Recapping ‘Mr. Selfridge’: Series 3, Episode 1

The cast of "Mr. Selfridge" Season 3. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Studios for MASTERPIECE)
The cast of "Mr. Selfridge" Season 3. (Photo: Courtesy of ITV Studios for MASTERPIECE)
Previously on Mr. Selfridge: There is too much. Let me sum up. If by “sum up” you mean, encourage everyone to just go skim the recaps from last season. There’s a lot.

Welcome back to another glittering, violently well-dressed, occasionally frustrating season of Mr. Selfridge. Let’s just jump right to it, shall we? 

This Show Hates Me.  No, really it does. Mr. Selfridge Season 3 opens with the sad, mournful funeral for my absolute favorite character – Harry’s awesome wife Rose - that is barely even eulogized or mentioned by name, and somehow only has six people show up to her funeral, despite being rich, kind, popular and a general pillar of her little piece of society. Whatever, show. Oh, Rose Selfridge, we’re all going to miss you. Probably no one will as much as me, of course, but still.

Anyway, Rose’s funeral is happening, which means there’s clearly been a time jump of some sort since the end of last season when she was first diagnosed with tuberculosis last season. A title cards tells us it’s Spring 1919, which means that something like five years have passed since last season, which is extra hilarious when you consider that all of Rose and Harry’s children are literally, completely different people now, but people like Grove and Crabb look exactly the same. Oh, television, you’re so much fun. Back to the funeral at hand – the kids are sad, Harry’s Awesome Mom is sad, it’s raining so even Nature itself appears to be sad, because Rose was just that awesome. And poor Harry is just wrecked. Since the existence of Rose was really the only thing that ever really made him tolerable, one can see the plethora of potential problems here. 

What’s New with Everyone Now? As season premieres are often wont to do, we have to spend a few minutes catching up with all the things that have changed for our main characters during the gap between seasons. And, wow, this time it’s kind of a lot.

First off, the war’s over, and everyone’s trying to figure out what to do with their lives. There’s tension in the Selfridge’s loading bay now that the men have come home from the front to find women working in their old positions.

Harry’s been spending a lot of time away from the store, dealing with Rose’s illness, so he’s really out of touch with everything that’s going on there now. Mr. Crabb is not best pleased about the decisions he’s making about the business – like buying a bunch of Irish department stores,  closing the Oxford Street shop down for an entire day to host Rosalie’s wedding in it, and bringing in peacocks for decoration.

Kitty has married Mr. Edwards, which is sort of gross if you think about it too hard, and sort of sad when you (or, well, it’s possible I’m the only one still mad about this) think she probably would have been loads happier with George Towler. Anyway, her seemingly heretofore unmentioned sister Connie has arrived, and works in the loading bay now, so maybe she can get with George. 

Miss Mardle’s been on an extended leave of absence from the store, ostensibly because her dishy Italian Belgian boytoy Florian seems to have died. (Apparently he did end up going off to the war in the end? It’s unclear. PS: Thanks to the eagle-eyed commenter below who pointed out Florian's actual nationality, and the fact that I'd completely blanked on his whole origin story from last season!)

Agnes Towler gets a telegram from France that says that dreamy Henri Le Clair has been released from the hospital and is on his way back to London.  (How long has he been in the hospital? I get the sense the war’s been over for…a while? This timeline is so confusing.) Either way, Agnes is super excited, which almost makes up for the fact that she’s wearing a Mama Cass-style muumuu around the store like it is not a complete nightmare. 

Hurrah, Rosalie’s Marrying Some Kind of Awful Random. Rosalie, who has aged a rather shocking amount, is now getting married and played by a new actress named Kara Tointon, whose primary recommendation for the role appears to be that she looks freakishly like a younger version of Frances O’Connor, who played Rose. It’s uncanny at moments.   

Anyway, Rosalie’s getting married – and she’s nervous about it. Nervous enough to ask her father, paragon of marital advice about it, which is hilarious only when you think that Harry is absolute crap at being a good husband. And Rosalie says her fiancée reminds her of Harry, which is equally terrifying. Oh, girl, you probably should have fought harder for that hot artist guy. Turns out Rosalie’s intended is a guy named Sergei Di Bolotoff, who is pretty dishy, and apparently a famous aviator of some type, but who also seems like a huge jerk and has a rather terrifying mother-in-law, the Princess Marie, who is being played by Zoe Wanamaker with a sort of drunken, hilarious, over the top glee.      

The wedding – which features paparazzi, throngs of people otuside, an actual red carpet and the aforementioned peacocks – goes off without a hitch, and everyone is happy. Or at least they are until the reception, when Sergei starts ignoring his new wife and Violette starts giving her sister advice about how she needs to not let her husband run around on her like their father did to their mother.

