Previously on Victoria: The Chartist movement continues to pick up steam, as the threat of armed conflict grows. Victoria eventually backs down from having her military fire on her own citizens and the protestors present their People’s Charter unimpeded. The queen’s quite upset over the prospect that her people might not love her as much as she assumed they once did and, following the birth of her sixth child (Louise), she and the royal family flee London even though much of the public escalation with the Chartists turns out to have been engineered by her own Foreign Secretary. Elsewhere, Skerrett and Francatelli secretly marry, even though Nancy appears to harbor severe misgivings about leaving the queen’s service. (Need more details? Our recap of "London Bridge is Falling Down" is here.)
After two episodes of darkness, Victoria gets back to its soapy roots with an episode stuffed full of romantic intrigue, political squabbling, bad parenting and blackmail, all set against the beautiful scenery of the Isle of Wight. This is what we precisely the sort of thing we tune into this show for, at the end of the day. And “Et in Arcadia” is certainly the most entertaining episode of the season thus far, even if half of it is almost certainly made up from whole cloth.
Albert has shuffled Victoria and the rest of the family off to Osborne House, ostensibly to keep them all safe from the encroaching Chartist threat, but also because he clearly wants to feel like the one in charge of the royal family for a bit. He and his wife are having a sudden bout of marital disharmony, and the show barely bothers to explain why, beyond some wild speculation from Feodora that having babies makes her half-sister crazy. Those of us who have assumed from the beginning that Victoria would be unable to resist the siren call of setting two half-siblings who had a generally cordial relationship against one another are proven correct this week, as Feo plays both Victoria and Albert off each other, all the while blackmailing the philandering Lord Palmerston to lie on her behalf so she can remain in England. This is, of course, a deeply ridiculous plot twist, but when the show leans into it so heavily by showing Feo lurking around corners, smirking and deviously scheming, it’s too entertaining to resist. It’s Days of Our Lives in period dress, and I’m here for it.
Speaking of soapy developments, Albert’s spending the family trip to Osborne bucking for dad of the year. Despite the fact that he is literally ignoring every one of his five other children, Albert remains deeply dedicated to making poor Bertie’s life a living hell. The boy, who is destined to be King Edward VII one day, lives in a constant state of ridicule and harassment, as his father does everything from call him stupid, berate him in public and predict his ultimate failure in life. Albert, for his part, insists that he’s just trying to make his son into a worthwhile person with a purpose, and as such he needs to engage in his extreme helicopter parenting so they won’t raise an indolent future monarch who doesn’t know anything.
Victoria is – quite rightly – irritated with Albert’s boorish behavior, which eventually extends quite beyond Bertie’s education. He’s convinced that his wife spends too much time on affairs of state, is too obsessed with what her subjects think of her, refuses to just relax while on this vacation he apparently doesn’t want to let her leave, and is openly insulting to her at a dinner at which her Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are present. He absolutely deserved worse than having a glass of wine thrown in his face, is what I’m saying.
Of course, we’ve covered this sort of story before – in both Seasons 1 and 2 – so it’s not that surprising that Albert is yet again chafing at the bit over the fact that his wife outranks him and is capable of making decisions without deferring to his input or wishes. Historically speaking, these two did have something of a volatile relationships and dramatic fights were apparently not completely out of the norm for them. And, on some level, Victoria does deserve some credit for trying to tie this latest rough patch in their marriage to the queen’s ongoing desperation for someone, anyone around her to love her best.
This theme even displays itself in her reaction to the news that both Francatelli and Skerrett will be leaving her service to start their own lives. Victoria ends up in tears over the idea that these people – who, let’s not forget, are her employees – will depart, and while it’s a jerk move for Albert to throw her concern about the state of the domestic staff in her face in such an ugly way, it is also another indicator that Victoria maybe cares a little bit too much about the opinions of those with little direct relationship to her life. (It’s cute that Skerrett thinks doing hair is somehow helping keep the ship of state afloat. Let’s be real, y’all.)
Since the man will eventually be her Prime Minister, it makes sense that Victoria makes a point to insert Lord Palmerston into every story as much as possible. His attitude towards the queen is frequently odious, and his behavior is that of a consummate grifter, where every situation can potentially be spun to his own advantage. But by the end of the episode he and Victoria seem to have reached a tentative truce, as they’ve both realized they’re similar creatures in many respects (though Albert would likely say that’s a bad thing). Here's hoping that means he becomes less annoying, ASAP. Elsewhere, Palmerston’s flirtation with the Duchess of Monmouth continues, though he ends things with her by the time the gang heads back to London, an act of near kindness that is apparently only going to drive her into the arms of strapping young footman Joseph.
Fair warning, this is not the sort of story this show excels at – as, unlike its predecessor Downton Abbey, Victoria has always struggled to write its downstairs characters in any sort of compelling way. (Most of us barely care what happens to Skerrett and Francatelli these days and they’ve been around since the first episode.) In short, no one is likely looking forward to whatever’s about to happen here and it’s probably something we’ll all just have to endure together to get back to the more exciting plotlines of Feo scheming or Palmerston orchestrating fake armed rebellions against the queen.
What did you think of this episode of Victoria? Let’s discuss.