There’s no getting around it, this episode was a giant dud.
Marred by cringe-worthy dialogue and shoddy pacing, “A Public Inconvenience” lands with as much aplomb as its drab title. It reduces the planning of a defining event of the Victorian era to two men pacing up and down in a park and handles Victoria and Albert’s final (?) reconciliation by making Victoria tell her emotionally abusive husband how wrong she was.
So what happened in the third season’s penultimate turn around Buckingham Palace? Mainly, an episode that could have brought seven weeks’ worth of plotlines to a dramatic explosion instead resolved most of them with an inoffensive “piff.”
Joseph the Footman and Neglected Duchess are reenacting a kind of Land Titanic in an abandoned building on the grounds of the palace. He wants them to run away to the gold mines of California. The duchess isn’t totally against the idea, but joke’s on you, Joseph, all the easy gold in California was gone by then. Maybe they can open a general store and sell supplies to hapless miners.
The duke was tipped off to the duchess’s footman infatuation last episode and now meets with Mr. Penge (remember Mr. Penge?), wanting him to do some spying. He gives Penge what looks like a withered-up walnut but is in fact a leather purse. The purse is later revealed to have what one can only assume is quite a lot of money inside. Penge has a moral crisis as he weighs ruining the lives of two people versus making bank.
How this shakes out is unclear, but what is clear to the utmost is that we shall finally have our madhouse plot. Three seasons of a show set in the Victorian era and no madhouse? Someone probably grabbed a pen and scribbled “caricature of the already cartoonish duke from Moulin Rouge sends his wife to an asylum because obviously we have to do that.” My prediction is that Land Titanic will end less tragically than OG Titanic, with Joseph saving the duchess, grabbing her son, and living happily ever after in America with both of them.
Now you might think someone being seized and sent to an asylum sounds un-boring, but this episode defies the odds. Not only do the writers telegraph the duke’s intentions with a line about Sophie’s nerves being overtaxed, but we barely get to see the emotional fallout for Sophie. Two men grab her at home; the duke says she’s going to the asylum. End of plot. Maybe if the show had invested more in Sophie beyond insults from her husband and smooches from her footman, this would have some emotional resonance, but that is not the show we have been given.
Meanwhile, a new Historical Personage is introduced: Henry Cole. Mr. Cole is responsible for the first commercially produced Christmas cards and at least one terrible joke by Albert that no one should laugh at because Albert is still condemned to the Shame Corner for his behavior this entire season. In this episode, he is helping the prince plan the Great Exhibition of 1851. In real life, this was a massive event that showcased technology from around the world and highlighted Britain’s self-perceived role as the world’s industrial leader (made possible in part by its lack of revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries).
The primary conflict here is where to house the Exhibition — riveting content. Albert faces frequent ridicule from the papers and doubt from his family on whether anything can even be built. He summons Feodora and asks if she thinks he should give it up. Why is he talking to Feodora about this? Why is anything? I continue to be perplexed as to why Victoria portrays Albert as a self-involved, condescending, petulant brat of a man, but there we have it.
There’s a subplot involving the Don Pacifico affair, an extremely racist historical event in Greece. A Jewish British citizen named Don Pacifico was attacked, along with his wife and children, by a mob that was literally angry they couldn’t hang an effigy of Judas for Easter (the hanging was canceled because Baron Rothschild was in town, but the mob, including police, blamed Pacifico). His home was robbed, and when he appealed for damages, they were denied. Lord Palmerston ordered a blockade of the Greek coast in response, infuriating Greece and its other allies, France and Russia, as well as many in the British government and general populace. Eventually Greece capitulated and the blockade ended.
Something really great could be done with this, but here it’s used as a metaphor for Victoria’s troubles with Albert and Feodora. Victoria first tries to distract Albert from the Exhibition with an offer to become commander-in-chief of the British Army. This sounds insane, as Albert has no military experience, and he fortunately declines the position. When Palmerston eventually wins the people back around on his blockade tactics, Victoria is inspired to run to Albert in a classic rain reconciliation and tell him how very wrong she was about everything.
Albert. Never. Apologizes. For anything. She tells him, in a wince-inducing line, that she “married a dreamer, not a soldier,” to which he replies, “What if you married a failure?” The emotionally abused and gaslighted queen assures her wet, bedraggled husband that she would be proud to have a husband brave enough to fail at something he believed in. Remember last episode when he said he loves her as he loves the children and that’s all he has left? And that he thinks her intellect is overtaxed and that he expected her to be something she cannot be, a rational woman? This show doesn’t!
They end the episode seeming to reconcile, with Albert saying maybe their love has changed over ten years. Victoria seems happy to accept this idea, probably because it doesn’t involve Albert shouting in her face that she has no logic. I refuse to accept this reconciliation on the grounds that Albert sucks.
After much pacing of outdoor spaces, Henry Cole and Albert finally find someone with a plan that works: Mr. Paxton. Paxton proposes a massive building made of glass and iron, whose support structure is based on the Victoria amazonica, a giant water lily. This idea will become the famed Crystal Palace, whose use in the Great Exhibition is presumably one of the subjects of our season finale. Let’s hope it’s better constructed than this episode was.