The penultimate episode of Belgravia is an overstuffed hour of circuitous fake-outs, secrets and suprise revelations that ultimately feel like they go nowhere, pushing the ultimate pay-off of the truth about Charles Pope's identity to the finale. In all honesty, it's so unnecssary - would it have been the worst thing in the world to publicly reveal Charles' true parentage this week so that viewers might have some hope of watching any of these characters react to the fallout?
Apparently so. Instead, the series' fifth episode is stuffed with many of the show's worst elements, all thrown together in a blender. There's blackmail drama involving the Trenchards' dour and greedy servants, as John Bellasis tries to get them to steal the letters the not only prove Charles' status as the Brockenhurst heir, but his legitimacy to boot, as it appears the dirtbag friend who "married" Edmund and Sophia really was a clergyman after all. (Surprise!)
There's a bizarre sideplot where we learn that Charles built his business by shaking down a grieving widow to buy a mill and cheated on his taxes in the process. It's a tremendously ham-fisted effort to throw some dirt on Belgravia's obvious golden boy without actually harming his character in any way, since Charles himself tells Maria that he pretty much decided not to dispute the story in order to avoid inserting himself between James and son Oliver. What a hero!
Elsewhere, Maria's mother spends a lot of time posturing about how her precious daughter just can't marry so far below her station because it'll ruin her life. This is all kind of sly and entertaining the first time, beause we know that Maria will definitely be marrying a future Earl and not a cotton mill owner, but by the fifth, it's nothing fun so much as tiresome. (Also I remain baffled as to how Maria turned out so charming, smart and capable when her mother is kind of a monster.)
On the plus side, John finally figures out the secret he's been so desperate to learn - only to wish he hadn't. Thanks to a series of letters that Sophia's former maid has somehow kept for over two decades for no discernable reason other than she felt it wasn't her decision whether to destroy them or not, he's now seen tangible proof that he's about be supplanted as the Brockenhursts' heir and all he'll be inheriting is his reprobate father's gambling debts. Too bad, so sad.
It's likely that the sequence in which John hollers at Ellis to bring him the original letters RIGHT NOW isn't meant to be as hilarious as I actually found it, but honestly, it was great. The visuals of Ellis running through the streets only to discover that she missed her shot at riches by mere moments interspliced with Sophia's maid spilling the tea about her former mistresses possibly legal marriage was so satisfying, especially the part where she whines about missing out on a thousand pounds. (Ellis is so terrible!) Though i have to ask...did she bother to read the letters she copied for Bellasis? Like, did she miss the earth-shattering secret they contained?
Meanwhile, hearing the rumors of Charles' somewhat shady business practices, Lady Brockenhurst has had enough of the overly complicated cover-ups involved his true identity and tells Anne that it's time to let the cat out of the bag about who he is. According to her, it will shore up his future and protect him, no matter what else he may have done. He'll get to marry Maria and have a great life. But in order to protech poor dead Sophia Trenchard's reputation, they'll just never mention who his mother is, and James and Anne will have to fade into the background of his life, in order keep the secret of their connection to him. I wish I felt worse for them. I feel like Belgravia expects me to. But mostly what I feel is angry and annoyed?
Of course, part of that is because I know the truth about Sophia and Edmund's marriage will come out eventually and all will be restored - the memories of the dead couple given an air of tragedy rather than scandal. Yet, I can't help but balk at the constant assertion that it's fine if Edmund slept around before marriage and got a girl pregnant. That apparently won't be a stain on his reputation, because he's a man, after all, and what do we expect. Sure, he definitely tried to coerce a girl into bed by pretending to marry her, and it's only by pure accident that his friend that helped him did happen to be a man of the cloth before he was a soldier that made everything come right in the end. But that's all fine. Edmund's a rich man and can do what he wants, even if it's dangerously skirting a consent line that ought to make every person who hears this story uncomfortable. But even twenty years after her death all anyone can think of is to call Sophia a whore.
The patriarchy is the worst.
Anyway. Speaking of oppressive patriarchy, Susan Trenchard is pregnant and seems somehow upset that John Bellasis is still planning on marrying Maria Gray. Of course, Susan herself is already married, so I'm really not sure what her endgame is here, and frankly, that's kind of annoying. Is she planning to leave Oliver for John, and attempt to upgrade her station by remarrying a man she thinks is going to be an Earl? Was she expecting John to pick her over Maria? How does her actual husband fit into this?
I mean, it's easy to feel sort of bad for Susan. She clearly has very little in common with her in-laws, and neither of them seem to like her much. Her own husband seems to barely tolerate her company and from her comments in this episode, it's apparent that he doesn't exactly share his innermost thoughts with her. So I get why she's having an affair. That's completely understandable. What I don't get is why she's having an affair with John. And I wish I did, because for some reason I really want to - if not necessarily sympathize with this character, at least feel like her story is a compelling one. I mean, I don't have to like her to be interested in what happens to her. And, on paper, this is exactly the sort of character I love. But I don't understand her POV at all.
Are you looking forward to the Belgravia finale? Any predictions to share? Let's discuss.