"I'm so bored of this," Victoria says. She's referring to being hugely pregnant, but there are points in this episode where I have to agree with her. On the surface, this season finale is packed with action that should keep us glued to the screen. Action is not, however, what we're looking for from a show like this. We've been watching to see Victoria (and Albert, and sometimes Skerrett) grow as a character. Screenwriter Daisy Goodwin made a miscalculation in her pacing here, because it feels like everyone has already done most of their growing in the previous episodes. This is all just watching their principles and strength being put to extreme tests.
That said, it is still fun to look at the pretty things and the loving gazes and the queenly pronouncements, so let's review how it all went down. Back to the queen being bored. Bored is better than what everyone else feels about her pregnancy: gleeful anticipation of her imminent death in childbirth. Her uncles, King Leopold and the Duke of Cumberland/King of Hanover, are lurking about. The latter may or may not be plotting to assassinate his niece, while the former is surprisingly kind to her. Sure, he's probably also there to make sure Albert is still going to be the Regent if the queen dies and her child lives, but he's also moved by the memory of his dear Charlotte to sit and eat candy with Victoria.
Albert is little comfort most of the time. Instead of entertaining his bored wife, he has been doing his homework, studying up on the bad jokes in the newspaper to become a real Englishman, and still hanging out with Sir Robert. He could express his worry for her health and safety in a more compassionate, less macho way, too. No wonder Victoria says to hell with everyone and decides to go on daily rides through the park in an open carriage. At least her subjects are happy to see her. Particularly that stalker dude who's been writing to her every day with offers to free her from "the German tyrant." Creepy letters are one thing, but when he tosses a bouquet of violets at Victoria, Albert's reaction grows even worse. His move to redirect Victoria's letters to him, instead of Baroness Lehzen, makes him really seem a little bit like a German tyrant.
He's got a point, though. Edward Oxford was the first of several assassination attempts on the queen. The show does its best to convince us that he really was hired by some secret society that included "Hanover." Even if Hanover wasn't responsible, he deserves that dramatic shunning by all his peers. The interrogation of Oxford was probably pretty brutal, but since I just watched Tom Hardy getting waterboarded over on Taboo, it looked tame by comparison. In the end, we learn there's no proof that his guns were loaded, and the Young England Society was something he made up in his head. He's acquitted of treason and sent to Bedlam, which is a pretty awful sentence anyway.
Victoria's reaction to the acquittal is reasonable. At first, she thinks she'll be imprisoned by fear for her life. It takes Hanover's righteous speech about how he abolished the constitution in his little kingdom to remind her that she has another option, to be a good queen. This is what I mean about the lack of character development, though: Her solution is the same thing it's been since way back when she first took the throne. She stands up when everyone wants her to sit down and let the men take care of her. She goes back out to the park, showing her subjects she believes in the rule of law, and showing her husband she's still in charge.
Lehzen gets to shine in this episode — that protective instinct she's always had toward Victoria comes in handy after all — and she's the only one around who's actually planning for the baby. She stares down all the servants who think they should plan for the queen's death, and enlists Mrs. Jenkins to help find a wet nurse. That whole process should make everyone — mothers and childless alike — feel grateful for the advent of infant formula and breast pumps. A busy queen would certainly be hampered by nursing all day ("I am not a cow"), but how heartbreaking it is to see the "cow" (sorry) she hired say goodbye to her own baby for the job of feeding the princess.
Skerrett/Nancy is facing the same damn dilemma she has all season: Enjoy her freedom as a career servant, or follow her heart to the low-paying servitude of marriage. It's so rare, even today, to see a character not choose love over long-term satisfaction. Francatelli's desserts just aren't enough for her, though. For now, anyway. Who knows if this back and forth will continue in season 2?
Prince Ernest and the Duchess of Sutherland also made the practical choice...again. I question the point of this subplot. They already decided to stay away from each other two episodes ago, so why bring them back together only to exchange a lock of hair? Ernest, you deserve more than to be a mere foil to your brother's supreme happiness.
At last, we get to watch Victoria go into labor — that's always everyone's favorite scene in any show, right? All the men in her life hang around her bedroom, waiting for her to die or reveal that she's a weak woman after all, and I want to kill them dead. Sorry, dudes, this girl is strong. Also, she wants her mama, which is a nice way to heal their rift and bring this season full circle. Just, please, don't make us have to go through all this for each one of her nine children's births in the seasons to come.