Eliza and William Reach an Emotional Impasse in the 'Miss Scarlet & the Duke' Season 2 Premiere

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

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

(Photo: Courtesy of Sergej Radovic | MASTERPIECE)

It's been almost two years since Miss Scarlet & the Duke was last on our screens, which has more than likely left many viewers curious about what the show would be like when it finally returned. Thankfully, Miss Scarlet is as strong in its Season 2 premiere as it's ever been, spinning a pleasantly twisty mystery that's more important because of the way it impacts Eliza Scarlet's (Kate Phillips) and William Wellington's (Stuart Martin's) relationship than in the specifics of the story it tells. 

But that's part of the appeal of this show, isn't it? Eliza's cases are generally...fine, particularly in how they illuminate the uncomfortable sexism and misogyny that was so pervasive in a time of such supposed progress and enlightenment. And most of them tend to focus specifically on female characters and problems, telling stories beyond simply having a woman appear as a dead body as so many other mystery series do. 

However, as great as all that is, let's not kid ourselves. We're here for the relationship between Eliza and her Duke, and this premiere is full of even more emotional highs and lows than usual on that score. The pair admit they have feelings for one another! (Sort of.) They decide they can't act on them. (Again!) And both are (obviously) tortured by walking away from the nebulously defined future together they both so clearly want. How are our hearts supposed to take this for another season?

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 Element 8 Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

Part of the problem with will they/won't they romances is that it's challenging to keep coming up with reasons for the couple that cares for one another not to get together. And for a moment in this episode, it feels like Miss Scarlet might be going there — Eliza and William, who have been having nonstop dinner dates, touch hands lingeringly. It's one of the most intimate things we've seen pass between them. (Reader, I made a noise out loud, is what I'm saying.)

It's just a moment, but something has shifted between them. Maybe it's solving Henry's murder together, being trapped in an abandoned prison, or nearly watching one another die multiple times, but these two seem less like "just friends" all of a sudden. They're softer together, somehow. They have regular dinner plans. Ivy's openly shipping it. As viewers, we're living.

Until it all comes crashing down at the episode's end. Most fans probably aren't surprised — after all, the first episode of Season 2 is very early to put the show's marquee couple together romantically when there's still more narrative mileage to be found in their constant bickering quiet pining. But it doesn't stop the final scene, in which Eliza declares that she cannot have a master, William accuses her of humiliating him among his peers, and they both decide to friend zone each other, from feeling like a kick in the face.

Especially when they're each dying to run back to the other and apologize, but they're too darn stubborn actually to do it.

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The case of the week in "Pandora's Box" isn't especially memorable, even if I do love the idea of a well-to-do woman like Mrs. Wentworth (Elizabeth Bower) forced to waddle around in a giant Victorian fake pregnancy belly. But it is interesting in the way it impacts Eliza and William's relationship, throwing up another uncomfortable (but all too legitimate) roadblock between them.

Eliza's decision to take on the case of a missing young woman named Georgina Lee (Emilija Stanisic) brings her into direct conflict with Scotland Yard and William himself since the girl's sister, Alice (Katie Brayben) blames the Duke personally for giving up on finding her. And though Eliza knows that taking this case is blurring some boundaries in potentially uncomfortable ways, she does it anyway, without giving William a heads up. 

To be fair, Ms. Scarlet works the crap out of this case. She's interviewing people at the store where Georgina worked, searching her apartment, and sussing out key details the Duke and the other investigators missed. (Like that Georgina is Alice's daughter, not her sister.) And her desperation makes a lot of sense, too — so few people take her seriously as an investigator that she isn't exactly spoiled for choice regarding the work she takes on.

But there's also a part of her enjoying that she's made progress on this case. She's succeeding where both Scotland Yard and the great William Wellington failed. It's a validation of her desire to be part of her chosen profession, in a way, and while she certainly deserves praise for her hard and successful work, it's also...well, let's just say it's not very kind toward someone she cares about.

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

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

(Photo: Courtesy of Element 8 Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

For his part, the Duke is struggling to impress his new boss, Superintendent Monro (Ian Pirie), and dealing with a nepotism hire, Oliver Fitzroy (Evan McCabe), who's generally too stupid to live, let alone be a police detective. He's particularly on edge, and being shown up by Eliza's detective work on a case he declared closed and barely remembered is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. He says that his position at Scotland Yard would be untenable if he and Eliza were ever to become more than friends because he's already being undermined and humiliated enough for working with her as a colleague. 

Now is this behavior great? Not really! And, to be honest, Miss Scarlet is not as straightforward as I'd like it to be about whether William is simply ashamed of having his policework shown up by someone doing his job better than he did or if it's the fact that it's a woman doing so, even if it's a woman he likes. Eliza, on the other hand, is determined to maintain her independence. She refuses to be dictated to or "have a master," and she doesn't want the burden of having to say no to a case because someone else doesn't want her to take it. (She also basically admits she'd have carried on searching for Georgina even if the Duke had asked her to stop.)

And thus, the pair arrive at an emotional impasse, each unwilling to bend when it comes to their desires or to make an effort to reassure or accommodate the other's feelings. What kills me about this is that the episode ends with each of them clearly dying to reach out to the other, practically touching foreheads on the opposite side of a door, and stubbornly, stupidly refusing to be the person that says sorry first.

Will either of them manage to admit their feelings by the end of the season? Place your bets.

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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