(Bonus: The young lady playing Violette is actually Kara Tointon’s real life sister Hannah, and as a result they have fantastic sibling chemistry. Can’t wait for the two of them to get something to really dig into this season.) 

Another Update on Characters You Might Have Forgotten Exist. Since approximately zero people care about this, of course Vile Loxley returns to London, ostensibly with the goal of causing trouble for Harry again. Lady Mae has apparently divorced his hateful and abusive self and gone to live in France, and all I can say is GO, GIRL. Well, that and also an impassioned plea that Katherine Kelly better show up soon because there is literally no way in the world to justify foisting Loxley upon us again if Mae is not around at some point.

Anyway, His Vileness is all mad at Harry because he helped Mae pay for her divorce, so Loxley blames him for it. Yes, this is somehow the logic that he’s decided to go with when rationalizing the end of his relationship, despite the fact that he was openly abusive and a terror to his wife pretty much 24/7. Ugh. Can Loxley please die this season? Please?                                

Henri, despite apparently just being released from hospital, magically materializes at the wedding and Agnes is thrilled. We’re all pretty thrilled at Henri in uniform too, I feel it’s pretty safe to assume. Henri downplays his time in the hospital when Agnes asks about it, so you know that’s a plot point that is going to come back up again later.

Victor, despite his life long dream of like opening a bakery or whatever it was, is not the proprietor of some sort of jazz nightclub which seems to be caught up in some sort of protection racket, which seems to involve him bribing the police with 10% of his monthly income. Oh, and somehow George Towler is also caught up in this, because he works for Victor. Um. Yikes? Has Victor gone nuts?  

Agnes and Henri Decide to Tie the Knot. Henri and Agnes get all cuddly at Rosalie’s wedding, and Henri reassures her that this is exactly the same kind of thing he wants to give her, once he can get some money together. Agnes insists she doesn’t care about any of this, and only wants to be his wife, because they’ve waited long enough. She says since they’ve already had the banns read in church, they can get married whenever they want.

So, surprise, the two of them just decide to just do it. Henri asks Harry if they can have the next afternoon off for an impromptu wedding and of course he agrees because he thinks it’s a terribly romantic idea. They have a small ceremony with just George and Miss Mardle present and they are basically adorable and make cow eyes at each other the whole time. It’s sweet, though it honestly might have been nice to have a bit more build up to it. The happy couple ends up having a picnic in the woods somewhere afterward, making out and planning their honeymoon, and it’s the sort of overly saccharine scene that should probably just come with flashing warning signs about how something bad is def about to happen to them soon. 

Store Drama is Brewing. So, the ladies and guys are having a lot of problems managing to work together in the loading bay at Selfridge’s. It drives George Towler so crazy he ends up quitting, which prompts Grove and Crabb to advise Harry he should probably just fire all the women he hired during the war, as that seems the right thing to do now the boys are home and would save them some money in staff overhead too. Harry’s not having this though and says that they can move the women out of the loading dock if they must but they need to find them other positions in the store.

Crabb is not happy about this, and complains that employee overhead is already high enough without having to train people and pay them more to work in customer-facing positions. Even Gordon speaks up about it, but Harry says no way, because Rose was responsible for those women being Selfridge employees in the first place. (He even mentions that dumb plot where Rose had to help them design uniforms that let them still do manual labor in women’s clothes, and it’s terribly sweet and sad at the same time. Poor Harry is not dealing well.) 

Harry Meets a New Crusading Lady Friend. A random woman named Nancy Webb barges in to Selfridges, demanding a meeting with Harry. Miss Plunkett is not impressed, but Harry is charmed or intrigued or something by her bullishness and agrees to see her. Turns out that she builds houses for casualties of war, and wants to encourage Harry to not buy some land he’s been considering for his new aerodome. (Spoiler alert: Harry hasn’t even ever seen this land, it’s Sergei trying to manipulate Harry through the media into building an aerodome there, whatever, ugh.)  Nancy Webb wants to buy the land herself with a government grant and use it to build subsidized houses for the men back from the war, because she specializes in social welfare projects. Harry’s charmed and impressed – and weirdly nostalgic because it turns out that Rose used to be involved with the construction of similar homes for artists in Chicago. So, he’s automatically inclined to want to help Ms. Webb’s project out, it would seem.

Rosalie’s New Husband is Sort of Terrible. So, apparently Rosalie did really marry her dad? Not only did he ditch her on the morning after their wedding to go to a business meeting (with Vile Loxley of all people!), his playboy reputation is apparently known throughout the city, he immediately attempts to use his relationship with Rosalie to get Harry to fund his new aerodome and starts leaking stories to the press about his new family. In short: Sergei sucks!

