'Belgravia's Penultimate Episode is Just a Red Herring

Tamsin Greig as Anne Trenchard reads the newspaper in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Tamsin Greig as Anne Trenchard in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Carnival Films

The penultimate episode of Belgravia is an overstuffed hour of circuitous fake-outs, secrets, and surprise 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 unnecessary. 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 that 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 was a clergyman after all. (Surprise!) There's a bizarre side plot where we learn that Charles built his business by shaking down a grieving widow to buy a mill and cheating on his taxes. It's a tremendously ham-fisted effort to throw some dirt on Belgravia's golden boy without harming his character. Charles tells Maria he's decided not to dispute the story to avoid inserting himself between James and his son Oliver. (A hero.)

Elsewhere, Maria's mother spends time posturing about how her precious daughter can't marry so far below her station because it'll ruin her life. This is all sly and entertaining the first time because we know that Maria will 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 how Maria turned out so charming, intelligent, and capable when her mother is a monster.)

Ella Purnell as Lady Maria Grey considers her future in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Ella Purnell as Lady Maria Grey in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Carnival Films

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 to 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, inter-spliced with Sophia's maid spilling the tea about her former mistress's possibly legal marriage, was so satisfying, especially the part where she whines about missing out on a thousand pounds. (Ellis is so terrible!) Though did she bother to read the letters she copied for Bellasis? Like, did she miss the earth-shattering secret they contained?

Charles' somewhat shady business practices have driven Lady Brockenhurst to say enough overly complicated cover-ups, telling Anne it's time to let the cat out of the bag. 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. To protect 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 to 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 anger and annoyance.

Richard Goulding as Oliver Trenchard has just learned the truth in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Richard Goulding as Oliver Trenchard in 'Belgravia' Season 1

Robert Viglasky/Carnival Films

Part of that is because the truth about Sophia and Edmund's marriage will come out, and all will be restored - the memories of the dead couple given an air of tragedy rather than scandal. Yet, the constant assertion it's fine if Edmund slept around before marriage and got a girl pregnant won't be a stain on his reputation because he's a man is grating. After all, he tried to coerce Sophia into bed by pretending to marry her; it was only an accident his friend happened to be a man of the cloth before he was a soldier. But that's all fine. Edmund's a wealthy man who can do what he wants, even if it's dangerously skirting a consent line that should make everyone 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. 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 is already married, so I'm not sure what her endgame is here. Is she planning to leave Oliver for John and attempt to upgrade her station by remarrying a man she thinks will be an Earl? Was she expecting John to pick her over Maria? How does her actual husband fit into this?

It's easy to feel bad for Susan. She has very little in common with her in-laws, and neither seems to like her. Her husband barely tolerates 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. I wish I did because I want to - if not necessarily sympathize- at least feel like her story is compelling. I don't have to like her to be interested in what happens to her. But I don't understand her at all.

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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