'Miss Scarlet' Without the Duke Abandons the Fundamental Premise of the Show

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & the Duke' Season 2

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & the Duke' Season 2

(Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Element 8 Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

As most Miss Scarlet and the Duke fans have likely heard by now, significant changes are in store for Season 5 just not in the way most of us probably expected. The series' fourth season was its most dramatic yet, as the slow burn will they/won't they tension between the series firmly tipped into outright romantic territory, with William finally admitting he was in love with Eliza, kissing her, and departing for America on a year-long work assignment. True, the season ended with our leads physically further apart than they'd ever been. Still, viewers everywhere were thrilled: After literally years of dancing around the rarely mentioned but blatantly obvious feelings between them, this season finally pushed their relationship forward. We got a whole flashback episode dedicated to how they first met! There was a kiss! William said the L-word! The genuine forward relationship progress that so many fans had been waiting for was finally happening! 

But when the Season 5 renewal announcement finally arrived, it came with an important (and devastating) caveat: Stuart Martin, the actor who plays William Wellington, would not return to the show. Instead, the mystery series would be changing its name to Miss Scarlet, and the press release included a statement from creator Rachael New promising that, despite the Duke's absence, "there is so much in store for Eliza – new crimes, new friends, new foes and new romance."

I probably speak for many longtime Miss Scarlet fans when I say that everything about this news felt like a punch in the gut and, quite frankly, a betrayal of everything we were promised when we originally signed on to watch this show. Martin's departure is upsetting for so many reasons, but a big one is that it feels like a bait and switch. We're losing a central character whose emotional journey we were invested in and a vital piece of the primary reason we were told to watch Miss Scarlet & The Duke in the first place. Whether you want William and Eliza together romantically or not, the show was always predicated on and grounded in their relationship, and to pretend otherwise is to deny the original premise behind its very existence.

Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & The Duke" Season 4

Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & The Duke" Season 4

(Photo: Masterpiece)

When Miss Scarlet & The Duke was first announced in 2019, the show leaned into Eliza’s status as the first female detective in Victorian London and the fact that she needed a partner to successfully run her late father’s private investigation agency on her own. Enter, William. And, honestly, the official description of Season 1 is blunt about what’s happening: “Eliza and The Duke strike up a mismatched, fiery relationship that will crackle and smolder with sexual tension as they team up to solve crime in the murkiest depths of 1880’s London.”

So let’s say it as plainly as possible: No one planned to tune in to this new program simply because it promised a crime drama in period dress. The series’ hook, apparent from its first marketing materials, was this unique relationship at the show’s center. The real story of Miss Scarlet and the Duke has always been just that: Miss Scarlet and the Duke. 

And the thing is, the show itself knows this. The overarching cases of the week have consistently been Miss Scarlet’s weakest elements. Sure, the show has done a frequently remarkable job finding ways to ground its weekly stories in specific and unique female experiences – a welcome shift from many shows of its ilk! – but it’s never been that compelling as a straight mystery series. Some of its cases aren’t even proper mysteries, and the show couldn’t be less interested in genre staples like twisty whodunnits or shocking reveals. 

From the beginning, Miss Scarlet has been much more interested in character dynamics and emotional arcs that occasionally intersect with the cases Eliza is solving. Its mysteries are usually perfectly serviceable if generally unremarkable, and the “crime” aspect of this particular crime drama has always taken a back seat to the relationship at its center. And that’s a big part of what made this show feel so special and what helped it set it apart from the dozen other procedural mysteries on PBS. 

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & the Duke' Season 4

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin in "Miss Scarlet & the Duke' Season 4

(Photo: Masterpiece)

What makes this even more painful is that Season 4 finally felt like the show was moving forward, at last, at least where its central relationship was concerned. Yes, William left, but it was for a good reason: to give Eliza the space and opportunity to decide what she wanted from their relationship on her own terms. (That, as the kids say, is growth.) But if he was never coming back, why bother with most of Season 4? 

The most recent run of episodes was overtly romance-coded — and genuinely romantic, too — from William's near-death experience, which forced him to reevaluate what he wanted from his life, to the flashback episode that showed us precisely how long its two lead characters have been tangled up in one another. It finally felt as though, after four seasons of spinning its proverbial wheels in terms of its central relationship, Season 4 was a deliberate turning point for the two of them. And many viewers were rightfully looking forward to seeing what a version of Miss Scarlet that fully embraced the romance at its center might have looked like. Maybe things wouldn't have worked out for Eliza and William. Perhaps it would have led to a genuinely happily ever after for them. Either way, it would have made for fantastic television, thanks mainly to the years of work that have gone into these characters and this relationship. And now, we'll never know which is the worst thing. 

The show's transformation into Miss Scarlet will likely necessitate a few William mentions. Maybe Eliza will occasionally get a letter from him before learning that he loves New York and plans to relocate there long term. Perhaps he'll be killed offscreen, a la Sidney in Sanditon, and a telegram will arrive to inform Eliza that he was tragically shot as he raced to save some kidnapped children or something. Neither ending is what most of us expected we were in for when we pushed play on that first episode 5 years ago, but sadly, it's what we're probably getting. And that feels both wrong and unfair. 

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Miss Scarlet and the Duke

Kate Phillips (Peaky Blinders) stars in a six-part mystery.
Miss Scarlet & The Duke: show-poster2x3

Look, no shade to Kate Phillips, who is a fantastic actress and who, I am sure, will continue to do great work. Maybe William's departure will force the newly rechristened series to finally give her character the genuine interiority, growth, and agency it's so deliberately spent recent seasons denying her. There's every reason to believe Miss Scarlet will be a fine television program. It's just not the one most of us signed up to watch. 

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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