Oh, thanks a LOT, Victoria. You’re supposed to be my mindless Sunday-evening pretty costume eye candy entertainment. You’re not supposed to send me off to bed ugly crying over the back-to-back images of a dead spaniel AND a dead Rufus Sewell. That’s just uncalled for.
So, as you may have noticed, there’s a lot of loss this week, though Victoria spends most of the episode oblivious to this inevitability. Instead, she’s focusing on protecting luxury goods. Specifically: Spitalfields silk. One of the weavers comes to the palace to beg Victoria to intervene and save his fellow weavers from the importation of cheaper, inferior French silk. (His objection to the French is somewhat amusing when you realise that the Spitalfields silk industry was founded by French Hugueonots fleeing their homeland in the late 17th century. In real life, the silk for Victoria’s gown for this particular ball was created by Mr Vouillon and his sister, Madame Laure. But I digress.)
Because she knows this guy personally, Victoria is moved by his plight and suggests setting tariffs on imported silk. Peel balks at that, and she rightly calls him a hypocrite for opposing this measure but being all for the Corn Laws, which were pretty much the same thing, just with agricultural goods. She also alludes to the fact the Corn Laws were said to benefit your ordinary farmers, but, in fact, protected the wealth of aristocratic landowners while making grain more expensive for everyone else.
To diffuse the situation, one of the pretty boys she has on staff suggests she make a show of wearing Spitalfields silk herself. Victoria takes the idea and runs with it, suggesting they hold a lavish ball and have everyone there wear English silk. Peel and Albert are all, ‘you sure that’s a good idea, against this background of bread riots and such?’ But dammit if this woman doesn’t want one good party before she has to go off and give birth again. The ball is on!
And, of course, both Harriet, the Duchess of Sutherland, and Lord M must be invited. Ernest perks up at the mention of Harriet, and then accepts Wilhelmina’s suggestion he go to the ball as Robin Hood (there’s to be a medieval theme, apparently). Lord M, who’s recently received a terminal diagnosis from his doctor, agrees to attend, because dammit if this man won’t get one good party before he shuffles off this mortal coil!
And as far as that goes–it’s a total secret. He’s only sharing the news with Victoria’s lady-in-waiting and his old friend, Emma Portman, and she’s going above and beyond to protect him from prying eyes.
Gowns are fitted, a fake crown for Albert is ordered (he gets to be Edward III, and Victoria his noble consort, Philippa of Hainault.) Melbourne shall be Dante. The silk weavers have more work than they can handle! Hurrah!
But the ordinary man on the street is not pleased by this, and a whole unruly mob actually gathers at the gates of Buckingham Palace on the night of the ball. While Victoria and the rich and powerful party and stuff their faces inside, outside it’s like a scene from Les Mis. And Skerret’s friend (the real Skerret), shows up and looks all menacing for a bit, but then doesn’t really do anything so… ok, then.
Inside, Victoria enjoys herself, and I have to hand it to the costume designers: they did a fairly good job with the royal couple’s costumes, which were immortalised in a portrait:
Victoria’s delighted to see Lord M and to have a dance with him, but when he starts to get dizzy partway through, Emma steps in and sends Victoria looking for Albert so Lord M can recover in peace. Victoria takes a moment and watches the crowd outside and pouts, thinking maybe this lavish party wasn’t such a great idea after all. But then, the next morning, she asks for all the leftover food to be boxed up and given to the poor, and she visits the weaver who delightedly tells her how well they’re doing now, so I guess it was all ok.
Ernest got a dance in with Harriet Sutherland, and I guess finally realised this was never going to happen. So, now he’s going back home and Wilhelmina’s all sad. He gives her some sheet music before he leaves. Bye, Ernest. I kind of wish they’d done more with you. I really like that actor, and it was refreshing to see him not playing a bad guy for a change, but I never really bought into this whole thing between him and Harriet. It was dull and then they never bothered to do any more with him, and that’s kind of a waste, really.
Anyway, with him gone, Albert can turn his attention to the pressing need to overhaul how the household is run. It seems like Buckingham Palace’s way of doing things was designed by the people who created the security checkpoints at most major airports. Basically, it’s so laughably inefficient it would be funny, if it weren’t so enraging and wasteful. Albert also decides that the employees aren’t being paid enough (evidenced by the fact they’re happy to get their hands on used tea leaves so they can sell them on). He’s got his work cut out for him, because it looks like opposing him in this may be the one thing that can bring Penge and Lehzen together in agreement.
Albert is also quietly apprised of the situation with Melbourne, and he gently breaks the news to Victoria. She responds quite sweetly, actually, by going to Melbourne’s house with the gift of a (creepy, I have to admit) mechanical bird that sings one of his favourite Mozart songs. Struggling not to cry, she pretends that everything’s all right, saying she hopes this brings him some comfort while he’s away at Brocket Hall. She mentions him coming back to London again, although it’s clear they both know this is the last time they’ll ever meet. It’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking, and a nice send-off for Rufus Sewell.
And then, right from that, Victoria goes home and finds her dog dead on the floor of her bedroom. Jesus, the servants in this place really do suck. Skerret runs for Albert, who comforts his wife, who cries and cries and totally turns the dog into a stand-in for Melbourne. I cry because this makes me think of the sudden deaths of my own King Charles spaniels, even though those were years in the past, now. Miss you, Missy and Molly!
This bit’s a little ridiculous, but I’ll give them a pass because: dog lover. We get one last shot of Melbourne, sitting in his chair, as the mechanical bird tweets out a few last notes and then winds down permanently. Farewell, Lord M! You set your little queen well on her way!