Previously on Victoria: Victoria and Albert travel to Scotland, in the hopes of escaping their overly structured London lives. After slipping away from their hosts, the royal couple gets hopelessly lost in the woods. Luckily, they find a kindly old couple to stay with, who are not only straight out of a Pixar film adorable, but who also teach the royals how to appreciate life as commoners. Elsewhere, Alfred and Drummond admit their feelings for one another at last, thanks to the pristine scenery and some clunky historical metaphors. At least they finally kiss, though.If you need them, more details can be found in our full recap of “The King Over the Water.”
This episode originally served as the Season 2 finale to Victoria’s U.K. run. However, the series also aired a Christmas special in December 2017, which will serve as the U.S. season finale next week. And all in all? I think that’s a good thing. There’s plenty of drama here, but I’m not sure it particularly leaves anyone in a great place going into a between seasons hiatus. Therefore, I’ll be relieved to at least get the chance to see where everyone ends up next week, before we begin the long wait for Season 3.
“The Luxury of Conscience” is, in and of itself, a strong episode. Characters are forced out of their comfort zones, and several must make difficult choices. Tragedy strikes one couple, while another finally comes together. If this episode perhaps lacks some of the escapist fantasy that made earlier installments such as “Entente Cordiale” or “The King Over the Water” so appealing, it certainly pulls no punches about the very real problems all our characters must face. Whether that’s the kind of story you want from a period drama like Victoria is up to you, but as a piece of entertainment, it nevertheless remains maddeningly addictive.
The main plot of the episode revolves around a child’s illness. The young Princess Royal comes down with a fever and what appears to be some kind of respiratory thing, it’s not clear. Lehzen, whom you’ll remember basically raised Queen Victoria herself, is convinced that it’s just a passing bug. She recommends lots of fresh air, and for all the freaking out adults to calm down. Albert, who suddenly hates Lehzen despite having tolerated her moderately well until this point, is Extremely Mad about her advice, says they should call the royal doctor instead.
Now, if I had access to a royal doctor, I’d probably be summoning them every fifteen minutes for my headaches and hangnails, but Victoria is apparently made of sterner stuff than I am. She sides with Lehzen and talks her daughter out for some air and a walk, but not before telling Albert that he needs to respect her authority and relationships with people who are not him. Albert, whom you’ll remember is Extremely Mad about literally everything ever since Leopold dropped that paternity bombshell on him, pretty much tells his wife that she’s full of herself and that Lehzen sucks and is dumb. Way to go Albert, I guess?
Unfortunately, the prince turns out to be kind of right when the fresh air does nothing and young Vicky’s fever worsens. He blames Lehzen, the doctor is sent for, and Victoria sobs and completely shreds herself emotionally over not realizing how right Albert was as they wait for her daughter’s fever to break. (Spare me, show.)
Anyway, as anyone who has read the Wikipedia entry on Victoria’s reign knows, the Princess Royal makes it through her illness just fine, but Lehzen’s job doesn’t. With tears in her eyes, Victoria insists that her former governess must return to Germany, which the queen frames as a chance for her to reintroduce herself to the family she left behind there so long ago. Um, thanks, Your Majesty?
It seems as though we’re supposed to applaud Victoria for growing up here and for putting away childish things. (At least, as represented by Lehzen.) Harriet tells the queen that it’s hard to hold two people in your heart at the same time, which is a nice sentiment but one that makes no sense in this instance. Particularly when Albert seems so jealous about her influence over his wife. After all, it’s not like Lehzen is Lord Melbourne, and surely the queen has room in her life for more than one person that loves her? It just seems a shame that she has to let go of one of her oldest companions simply because Albert got in a snit about something.
It also doesn’t help that it feels as though Albert and Lehzen’s antagonism came out of nowhere. Sure, they sniped at each other a bit last week, but prior to that there’s been little evidence of either feeling jealous, combative or competitive about the other. (On the show, at least. In real life, Albert and Lehzen despised each other.) I know this is a story that’s dictated by history – the real Lehzen departed Victoria’s court after the Princess Royal suffered an illness as well – but I just wish the show had bothered to build up to it a bit more
At least his daughter’s illness seems to give Albert some much-needed perspective about fatherhood, particularly as relates to his relationship with Leopold. It doesn’t look like the two will ever be close, but at least by the end of this installment they seem to have found some sort of peace together. (Maybe Albert has even accepted the possibility this man is his father, I’m not sure.) Either way, that can only be a good thing for us as viewers. Since, within the world of the series, Albert has been Extremely Mad about this revelation for something like two years, it’ll be worth it just to see him get the chance to move on to another storyline.
Elsewhere, Sir Robert Peel wants to repeal the British Corn Laws that help keep food prices artificially inflated. This desire flies in the face of his own political party – whose landed elites generally support the laws. However, after witnessing the tragedy of the Irish potato famine, Drummond is convinced that this is the right thing to do in order to lower prices on food for average citizens. He’s so convinced, in fact, that he sacrifices his political career to push the measure through Parliament, but he gets there in the end. Yay, Sir Robert!
Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased about Peel’s effort to change the law, and as seems to happen nearly every week on this show now, a disgruntled citizen attempts an assassination in response. (What is up with so many people trying to kill their leaders as general expressions of displeasure? Calm down, Victorian era.) Anyway, Peel’s life is ultimately saved by Drummond, who throws himself in front of the bullet that was meant for his boss. The poor boy dies almost instantly, as Sir Robert begs him to live and poor Alfred sadly waits for a dinner companion who will never arrive.
To be fair: Drummond’s death isn’t entirely historically accurate. (The real man was shot in the back in a case of mistaken identity years before the repeal bill ended Peel’s career.) But it provides some absolutely riveting television, which is basically all I need from this show. From an emotional Peel informing Victoria of his intention to step down as Prime Minister to Wilhelmina’s thoughtful support of a grieving Alfred, everything was incredibly gripping to watch. Sure, there’s no way that Alfred wouldn’t have heard of an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister while he was waiting around for his dinner date that never happened. Yet, the deft way the series has the Ducchess of Buccleuch break the news to him instead – complete with recognition of his feelings and a flask! – is so good that you don’t really mind that the sequence doesn’t entirely make sense.
I’m not sure how much most of us will really mourn the Alfred/Drummond romance. For all their longing looks and backhanded flirting, the two were generally more of a concept than a real couple. We never really got to know either of them beyond a basic superficial level. That said, Alfred’s grief certainly seems genuine, and the show does deserve applause for treating a gay relationship the same as it does almost any other love story on the show (save Victoria and Albert’s). Could we really say that Ernest and Harriet, or Skerrett and Francatelli are handled with any more real depth? Probably not. The tragedy of Alfred and Drummond’s “almost” – he was murdered before they could have a do-over of their unfortunate first date night from earlier in the episode – is what really drives the pathos here, and everyone can relate to that in this moment, at least.
What did you think of this drama-heavy installment of Victoria? Let’s talk it out in the comments.