We are at the conclusion of our tumultuous season and what do we have to show for it? An unconscious prince, a wavering duchess, and a chastised queen. God save her.
France bookends the season: We began with Louis-Philippe and end with Louis Napoleon, a.k.a Napoleon III, self-proclaimed emperor after the people refused to elect him again. (Are we sticking with “emperor” on that one?) While support for Louis-Philippe threatened Victoria’s reign, this time it’s Palmerston who’s in danger.
Oh, Palmerston. Yes, you are checking all the “rake with a heart of gold” clichéd boxes, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying you. His resignation as Foreign Secretary is tempered by murmurs of his future prime ministership. No doubt his crooked grin and jaunty air shall adorn Buckingham Palace once more next season.
Long-Suffering Duchess Sophie is not, it turns out, in an asylum, but a prisoner in her own home. Her sniveling husband with his too-small mustache is keeping her there and sends her regrets to court. Sophie tells him the queen shall DEMAHND he sets her free, but whoops, he told Victoria she’s ill, and Victoria sent her get-better jelly, so no help from the royals at present, although I guess a jar of royal jelly is better than nothing.
Victoria hasn’t had a truly great romantic subplot since Albert’s brother Ernest forswore his future with the Duchess of Sutherland because of syphilis. I had hopes for Sophie and Joseph, but beyond some decent chemistry, the relationship has barely been developed. What the people truly want is for Lord Melbourne to come back from the dead and take Victoria away from Albert. Those people have a Tumblr tag. And it is Vicbourne. Since Albert has spent this whole season striving for King of Douche Mountain, I’m not against that scenario.
For anyone somehow still invested in the prince consort, he’s working away at his exhibition. Not enough people are buying tickets and he is becoming more and more despairing. “Good!” you might say. “Dwell in your discontent! I hope no one comes to your lousy exhibition anyway!” I entirely understand. But Victoria is not of that mind and instead offers to help ticket sales by opening the exhibition.
Albert offers the first of two redeeming moments in this episode by explaining the origin of the phrase “white elephant.” It’s a fun trivia fact, and I’m grateful to whichever nerd in the writers’ room added it. He calls the exhibition a white elephant, Victoria replies “fiddlesticks,” a word we should use more in this world, and there is a nice hand-holding moment. All right for now, but I’ve got my eye on you, Albert.
Feodora is strolling in the park with her daughter Adelheid (yes, real name) when a pre-resignation Palmerston sidles on up to her and asks if her daughter would like to be Empress of France. England needs an alliance with Louis Napoleon to keep Russia at bay. With a manic gleam in her eye, Feodora says, “As empress she would outrank everyone.” Here’s the thing: While this plot development is not entirely accurate, Louis Napoleon did propose to Adelheid. Victoria was completely against it though, since, y’know, he seized power after losing an election, and she’s not about that coup life. So Feodora and her husband said no. Here it is much more machinationy, which is how things should be.
A stressed-out Albert confronts Feodora and asks if she was talking to Palmerston after he publicly supported the new French government, and Feodora says oh, no, I mean, he definitely talked to me but I hated it, all of it, it was the worst, I am totally on your side, Albert, 100 percent. Albert accepts this because he is dumb.
Former Chartist rebel, now hairdresser to the queen, Abigail Turner hints heavily to Victoria that Sophie is not simply ill at home. Victoria asks her to make inquiries and Abigail is on the case! She tells Victoria that Sophie is being confined on the grounds of insanity. Victoria is aghast and demands to see the Duke of Monmouth.
In one of the most satisfying moments for the show since Victoria smashed that phrenology bust, a calm, cool, and collected Victoria tells the duke that Sophie is not insane, saying, “In my experience, men only call women mad when they are doing something inconvenient.” He argues and she replies, “You may leave us.” IT’S BEEN SO LONG. So long since a “you may leave us” has graced this show! Hello, Victoria, your light has been hidden under the bushel of your complete lack of marital support this season, but here it shines again, shaming this wife-imprisoner!
Sophie is released. Joseph tells her there is a boat to New York. Mr Penge repents his wicked spying ways and delivers a choice burn to Monmouth about buying loyalty. We are left hanging at the end as to whether Sophie gets on the romance boat or not. (Again, I have no faith in Joseph’s ability to make his fortune in the gold mines of California, so I can’t decide what I want her to choose.)
But back to the royals! Victoria’s opening of the exhibition makes the first day sell out. It’s a triumph, which we know because everyone says it is. From a production standpoint, it looks like they hung up some red curtains, put a few odd items in glass boxes, and voila! The Great Exhibition!
Victoria says it’s the eighth wonder of the world; I’m so proud of you. Albert still doesn’t apologize for being a dick all season. He’s trying to set up Adelheid with the younger brother of the Crown Prince of Prussia, which makes Bertie’s face darken because he has decided he is going to marry her. He proposes, which she very kindly turns down, because her mother says she is going to marry Louis Napoleon.
Maybe now is a good opportunity to talk about the sex chair. Bertie does one day become king: He’s Edward VII of the famed Edwardian era (that’s Room With a View times when British ladies were becoming sexually free in Italy and wearing great big hats). The show is throwing some foreshadowing our way with his intense interest in his beautiful cousin Adelheid.
Edward VII was known for his voracious sexual appetite and did, in fact, have a chair built when he was older that would render his couplings less arduous. There’s no way you can’t mention the sex chair when talking about Edward VII. But for now! He is a 10-year-old with the floppy hair of his father and an adorable formal wear kilt.
Everyone thinks the exhibition is a great success and Albert is very pleased. Until he hears about Feodora scheming to marry Adelheid to the leader of France. He tells Victoria she was right and he should have listened to her, but in the words of the 2006 hit by JoJo — it’s too little too late, Albert. Feodora walks in and he calls out her lies. She leaves and Victoria follows in what could be a great scene between two strong women, but somehow ends in Victoria asking her not to go and saying there’s one thing she doesn’t have: a sister. This writing sometimes, good Lord.
Albert and Victoria relax in their room and everything seems back on track for the royal couple until Albert collapses in front of the fireplace. I’m not gonna lie, I’m looking forward to Albert being gone and the show focusing on Victoria’s life beyond him. Even if that life consists of her famously mourning him for the rest of her days.
Questions for next season (or possibly a Christmas special)
• Did Sophie get on that boat and if so, will she somehow do a parallel to the “I’m flying!” scene from Titanic despite it not even happening historically for another 60 years?
• Is Feodora staying despite her constant plotting? Will she reveal herself to be an impostor, because otherwise what were those hints in the middle of the season? Impostor red herrings? The people demand at least one impostor on this show.
• Will Lady Portman and Lord Alfred get to do anything other than quietly react in the backgrounds of scenes?
• Is Albert going to survive and do we care?