Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be another man who thinks he has the right to control the young Queen Victoria, Uncle Leopold (Alex Jennings), King of Belgium, arrives looking to do just that. “I am plagued by uncles,” Victoria laments to her dear Lord M, and this particular uncle has a very clear agenda. He rolls into Buckingham Palace, drops a passive-aggressive comment about Victoria’s height (real hot take, Leo), and immediately gets down to business. The queen needs a husband and that husband should be his nephew, Prince Albert, who also happens to be Victoria’s cousin.
Queen Victoria has no time for talk of marriage. Also, the last time she saw Albert, he went to bed early and was a total snoozefest. She says thanks but no thanks, then heads off to do some real queening in a fabulous tiara. (So much great headwear in this episode!) Plus, it is a truth universally known that Victoria only has eyes for Lord M. The real question of the hour: How does Lord M feel about his queen? When she wonders aloud if she could live a life like her personal hero Queen Elizabeth and never marry, Lord M repeatedly tells her that marriage would be politically beneficial. Of course, then he goes and rags on every potential candidate. Albert? He’s your first cousin and a German. Gross.
What’s a young girl to think when the man she loves suggests that Elizabeth found “companions” and that an English marriage is preferable? She thinks there’s still hope for her crush, that’s what. The forbidden flirting in this episode is off the charts.
Victoria does have some other suitors to consider, so the whole crew heads to the opera to let the considering begin. In addition to Albert, the Russian Grand Duke is still in town. He seemed very pushy last we saw him, but he and Victoria begin to bond over #RoyalPeopleProblems. He is … not terrible? Uncle Cumberland, still reeling from his failed regency plot, tosses his own nephew, George Cambridge (Nicholas Agnew) into the ring as well. George is a doofus and Victoria isn’t interested. She is, however, very interested in Lord M, as evidenced by all of the googly eyes she makes at him. Uncle Leopold notices and rides home in her carriage, mainly so he can make threatening statements in the dark about how dangerous her actions are. He literally lights and then extinguishes a candle just to show Victoria how easy it is to lose the throne. I don’t like how Leopold treats Victoria, but I cannot deny that the guy’s got a flair for drama.
Another example: While Victoria and Co. are unveiling a monument for her late father, a group of angry protesters begin to cause commotion. They’re angry because a group of Chartists — a working-class movement seeking more government representation — were arrested and sentenced to a traitor’s death. (Not to worry, though: Victoria commutes their sentences after learning that Mrs. Jenkins has a connection to the men, and they’re shipped off to Australia.) It is in the middle of this skirmish that Leopold pulls Lord M aside to talk about Victoria’s marriage prospects. Leopold reaffirms that Albert is the best choice she’s got. After all, he’s the same age as Victoria. VICTORIAN BURN. Lord M doesn’t think he can help persuade the queen, but Leopold makes clear that he’s seen the way Victoria looks at the guy. Leopold is on fire tonight.
The conversation with Leopold really messes with Lord M, who runs off to his home, the titular Brocket Hall, to have a good think. This absence from court will not do for Victoria, who, after all this talk about suitors and marriage, has come to a very important conclusion. She runs off to Brocket Hall, incognito. There she happens upon Lord M contemplating the rooks (it’s a bird, y’all). Could this dude get any dreamier? He’s just out there pondering life amongst the foliage and birds, wearing a very becoming jacket, mind you. SO BECOMING. Victoria thinks so, too, and launches into a speech that begins with her telling Lord M that she is speaking to him not as a queen, but as a woman. You know this is going to be so good.
Victoria tells Lord M that she knows he is the only companion she could ever want. He looks into her eyes, takes her tiny, precious hand in his, and just when you think he might kiss her, he talks about how rooks mate for life and how people would learn so much from watching those birds build their nests together. (See? Dreamy!). When Victoria gives away her heart, he knows it will “be without hesitation,” but she can’t give it away to him. Because he has no use for it. LIKE A ROOK, HE MATES FOR LIFE. Victoria starts her long, heartbroken walk away from him. Who knew prime ministers were so achingly romantic?
But not all hope is lost! When Victoria’s lady-in-waiting Emma sees that Lord M has sent orchids from the greenhouse at Brocket Hall to wear for the big costume party (yes, there’s a costume party), she tells her queen that Lord M hasn’t opened up the greenhouse since his wife died. He may say he’s only in love with his wife, but those orchids tell a different story. Also a giveaway that Lord M feels something? Victoria is dressed up as Queen Elizabeth for the party, and Lord M arrives dressed as the Earl of Leicester. If that means nothing to you, go watch the Elizabeth I miniseries with Helen Mirren as the queen and Jeremy Irons as Leicester. There is heat, people.
While they dance, Lord M explains that Elizabeth and Leicester realized they could never marry, no matter how they felt about one another. Victoria may be young, but God bless her, she understands subtext. They can never be together, but knowing Lord M feels something for her helps a little. Later, as Victoria continues to talk of reigning alone, Lord M implores her to at least try to find a husband. She won’t be happy alone, he says. “You need a husband. To love you. Honor you. Cherish you.” Twist the knife in our gaping hearts a little more, why don’t you?
Lord M might soon regret his final push to get Victoria to move on from their star-crossed lovers ordeal. Although George is out of the running for being dumb and Alexander gets sent away to marry someone else, a new man saunters into Buckingham Palace. His name is Prince Albert.
Meanwhile, Victoria isn’t the only woman nursing a broken heart in “Brocket Hall.” The poor Duchess of Kent, you guys! Her brother, King Leopold, warns that although she thinks she can’t live without Conroy, she should really nail down if he feels the same. As most would guess, he doesn’t. Once it finally sinks into his side-burned clad head that there’s no way in hell he’ll ever rule over Victoria (the queen says that she’d never marry a man who would look to Conroy for advice is the clincher), he asks Victoria for a trade: He’ll return to Ireland forever, if she gives him a title and some cold, hard cash. The agreement really works in Victoria’s favor, but she still feels the need to announce that she accepts Conroy’s request right in front of her mother. She obviously wants her mother to know what a monster she tied herself to, but I don’t know, still seems kind of harsh.
The duchess is beside herself. Victoria tries to smooth things over with some very nice looking lace, but, alas, it does not work. Instead, Victoria commiserates with her mother; she too knows what it feels like to lose the one you love. Her mother has every right to stay angry just a little while longer, but instead, she immediately comforts her daughter. “No man would give you up,” she says, “unless he knew that it was his duty.” Moms are the best! Victoria must think so, too. She collapses into her mother’s arms, heartbroken. It’s a nice reminder that Victoria is still so young, and even a queen needs a hug from her mommy sometimes.