Folks, this episode was not ok. NOT ok. Get ready for some gifs (they help me cope).
We begin right in the middle of what appears to be an extremely difficult labour. The future King Edward VII is attempting to make his way into the world, but it’s not going well. The doctor’s lunging for forceps, Albert’s thinking, ‘Oh, lord, it is hitting the fan‘ and Victoria’s wondering when the hell painkillers are going to be invented.
But, as we all know, the prince is safely delivered. And while Albert ogles his newborn, Victoria sniffs that all babies look like frogs to her (to be fair, they kind of do for those first couple of weeks…). She slides immediately into what is clearly postpartum depression, and as soon as I saw what was happening there I went, ‘Ohhhh noooooo.’ Because I knew this show would screw it up. And this is a very important issue which is finally (finally!) starting to get the recognition it needs and deserves. While I applaud the fact that popular culture is starting to recognise and shine a light on this subject, it really shouldn’t be done in a shallow manner, because that just diminishes the struggle experienced by so many women who, for centuries, were basically told to ‘just get over it’ (hell, some are still being told that). That’s when they weren’t actually just being locked up and called insane, because what sane woman wouldn’t love and worship her baby on sight?
But this show? This show is about as deep as a puddle. I knew they’d treat this matter as sensitively as they have everything else and I was so right! I hated being right!
Ok, back to the story. Victoria is not doing well, and, true to the period, no one quite knows what to do with her. They think she’s just a bit low after having the baby, and her mother piles the pressure on by wondering aloud why Victoria doesn’t want to spend every waking moment in the nursery, because babies are the BEST, right? OMG, when Victoria was an infant her mother never wanted to be apart from her! Yeah, a fact which Victoria seriously resents now. One of the first things she did as queen was to move into her own damn bedroom.
Albert might have been able to help, but unfortunately his father dies in the arms of a (presumably expensive) prostitute, so he has to go back to Coburg for the funeral. Victoria wants to go along, but Albert tells her to just stay home and get some rest.
So, now Victoria doesn’t even have her rock to rely on. She spends her days either moodily throwing rocks in a pond or basically staring blankly into space, struggling to focus on anything. They got this bit right. Depression can really be like that: just nothing but bleakness as you try to claw your way through some tarry darkness that seems to be separating you from everything happening around you. You just feel completely separated out of everything, and it’s awful but you just can’t seem to make yourself engage because what the hell is the point, really?
Her ministers try shaking her out of it, urging her to attend the opening of the Thames Tunnel (which actually opened two years after Edward was born, but ok, whatever). They’ve even got a cute little shadowbox that shows her how tunnels are meant to work, but that fails to move her (although she does keep it). Later, Peel comes to her with the news that there’s been an explosion at the Tower of London which has resulted in several fatalities and even more injuries. He begs her to visit the injured men in hospital. Victoria refuses, but he’s like, ‘You really need to go.’
So, Victoria suits up and heads down to the hospital. There, she offers condolences to a widow, visits the injured, tells one man how lucky his daughter is to have such a brave father, and then becomes overwhelmed. She races for the door before she breaks down completely, and Peel stops her momentarily to quietly thank her for coming, adding that he knows it must have been distressing for her. He doesn’t really get it.
Duchess Diana does, though. Kind of. That evening, she, too, compliments Victoria on her handling of the situation, and admits that she, too, went through postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter. She reassures Victoria that, while today was hard, tomorrow will be easier, and the next time she goes out will be easier, and so forth.
And here’s where the show really started to lose me. Because: no, the cure for postpartum depression is not just ‘getting out of the house for a bit.’ That’s not the magical cure for any type of depression. That puts the onus of getting better squarely on the sufferer, and it’s not as if new mothers don’t have enough piled on them. ‘You’ll get over this bout of the blues if you just get off your ass and go out more.’
It doesn’t just magically get easier if you force yourself to slap on a happy face and go about things pretending like everything’s ok. If anything, that can make things worse because you’re exhausted and everybody thinks everything’s fine, so you’re even less likely to get the help you need.
Oh, but wait! It gets better! The very next scene depicts the duchess delivering a new puppy to our emotionally wrecked queen–and just like that, Victoria’s cured!
Folks, do you know a woman who’s struggling to function and connect with her endlessly needy newborn child? It’s fine! Just get her a puppy! Yet another thing that needs constant care and attention! Problem solved! Gosh, if only someone had thought to give Andrea Yates a pet.
