria: There was sadness all around as Victoria lost her beloved dog Dash, learned Lord Melbourne had a terminal illness and battled a severe case of post-partum depression after the birth of her second child. Elsewhere, Albert faced his own set of problems, thanks to Uncle Leopold’s confession that he might actually be his father. Oh and everyone finally found out about that storyline where Mrs. Skerrett lied about her very identity in order to land her job, but everyone’s surprisingly chill about it in the end. (I don’t even know, y’all.) If you need them, more details can be found in our full recap of "Warp and Weft"/"The Sins of the Father."
After putting us through four hours of intense drama and emotional pain in the opening episodes of Season 2, Victoria finally takes some pity on us viewers. The second season’s third installment is a frothy, light-hearted romp that’s pretty much nothing but glorious costumes, jealousy-inducing hairstyles and good old fashioned period drama fun. That is to say, despite the fact that basically only one thing of any consequence happens during “Entente Cordiale,” it is an immensely entertaining episode. In fact, it feels like a breath of fresh air after everything we’ve been through so far.
The basic gist of the story is pretty simple. French king Louis Phillippe wants his youngest son, Antoine, to marry Queen Isabella II of Spain. Elsewhere, Uncle Leopold, who seems to have literally nothing in his life but free time and eligible relatives of marriageable age, is shoving yet another nephew or something at the available Spanish queen. Victoria, for her part is not really into any of this. On the one hand, she seems to feel bad that the poor girl won’t get to choose her spouse for herself, as she did. But on the other, both of these options are fairly problematic for her on a global political scale. England would prefer that France wasn’t aligned so closely with Spain, obviously. And while Victoria doesn’t necessarily mind her uncle attempting to take over Europe with his endless army of unmarried relations, trying to shove a Coburg into every royal house on the Continent is starting to look kind of bad. It’s a mess.
Anyway, Victoria eventually decides – against the advice of her Prime Minister and the general ennui of her husband – that she’s just going to spearhead a royal trip to France to solve this problem herself. Her goal here is to ask Louis Phillippe – monarch to monarch, of course – not to do this thing he really wants to do, because reasons I guess. It’s kind of adorable that she actually thinks this is going to work, but that’s okay because it gives us an excuse to get Victoria, Albert and most of the main cast to go on a trip to France and wander all around its painfully picturesque countryside.
The royal trip abroad is both as stereotypical and fun as you might expect. All the French people are extremely French, with thick, laughable accents, dramatic double-cheeked kisses and elaborate eating rituals that involve strange and unheard of foodstuffs. The French women all sneer at Victoria’s appearance – despite the fact that she is wearing the most gorgeous purple dress I have ever seen – and laugh at her handbag, which has a tiny replica of Dash sewn on it. Maybe the French are heartless. Who could hate anything to do with Dash? Rule Britannia.
Albert, particularly, does not enjoy France. He’s secretly still wrestling with Uncle Leopold’s hey-I-might-be-your-father revelation from last week, and as a result is basically being the biggest jerk on earth to anyone who happens to be nearby. He barely listens when Victoria speaks to him, and looks down his nose at anything French, from the people to their social customs. He thinks all the French men are disgusting, and that the women are two steps away from prostitutes, what with their elaborate face paint and everything. He actually comes out and says their forest sucks. (And you know how Albert loves a forest.) Even a clandestine and completely gratuitous skinny-dipping trip with his bro squad can only lift his spirits so much.
Look, I get that Albert is experiencing some emotional distress. On some level, I feel bad for him. It’s a big dose to swallow, that kind of revelation about his parentage. But, dude. Maybe make a little bit of an effort? Your wife has basically been running a country while battling severe depression and you can’t even manage to smile while you eat some croissants? And, maybe it’s just me, but Albert’s over the top reaction to Victoria’s decision to wear some – very minimal and tasteful, I might add – rouge is just completely ridiculous. Are you a modern court or not? Get with it, my man. There’s an interesting germ of an idea here, that many of the more puritanical rituals of the Victorian era are possibly driven by Albert’s desire to be as unlike his sleazy dad as possible, but it still doesn’t excuse the rude way he talks to his wife or to his brother. I mean, Ernest spent all of last season basically chasing after a married woman. It’s not like Albert doesn’t know what he’s like. Ugh. Shut up, Albert.
Elsewhere, you’ve also probably noticed by now that there’s a weird ~tension~ between Lord Alfred, general royal court hanger-on, and Drummond, Prime Minister Peel’s personal secretary. The two men have been making cow eyes at each other for weeks, not exactly flirting per se, but kind of? One even got weirdly depressed at the news that the other was engaged. These boys are totally into one another, and it becomes very obvious during their special all male swim time session in the French forest. Let’s just say all that lake-based rough housing was awfully intimate, IMO. This storyline is oddly intriguing, if only because I’m not sure I ever would have predicted that a period drama like Victoria would do anything even vaguely resembling a gay romance. (Maybe I should have paid more attention to that throwaway line in the premiere about Mrs. Jenkins’ sexuality!) Don’t get me wrong, I’m very into Alfred and Drummond as a concept but, then again, I also had to use Google to figure out Drummond’s name. So that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the show’s attempt to sell viewers on either of these people as characters, let alone develop a relationship between them. We shall see, I suppose.
One relationship that Victoria does get exactly right this week is the titular monarch’s marriage. As everyone who reads these recaps is probably aware, I’m not a huge Vicbert person (Lord M for life!). For me, the Victoria/Albert relationship is most interesting when the two at odds, since it tends to stretch them both into generally being – or becoming – better people. However, Albert’s confession of his – possible? – Illegitimacy is handled note perfectly throughout. From Albert’s obvious anxiety – after all if he doesn’t have his breeding to lord over everyone, then who is he, in the end? – to Victoria’s staunch faith in him, everything about their conversation is perfect. And even though I haven’t always been the biggest believer in this particular romance, this scene 100% convinced me that Victoria loves Albert, for who he actually is, flaws and all. (And whether he deserves it or not, which I’m not entirely sure is the case.)
At any rate, Victoria’s pep talk is not only sweet and romantic, but it gets the job done. The two present a united front to King Louis Phillippe and even though they ultimately fail – the French king engages his son to the Spanish queen behind Victoria and Albert’s backs, even though he promised not to do so – they do so together, as a united front. And in this story, that still counts for something.
What did you think of this slightly lighter episode of Victoria? Let’s discuss in the comments.