It probably shouldn't be all that surprising that the penultimate episode of Miss Scarlet & The Duke Season 4 is kind of a letdown. After all, last week's installment, "The Diamond Feather," was one of the series' best episodes to date, not for the least of which reason is that it essentially gave William and Eliza shippers the moment we've been waiting literal years to see. William finally said, out loud, that he loved her. They kissed. And...then he left for a year's special posting in America, rocking the very foundation upon which the bulk of this show has been based.
So...what now, you may be asking yourself. Unfortunately, as far as "The Calling" goes, not a whole lot. It's a strange choice in the wake of the show's biggest bombshell to date, one that makes the hour feel strangely stagnant and rudderless. Eliza's suddenly seething that William's gone, though the show's not super clear about whether she's angry she's being forced to face her own feelings after all this time, annoyed that he dumped a love confession on her before peacing out to the other side of the ocean, or if she's somehow afraid of rocking the status quo between them. Many of us were likely hoping that in the aftermath of William's declaration, we might finally get a bit more emotional honesty from Eliza, or at least a clearer idea about how she felt about his confession. Instead, she spends the bulk of the hour sulking childishly, and taking out her emotional constipation on everyone around her.
Perhaps Miss Scarlet is saving Eliza's version of the tortured reflections we saw from William last week for the season finale, since it certainly appears everyone else in her life is fully aware of why she's spiraling so badly. But it's more than a little concerning when we're rapidly running out of narrative road in which to fit a great many necessary emotional moments.
The episode's actual case is one of Miss Scarlet's weaker efforts, a not-all-that-terribly-compelling story about an explosion at a telephone engineering workshop that killed several people, including a promising designer whose recent work was set to revolutionize the industry. Truth be told, this show has never been all that compelling as a straight mystery series and has never put all that much effort into crafting twisty whodunnits or shocking reveals.
Instead, Miss Scarlet succeeds because of the way it uses its weekly plots as a framework to explore stories about specifically female problems and experiences. "The Calling," for what it's worth, has one woman in it who is not Eliza or Ivy, and the only reason you're likely to remember her name is because the letter it starts with is literally a plot point. Thankfully, this particular case of the week is really just a backdrop, an excuse to explore larger character dynamics and issues which promise interesting things for episodes (and likely seasons) to come.
After four episodes of everything being relatively fine even though she lost all of her staff as soon as she took over Nash & Son's London office, we finally start to see some real fallout from Eliza's decision to go work for someone else, rather than stay her own boss. She and Nash clash about hiring decisions and interacting with the detectives from Scotland Yard—Phelps, gunning for William's old job, has somehow become even more repulsive in his absence—and it's clear that they have some very different ideas about what private detectives, as a profession, are meant to be and do.
Nash, bless him, has never pretended to be anything other than a pragmatist. One doesn't get the sense that he became a private detective for a love of justice or because of an intense curiosity about human nature. He's a businessman who has built an apparent multinational detective empire, and a capitalist through and through. He's in this for the cash, whether that means taking on less-than-savory clients, sucking up to awful public figures (read: Phelps), or ignoring lines of inquiry that might cost him money.
Eliza, for her part, doesn't think like that. For her, being a detective is about finding the truth, and we see the two butt heads about this difference in ideology repeatedly throughout this episode. Eliza suddenly starts suspecting their client might be guilty of causing the very explosion they're investigating, Nash tells her to drop it because if they accuse Bracewell of murder they'll lose their fee. She splutters, he reminds her that technically she works for him, and she gets her back up even further about being told what to do.
But the thing is, and trust me when I say this pains me to admit it, Nash is right. This is the trade-off Eliza made when she went to work for someone else, even someone who promised her a high level of autonomy. It's not her agency anymore, and the fact that she goes behind Nash's back and interrogates Bracewell anyway is just another example of the ways this situation isn't necessarily as right for her as she wants it to be. In all fairness, this season should have spent more time on this issue, if only because it's so glaringly apparent that Eliza's happiest future doesn't lie in working for someone else. (That she and Nash make it all up again so quickly is...certainly a choice!)
Of course, the proverbial elephant in the room throughout this episode is William, who somehow manages to be very present even though Stuart Martin doesn't appear onscreen except in a flashback. His absence leaves a hole of both a personal and professional variety in Eliza's life, forcing her to contemplate what her life might look like without him in it and confront the fact that his presence was something that she'd come to rely on to do her job.
With the ascension of Phelps, who actively hates her, her easy access to Scotland Yard, be it in terms of information or actual casework has dried up. Nash is, of course, wrong to abruptly throw it in her face the way he does, but yet again, he is not entirely wrong. (I hate myself.). Eliza may be an excellent detective, but she also had a helpful inside track that's no longer available to her, which means some aspects of her professional life are going to have to change.
It's a credit to the show's writers that Miss Scarlet trusts its characters enough to allow them to be petty and ugly without apology. Not to put too fine a point on it but Eliza is a total pill throughout most of this episode. From her stubborn refusal to answer any of William's letters to how rude she is to Ivy when she finds out her housekeeper is writing to him herself, there's a whole lot of our heroine being stubborn and insufferable and not much in the way of genuine introspection. She's angry at William and can't seem to verbalize why, she wishes he'd stayed but can't put into words her reasons for those feelings or what it is that she wants next for their relationship, and those are all the questions we most need answers to before this season ends.