What’s a guy to do when he’s married to the most powerful woman on the planet? He could sit around playing untuned pianos and stamping papers for his wifey all day, but our Prince Albert is not content with such a life. Albert wants do something valuable with his time, so it’s up to him and Victoria to figure out how to make him truly feel like he’s part of the team. The newlyweds take a two-pronged approach: Victoria is making things happen on the homefront, while Albert deals with his public persona.
Victoria desperately wants Albert to feel at home in England. What with not understanding everyone’s obsession over things like talking about the weather and curtseying dalmatians who wear necklaces, that’s a tall order. I get being bored by small talk, but Mr. Bumps being able to curtsey for the queen is adorable and Albert needs to get on board with it. You’d think getting laid would lighten the guy’s mood, but apparently not.
Victoria wants everyone to know that Albert is a priority, and his rightful place is next to her, always. So when tradition calls for her Uncle Sussex to escort her into state dinners ahead of Albert, Victoria gets to scheming. Sussex doesn’t believe in bucking tradition simply when it becomes inconvenient, so Victoria appeals to him spouse to spouse. Victoria knows that Sussex’s wife doesn’t come from royal blood, her marriage to a king’s son was not approved, and therefore she doesn’t have a title — which means she’s not allowed at court. Victoria also knows that much like her feelings toward Albert, Sussex would do anything to make his Cecilia happy. Victoria summons her uncle and tells him she’s giving Cecilia one of the queen’s discretionary titles. Along with that promotion, his wife will now be welcome at court. “Would Cecilia be into that?” Victoria slyly asks. “Does an English dog curtsey?” replies Sussex. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the picture.
Needless to say, at the next dinner, with the newly minted Duchess of Inverness on his arm, Sussex is more than happy to allow Albert to escort Victoria into dinner ahead of him. Victoria is pretty pumped that her first solo scheme sans Lord M (gone but never forgotten) has worked just as planned. Albert is happy to be First Man when it comes to dinner escorts, but he’s still glum. This was Victoria’s win, not his. Yeesh, dude. Take it where you can get it!
Albert has his own plan: Rather than being skewered in the press simply for being a foreigner (they draw him as a German sausage!), he’s going to show the people who he really is. When the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society comes around looking for Victoria to open their upcoming convention and she’s unable due to certain protocols, Albert volunteers his services. He wants the people to know that he’s not afraid to speak out against injustice. He is a man of principle. So, he promptly throws some shade at America, “the Land of the Free,” and gets to writing his big speech.
Albert practices and practices and though he is passionate, his control over the English language leaves something to be desired. To be fair, the prince might be a little distracted. First of all, there’s all that aforementioned sex he and his wife are having. Victoria and Albert are very into each other. Albert is also very into the idea of becoming a father — partly because securing an heir will earn him a certain level of respect. Victoria definitely wants kids, but her timeline is very different from Albert’s. She’s having fun being married and also there’s that whole increased risk of death thing. Lehzen, probably the last person in all of Buckingham Palace that you want to go to for sex advice, tells Victoria that if she jumps up and down ten times after having sex, she won’t get pregnant. Eventually, Albert catches her in the act, and to his credit, does not laugh in her face. He does explain that the only way for her to ensure not getting pregnant is by abstinence. It is the sexiest use of the word abstinence in history.
The other fire Albert has to put out while attempting to make his mark on English society is with his brother and best bud, Ernest. Albert catches Ernest giving a very hands-on archery lesson to Victoria’s lady Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland. Albert is appalled his brother would go after a married woman, and thinks it might be better for everyone if he returns home. It’s very harsh, but said with love. And also with the fear of Ernest ruining the reputation of his entire family. But mostly with love.
Ernest knows Albert is probably right. Before he goes, he has one last meeting with Harriet and admits that he’s more than just flirting with her. Harriet acts surprised, but, like, we all saw those archery lessons. She isn’t altogether unfeeling though, and when she passes Ernest on the day of his departure, she “accidentally” drops her handkerchief so that he can have a memento of their time together. It’s nice in theory, but also, it’s a handkerchief.
Alas, Ernest bids farewell to the queen and embraces his brother one last time before returning to the apparently less-tempting land of Coburg. It’s actually one of the better secondary storylines Victoria’s put forth throughout the season. It’s tough to compete with the goings on of the queen, but Ernest is a great supporting character. Hopefully he’s back to spice things up once an heir arrives. Because if any family event needs more flirting, it’s a christening.
It’s on to the Anti-Slavery Convention for Prince Albert. The prince admits to being nervous, but once he’s up at the podium, the guy kills it. He brings people to tears! He gets a standing ovation! Afterward, even Sir Robert Peel wants to shake his hand. Yes, it is all mostly thanks to Albert and his passion, but Victoria has a hand in Albert’s success, too. She arrives at the convention incognito to support her husband, but when it’s brought to her attention that no matter the “disguise,” all eyes will be on her, Victoria says she’s feeling faint and returns to the palace. This is Albert’s day. When he comes home, wired from the excitement, she tells him that this was his victory. Aw. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Victoria is still struggling to balance the upstairs and downstairs plots, but the downstairs stuff is surprisingly effective in “The Queen’s Husband.” And I’m not just talking about that lingering close-up on Cute Valet as he attempts to find the words to tell his beloved back in Coburg that he has been ordered to stay in England … although, you know I ate that whole thing right up. He’s so sad and so cute. It is the best combination, really.
No, I mean the Skerrett of it all. It finally felt like a downstairs storyline that was allowed to breathe. The beats don’t feel rushed and it reveals what all those semi-aggressive scenes between Skerrett and Chef Francatelli were building toward.
There’s an outbreak of cholera in the slums where the real Eliza and her baby live. Our Skerrett isn’t allowed to go help, but you know who can? Chef Francatelli. He promises to help Skerrett’s friend, but he’ll want something in return. They make him very creepy and we’re all assuming, Skerrett included, that what he wants is a “good time.” She doesn’t like the trade-off, but is willing to do it for Eliza and the baby. Francatelli makes good on his word, goes into the slums himself, and helps Eliza get new lodging outside of the city. After she hears the news, Skerrett, too, is willing to hold up her end of the bargain. Only, so Francatelli isn’t as nefarious as all the shadows and scary music make him out to be. When Skerrett asks him what he wants, he tells her that he’s having trouble concentrating on his sugar work because he’s constantly thinking about her — about how he doesn’t know her real name. That’s what he wants; he wants to know her name.
Relieved and surprised, Skerrett tells him: Her name is Nancy. Later, she goes to her room and finds a beautiful “N” left on her pillow, made out of sugar. And with that, we have a slow-burn romance on our hands. Get yours, downstairs!