Screw this show. If you’re not going to give a serious issue the gravity it deserves, better not to bring it up at all. At least it means I can finally use this gif I’ve had in my back pocket for a while now.
That’s how I feel about this show right now. I want to punch it in the face SO HARD.
Aaaaaanyway over in Coburg things get…weird. I mean, we get to spend more time with Ernest, which is great. He tells Albert about their father dying in the arms of a prostitute and basically shrugs and says, ‘at least he died doing the thing he loves most.’ I love Ernest. He’s possibly the best thing about this show, now Dash and Melbourne are both gone.
Of course Uncle Leopold pops up, because Leopold has absolutely nothing to do but travel around his relatives’ palaces, finding them spouses. He’s totally Europe’s Yenta. The bride he’s putting forward for Ernest is the WORST, by the way.
But Ernest isn’t the only one about to have his life screwed around with by his uncle. While in town for his brother’s funeral, Leopold decides it’s about time he told Albert about the affair Leopold had with Albert’s mother, which resulted in… Albert. You can imagine how Europe’s most uptight prince takes that news. He actually goes drinking with his brother and gets so drunk he goes home, tries to put on a decorative suit of armor, and yells at Leopold about how he (Albert) is illegitimate and his kids are too, now, which is just the alcohol and drama talking, because Albert and Victoria are married and so the kids are not, according to even the loosest terms, illegitimate. But yeah, I can see why he’d be anxious about this news getting out, because the British press is already having quite a bit of fun at his expense and pretty much the last thing the crown needed after years of Hanovarians and Victoria’s early stumbles was another scandal.
This whole thing results in Albert departing Coburg forever, probably relieved to put the place behind him. And I don’t think they’ll be having Uncle Leopold around for Christmas or Sunday lunch or anything anytime soon, either.
Belowstairs bullshit. Apparently the story of that kid breaking into the palace and sneaking around has made it into the press. Several months after it happened, which makes no sense, actually. Albert throws a wobbler, going on about how they need to be able to trust the people around them not to go spreading stories to the press, because the royal family, particularly the children, deserves some privacy. Fair enough. Also, Albert in real life very much wanted to control the family’s image as one of the ideal, upright Victorian clan, which is pretty hard to do when people are secretly selling stories behind your back. Before he leaves for the funeral he tasks Lehzen with finding the leak and plugging it, or she and everyone else who works at the Palace will be out of a job.
Suspicion soon falls on Francatelli, who’s flashing around a very expensive new watch. But it’s actually Skerrett who’s the culprit here. Or, rather, her cousin, Liza, who has thoroughly crawled inside a bottle. Skerrett shared the story with her as a bit of gossip, and Liza sold it on to the papers. When Skerrett, aghast, points out that she could lose her job over this, Liza seems frighteningly and bizarrely unconcerned, even though Skerrett seems to be her only source of income. If Skerrett loses her job, Liza and her daughter are out on the streets, right? Is this woman so wasted she doesn’t realise this or care? I wish they’d either do something with this character other than make her some sort of 19th century cautionary tale stereotype of the poor single mother or just cut this whole storyline loose. It’s boring and going nowhere.
So, Skerrett’s sweating away, basically walking around with a giant ‘Guilty’ sign flashing over her head, but nevertheless, Francatelli is the one accused. And when that happens, Skerrett’s conscience takes over and she goes to Victoria and confesses everything, including the fact that she’s not really named Skerrett. Victoria seems willing to keep her on, but toes Albert’s line, saying that they need to be able to trust the people in the Palace and while she might forgive, Albert most certainly will not. So, Skerrett’s out of a job.
But then Albert comes home and, since he’s feeling a certain affinity towards people who are some kind of fraud, just like him (though, Albert, your circumstances and hers are quite different) he not only hires Skerrett back but gives her a better room. He’s a standup guy, that Albert. And Francatelli thanks her by sending her a box of candied fruit.
Ugh, show. Seriously, decide what you want to be. Do you want to be a soap opera with crazy ‘I’m your father’ revelations in between ballroom scenes? Fine. You’re doing ok with that. Maybe stick with it. You want to be the type of show that takes a close look at serious issues? Then do it right, for heaven’s sake. Otherwise, you’re just doing the world a disservice and, frankly, making yourself look stupid.