Woah. I know I complained a lot about the whole Francatelli/Skerrett storyline and how annoying I found it (and I stand by that), but I didn’t wish this on them. Ouch.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s reel this back.
Victoria and Albert (I’m compelled to point out that it’s Albert who starts it) are taking the childishness of their fight to the next level by communicating solely by letter. While they’re living under the same roof. I’m pretty sure George IV and his estranged wife, Caroline, did something similar for a while, so I guess there’s a family connection there.
Their penpal sniping reveals that Albert is off to Cambridge, where he’s been offered the Chancellorship. He jumps at the opportunity to drag Cambridge out of its Latin-loving ways and convince the school to start giving its students a real education. Like the one he received at the University of Bonn.
As you can imagine, this suggestion goes over about as well as you’d expect in a room filled with pompous, rich, white, nationalist types. It doesn’t help that Albert makes his case rather tactlessly, basically saying, ‘Well, at my university, in Germany, which was obviously much superior, we learned science and important things. Not just endless classics, like you do here.’ And he does have a point: one of the country’s foremost centres of higher learning should be, you know, teaching useful and modern things alongside its history. But of course the students and professors and bigwigs are all, ‘How dare you try and take away our Ovid?’ And a Cambridge-loving earl decides to stand against Albert for the Chancellorship.
It should be noted that Victoria did tell Albert that this was likely to happen. She tried to warn him that these men were not going to take well to being told that they were, essentially, backward and that this German guy married to the queen was going to sweep in and save them from themselves. But Albert was too pissy to listen.
Albert wins the election, but not by a huge amount. He gets a little sulky about it and declares he won’t take the Chancellorship after all, considering the circumstances. But Palmerston, who travelled to Cambridge specifically to cast his vote for the Chancellorship (he’s an alum), urges Albert to take it, if for no other reason than so Palmerston didn’t have a wasted vote and journey.
Meanwhile, back in London, cholera has broken out. Victoria is very concerned about this. The government is a little bit concerned about this, although since it’s just poor people dying, it’s not really that big a deal, right? A young physician named John Snow is very, very concerned about this and sets about trying to figure out the source of the infection.
(I know this is obnoxious for me to do, but I can’t help it: this cholera outbreak took place in 1854, six whole years after the stated start of this season. How long were they at Osborne? How long have Victoria and Albert been fighting? I know not that much time is meant to have passed, and I know that historical dramas compress time a lot, but why use such a well-known outbreak? It’s not as if cholera didn’t tend to frequently crop up at this time. The episode would have been fine without Snow in it.)
Most physicians of the day think that the disease just exists in the air, as a miasma. Curiously, though, the wealthier areas of the city don’t seem to get the same air as the rest of the city, so the Palace is safe. Whatever.
It’s enough of an excuse for Sophie not to have to venture out when summoned home by her horrible husband. It’s Joseph who urges her not to go, and suggests she tell her husband the queen forbids her to leave. He also makes it very clear that he has the hots for the lonely duchess.
Pardon that digression. Snow is doing a lot of legwork, trying to figure out where the infection is actually coming from. He discovers some interesting facts: mostly women and children are infected, and the men who work at a local brewery don’t seem to be getting sick at all.
Victoria, too, is hitting the streets (well, a hospital), being out amongst her people. Albert objects to this and once again claims she’s just doing it for attention. She calls him callous, which is pretty fair, really. Albert’s being a dick lately.
During her visit to the hospital, Victoria meets both Snow and Florence Nightingale, who’s only there for… well, no purpose other than name dropping, really.
Victoria summons Snow to the Palace to have a chat about his theory on cholera spread. He tells her he’s pretty sure the source of the infection is a public pump on Broad Street. Women and children are most likely to drink water, whereas men tend to drink beer, which is safe from contamination. He made the connection after a female apothecary from a different part of town fell ill, and when quizzed she said she visited her sister recently and walked home, stopping by the Broad Street pump to gather some water for some of her tonics. (But… doesn’t she have a source of water closer to her shop? Or does she live really far away from her shop? Either way, that doesn’t make much sense.)
That young manservant who was the witness at Skerrett and Francatelli’s wedding hears Snow mention the apothecary and immediately freaks out a bit.
Because here’s what’s going on: Francatelli and Skerrett are getting ready to open their hotel. (Well, she is. Francatelli is clearly not cut out for the hospitality industry because he couldn’t care less that the place is filthy and is happy to let her do all the work while he just bakes strawberry tarts and whatever. That’s gross, Francatelli. And douchy.) In the midst of all the preparations, Skerrett finds out she’s pregnant. And she goes to that apothecary to get a tonic for, presumably, morning sickness.
(And here’s another bizarre moment from that apothecary: when Skerrett says she’s after a tonic for pregnancy, the woman straight away offers her an abortifacient. Lady, WTF? I mean, abortion was really illegal in England back then, and if you were caught selling those you’d be in a heap of trouble. We’re talking actual prison time. Why would you offer that to someone who hadn’t even asked for it? You’re just setting yourself up to be caught and arrested.)
Before opening, the Francatellis have Abigail and Palace Buddy over for dinner. Skerrett pours herself some of that tonic, but she does it before Palace Buddy even comes into the room, so I don’t know how he could possibly know she took the tonic at all, let alone that it came from that particular apothecary. Things are fine for a little while, but by the next morning she’s looking terrible and already hallucinating.
And that’s how Victoria finds her. Because as soon as she hears that Skerrett may have taken the tonic from the weirdo apothecary, Victoria races off to see her. We are, after all, living in a Downton Abbey world, where the highest in the land are super invested in the lives of their former employees. Victoria arrives just in time to be there for some of Skerrett’s final moments.
Man, that sucks. I didn’t really expect them to kill this character off. I am, however, kind of miffed that they added in the pregnancy. I really hate that trope of a woman dying of an illness or something while pregnant, because it suggests that her death alone isn’t tragic enough. Oh, no, it’s not enough that this woman has died, her death must be made heartwrenching by the contents of her uterus!
Albert returns to the Palace in time to comfort Victoria. She reads a final letter Skerrett sent, which recommends Abigail for her job, so I guess we’ll be seeing more of her now. The royal couple have makeup sex, Feo sulks about the reconciliation, and Snow gets the Broad Street pump shut the hell down.
Unexpected Gut Punch Moment
No, not Skerrett’s death, but rather a line from Bertie, after his mother comes home from visiting the cholera patients at the hospital.
‘Why are you sad, Mama? Is it my fault?’
Ouuuuuch. The way the kid delivers this line, in a tone that suggests he’s just so used to being made to feel that any negative feeling is his fault, made me want to go hug my five-year-old and tell him how great I think he is.