Victoria on MASTERPIECE: Season 1, Episode 1 Recap

Deborah Gilbert | January 18, 2017
Victoria On MASTERPIECE on PBS *SPECIAL TWO-HOUR PREMIERE* SUNDAY, JANUARY 15, 2017 AT 9PM ET Continues Sundays, January 22 – February 19, 2017 at 9pm ET Season Finale on Sunday, March 5 at 9pm ET Episode One – "Doll 123" Sunday, January 15 at 9pm ET As a new queen, the young Victoria struggles to take charge amid plots to manipulate her. Victoria’s friendship with the prime minister leads to a crisis in Parliament. Shown from left to right: NELL HUDSON (Skerrett), EVE MYLES (Mrs Jenkins) and JENNA COLEMAN as Victoria (C) ITV Plc

Victoria on MASTERPIECE on PBS Continues Sundays, January 22 – February 19, 2017 at 9pm ET Season Finale on Sunday, March 5 at 9pm ET Episode One – “Doll 123” Sunday, January 15 at 9pm ET.  In foreground JENNA COLEMAN as Victoria; background from left to right: NELL HUDSON (Skerrett) and EVE MYLES (Mrs Jenkins). (C) ITV Plc

Victoria is finally here! I’ll be recapping each of the 7 episodes in this series right here. Let’s begin with the 15 essentials of the #VictoriaPBS premiere. (If you missed it, you can stream it for free on thirteen.org for a limited time.) And don’t forget to join us Mondays at 12:30 PM for more Victoria on THIRTEEN’s Facebook Live!

  • In the Beginning: Queen Victoria’s rise to the throne is a complicated one.

Queen Victoria’s ascendancy to the British throne was born of tragedy. Her grandfather was King George III, whose offspring all seemed to be rather unlucky both in love as well the heir production department. Upon King George’s death, the crown first passed to his oldest son, George IV, but his unhappy, arranged marriage produced just one child, Charlotte, who died at the age of 21 after delivering a stillborn son. George did have several illegitimate children with his mistresses (but throne-wise, that doesn’t count; descendants of his illegitimate children include former Prime Minister David Cameron). With no legitimate heirs upon his death, George IV passed his crown to his younger brother, Prince Frederick, but he too died childless. Frederick’s crown then passed to the next contestant, younger brother Prince William, AKA Victoria’s dear uncle William IV. At his death, William IV had no surviving ‘legitimate issue’ either. Although, like George IV and so many of those randy royals, he did have numerous illegitimate ones. So the winner (by default) of the royal baby stakes was the late Prince Edward, Duke of Kent who, even though he never held the crown himself, before his untimely death from pneumonia, produced Alexandrina Victoria (plus, of course, a few illegitimate children with his mistresses). And you thought March Madness brackets were complicated!

As for Victoria, there are many moving parts in her young story: multiple malevolent hangers-on plotting her demise in the hopes of stealing her crown (or just her clothes), and much mystery about this heir apparent who’d been raised in a hermetically sealed jar on Kensington Palace’s back porch under the control of her mother and her ‘advisor’ Sir John. Sadly for Victoria, she was their ticket to ride and they didn’t care about anything but the power to be attained by controlling her – and the isolation has made her an object of freakish curiosity and rumor.

  • Mummy Dearest: The endless conniving of Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent

Victoria’s childhood was a lonely one, the only consolations being her dog, her dolls, and her governess/confidant Baroness Lehzen. It’s hard to tell if Victoria’s passive aggressive mummy, the Duchess of Kent, is benign or malignant.  At the very least she undermines Victoria’s confidence at every turn; she gets Victoria to show her vulnerability and then exploits it. She has no qualms about publicly humiliating her daughter, and worst of all, she puts Victoria’s welfare into the hands of the ambitious Sir John. Is she doing it because she truly thinks this is what’s best for Victoria? Or might she be trading her daughter for the attentions of Sir John, allowing him to crush Victoria’s spirit under his boot heel in the process?

Sir John is Victoria’s Javert. Officially, he serves as a British army officer and comptroller to the Duchess of Kent and Queen Victoria. But at every turn he is plotting, bullying and jealously resenting Victoria’s position (and possibly, all the years he invested in manipulating Mummy Dearest, thinking he could gain power through her and her daughter). But Victoria has other ideas. She has ideas, period. It turns out the little spirit was not crushed; it was in there biding its time. Luckily her dear uncle did her the favor of waiting until she was 18 to die, so she could inherit the crown without the interim regency they salivate over.

  • I Got No Strings On Me: Victoria’s first steps as Queen are to stand up for herself.

Victoria’s first act as Queen is to take the bold step of walking down the stairs alone – something she was never able to do while under the thumb of Mummy Dearest and Sir John, who tried to convince her she was too clumsy to manage them on her own. She also sees her ministers on her own, even the ‘disreputable’ Whig Lord M. And she chooses her Ladies in Waiting without the insistent advice of Mummy’s self-righteous Lady (in waiting) Flora. It’s the first time she’s been able to choose her own companions, much to the chagrin of Mummy, Sir John and Flora.

Upon getting the tip-off that Victoria is now Queen, Sir John immediately starts barking orders and when she doesn’t buckle he cruelly taunts her in a way that, in Henry VIII’s day, would have (quickly) left him with nowhere to hang his hat. But Victoria is stronger than her mother. It turns out he cannot manipulate her as he had planned. Sir John complains that she’s a Whig puppet, but he’s only upset she’s not his puppet.

