Wine throwing! Midnight dalliances! Butts! Reality television tropes have come to Victoria and I am here for it.
But first: the marital discord we were promised for this season has arrived and it is intense. Victoria and Albert’s relationship is a cornerstone of the show, and they are most definitely not on speaking terms. It’s difficult to sympathize with Albert in this feud, as he’s the one berating his clearly dyslexic son and telling Victoria she just wants people to adore her. In reality, it’s weird that he wants to stay on the Isle of Wight when his wife is literally the leader of the country and not Mrs. Saxe-Coburg here on holiday.
Victoria spends most of the episode furious at Lord Palmerston for welcoming deposed Hungarian democratic leader-hero Lajos Kossuth, and furious at Albert for absolutely everything he says and does. She’s still on the Isle of Wight, where Albert is cheerily shouting at their son to learn harder and telling Victoria to just write a letter if she’s angry. You know. Because she’s not in London. Where she wants to be. Because she’s queen. When she says she must return there, he says no, WHILE pointing a finger at her. She somehow doesn’t flip a table in response.
Victoria uses her full artillery of frosty, peevish, unamused tones this episode, all of which are a delight. Jenna Coleman has effectively toned down her natural ebullience to give us an older monarch increasingly set in her ways. Where once she sought advice at every turn, she is now confident in her decisions, while occasionally realizing she should hear opinions from the other side, as she eventually does with Palmerston when she agrees with his decision to welcome Kossuth.
This doesn’t prevent her from throwing wine and kicking doors, though. Albert gets a glass of wine right in his face at dinner when Victoria picks a fight with him about how he is treating their son Bertie and he tells her she isn’t deserving of respect. I screamed. They’re going to need to do some serious relationship work after this episode. Albert is clearly chafing again at being seen as the queen’s husband and Victoria is more possessive of her own power than ever. Gone, for now, are the days of them going through government documents side by side in their pajamas.
Meanwhile, in our other storylines, it’s Social Hour in the form of tea time for Victoria’s half-sister Feodora, the Perennially Neglected Duchess of Monmouth, and Baroness Portman. You may remember Baroness Portman from the Lord Melbourne-in-Season-Two days, when a former relationship between the two was heavily implied and I was all for it. Give me your world-weary, older but wiser, vaguely angsty pairings, please. This tea time mostly involves Feodora deeply sighing that her bedroom in this beautiful island palace at which she’s staying for free doesn’t have a view of the sea. The duchess immediately offers up her room, thus completing step one of this episode’s bedroom farce subplot.
Said farce revolves around the Duchess of Monmouth. She is featured heavily this episode as she weeps about her 6-year-old son being sent to boarding school by his cartoonishly terrible father, flirts with Lord Palmerston, has Joseph the Tall Footman rehired after he is fired by Mr. Penge, and generally sets herself up as a romance-novel heroine destined for a fall from grace.
Palmerston is available to flirt with the duchess because Victoria has summoned him to the Isle of Wight. He arrives when the royal family is enjoying a day at the seaside, with Victoria arrayed in a plum-colored bathing costume and Albert at Peak Hipster with his striped shirt, floppy hair, and mustache. The queen is not in the mood to put up with anyone, let alone a foreign secretary who likened her to a pigeon in his last speech, and she references Palmerston’s “busy schedule of dinners with regicidal anarchists.”
His arrival gives him the perfect opportunity to get in cahoots with Feodora. Her tenure in England is threatened when someone mentions that the German states are now considered safe. Victoria basically says, “Awesome, Feodora can finally leave,” and Feodora bursts into tears. She laments that her close relationship with the queen surely means that she and her family are still in danger. When she saunters into the hallway later, Palmerston corners her and says his informants there tell him it’s perfectly safe. Intrigue! While I can’t wait for Feodora’s scheme to be laid bare at last, I’m glad she now has a scheming buddy. They seem to cordially hate each other, which is a beautiful dynamic and an excellent addition to the season.
While visiting Victoria and trying to figure out Feodora, Palmerston zeroes in on the Neglected Duchess, following her out of the parlor on what is clearly a Mission of Seduction. Baroness Portman pulls the Victorian version of your friend at a bar and cock-blocks him, asking how Lady Palmerston is. He walks away and she does a we’re-friends-and-you-should-stay-away-from-that-dude shake of her head at the duchess.
Not to be put off by the mere mention of his wife, Palmerston later extremely creepily sneaks into the duchess’s room and sniffs her shoulder while she is sleeping. This is some tier-one non-consent behavior. She wakes up, and — it was Feodora the whole time! They switched rooms! Palmerston is completely horrified. Feodora says she won’t tell people about this Duchess of Monmouth situation if he keeps her in England. He agrees, and is later approached again by our new favorite, Baroness Portman, who tells him Sophie Monmouth is out of bounds. He acquiesces to this and promptly breaks off the flirtation, causing the weeping duchess to run right into the path of Joseph the Footman.
We need to take a second and talk about how there was a butt on Victoria. The show is trying to pull in the Poldark crowd with shameless butt action, namely Joseph’s as he goes swimming in the sea naked. They need to learn how to frame these shots, because a naked man running jubilantly into the sea isn’t the best-calculated way to inflame desires. Learn from Poldark and The Bachelor and show some shirtless reaping of wheat or some extremely random showering. I know deposed democratic leaders and peacefully delivered charters aren’t the sexiest of things, but neither is a running, naked footman.
We wrap things up with Feodora looking darkly out of the window of a carriage (probably plotting to have Victoria committed, install Albert as regent, and use him as her puppet king, but what do I know), Mrs. Skerrett quitting the royal household(!), and Victoria kicking Albert’s locked door back at Buckingham Palace. Nowhere to go but into more drama. I’m so excited.