Previously on Victoria: The Princess Royal’s illness worries Victoria and Albert, and disagreements over her care ultimately result in Lehzen getting sent back to Germany. Sir Robert Peel risks his position as Prime Minister in the name of repealing the British Corn Laws. And Drummond is sadly killed by a bullet meant for his boss, on his way to a meaningful dinner with Lord Alfred. If you need them, more details can be found in our full recap of “The Luxury of Conscience.”
While this episode serves as the Season 2 finale in America, most viewers will were probably able to tell that “Comfort and Joy” was originally a Christmas special. If its slightly padded runtime weren’t an immediate tell, there’s holiday cheer, festive decorations, lots of romance and, of course, a happy ending all around. It’s possibly an overly saccharine note to end the season on, to be honest, but after so much emotional upheaval, there’s something to be said for a solid hour that leaves us feeling hopeful about the future of almost every character. (It’s what Christmas is for, after all, isn’t it?
The bulk of “Comfort and Joy” revolves around Albert’s obsession with introducing England to his idea of a proper, magical holiday experience. He’s obviously very successful in this endeavor in the end, since many of our own modern day Christmas traditions stem from the Victorian era. (See also: Christmas trees, greeting cards, ornaments and more.) But seriously, Albert is obsessed with Christmas. He throws himself into it with a glee that rivals my initial discovery of Benedict Cumberbatch’s professional catalogue. He has to find an absolutely perfect tree, he has to cover the palace in oranges, he has to leave extremely specific decorations instructions for the servants – and basically fully ignore anything else that might be going on, all in the name of holiday cheer.
It turns out that all of this stems from the fact that Albert’s one happy memory of childhood family togetherness happened to occur on Christmas, and that’s why he’s so hellbent on recreating that magical experience for his own family. The prince is, in fact, so obsessed with creating a perfect holiday tableau that he’s driving literally everyone else crazy, including his wife, his brother and his uncle-possible father Leopold.
He’s even been terrible to the little African girl his wife received as a gift. No, that’s not a typo. Victoria receives Sarah – whose whole family was killed – as a show of respect from an African king, and after she gets over her horror of being sent a human being, decides to raise her as part of the family. She places her in the nursery with her own children and tries her best to engage, befriend and otherwise help her adjust to life in England. They even build snowmen together at one point. Of course, Victoria can’t really help Sarah, who’s missing the world she knew and the family she built with the British couple who brought her to England to begin with. But the queen is trying her darnedest, and Jenna Coleman is really selling Victoria’s desperate desire to make a difference for this girl.
Albert, as it turns out, is no help on the matter, and actually kind of acts like a jerk about Sarah’s presence from start to finish. He seems to resent her receiving the same sort of treatment as his own children, and despite his general Christmas frenzy, doesn’t even bother to buy the girl her own holiday tree. He claims she can just share with the Princess Alice, because the girl probably won’t care anyway. (???) Again, this is some bizarre behavior from a man who spent such a big chunk of Season 1 supporting the cause of abolition. (What is going on with him this season?)
Additionally, Albert accuses Victoria of using Sarah to get back at her mother, by showing her how daughters should really be treated. This is not only incredibly cruel, it makes zero sense, as at this point Victoria already has two girls, if she wants to rub her mother’s face in her superior parenting skills. Sure, the queen probably should have asked her husband if he wanted to adopt an orphaned African child, but his utter disdain towards her certainly seems completely at odds with his aggressive Christmas spirit everywhere else.
Luckily, it all works out in the end, as Albert finds himself some clarity thanks to a near-death experience in the Palace’s frozen pond. He apologizes to everyone he’s irritated, and encourages Victoria to ask the child whether she’d rather stay at the palace or live with that nice British naval couple from the start of the episode. Sarah chooses the Forbeses, Victoria does the right thing and sends her off to them with an exotic parrot and the promise of an all expenses paid future. Victoria is clearly upset by Sarah’s departure, but she does the best thing she can for the child in the end – which, ultimately, is exactly what a good mother would do.
Elsewhere, holiday romances are blooming all about the castle, in true Christmas special style. The truth of Ernest’s syphilis comes out, as Uncle Leopold discovers his secret mercury treatment stash and tells Harriet about it. The revelation that the man she’s in love with just has an STD rather than really meant to dump her her seems to come as something of a relief to her in the end. She tells Ernest that she doesn’t care about the syphilis; she just wants to be by his side. Ernest continues to do his noble suffering hero thing, insisting that they can’t be together when he could give this to her too. He calls the two of them “star-crossed,” but Harriet looks deeply unconvinced, and the two end the season cuddling together in the snow. A plot for Season 3, probably, but here’s hoping they manage to find some happiness next year.
Skerrett and Francatelli promise to wed one another, despite the fact that if their relationship is discovered, they’ll be sacked. It must be true love this time around, though, since Skerrett relinquished a £10,000 inheritance and Francatelli barely blinked. Of course, that’s probably because in order to claim that inheritance, she would have had to sell off the slaves her heretofore-unheard-of uncle left to her, rather than set them free. Way to be decent people, you two. (In all honesty, we knew there was no way Nancy/Eliza would condone the sale of people, right? )
Engagement fever continues, as a grieving Lord Alfred decides that he should definitely marry Wilhelmina Coke, because she’s been running interference for him throughout his time of grief about Drummond, knows the secret of his sexuality, and is just generally a nice and awesome person. (Seriously, she somehow manages to secure a lock of Drummond’s hair for the express purpose of making it into a locket for Alfred.) Look, I’m not made of stone here, I love their friendship and this is all super sweet, but um…shouldn’t we be hoping for more for Wilhelmina than a marriage with a man we already know to be a.) gay and b.) desperately in love with a dead man? True, as Alfred says, there’s more than one kind of love, and like as not the two will end up being fairly happy together simply because they don’t have secrets between them and generally understand one another. But if Victoria and Albert’s marriage is the relationship in this show we should wish for everyone, well…can we even argue that they’ll get that? Better to be a widow than an old maid, I suppose the Duchess of Buccleuch would say.
Season 2 ends on a happy festive family dinner, followed by Albert and Victoria exchanging extravagant Christmas gifts. It’s all very heartwarming and sweet, if occasionally a bit overly so after a season that so unflinchingly confronted difficult and dark issues. Where do we go in Season 3? We’ll have to find out next year. Thanks for coming along for the ride with me this season, folks, and let’s dish everything that went down this week in the comments.