Previously on Victoria: Tension lingers between the queen and her husband, as Albert insists that his wife’s obsessive need for love and adoration from her subjects is borderline psychotic, while Victoria argues that he just doesn’t understand what it means to be a monarch. A cholera outbreak strikes London, resulting in the death of many people – including Nancy Skerrett Francatelli, who goes from finding out she’s pregnant on the eve of her husband’s restaurant opening to dead in the space of an act break. Yikes. (Need more details? Our full recap of "Foreign Bodies" is here.)
After the tragedy of last week’s installment, Victoria pulls up stakes and sends everyone off to Ireland following an assassination attempt that convinces the queen she must work to mend the frayed relationship between the crown and its Irish subjects. Much like Season 2’s “Entente Cordiale,” a new location makes for the best episode of the season – but not because this installment is a particularly lighthearted romp. No, instead, “A Show of Unity” uses the introduction of Lord Palmerston’s – quite frankly, amazing – wife, Emily, to present three competing, conflicting and ultimately fascinating pictures of marriage.
Now, if anyone had told me during the first episode of this season that Lord Henry Palmerston would somehow become one of Season 3’s most fascinating characters, I would have been skeptical at best, and probably outright laughed. Yet, here we are, four episodes later, and Palmerston has not only become an entertaining ally of Victoria’s, but one of the most interesting folks on the show in his own right.
Part of this is due to the introduction of his wife, Emily Lamb, the intelligent, modern sister of our beloved Lord Melbourne. Lady Palmerston, as a character, is intriguing in her own right, as someone who obviously adores her independent life in the country but clearly loves her husband too, and has figured out a way to blend both of those things into a life that works for her. (And people say Victorians were nothing but prudes!) Victoria is shocked to learn that the Palmerstons have something of a flexible kind of married bliss, and are both allowed to step out on one another as long as they’re honest about it, and don’t engage in illicit relations when the other is present. The thing that stumps the queen most, it seems, is that despite their admittedly unorthodox relationship, it’s blindingly obvious that the two adore one another, both on an intellectual and a physical level. (They manage to have a surprisingly forthright heart to heart about Palmerston’s flirtation with Duchess Sophie, and make out with one another whenever they get the chance. They’re…really something else.)
In other words: Here’s hoping we see Emily Palmerston again, very soon. Like, next week. You took Lord M away from me show. Let me have this!
The Palmerstons’ marriage – for all its non-traditional oddity – is clearly meant to stand in a sort of diametric opposition to the current state of Victoria and Albert’s. For all that it’s obvious that the queen and her husband love one another, they’re not doing a great job at being married. Albert is very interested in presenting a united front to others, but he doesn’t respect Victoria’s decisions and in fact gossips with her sister that he thinks her constant pregnancies have somehow rendered her incapable of making good choices. He rolls his eyes when he speaks, accuses her of being too eager to believe the world that Palmerston is showing her, and openly disparages her desire to build a relationship with the Irish.
(Say it with me: Shut up, Albert!)
The worst thing about Albert’s attitude is that it’s based on nothing beyond his own opinions. He doesn’t like Lord Palmerston, so he views his every move with suspicion, and paints each action in the worst possible light. To be fair, we know that Palmerston is more than capable of being a shady operator – you don’t plant guns to fake a civilian uprising if you’re 100% on the up and up – but, as is evidenced by his conversations with his wife, the man does contain multitudes. But Albert's insistence that Victoria is making “questionable decisions” basically boils down to “doing something he doesn’t like or agree with”. But, instead of talking any of that out in a real way, he pretty much just calls his wife stupid to her face.
In short: You can sleep in the guest room for a while, my dude.
Things do not improve when Victoria realizes she’s pregnant with the couple’s seventh child, and even though Albert reasserts his love for his wife, one can’t help but wonder if he’s just using her condition to further demean the very valuable work she managed to do in Ireland. Because for all that Albert insists that the queen only wanted to visit the Emerald Isle to get more public adulation from the people she rules, that’s not what Victoria did at all.
No, instead, she listened – to everyone from Emily Palmerston to her new hairdresser Abigail – and incorporated their understanding of the Irish people into her own. And her speech to the Catholic bishop was both serious and heartfelt, including a sincere apology for the crown’s indefensible neglect of the Irish people and a promise to do better in the future. Whether or not she’ll be able to do that is, of course, up in the air, but her sincerity certainly seems genuine and worth taking on its face as true, which Albert, for some reason, doesn’t seem to want to do.
There is a lower place, couple-wise, however, than the current mess that is Victoria and Albert’s marriage. And that’s poor Sophie’s relationship. Victoria seems to delight in painting Lord Monmouth as the worst possible version of himself – an overbearing, abusive, condescending misogynist who’s so sexist and crude that he gives even the queen and Lord Palmerston pause. Despite the fact that he serves a female monarch, he seems to have no qualms disparaging the intelligence of women, and views poor Sophie as property as much as a person.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that Sophie finally gives in to her attraction to hunky footman Joseph – much like Victoria herself, she too just wants someone to love her. And Joseph is awfully sweet – not to mention he treats Sophie like a person whose opinions, perspective and stories have value, which her actual husband clearly does not.
The duchess’ obvious happiness over their surf-side hookup is bittersweet, though, because no matter how swoony Sophie might be, at the end of the day she’s still married to a monster and even if she weren’t, Joseph wouldn’t be a suitable match for her. Even Palmerston, champion of extramarital affairs that he is, recognizes this – though it’s a point in his favor that he tries to let her down gently about it.
What do you think of all this relationship drama? Let’s discuss in the comments.