It’s time to wrap this up for the year, folks (well, until the Christmas special, at least), so let’s bring the drama, shall we?
To start, Victoria and Albert’s pleasant afternoon with their eldest daughter is crashed by Leopold. As is his wont, Leopold has shown up unannounced for a visit. He’s not exactly welcomed with open arms, especially after he rather crassly gives Albert a portrait of himself as a birthday present. Still, despite the chilly greeting he receives, Leopold decides to stick around.
Ernest is also sticking around, so he can flirt with Harriet, who’s finally come back around on him. It seems like his syphilis treatments are going well, and when he mentions that he’s thinking of getting married, his doctor gives him the go-ahead, as long as he remains symptom free. A jubilant Ernest sets up a meeting time with Harriet, but just before he’s due to meet her and propose, he sees that his rash is back. He calls off the date (via footman, which is really poor form, Ernest!). Poor Harriet. Poor Ernest. But Leopold will be happy, because he thought it was mesalliance anyway.
To check in with the other couple that’s not going to be much approved of: Lord Alfred and Drummond get together for a dinner of oysters and champagne at a really fancy restaurant.
Drummond announces (in a crowded restaurant) that he’s planning on dumping his fiancee. Alfred practically laughs and says, ‘Nah, see: this is how these things work. You are an up-and-comer and you’re going to have a brilliant career. You need a wife to forward that career. You will get married. That’s how it goes.’
Drummond seems perplexed by how this is meant to be managed, as if he’s not already a part of this world. He is, right? I mean, I didn’t get the impression he was an outsider. Men of that class, well, it wasn’t uncommon for them to have wives and then to have…extracurricular interests. I’m not saying it’s ok, just that it was reasonably common. So his confusion feels a bit odd.
He’s so put off by the whole thing he pouts, then gets up and leaves. Poor Alfred will have to finish all that champagne and all those oysters himself. Which is bound to be a bit frustrating, right?
Drummond’s got a lot on his mind these days. Peel has finally decided that the Corn Laws need to go, but he’s facing a serious uphill battle there. Even members of his own party are refusing to back him. Still, he goes after it, backed by Albert, who rather foolishly decides to go to the House of Commons to hear the debate. Pretty much everyone, Victoria included, warn him not to go because then it looks like the crown is choosing sides, which is not ok. Albert ignores them all and the Opposition is quick to accuse Peel of having a ‘royal nursemaid’. Mortified, Albert retreats, punching a wall as he goes.
That, plus the appearance of Leopold, has just set him over the edge, and he starts taking it out on Victoria and Lehzen. He has exactly zero tolerance for Lehzen, whom he doesn’t believe takes terribly good care of the kids. He’s especially concerned about little Vicky, his favourite. When the child comes down with a fever and Lehzen is fairly dismissive, it seems like his concerns may have some merit. That fever turns out to be quite serious, and there’s some anxiety that the child may not pull through. But, you know, history. She lives. But the scare is enough for Victoria to send her beloved governess packing. Apparently over the years Lehzen and Penge have gotten sufficiently chummy for him to see her off with a bottle of Madeira, which is pretty cute.
In other belowstairs relationship news, Francatelli and Skerrett go on a rowing date at the Serpentine and have a kiss over some strawberry tarts.
But back to Peel et al. He knows he’s tanking his political career here, but this is just so important he needs to see it through. At one point, Drummond rather nonsensically mentions Spencer Percival, so now we’re all on high alert. Peel gives an impassioned speech and the motion passes: no more Corn Laws! Hurrah! But on his way out, a man in the crowd pulls a pistol and shoots, and Drummond takes the bullet and dies. Bummer. Even sadder? He was on his way to meet up with Alfred, who wrote a letter apologising for interfering in Drummond’s life and inviting him for a redo of that sexy dinner.
Peel and Wellington go to Buckingham Palace to break the news of the repeal and the death all at once. Everyone is very, very sad about Drummond being dead. I feel like I should be sad, but honestly, he was such an unformed character it’s hard to muster up much emotion. He was basically just there to be a Conflicted Gay, but the story never really went anywhere, did it? It never even really explored what it was like to be a gay man in that society at that time. I suppose, in a way, it’s a bit progressive that the show wasn’t presenting this particular romance as being particularly different from other romances on the show (look: royals fall in love, servants fall in love, men fall in love. All good! All as normal and natural as the other!) but…I don’t know, this felt weak to me.
The following day, Duchess Diana receives a note about Drummond’s murder. Alfred just so happens to be hanging around, so Duchess Di pulls him aside on the pretense of needing help with the stairs, tells him to brace himself, and hands him the note. I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t have heard of this incident before now. He was sitting in that restaurant–surely word of an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life would have circulated in that dining room pretty quickly. And if not there, then definitely in the gentlemen’s clubs later.
Duchess Di is quite sweet, making it clear she knows what was going on between Alfred and Drummond, but also reminding Alfred that, at the funeral, the chief mourners will be Drummond’s mother and his fiancee. Oh, Duchess, he knows how these things work.
The funeral happens, and it’s fairly sad. Alfred’s a pallbearer, along with Peel. He greets the grieving fiancee afterwards and he’s barely able to hold it together. Fortunately, it seems Duchess Di’s niece is as aware as her aunt and she quickly steers him away so he can compose himself. Aww.
Peel goes to Victoria and tells her he’ll have to resign, as his government is now hopelessly undermined by the fight over the Corn Laws. She’s sincerely sad to hear that and tells him how much she’ll miss working with him. Oh, how things have changed in these last few years! But, you know, life moves on.
Apparently, Victoria will be back at Christmastime. Which makes sense, considering how heavily Victoria and Albert influenced our modern-day festive celebrations. Until December, then!