Previously on Victoria: The queen learns about the devastating potato famine in Ireland, but thanks to the cynical machinations of her own government her ability to help is fairly limited. After meeting an Irish doctor and hearing a personal story from one of her own dressers, Victoria leans on Sir Robert Peel to speak out for the Irish in Parliament. Elsewhere, Alfred successfully has functional toilets installed in the servants’ quarters and Ernest learns his playboy ways have landed him with a case of syphilis. The timing on this diagnosis couldn’t be worse, since Harriet’s husband just died in a freak hunting accident. If you need them, more details can be found in our full recap of “Faith, Hope and Charity.”
Once again, Victoria follows up a heavy emotional episode with a more light-hearted hour, sending our royal couple off on a trip to the painfully beautiful wilderness of Scotland. This episode has the benefit of being fluffy, romantic and fun, as well as serving as a much-needed break from all the death and suffering that comprised the bulk of last week’s episode. There’s little narrative point to this story, other than to remind us all that Victoria rules over a nation that doesn’t always look like London, but it hits some interesting emotional beats about how heavy a toll the crown takes on those who wear it.
Sure, on some level Victoria would never be able to survive the rustic, private life she’s so admiring. She doesn’t know how to perform basic household tasks, is accustomed to certain luxuries and has never gone without anything. But it’s nevertheless a nice reminder that the queen is still a person underneath the crown, one whose entire life has virtually never belonged to her for a single moment. (Remember, her mother wouldn’t even let her sleep alone as a child.) It’s easy to understand how the smallest kind of freedom could feel intoxicating and desirable, even if there’s no possible way the queen could really understand the life that comes with it.
As for the actual plot of “The King Over the Water,” it’s not particularly complicated, and that’s okay. After facing down yet another assassination attempt – and bravo to Victoria’s nerves of steel as she calmly proposes using herself as bait to catch her would-be killer – the queen finds herself chafing under an oppressive new security regimen. There are guards and soldiers everywhere; she and Albert can’t even go for a walk in the garden alone. Happily, Victoria remembers that she’s queen of quite a large country, and packs the court off on a trip to Scotland to get away from it all.
Unfortunately for Victoria, life as a guest of a Scottish duke is as stifling as life in Buckingham Palace. There are still guards everywhere, people play bagpipes in her face for virtually any reason, and there are plenty of boring poetry readings and other uninteresting activities to attend. No wonder that the minute she actually gets out into the gorgeous Scottish outdoors, she and Albert take the first opportunity to run away from their hosts. However, Albert’s keen sense of direction gets the royal couple hopelessly lost, and they ride across what seems to the breadth of the country over the course of an afternoon. As the duo journey through the increasingly foggy hills, Victoria’s look becomes more and more disheveled and Albert looks more and more concerned that he has no idea where they are.
Because this episode is basically a fairytale for the monarchy, Victoria and Albert stumble upon a quaint cottage owned by the nicest and cutest old couple in the world. They give the lost lovers a place to stay for the night, feed them fish made over their own fire, and generally treat them like normal regular folk, something neither of the royals gets to experience much these days. Victoria, particularly, is enchanted by the chance to do all these regular people things, like darn socks, share a plate with someone or do a shot of whisky before bed. We haven’t ever really gotten to see the queen behave this way before, or get the chance to indulge her idea of what a normal young woman is like. She looks more relaxed than we’ve possibly ever seen her, and it’s generally quite sweet.
However, “The King Over the Water” is a bit guilty of overly simplifying what is surely a life of poverty. Sleeping in a crofter’s bed is a romantic novelty for one night, when you don’t have to do it more than once. Could either Victoria or Albert stand the life they play act at during the episode’s final moments? While it’s certainly a cute scene between the royal couple, the fact that the two are play acting at open fire cooking and domestic activities in their palace gilded with gold is, well…kind of bizarre. If there were more of a sense that either Victoria or Albert had learned something of what it was like to really live the life of a Highland farmer then that would be one thing. Instead, it’s like the two go to a Disney theme park of poverty. Everything – even darning socks – is charming and quaint, and there’s no real context to any of it. That said, Victoria’s obvious happiness is still strangely moving, and the elderly couple’s reaction to learning they’d secretly been sheltering the queen in their bed was quite sweet. (At the end of the day, I’m a sap, I expect.)
Scotland’s romantic scenery is working its magic on more folks than just Victoria and Albert, though. Ernest spends most of the episode mooning around after Harriet, trying to get her to talk to him or telling her that his feelings haven’t changed. Weird that he doesn’t mention the syphilis, though. Harriet, for her part, is repeatedly and aggressively rude to Ernest in reply, which seems pretty fair since her husband just died and all. That she ultimately admits she feels guilty about the fact that she couldn’t just return to her marriage as though she hadn’t developed out-of-wedlock feelings for another man brings them back together, and they end the episode tentatively holding hands. Harriet seems like a fairly lovely person, so it’s a shame that I can’t manage to care even a little bit about whether or not she ends up with Ernest romantically. If I’m honest, I’m more interested in why they keep giving her such objectively terrible hairstyles than I am about her love life. Surely these terrible looks can’t be period appropriate?
Things go a little better for Alfred and Drummond this week, as the two finally give in to their long-simmering attraction and kiss. Naturally, this takes place after an entire episode of the two looking at each other agonizingly and trying to talk around their same-sex attraction using clunky metaphors about Achilles and Patrocles from The Iliad. But in the end it’s all sunshine and gorgeous scenery and everything is lovely and sweet, and I guess that’s nice and all even if I can’t logistically figure out why Drummond is on this trip in the first place. At any rate, at least they finally admit their feelings, even if that probably means they’re in for nothing but heartache ahead, particularly considering that Drummond’s already planning to marry a woman very shortly.
As for the rest of the English servants’ crew, they seem to spend most of their time attending daily (?) woodland parties with their Scottish counterparts, dancing freewheeling reels and generally having a much better time than any of their societal betters stuck at boring poetry readings. Skerrett even manages to smooch a handsome Scottish officer, but shoots down his attempt at a long-distance romance because she’s not-so-secretly still besotted with Francatelli. Talk about another storyline I don’t care about. Ugh. But at least maybe we’ll see something happen in their romance now?
What did you think of this week’s more fanciful sort of episode? Let’s talk it all out in the comments.