There's an old saying about being careful what you wish for because there's every possibility that you might get it one day. That's kind of what it feels like watching the fourth episode of Miss Scarlet & The Duke Season 4, an hour that finally upends the show's existing status quo in long-awaited and thrilling new ways. Where the show goes from here is anyone's guess (and if you have already watched ahead on PBS Passport, consider this your warning not to spoil me). Still, it finally feels like it's stepping out into some untouched new territory for the first time in a very long time.
A central question of Season 4 has been how — or even if — the show would deal with the emotional fallout from last season's finale, in which William got dumped by his then-girlfriend Arabella and unceremoniously informed it was because he was so obviously in love with Eliza. But it's only at the season's halfway point that the show acknowledges the foundational shift for his character and the duo's relationship. He tells her he loves her! There's a kiss! It's so much more than I ever expected we'd get this season. Granted, it took William getting shot to confront his recent behavior and general life choices. But romance tropes are so lasting precisely because they work. If the Duke's near-death experience is the necessary narrative catalyst for Miss Scarlet to take a good hard look at the state of its central relationship, who are we to complain? There's even an Arabella flashback! Is this what finally winning feels like?
As episodes go, "The Diamond Feather" is a pretty solid adventure in its own right. It features the return of Felix Scott, as Patrick Nash finally makes his way back to London to deal with the fact that Eliza has essentially driven away all his other employees and is steadily wrecking the financial fortunes of the office he entrusted to her care. To be fair, he makes some solid points — it turns out Eliza had a hand in firing some of the guys who left —and she really probably should have done a more thorough background check into the new client, who has a rather dangerous background in organized crime.
The hour's central mystery, the hunt for a stolen heirloom that once belonged to Admiral Nelson, isn't terribly compelling in terms of specifics, but it's at least female-focused in a way that particular way this show excels at, with a culmination that involves domestic violence, women keeping each other safe, and Eliza quick-thinking her way out of a potentially dangerous situation with a little help from some copious blackmail. Your mileage may vary on whether or not you think Nash is necessary or adds anything substantial to the world of the show (I personally can take him or leave him and probably wouldn't have minded if he'd stayed in France forever), but to his credit, he's at least less overtly annoying than he was last season.
His strident belief in Eliza's professional abilities is always welcome, and the scenes in which he and Eliza have to pretend to be married are genuinely entertaining. But what makes "The Diamond Feather" stand out is that it's the first episode in a very long time that feels as though it has something interesting to say about William and his emotional journey. Upon his release from the hospital, the Duke heads to the Scarlet house to convalesce, where he's mothered by Ivy and worried over by Eliza. Whether it's William's more fragile emotional state or the simple fact of putting him in a different, less professionally focused environment for an extended period, this is genuinely the softest we've ever seen this character.
William admits that he's rethinking his future! He's contemplating what a life other than in Scotland Yard might look like! He acknowledges that there are things that matter to him more than work, and he's 100% unsubtle about hinting that this is all because of Eliza! This is the dream, guys!
Do I wish we'd seen a little bit more of William's ruminations over Arabella's break-up speech? That it hadn't taken nearly dying for this dumb-dumb to acknowledge what's been clear to everyone around him (both within the world of the show and outside of it) forever? Of course! But after several seasons of Miss Scarlet taking one step forward and approximately six steps back with Eliza and William's relationship, it's hard to argue that this all isn't deserved. We have earned this, y'all.
From William's adorable efforts to write Eliza a letter about his feelings to his repeated attempts to find a moment to simply talk to her, it's all incredibly sweet and adorable. Most of us (read: me) have been so desperate for anything that feels like forward motion in this story that most viewers would have been happy to stay in this space of strained anticipation for a bit. But, nope, we got a love confession and a kiss within 20 seconds of each other, and it feels like everything we've known about the show has suddenly changed instantly. It's a lot, is what I'm saying, and the pacing of it all could have been better, but it's finally the forward momentum so many fans (read: again, me) have wanted to see for so long.
Granted, Eliza and William are still not together at the end of this episode. They're farther apart than they've ever been. William has decided to take a year's secondment to New York to work for the American police force there. And the thought of them being that far from one another is genuinely awful. But for the first time in a long time, there's a legitimate reason they aren't together, and that reason makes sense in terms of where they both are in the story. The show's not treading water anymore or refusing to address the proverbial elephant in the room. This is something new.
(Truth be told, I'm not sure I ever expected to hear William say the l-word before the series finale.)
William's obviously still struggling to figure out how he and Eliza both fit in one another's lives (romantically speaking) as they are currently configured, and his long, angsty consideration of her "Chief Investigator" desk sign conveys multitudes. Whether you choose to interpret his pained expression as worry over whether Eliza will always choose the job first or simple frustration that his nearly dying hasn't sparked a similar recalibration of her priorities when it comes to work-life balance, these are stories the show hasn't told before.
William even says out loud that he can't be around Eliza if he's not with her romantically, and he can't keep his job at Scotland Yard if they're together. These are real-life issues that both these characters will need to figure out the answers to before they have any real chance at happiness together. (But it seems worth noting that William is talking about giving up his own career for the woman he loves rather than asking her to. That is, as the kids say these days, growth.)
We all know William's not staying in America forever, much the same way we knew he wouldn't die after being shot or that he absolutely wasn't moving back to Glasgow. This is a separation with an expiration date attached, and hopefully, Miss Scarlet will use this particular plot twist to explore Eliza's feelings about William's confession. All those platitudes about not knowing what you have till it's gone and absence making the heart grow fonder exist for a reason, after all.