Victoria Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: Lose Yourself In Lord Melbourne

Photo: Courtesy of PBS.
The true test of a good historical drama is whether it matters that we all know how things turn out in the end. It takes a mighty ignorant soul — or someone truly uninterested in history, in which case, how did you get here? — not to know that Queen Victoria did marry and had a litter of children. Her great-great-granddaughter sits on the throne right now. During tonight's Victoria, not even Lord Melbourne's dreamy eyes were enough to make me forget the facts.

I am loving this show, though, so I will try to proceed as if I had selective amnesia, and didn't spend an hour thinking, "Okay, so when is Albert getting there?"

Despite being "plagued by uncles" urging her to marry one or another of her cousins, Queen V (Jenna Coleman) has the audacity to believe she might follow the example of the "Virgin" Queen Elizabeth. How unfair that what was eventually accepted 300 years earlier is suddenly beyond all comprehension. I guess we should never be surprised by the backward slide of attitudes toward women. Though it's hard to tell if Melbourne (Rufus Sewell) believes that Victoria could get away with it, he all but winks at her when they talk about Elizabeth's nudge nudge "companions." They're smarter downstairs, where the servants are placing bets on whom she'll choose.

Even if we know the eventual outcome here, it's delightful to watch Victoria stand up to those uncles. Her mother's brother, King Leopold (Alex Jennings), wants her to let his nephew Albert visit, whom V doesn't remember so fondly. Best moment: When she puts the king in his place with a wicked burn about Belgium being a baby country. (This whole exchange is slightly confusing if you're also a fan of The Crown, in which Jennings plays the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII.) Old Leo doesn't think her resistance is just about his niece being independent, however — it's more about her love for Melbourne.

Melbourne is annoyingly wishy-washy about this whole thing. When Leopold confronts him, he retreats to his estate, Brocket Hall. Just like she did last week, V can't stand to be away from him for even a day and makes the rash decision to follow him in an unmarked carriage. Sign I've maybe been drinking the oppressive Kool-Aid: This made me cringe with embarrassment instead of cheering for her boldness.

"I thought you were the father I never had," she begins — that's how to win 'em! — and then recovers, declaring him "the only companion I could ever desire."

Bowing to the pressure to stay away, M makes the lame excuse that he's a rook who mated for life and hasn't gotten over his wife. At the same time, he gives her orchids he grew in the greenhouses of his estate (which he'd stopped doing after his wife's death), and then goes to the masquerade ball for King Leo dressed as "Leicester," Queen Elizabeth's special companion Robert Dudley. What's with the mixed messages, guy?

For the sake of romantic suspense, I would have liked to see V's other two suitors fleshed out a bit more. The Russian Grand Duke (Daniel Danskoy) is handsome and flashy enough to catch her eye, and if their final conversation is any indication, they may have even been well matched intellectually if she weren't already so occupied with the PM. Then there's Prince George, egged on by her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, a rather whiny brat who makes the mistake of complaining that he'd never be master of his own home if he married the queen, within earshot of her. So, yeah, they both just feel like fillers while we wait for the dramatic entrance of (drumroll) Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). The guy looks good in uniform and he knows how to turn the page for a pianist. Swoon.

A moment for the B story of the episode: How fitting to watch the failed protest of the Chartists in Wales on this particular weekend. "One man one vote," read their signs as they marched. While on the show, it looks like they were shot at just for marching, the Newport Rising involved a group of protesters storming a hotel where some members of their group were being kept prisoner, and shots were reportedly fired on both sides. In Victoria's version, nine Chartists died in the exchange, but the historical account is that as many as 22 were killed. Of the survivors, 21 were sentenced to be drawn and quartered. Did the queen commute their sentences after learning her head dresser's nephew was one of the traitors? Probably not, according to RadioTimes. Still, it's a good way of showing her growth and compassion. While all those men want her to think of nothing but marriage, she can take a minute to do some good for her country.

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