Lend me your light, my friend, for these are dark times indeed.
If you felt a perpetual sense of unease throughout “A Coburg Quartet,” you are not alone. The reunion of Victoria and Albert a few episodes ago was set up only to carry our hopes to the highest peak and then drop them to smash apart on the rocks below.
But let’s think of happier moments. The episode begins with a flashback to the carefree days of yore when Victoria and Albert sketched each other holding dogs and babies (always a crowd-pleaser) and Victoria had that looped-over braid hairstyle we were all confused by. At first you may think the show is merely taunting us with things that will never be again, like Albert not being a total dick, but these sketches are sold to a present-day newspaper. Victoria’s intense embarrassment about being shown bathing her child for the whole world to see (can you imagine) motivates her actions for approximately the next 48 minutes.
Bertie stealthily sneaks into our hearts, to the surprise of anyone (me) irritated by his constant shouting about not wanting to be king when his older sister Vicky is clearly a better choice anyway. He tries an “experiment” that consists solely of shoving a marble up his brother’s nose, and then later puts a colander on his head in an attempt to reshape it. But more on that in a moment.
Feodora is an impostor? Or not. Probably not. But MAYBE. The show is waffling on this point, first bringing back Uncle Leopold who looks decidedly confused at Feodora’s appearance and clearly doesn’t recognize her, but later giving Feodora an impassioned speech about her miserable life and how angry she is at Victoria. Current verdict: not an impostor, but it will be much more fun if she is.
The Person Who Is Probably the Real Feodora witnesses Bertie shouting at Albert in the garden about wanting his mother to be dead so he can be king and do anything he wants. It’s a much darker “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” situation here in Victorian England, and Albert can only aspire to Zazu’s likability. Feodora of course seizes the moment to again bring up the possibility that Victoria is losing it and that perhaps her son is too; what a shame if they were both put away somewhere and then Albert had to find someone else he can be constantly disappointed in. She tells Albert she’ll find an expert to look at Bertie.
Don’t worry, anyone, the expert Feodora brings in is a phrenologist, i.e. a head-bump doctor! What a great move that won’t severely damage a young child at all. The definitely not-backed-by-real-science-at-all doctor, i.e. a guy off the street with a system, says Bertie’s anterior lobe, “the seat of the intellect,” (no) is underdeveloped. He says this in front of Bertie, just like you’d expect some guy off the street to do, and adds that this is similar to Bertie’s insane grandfather, King George III, which is just rude.
Look. Lots of smart people believed in phrenology. But if they are still capable of conscious thought, they are now incredibly embarrassed about it. I hope Albert is facepalming in the afterlife at this very moment. The only purpose it serves here is to make Bertie feel terrible about himself, which he already did, so great job, adults.
(A brief pause here to point out that Victoria saying phrenology is “mumbo jumbo” is not only anachronistic, as the current definition dates from the late 19th to early 20th century, but is also racist AF, so get outta here with that, show.)
The colander on Bertie’s head appears soon after all this, because he and his sister Vicky are trying to make his head the right shape so he can be a proper king. My heart is broken, and I will not rest until that fictional not-really-a-doctor is brought to justice. How dare you, sir. You and your nonsense bumps. Victoria is furious that Albert and Feodora have banded together on this, which is compounded by Feodora’s constant needling about Victoria not being able to manage, and her struggle throughout this season to reassess her role as monarch. It’s a lot.
Albert crosses a moral event horizon with the following:
• Shouts that Victoria has no logic (prompting her to pick up and smash a phrenology bust, which is both extremely satisfying and an excellent rebuttal)
• Tells her he thinks her intellect is overtaxed (WHAT)
• Says he expected her to be something she clearly cannot be, a rational woman (what if we all smash phrenology busts in front of Albert?)
I have tried to see things from Albert’s perspective as the royal relationship has slowly deteriorated, but barring a series of embarrassingly abject apologies, I do not see how he can come back from this. It’s one thing to have ideological differences with your partner on the running of the monarchy (a situation we can all relate to), but to question her intelligence and sanity while constantly backing up her sister? No. No. Albert is canceled.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t gotten to the ball yet, it’s because it was one of the few bright spots of the episode. Or bright-ish. To celebrate baby No. 7’s christening, they’re throwing an 18th-century–themed ball. It has everything from a dramatic sisterly reckoning to a narrowly avoided costume crisis that results in cross-class sexings.
My historical knowledge dwells primarily in the 19th century, so if anyone wants to drop in the comments who is dressed as whom, we’d all become a little wiser. Victoria’s eyebrows look amazing, but Feodora doesn’t care because she’s furious that she was shipped off to a drafty castle in modern-day Germany to marry someone terrible after her mother realized the king of England might be interested in her. She sees Victoria leading the life she could have had, but not being grateful for any of it. This was a good redemption scene for Feodora, but she immediately ruins it by saying she needs to stay so Albert can have someone rational to talk to.
Meanwhile in our Romance of the Season, the duchess is almost tricked into dressing up as the duke’s adulterous ancestor, but is warned in time by Joseph. She instead goes to the ball as a servant, i.e., her ancestor (adulterous activity unknown), and Joseph is Very Into It. She sneaks away and they bang against a hutch or something.
The duke is looking for her the whole time and it’s very anxiety-producing, but our hero Lady Portman is on it and ties her stays for her before she sees her husband. Later the duchess meets the duke and the way he looks at her is so sinister, I literally thought he was going to murder her right there.
The dancing, though, is extremely fun and everyone looks great and I was chagrined when it ended. Episode review: not enough 18th-century ball.
The incredibly bad behavior of almost everyone in this episode has led to exchanging Questions for Next Time this week with Fed-Up Imperatives From Your Recap Author:
• Kill the duke! He’s terrible! And obviously going to murder someone!
• Kick Feodora out! IF SHE EVEN IS FEODORA. Her sad past sounds very sad, but you can have a sad past and not try to convince your sister she’s insane while also flirting with her husband!
• Put a colander on Albert’s head! Maybe it’ll fix his being-a-total-dick head bump.