On the flip side: his mother seems a bit harder to figure out.  She’s clearly attempting to shoehorn herself in to the Selfridges’ lives, is loud and obnoxious and entirely full of herself. And yet – she recognizes her son’s shortcomings, attempts to smooth over his more careless moments with Rosalie, and seems genuinely concerned about her feelings. Here’s hoping there really is more to this woman than meets the eye.

Anyway, after Harry suggests that the newlyweds should just move in to his massive London house, he confronts Sergei about his behavior.  He tells him that he’s not particularly interested in backing his aerodome scheme, and that if Sergei doesn’t behave with Rosalie, there’ll be hell to pay for it. Sergei is unimpressed by this threat and says he’d like to see his father in law try. Harry looks mulish and angry. So, the in-laws thing seems to be pretty well so far, for sure. 

Surprise, Henri Has PTSD. Henri spends a lot of time this episode moping and feeling guilty that he made it back from the war when so many other men did not. Plus, remember when he tried to convince everyone he was fine after his whole hospital visit that no one ever bothered to actually get details about? He’s so not.

When a fuse blows in Miss Mardle’s house, Henri gets sent off to fix it, because hey, he’s a dude, and duh. And this is how Henri ends up wandering around darkened hallways with a candle, freaking out and hallucinating visions of dead soldiers from the war propped up against his walls. He manages to play it off when Agnes discovers him throwing water on his face in the dark, because Agnes is apparently violently unobservant. 

Guess What Mr. Thackeray Still Sucks. We’d made it so far into this episode I actually thought Thackeray – the smarmy Head of Fashion who tried to have Henri arrested as a spy last year – had maybe left the show. No such luck. He’s still there, still running Selfridge’s Fashion Department and still being an enormous pain in the butt to everyone. He’s busily gearing up for the very important London debut of the Lanvin fashion line – which really looks like scary Lady Gaga castoffs IMO, but okay – and is being a predictable jerk about it, not letting the shop girls touch anything, bashing Agnes and doing his own display against the better judgment of everyone.

So, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when Madame Lanvin’s creative director absolutely hates Thackeray’s initial display design, calling it traditional and passé and threatening to withdraw from the whole event. Thackeray is furious, even more so when Henri pipes up that he and Agnes can fix this mess for him now that they’re back from their honeymoon. The cranky French guy – probably swayed by Henri’s constantly dreamy accent – says they have one more chance, and Thackeray looks ready to explode.

He gets even angrier when Gordon runs and fetches his father and Harry declares his displays a failure. Thackeray accuses of Harry of letting the whole store down, insisting that he’s been preoccupied and out of it during this whole Lanvin event and yelling that he hasn’t gotten anything right since Rose died. Harry looks like he’s about to commit murder, which would actually be awesome, but of course he just kicks Thackeray out of the store with a warning to never come back. (Current status: This.) 

Harry Meets with Miss Web Again. Mr. Selfridge goes to visit Nancy Webb again with an interesting proposal – he wants to go in on her plans to build housing for war veterans, claiming that Rose would absolutely approve of his involvement in such a project. Miss Web is over the moon about this and promises to inundate him with all her studies and statistics about the land and the project at the earliest opportunity. She’s very, very earnest about it, so I think we can all see how Harry’s totally going to be obsessed with her soon.

Selfridge tells Crabb he needs the board to approve more cash to get him started in this new philanthropic business of building houses for the downtrodden. Crabb, who is still upset that the Selfridges store isn’t doing so great as well as the fact that construction isn’t exactly their area of expertise , thinks this is a terrible idea. Selfridge doesn’t care, says his heart is set on the project and that Crabb should just do what he says.

Crabb Has a Crisis of Conscience. After Thackeray gets fired, Mr. Crabb has a small breakdown regarding his role – or lack thereof – in the incident. He’s worried that he’s become a Harry’s Yes Man, expected to back his boss up on everything, even when he thinks it’s wrong. He also doesn’t know if he can support Selfridge’s request to the Board for more money for his special housing project in good faith. He’s obviously quite conflicted about it, which is nice to see because up until this point it seemed more like he was just really cranky more than anything else.

Crabb girds himself for battle and tells Harry that he must talk to him before the Board meets. Harry, of course, completely blows him off and refuses to take his concern seriously, going so far as actually slamming a door in his face. Crabb looks frustrated but declares to Miss Plunkett that he’s going to keep badgering Harry about it. He does – he attempts at least twice more to address his concerns with his boss, but he keeps getting shot down with increasing levels of vitriol. 

