To its credit, Miss Scarlet & the Duke is a series that's almost always the furthest thing from traditional. Part of that is due to its unconventional heroine, the only female detective in London, who refuses to sit down and shut up the way the men around her always seem to want her to. However, part of it is also the show's unapologetically feminist lens; even the most mundane cases are often grounded in specific ways that affect women's lives or are particular to the female experience.
Maybe it's that "Angel of Inferno" is the rare Miss Scarlet episode that does nothing with that lens that makes it feel so uninteresting. It's an hour where Eliza ultimately triumphs over the men who underestimate and discount her, and we always love that for her. (And us!) But the episode's central plot focuses on a blackmail attempt using a rare plant poison, which may be very interesting on paper, but is desperately dull onscreen, mainly because it has so little to say about our heroine or the world she lives in.
It also repeatedly forces her into situations where she's forced to react to men rather than forge her own path. (She quite cleverly turns this all on its head by the end of the hour, coming up with a plan that not only publicly embarrasses her new competitor but humiliates him in front of future clients to boot, but the story takes the long way round to get there.)
The big twist of this week's episode is the introduction of Felix Scott's Patrick Nash, a brash private detective who views Eliza and her business as a quaint joke. He offers his firm's services for free to the same client to prove she's terrible at her job and mock her publicly. But he also seems really into her and wants her to work for him. (What?)
The idea of Eliza having a genuine rival — someone who takes her and her talent seriously and pushes her to be her best as a detective — is appealing. Such a character would offer an intriguing triangle opposite William. After all, his public position as a police officer naturally makes his experience of working in the world of crime-solving very different from hers. But Nash is not that. He's smug and smarmy, more interested in defeating Eliza than bettering or even simply recognizing her skills. He seems to view her as a weird pet he'd like to have around than office rather than an equal.
He's willing to do anything to crack the poisoning case before she can manage it, whether that means pretending to be with Scotland Yard or bribing the local tabloid writer to spy on Eliza. He's not a good person (or even a particularly interesting bad one), and I hope we never have to deal with him again. Though I can't imagine we'll be that lucky given how determined he is for Eliza to work for him. It would be one thing if he were driven to this because he'd realized she's a great detective in her own right, but I doubt it.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke
With Eliza and William's relationship in a weird friendzone holding pattern, it makes sense to introduce other characters to cause some friction (and maybe have some flirtation) with our heroine. I'm not entirely opposed to this, despite being a hardcore Eliza/William shipper. But Nash kind of sucks, so much so that it's hard to take him and Eliza seriously as rivals or even frenemies. (He only solved this week's case because he copied her homework, so to speak.)
"Angel of Inferno" is the second episode in a row where William and Eliza are siloed in separate plots for much of the hour. This does lead to hilariously funny moments, like the Duke crashing Ivy and Mr. Potts' dinner date and forcing them to listen to his extended rants about Eliza's many flaws. However, it also inevitably leaves viewers wondering where things stand between the pair. The "let's stay friends for now" conversation would make working together awkward. But because they're around one another so infrequently, we're also not allowed to see our favorite duo navigate what that decision looks like in practice.
On the occasions they team up, they seem as dedicated to one another as ever, but little else between them appears to have changed beyond the lack of regular dinner dates. Granted, there are still fantastic moments, like Eliza's admission that she does value and desire William's opinions, as well as quietly cheerleading his decision to take Detective Fitzroy under his wing despite his superior's wishes. They are so lovely; it almost makes up for the fact that they're so brief.
On the plus side — and a welcome bit of evidence that series creator Rachael New does always know what she's doing — Detective Oliver Fitzroy, general disaster and an all-around hot mess, is actually starting to become charming. He's growing on us like fungus. It's still infuriating that he's being pushed up the ladder of success within the police department for no reason other than rank nepotism, of course. But the fact that he doesn't want the job his father's literally beating him into doing goes a long way.
It's also a rare look into the ways men were expected to exist and behave during this period. Those ways did not include knowing all the words to Gilbert and Sullivan's songs. "Angel of Inferno" continues the character's transformation into a full-on "kind nerd who's good at research," and it works. The Duke's decision to take the kid under his wing despite being well-aware Fitzroy's not talented enough for jobs his father insists he gets promoted into is incredibly sweet, as is his determination to help him become a semi-functional policeman if only so the streets of London don't eat him alive. William loves to take in strays.
Our little misfit band of crime solvers could do much worse than a Pirates of Penzance fan.