In the Miss Scarlet & The Duke premiere, Eliza did all the things a lead character does in shows like this. She managed to solve a case with her own ingenuity, and then she managed to correct her rookie mistake in solving that case by sheer nerve and a little laudanum. By the end, the show seemed ready to settle into the standard-issue period mystery drama tropes the same way Eliza was settling behind her late father's desk of her brand new agency.
But as "The Woman in Red" clarifies, unlike other female-led mysteries, this one isn't interested in making it easy for Miss Scarlet to start solving crimes every week.
Moorhouse: Being a detective must be such fun!
From the opening moments of the second episode, it's evident that nothing is going to plan. Those who hire Eliza do so because they assume they can get away with not paying her, and she's so bad at collections, a small child bests her. Moreover, Rupert is her backer, but that doesn't mean he respects what she's doing. When she stops by to talk to him about how bad she's floundering, she finds him in the company of his friend, Dr. Moorhouse (Kieran Hodgson), who thinks this odd woman with her detective agency is a riot. Rupert, being the follower sort, is soon laughing at her along with Moorhouse.
The financial straits are so dire Kitty has left, and though Ivy's still there, she doesn't think Eliza will be at this long and will come to her senses and marry Rupert for financial security. (Though Ivy is loyal, she's an employee, and it is evident she expects to get paid.) Mrs. Parker also thinks it's high time Eliza does the sensible thing and is willing to blackmail her into it if necessary. She got the deed to the Scarlet house out of Henry at a low moment when he needed money, and she's calling it in. Though no one says it out loud, it's evident Mrs. Parker knows perfectly well her son was not into women and had been holding the debt as her ace-in-the-hole should Eliza be recalcitrant.
In desperation, Eliza heads to see Wellington. But the Duke isn't trying to support her either, reducing her to stealing files off his desk. The one she grabs lets her arrive at a murder scene ahead of Wellington. Edward Butler (David Crowley) is standing over Sebastian Ridley's dead body, holding the murder weapon. But his wife, Tabitha (Deirdre Mullins), insists her husband is innocent, just as Duke and his men arrive, dragging Eliza out. Duke is so mad he sends Eliza before Magistrate Wilkes (Brian de Salvo), who throws the book at her. It's the first of running scenes of Eliza's not-quite legal behavior and impudent mouth getting her into trouble.
Tabitha bails her out, promising any amount of money to prove Edward innocent. Ridley, she says, owned a saloon in Mayfair, Edward was his accountant. But when Eliza gets there, she discovers Moses. He had dealings with Ridley, who had a Moses' father snuffbox in his safe. The details don't matter; Moses is lying. But he's hiring Eliza to find it, claiming Tabitha cleared out the safe. Eliza goes to the Butler house, where Tabitha is already on her way to church, declaring the case over and paying Eliza to go away. Her husband can be "damned to hell" as far as she's concerned.
But Eliza's not about to let this go, and not for the first time, uses "ladies are delicate at random times" as an excuse to remain as Mrs. Butler exits the house. The maid, Annie (Megan McDonnell), is not fooled, and lets Eliza into Edward's study for a small fee, where she finds the snuffbox and love letters to Sebastian, signed "TB." We are supposed to assume that's Tabitha, but it isn't. The nickname for Edward in this era is Teddy. But the show detours to the morgue before getting to that, where Mr. Potts (Simon Ludders) finds himself utterly flustered by Eliza barging her way in to see the body as Duke tries to sign the release to send it for burial.
Her antics get her thrown before the Magistrate again, forcing William to bail her out. But Eliza spotted a blue rose tattoo on the body and realized she'd seen it before, on Moorhouse. Moreover, Rupert's new digs are adorned with blue roses. He admits they (and Teddy) were part of Sebastian's Midnight Rose Club. As to what Sebastian was into, Rupert says to ask the doorman, who is, you guessed it, Moses.
When Eliza arrives, she finds thieves ransacking the place, and Moses stabbed. Luckily, she spotted Sebastian's hidden gun the last time she was there. She's never fired one, and the kickback sends her flying. But it's enough to clear both men out and save Moses' life. In return, Moses admits the snuffbox held opium, which Sebastian was getting from Moorhouse. Cornered, Moorhouse insists it was legal, Sebastian was dying of cancer, the opium was for pain relief. He wanted Teddy to run away with him to spend their last weeks together; Edward refused. Sebastian's revenge was committing suicide in their parlor, leaving a letter for Tabitha revealing the two were lovers.
Eliza's solved the case and sends Duke off on a wild goose chase so she can be the one to stop Edward's hanging and get the credit. But Edward isn't happy to be free. The evidence that gets him off proves he's gay, which in this era means he's an outcast, a pariah. Tabitha will be jailed for obstruction; Sebastian died in front of his eyes. Everyone he loved is gone; his life is over. Eliza has won (and she's getting paid handsomely). But like the first case, it's not clean.
Eliza pays off Mrs. Parker, keeps Ivy employed, and even hires Moses to become her debt collector and assist on cases. But unlike most series, where an emotional support system surrounds the lady detective, hers is one she's paying for, either in cash, like Moses, or by keeping secrets, like Rupert. Moreover, she keeps trying to have it both ways, faking "lady issues" and stealing and scheming to get cases, then wondering why she's not being accorded any respect by the people she needs it from, like Duke. It's far more realistic than most shows like this would go, but it does lead me to wonder when this will all come to a head.