Previously, on Victoria: There is a way, way too much to summarize here. Here’s a quick guide to where we left everyone after Season 1 or, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, we also have recaps of every episode.
Admittedly, period drama Victoria started off in a fairly enviable position. Before a single minute of his sumptuous costumes and swoony romance was broadcast, pretty much everyone had dubbed it as ITV’s successor to the international phenomenon that was Downton Abbey. The thing no one could have really predicted though, is that Victoria actually turned out to be good.
There’s something about this show – the compelling characters, complicated relationships and proto-feminist attitude somehow combine into an absolutely perfect confectionery of actual history and period wish fulfillment. You can swoon over it, laugh with it, and wonder how far it’s willing to bend actual history to tell its story, sometimes all in the same hour.
Season 2 opens a few weeks after the Season 1 finale, as Victoria recovers from the birth of her first child. Out in the real world, however, 4,000 British troops are retreating from Kabul in Afghanistan, and plan to attempt a dangerous crossing of the Khyber Pass in the middle of winter. The queen, of course, knows nothing of this, as Albert and her other advisors are basically all conspiring to keep the news from her. This thread continues throughout the episode, as Victoria once again fights to ensure the men in her life take her and her abilities seriously. She insists that having a child hasn’t suddenly rendered her feeble, and she’s capable of both being a mother and a monarch at the same time. A truly novel concept, right?
Victoria is remarkably honest in its depiction of these events: From Victoria’s struggle to connect with her daughter to her husband’s obvious glee at being left in charge while his wife is indisposed, the show doesn’t shy away from presenting the more difficult and even unlikeable parts of their characters, and it’s better for it. It even manages to laugh at some of them – Albert’s obsession with his new military helmet design is a particularly well-done running gag.
Victoria’s relief at being out in the world again – going riding, working, being among other people, the prospect of sex – is palpable, and it’s hard not to feel sympathy at the idea of her being shut up in confinement when she’s so clearly unsuited for it. (Or infuriated that the queen must still endure a draconian and ridiculous concept like churching.) Albert’s clear enjoyment of his newfound power is equally obvious and understandable, but it’s difficult say for sure whether he intends to purposefully subvert his wife quite so often, and Victoria doesn’t really take a side on the topic. Generally, period dramas are often not quite so upfront about issues such as this, for example, when we learn later in the episode that Victoria is not particularly eager to start filling up the royal nursery because pregnancy and confinement feel like prison to her. Even her jealousy over Albert’s friendship with Ada Lovelace – and his subsequent pettiness over it – is presented in all its ugly glory. Which in my opinion is not only awesome, it makes for a better show.
In the end, the plot of the Season 2 premiere is pretty straightforward. Albert, Sir Robert Peel and several of Victoria’s other ministers conspire to keep the situation in Afghanistan from her. Victoria, naturally, discovers this and is quite rightly furious, which leads to a massive row with Albert that involves throwing her hairbrush at him. It also leads to an inspirational speech on the deck of the new naval ship Trafalgar after learning that all but one of the British soldiers has been killed. By proving – yet again – that she’s competent at ruling and beloved by her people, Albert and everyone else suddenly realize that Victoria’s kind of good at this whole queen thing, and maybe they should have trusted her capability. At some point, some of them have to stop underestimating her. (That last bit is my personal assumption, but a girl can dream, yeah?)
In the less exciting world of characters who aren’t Victoria or Albert, the queen names a new Mistress of the Robes, the Duchess of Buccleuch (which is pronounced Buck-loo, because of course it is.) Played by the indomitable Dame Diana Rigg, this particular take on a real historical person makes pretty much zero sense, but she’s so much fun that it’s hard to stay too angry about it. The real Duchess was only in her early thirties when she came to the palace, and certainly wasn’t a judgy battleaxe spot-testing the palace decorations for traces of dirt. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Olenna Tyrell can pretty much do whatever she wants. (I mean, I’d let her.)
This Duchess gets plenty of snarky commentary and funny one-liners, which almost makes up for the fact that she also comes packaged with her drippy niece Wilhelmina, who certainly seems destined for some sort of ill-fated romance with Prince Ernest, who is freshly back from Coburg. At the moment, Ernst’s primary function appears to be reminding Albert that acting like a controlling jerk to his wife is rude, and mooning over Harriett, who is still very married this season. Maybe Wilhelmina will have better luck in the end after all.
