Previously on Victoria: The queen takes the court on a trip to Ireland, in an attempt to make up for what is apparently decades of royal neglect of the Emerald Isle. The visit is a public if not a personal success, because although Victoria makes a sincere effort to start fresh with the Irish people, Albert insinuates his wife just wants another crowd of people to cheer for her. But we do get to meet Lord Palmerston’s frankly amazing spouse, Emily Lamb, who not only seems to adore her husband, but to have somehow carved out a marriage and a life that works for them both. (Even if it does include acknowledged infidelity.) Read our full recap of "A Show of Unity" this way.
Victoria is a soapy costume drama and, as such, it doesn’t often get the respect it deserves. Sure, there are occasionally ridiculous storylines – Duchess Sophie’s literally bodice-ripping affair with a hunky footman isn’t exactly what you might call prestige television, for example. But Season 3 has made a genuine effort to tell complicated stories with emotional heft in a way that few period dramas attempt. Last week’s installment saw the show exploring various ideas of marriage and what it means for a romantic relationship to be successful one. “A Coburg Quartet” takes that theme one step further, expanding outward to wrestle with the larger umbrella of family, and what it means to love someone.
Six episodes into Season 3 and the mystery of Victoria’s skulking half-sister finally starts to become clear. Feodora has spent the bulk of the season in the shadows – listening in corridors, making snide offhand remarks, being everywhere and nowhere all at once. It’s only surprising that it’s taken this long for someone (who isn't Lord Palmerston - game recongize game, I guess?) to realize that she’s a consummate grifter, selling access and information out of one side of her mouth while buttering up her sister with the other. Victoria’s discovery that Feo’s been padding her pockets at her expense – both literally, as the queen’s been handling all her bills and figuratively, as Feo’s embarrassing party invites and family portrait leaks are impacting Victoria’s public image.
“I don’t need a lobe of logic to understand that Feodora can be a sister and an enemy,” Victoria snaps at her husband at one point. This, it must be said, is the true double-edged sword of family. The people closest to you are the ones that can hurt you the deepest. People can love you while simultaneously sabotaging you, and a compliment can come with as many – if not more – barbs as a threat.
Perhaps it’s that Albert is a man, and women are uniquely predisposed to this “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it” brand of survival. (Thanks, Shakespeare!) But it’s not surprising that his immediate reaction to the tension roiling Victoria and Feo’s relationship is to belittle it, because that seems to be his reaction to literally everything right now.
That Feodora has an almost understandable reason for her behavior doesn’t make any of this any better, particularly since she’s working to undermine the life of the one person who hasn’t actually done her any wrong. Yes, Victoria can often be acquisitive and shallow, and lacks even the most basic understanding of how people without means survive. She’s lived in luxury all her life, and always will. But she isn’t her sister’s enemy and never has been. (Well, she might be now, I suppose, since Feo’s actively working to turn Albert against her and openly implying she’s mad.)
But the people that Feodora should be raining vengeance on are Leopold and her own mother. But since Leopold could literally not care less - he barely seems to remember her name - and Victoria has completely forgotten the Duchess of Kent exists despite the fact that she has multiple new grandchildren and an eldest daughter who literally fled Germany for her life, Feo’s options are kind of limited at this point.
It’s hard to know whether to believe her tale of promised marriage to an old and dying King George, but her envy of her half-sister is palpable and almost sympathetic. This (totally historically inaccurate, mind) version of Feodora is a broken mess who lives in the shadows of the woman she could have been, and who believes intently that a different, better life is somewhere always just out of her reach. She’s both loathsome and pitiful, and her comedown is so swift and violent that it’s not clear how she’s going to stay on the show much longer.
Of course, perhaps Albert will intervene to keep her around, because Albert’s a giant hot mess this season, and that feels like something he’d do right now.
While it seemed as though Albert’s public near-humiliation at the Cambridge Chancellor vote a few episodes back was going to be some sort of turning point for him when it comes to his oddball obsession with Victoria’s public life, alas, that was definitely not to be.
“You have no logic,” he shouts at his wife, in another of their endless fights that feel oddly out of time. (After this many years of marriage, why is Albert still surprised that Victoria is the woman she’s always been?)
One gets the sense that Victoria wants us to read this growing fissure in the royal marriage as a result of Victoria’s frequent pregnancies. After all, a large piece of “A Coburg Quartet” wrestles with the idea of whether she can be both a monarch and a mother simultaneously, a remote figurehead and a real world woman who wipes noses and referees sibling squabbles. But for every scene that portrays Victoria as mercurial or neurotic, there’s one that shows us Albert being unyielding and judgmental.
And maybe that’s a sort of answer in and of itself? At the very least, it asks us to think about why everyone’s default position here is that something’s wrong with the woman in this story, to the exclusion of all of its men. Why is their behavior not critiqued in the same way?
In “A Coburg Quartet,” we not only see Albert at his most snotty and dismissive, we also get to watch him declare his son an irredeemable idiot, repeatedly take his sister-in-law’s side over his wife’s, belittle Victoria’s opinions and aptitude and imply that he is so exhausted by her that he can only see her as a child to be cared for.
Even during a moment in which he is clearly in the wrong – both his decision to sue the local newsprinter and the whole business about minting a new coin for the realm – Albert manages to somehow still make his mistakes about his wife’s flaws.
All together now: Shut up, Albert! Throw him in the Tower, Victoria.
Not really, of course. But if “A Coburg Quartet” is meant to leave us wondering how far the bonds of affection – marital, sibling or otherwise – can bend before breaking, it’s done a bang up job of it.
Thoughts on all the family drama of this episode? Let's discuss in the comments!