If the premiere episode of Miss Scarlet & The Duke Season 4 was a disappointing reset to the mean and a retread that felt like the show was stuck treading water, the good news is the second episode is the hour the season premiere should have been. "Six Feet Under" is an installment that features a much more compelling mystery, involves multiple supporting characters in a way that feels organic and necessary, and treats Eliza's financial straights as a problem to solve rather than another joke about the misogynistic way everyone views her profession. It even shows us how she's working to solve that problem.
Even better, William and Eliza are allowed to work together without hiding anything from each other, and the vibe between them is certainly warmer and, dare I say it, more romantic than anything in the premiere. He genuinely wants to help her find clients! He purposefully touches her shoulder! Their monthly dinners are more regular than just monthly! More importantly, this episode is an excellent example of how great this show can be when Eliza and William are allowed to move freely in and out of each other's orbits as natural parts of the story. He stops by her new office, she's in and out of Scotland Yard for reasons both professional (suspect interrogations) and personal (late night drinks).
Even better, they both also have subplots of their own going on, as Ivy bullies Mr. Potts into hiring Eliza, and William struggles to handle a steadily increasing caseload with what seems like ever-dwindling resources. And its final moments — which include the sort of shocking cliffhanger that by all rights should reorient the show forever afterward — may be telegraphed fairly obviously, but that doesn't make them any less emotionally affecting.
The mystery of the week isn't all that interesting on its face, but it's a typical Miss Scarlet story in that its most compelling elements are the characters involved. The murder of a prominent undertaker — and Friend of Mr. Potts — reveals that the funeral home industry is both highly competitive and weirdly petty. The story that unfolds involves everything from some petty larceny and violent intimidation to adultery and a long-long child. Its relatively brisk pace makes it easy to watch, even if it telegraphs many of its biggest twists toward the end of the hour. But, as with so many other Miss Scarlet mysteries, this story works because it's about a woman living an unconventional life.
The victim, Mr. Turner, had a combative relationship with a rival named Hardcastle, so much so his will specifies his estranged sister, Francesca, should not sell the business to Hardcastle upon his death. (The dead are very dramatic, apparently.) Francesca is his heir but has little interest in the family business. The heart of the story lies in the reasons these two drifted so far away from one another. Francesca had an illegitimate child with Hardcastle, who refused to acknowledge the boy or any relationship with Francesca. It's a story that isn't uncommon for the period, but Miss Scarlet smartly reminds us of everything she would have had to give up to keep and raise her child.
From her relationship with her brother to a marriage to a cruel drunk who seems to have rubbed her face in her secret, she's not had an easy time of it. Something that's certainly not made any easier by the fact that her son is the one who killed her brother.
But despite the various twists in this episode, the only thing that anybody's going to be talking about is that William got shot in the closing moments and may well be near death.
Look, let's be honest. We all know there's no way this show is killing off William Wellington, no matter how dire his injuries might be. This show is called Miss Scarlet & The Duke, after all. That said, a little mortal peril might likely be the precise thing this show so desperately needs to shake up the existing William and Eliza relationship.
Sure, Miss Scarlet played with variations on this theme before: Eliza was deliberately targeted as part of a murder plot back in the Season 2 finale, she and William were forced to defuse a bomb together in Season 3, and she got threatening notes in this very episode. The show even briefly pretended that William would be reassigned to Scotland and forced to leave Eliza behind forever. But this is the first time that either of them has faced something that feels like it carries the genuine possibility of death. (Fitzroy dramatically revealed William's blood covering his shirt, so you know it's serious, is what I'm saying.)
If you know anything about romance tropes, this is the moment our heroine, confronted with the all-too-real prospect of losing the man she secretly loves forever, must finally reflect on and reckon with the feelings she's done her best to ignore/suppress/hide. Or perhaps it's time for the hero, having come thisclose to shuffling off this mortal coil, to be motivated to reevaluate his life choices and see the important things (like love) it's all been lacking. Either way, this kind of seismic event usually means something has to change.
Goodness knows — and I realize I've beaten this horse well past death (ed note: It's glue, babe), but also, I'm right — it's past time for Miss Scarlet to find a way to, if not allow the William/Eliza relationship to genuinely move forward romantically in the way that many of us would like to see, then at least come up with a way to change their dynamic or goals or something in a significant and lasting way. This feels like it should be that moment. Will it? Whether through some miracle or sheer strength of will, it's obvious that the Duke will be just fine. But the real question is, what will happen after the blood's been cleaned up and the criminal perpetrators arrested?
All those previously mentioned close calls had little impact on either Eliza or William's behavior going forward. Most of them were never even mentioned again. (We still don't know what Eliza would say when she thought William was about to leave London for good, and we'll likely never find out.) Surely, William nearly dying means we're owed at least a conversation where they acknowledge how much they mean to each other, if not an hour devoted to Eliza taking stock of where her life stands at the moment, what it might have looked like without him in it, and how his loss might have made her feel. Will we get any of that? Your guess is as good as mine. But let's live in hope, shall we?
If this hour being everything the premiere should have been is the good news, here is the bad: If you're not a PBS Passport member, you're going to have to wait an entire week to find out how the hour's overly telegraphed but narratively thrilling cliffhanger resolves itself. (As for me, I'll be pushing play on the third episode as soon as I file this recap.)