Victoria Season 2 Recap: “A Soldier’s Daughter/The Green Eyed Monster”
Victoria returns to PBS for what looks to be another uneven season.
When I began recapping Victoria last year (at another site), I went into it grumping about PBS’ continued insistence of doubling up the first two episodes in order to create a two-hour premiere. It was one thing to do it for an already proven popular show like Downton Abbey, it was quite another to presume it for an untested series. Moreover, by the end of Downton, PBS has actually stopped the practice, since ITV themselves had started supersizing the opening episode of the season from 45 to 60 minutes. Did we really need to go back to this practice?
I came out actually grateful they’d done it. Victoria‘s first two episodes had tragically weak sections, especially in the second hour. Having the first episode’s very good parts prop up the far lesser stretches worked, though perhaps not in the ways PBS intended. Such was also the case this week. Once again, our opening episode, “A Soldier’s Daughter,” was the far stronger section. So strong in fact, that I perked up at the notion that Victoria could elevate itself up to its original pretentions this year. Then we got to the second hour and nope, this is still Victoria, Queen of Soaps.
Albert: Where are you going?
Victoria: To the nursery. Isn’t that where you think I belong?
Part of what makes the opening episode work so well is the grounding of it in history. Though the Kabul Retreat is condensed into a single Khyber Pass incident, the timing, and the level of disaster for the British forces is accurate. So is the “churching” nonsense, and Victoria being forced to take part in it. (Though in reality, Victoria was a religious woman, and probably would have believed in the need for it, rather than protesting in a thoroughly modern manner.)
Eva Myles’ departure from the show as Mrs. Jenkins gives the show the opportunity to focus more on Eliza/Nancy Skerritt, and promote her to head dresser. (Now Mrs. Skerritt, as apparently one is promoted to a married prefix along with the rise in pay.) For once, the downstairs drama rivaled upstairs, instead of feeling like an afterthought, as the plot aims to return Francatelli to the kitchens once again. In truth, he didn’t leave the Queen’s employment until 1843, so all this is technically made up. Having his temporary replacement be not only frighteningly over his head, but also an abusive terror to boot is another dose of reality of what it was really like to work as a servant. It also, for once, gives Penge the position of being in the right.
In the mid ranges, Harriet leaves the Queen’s employ, rather than stick around for more illicit affairs with Albert’s brother Ernest. In her stead, we received the blessing of the ages, the original Avenger herself, Diana Rigg, as the Duchess of Buccleuch, Mistress of the Robes, and her niece Wilhelmina Coke, who immediately takes the position of “woman to crush on Ernest” in her stead. That being said, having Ernest back and hanging around the palace is a lovely thing. David Oakes and Tom Hughes are a delight as the Saxe-Coburg brothers, as much as Hughes and Coleman are as Albert and Victoria.
Duchess of Buccleuch: Shakespeare and polite society do not mix.
One of the highlights of the first hour was the baptism of the Victoria the Daughter. What Victoria the show seems to do best is these restagings of high-end moments: the coronation, the wedding and now the baptisms.
What the show sadly doesn’t do best is forcing drama where it’s unnecessary. That’s the problem with the second half of the premiere “The Green-Eyed Monster.” The entire premise, that Victoria and Albert are having jealous freakouts over each other, is completely wrongheaded. It is mostly a reason to force the return of the very popular Rufus Seawell as Lord Melbourne. For those who want that sort of Churchhill/Liz II type relationship between the queen and her first Prime Minister, but sexier, the show delivered well in Season 1.
But from the getgo, this was all nonsense. The real Lord M was far older, and far less handsome and this mutual crush was not as the show has made it out to be from the beginning. Bringing it back only cements my opinion that everything to do with him is wrongheaded, and PBS was very lucky that this was the hour it didn’t have to present as a stand-alone.
Lord Melbourne: Jealousy is the most tedious emotion.
Victoria and Albert’s relationship was stormy, that is true. But the show is doing a great job of showing that without these sorts of diversions. See also, the hairbrush throwing over Albert’s keeping the news of the Kabul defeat from her. Victoria’s emotional behavior is on display, but over her job as Queen in a patriarchal society, not over silly, and frankly unbelievable worries of Albert cheating.
Added to that was the bizarre subplot of the orphan who just randomly wandered into the palace and is basically acting as a ghost. The point they’re trying to make stands: security at Buckingham Palace was nothing like we think of today. The technology, the idea of terrorism, the entire mindset of our world simply didn’t exist then. Yes it was actually possible for something like this to occur, and the religious beliefs of the age with the emphasis on spiritualism, ghosts and gothic horror concepts (which are today referred to as “Victorian”) would all have contributed to the ability of something like that going on for far longer than logic would dictate to us.
But the way it’s sort of dropped in and then drops out again without any sort of repercussions, or even reasonable explanation undermines what the show was going for with it. Nor does it consider the Irish stereotyping it plays into with Skerritt’s new assistant Cleary. In the end, the show doesn’t want to dive too deep or consider the reality of the world outside the palace that would create such an occurrence. This is a show that doesn’t want to make us think, just feel. As long as that’s the way it goes it will stay as uneven as it did last year. Let’s hope for more episodes that land as “The Soldier’s Daughter” did, and less “Green Eyed Monsters.”