Violette to the Rescue. Violette, furious about Rosalie’s new husband and in-laws taking over her home and bored with nothing to do, demands that her father give her a job at the store. Harry says he can’t really do that because the store’s pretty much exploding with female staff members a the moment, and suggests she go traveling instead. Violette declares he’s just trying to get rid of her and stomps off, just in time to run into Henri and Agnes agonizing over the fashion display for the creepy Lanvin Creative Director.

Suddenly, Violette’s struck with an idea to improve the display, which of course Henri and Agnes love despite the fact that she’s never done anything remotely like design work ever. Violette even helps out further by basically flirting shamelessly with Mr. Creative Director, telling him she’s heard he’s a difficult man and explaining the rationale behind Selfridge’s, which is to entertain as well as serve their customers. Creative Director Dude is clearly charmed and willing to listen. 

So: The Board Meeting Goes Poorly. Harry sits down with his Board to pitch them about Nancy Webb’s Homeless Veterans Housing Project. He sells it hard, claiming that such activities only add to the Selfridge legacy outside the business of the store, and assumes that everyone’s with him on that score. Which of course is when Mr. Crabb stands up. Dun dun.

So, this is sort of like that bit in Harry Potter, where everyone is terribly proud of Neville Longbottom in the end for being courageous enough to stand up to his friends and he’s ultimately rewarded with House Points for it but has to spend a whole bunch of pages trapped in a full body bind curse beforehand. This is basically exactly like that. Crabb stands up nervously and says he’s got something to say. He proceeds to go on, at length – he’s also prepared actual documentation – about the scope of the recent Selfridges expansion and how much money they’ve had to spend on it, including keeping on the surplus female staff and the acquisition of new stores in Ireland. He’s backed up all his worries with figures and math and every time Harry tries to shut him up, he refuses to be silenced. He goes through his entire (very lengthy) report, and insists they have to focus on what they do best, which is be a retailer and focus on being profitable. He recommends they reject the Homeless Veterans Housing Project and sits down, looking as though he’s about to hyperventilate.

Harry tries to recover, clearly expecting everyone to go along with him still…but they don’t. The only person who votes for him is Gordon, and even that appears halfhearted. Harry concludes the meeting and says goodnight to everyone before glaring at Crabb as though he’s shot his dog, and slamming out through another door. Crabb is basically breathing into a bag at this point.

Afterward, Crabb tries to resign in some kind of weird self-flagellation exercise or something, but, to his credit, Harry says he won’t accept it. He says that he’s going to raise the money for his new project somehow though, but Crabb just says his job is to protect the company, and if that means he has to protect it from Harry, so be it. Harry is strangely worried about the future of his relationship with Crabb going forward, and the older man sadly says he thinks things between them are irrevocably changed. 

A Very Dramatic Party. The Lanvin party, of course, goes off without a hitch, thanks to the usual creative genius displayed by Agnes and Henri and Violette’s skilled people management earlier. Well, almost. Henri has a fairly aggressive PTSD attack during the middle of some press photos and runs off in terror basically as Agnes looks on in concern.

The Lanvin show starts, which is sort of weirdly avant-garde and involves rotating tables and live models, one of whom is, of course, Violette Selfridge. (Who’s surprised? No one, probably.) There’s also a weird pseudo-dance routine kind of thing and it’s all real weird and kind of in no way makes anyone want to buy fashion products but the pretty strange Madame Lanvin seems to love it. The paparazzi present also seem really into the performance, declaring that every girl in London will want to wear what Violette’s wearing after the papers come out the next day. She tries to use her success to convince her father to give her a more permanent job, but he manages to congratulate her on her success and dodge the question at the same time. 

Henri flees to Victor’s bar, while Agnes tells Miss Mardle how worried she is about him, now that she’s witnessed him have a virtual breakdown in public. Miss Mardle calmly points out that there are probably a lot of women in her shoes – many of the men who went away to war didn’t come back the same. Agnes just complains that she’s Henri’s wife now and doesn’t that means they’re supposed to share everything?

Before she can answer, Miss Mardle gets distracted by the arrival of Mr. Grove who appears out of nowhere to offer her Mr. Thackeray’s old job as Head of Fashion. (Given Miss Mardle’s history of terrifying frump-wear, this is somewhat hysterical, but let’s just go with it.) She’s surprised, as she’d come by the store only to formalize her official resignation and Grove plays on her loyalty to the store and to Harry, insisting that they all need stability right now. He insists that they need her – that he needs her – and they get weirdly flirty for a second, so of course Miss Mardle agrees.

Oh, and Sergei tells Loxley about Harry’s plan to buy land to put up houses. Loxley snorts and says he’s going to help Selfridge dig his own grave with them. Um… well, that certainly sounds ominous. 

And that’s a new season of Mr. Selfridge officially under way! What do you think of the season opener folks? What would you like to see happen this season? 

 


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 Twitter at @LacyMB