Elsewhere downstairs, Miss Skerrett becomes Mrs. Skerrett as she takes over the job of the queen’s Chief Dresser. This probably shouldn’t be that surprising, given that Victoria completely wasted Eve Myles for a year and never knew what to do with Mrs. Jenkins anyway. (Who was apparently a secret lesbian? What?) On the plus side, this episode doesn’t mention anything about Skerrett’s nonsensical identity theft-laden past so maybe that means we’re just going to forget that storyline ever happened? We can dream, I suppose.
Skerrett’s first act as Chief Dresser is to find a new assistant (who turns out to be a secret Catholic), but her second is basically to humiliate herself in front of a man. Yay. The new cook at the palace is terrible – and basically looks homeless at all times – so Victoria would really like Francatelli to come back and make something edible for her again. Skerrett gets sent to his new job to try and coerce him, but apparently he’s still mad about her decision to not run away and start a restaurant with him last season. He’s even angrier when Victoria basically uses her royal veto to get him fired, forcing him to come back and work at court. For some reason, he basically seems to blame Skerrett for all of this, rather than the woman who literally has the entire country at her beck and call, because men, I guess.
Victoria still has one perfect man in it, however. Of course I am talking about Lord Melbourne, my dream boyfriend and the one guy on this show who doesn’t appear to be frequently terrible. Melbourne returns this week to provide advice to a Victoria in crisis – she’s angry that every man in her life seems to discount her abilities, she’s upset over Albert’s fascination with Ada Lovelace, and she’s just found out that she’s pregnant again as her daughter is maybe six months old. She seems to feel trapped between the woman – and ruler – she wants to be, and the woman society seems to think she has to be instead.
When the news broke that Rufus Sewell would be coming back this season, most Victoria fans – particularly me – were over the moon about this, and there are probably many reasons for that. He’s certainly dreamy in every way imaginable – intelligent, kind and definitely easy on the eyes. But I think Melbourne’s character serves a purpose in Victoria’s narrative that’s more important than all that. After all, he’s the one man who not only consistently supports her, he’s also the only one who will tell her directly and to her face that she’s capable of conquering the challenges she faces as queen.
Perhaps I’m too romantic and this is all just Melbourne being a good courtier, but so much of Victoria’s life – from her mother to her advisors to her in-laws and even her husband sometimes – seems to be about all the things she can’t do, for whatever reason. Melbourne basically tells her that if she can dream it, she can do it, and doesn’t for a moment doubt her capability, capacity or smarts. How important must a friend like that be, to a woman who must chart her own course through a world that expects her to constantly fail? Everyone needs someone in their corner, to encourage their better angels but understand their worst ones. It’s part of the reason their relationship is so interesting.
And here, he does it again. Melbourne, perfectly as always, eases Victoria’s fears, reminding her that no matter what happens, she’s still the Queen of England, and though lots of other people have opinions on how she should run her life, they’re still her subjects in the end. He also tells her to chill about the Albert and Ada Lovelace thing, because for all of Albert’s many flaws, having a wandering eye has never been one of them. To be fair, Victoria’s sudden jealousy does come out of nowhere a bit.
This is never a concern we’ve seen her have before and while I’ve fanwanked that it all has more to do with Lovelace herself than it does Albert, it’d be great thing for the show to actually address. Because Ada is everything Victoria admires – smart, accomplished, recognized by men for her abilities – yes, but Victoria’s feelings ease when she realizes that she is also a woman who has to balance all the same challenges she does. Children, specifically, but you also have to assume that she didn’t reach her current level of success without running into men who tried to stifle her work. (Or that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.)
As we all knew they must, Victoria and Albert talk out their problems a bit, and then kiss and make up. She’s now expecting their second child, so it’s not like the problems between them, or Victoria’s concerns about them, are suddenly going to disappear. I’m certainly curious to see how the rest of the season handles Victoria’s character arc however, as a result of everything that’s happened in this premeire. I’d also like to ignore forever Melbourne’s leeches and likely impending death. I know there’s a historically-imposed time limit on how long they can let the man live, but as this episode demonstrated, his character really does serve a valuable function in Victoria’s life. Who could – or will – replace that?
What did you all think of the Season 2 premiere? There’s lots to talk about this week! Let's get to it in the comments.