She cuts him off with, ‘Now that I am Queen I do not need your assistance.” Mic drop! Followed by the pithy, ‘Sir John you have our permission to withdraw,’ which is so much classier than, ‘Don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass.’ That must be why she’s a Queen and I’m not. Sir John’s best laid plans have been all for naught. Victoria is free from his clutches, for now.

  • A House is not a home: The Royal Family moves to the newly christened Buckingham Palace

With the move to Buckingham House, which is renamed Buckingham Palace, Mummy Dearest is exiled to the Siberia of the north wing, along with Flora the Tory Menace and Sir John. They are not best pleased over this limited access, especially when they find out Lehzen’s room is right next door to Victoria’s. Until now, Victoria was required to sleep with her mother in her room. Sir John continues to try and plead his case, assuring Victoria of his loyalty despite doing nothing but plot against her – but she’s not buying it.

  • Yes Virginia, there is a sanity clause: The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland threaten the Queen’s stability

Waiting in the wings to jockey for position with Sir John is Victoria’s Cokehead Uncle Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and his wife Princess Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Duchess of Cumberland who, one suspects, spends most of her time hanging upside down from the rafters in the attic. Their new favorite phrase is, “If anything should happen…” because if anything should happen to delicate Victoria, the Duke is next in line to the throne. Unlike her kind Uncle William IV, whose only fault was wanting her to marry the Great Pumpkin, Uncle Ernest is not so kindly inclined toward his niece. His sole purpose is to eliminate her.

There has been quite a bit of insanity and ill health in this royal family (probably what comes from marrying cousins) and the Duke does his best to drop hints to anyone who will listen that Victoria is unstable too, and might need a Regent, hint hint. Wrong! Victoria is not unstable, but as we’ve seen so vividly (even recently), to less enlightened men, a strong, independent woman is a dangerous thing.

  • The Divine Lord M: Lord Melbourne comes to the Queen’s rescue.

Into all this mishegas rides the dashing Lord Melbourne. You’ve got to have friends, and it seems no one was more in need of a friend than newly freed royal hostage, Queen Victoria. Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (for whom Melbourne, Australia is named) was just what she needed, just when she needed it. Her old guard inner circle tries to warn her off him, saying he is disreputable, having been charged with ‘criminal conversation’ (AKA seduction or adultery). Though not convicted, we can see how some bitter ex or another would want to charge this charmer with alienation of affection. He is (as the Brits say) a bit of alright.

But Lord M has been on the receiving end of his own heartbreak; he is exhausted by government and still in mourning for his son, and his late wife, despite the fact that she ran off with his old college chum Lord Byron (whom she famously dubbed, ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’).

After a shaky start, caused by Victoria thinking Melbourne was a friend of Sir John, she appoints Lord M her private secretary. He tutors the new queen in government and politics. She quickly develops a not so little crush on (possibly) the only true ally she’s ever had. Victoria is hot for teacher. He gives her the draft of confidence she needs and she gives him the sense of purpose he needs. Much yearning ensues but this is a forbidden love on both sides. Due to position and age difference it simply cannot be. Lord M says as much when (in reference to Lady Flora) he says he knows the pain scandal can bring.

  • Puppy Dog Eyes: The Queen’s best friend is a dog named Dash.

Victoria’s best friend is her dog Dash. It’s interesting to note (maybe only to me) that Queen Elizabeth also had a dog named Dash, one in a long line of Corgies. In Elizabeth R: A Year in the Life of the Queen (a documentary about HRH that aired on THIRTEEN a while back) she can be seen introducing one of her young grandchildren to her new dog and explaining why Dash is a great name for a dog.

  • And though she be but little she is fierce: Victoria is every inch a queen.

Height seems to be a sensitive issue for the vertically challenged (4’11”) Victoria. Clearly her mother and Sir John mocked her about it. The Duke of Wellington refers to her as Her Little Majesty. Even Emma Portman, who Victoria thinks of as her friend, (and she is), calls her Little Vicky. When she first met Melbourne, Victoria asked him if she was too short, and Lord M declared her ‘every inch a queen’, which sounds like a compliment but given that it refers to a quote from King Lear, a line the king uttered when he was delusional, one must wonder if he meant something else.

  • Having a (Coronation) Ball

On Coronation Ball eve, as Victoria frets over the absence of Lord M (She has no idea he is home mourning his late son on what would have been his birthday.), the Russians hack the ball, sending Grand Duke Alexander, who struts right up to Victoria, inviting her to dance. They open the ball with the Victorian equivalent of the electric slide. This is how you get down 1837-style. But why did she have a price tag hanging from her wrist? And what’s with the Russian’s jacket hanging on one arm thing? Do they need coat check at Buck House or is that the latest fashion from Moscow?

Anyway, Duke Alexander rolls his R’s which is a little bit sexy (if you like that sort of thing). Unfortunately, Alex forgot himself and got a bit too handsy with Her Royal Bum until the late arriving Lord M sent in reinforcements to codpiece block him. Considering that a couple of decades from now, one of Victoria’s sons will marry the Grand Duke’s daughter (Prince Alfred marries Grand Duchess Marie, in a real wedding attended by the allegedly fictional Violet Crawley and her husband, Lord Grantham), this could make things a bit awkward at future family get-togethers.

Sir John had warned her off drinking too much champagne at the ball, so of course she practically chugged from the bottle and ended up making a drunken play for Mr. Grey (Lord M). He never forgets his duty and deftly deflects.

  • Things aren’t always what they seem: Baroness Lehzen’s plan to shame Lady Flora backfires.

Lehzen notices that Lady Flora has what looks like a baby bump and mentions it to Victoria. Flora is on Team Sir John (so there is no love lost there). Victoria goes all Maury Povich on the story, requesting that Flora submit to an examination. Lord M does warn Victoria about the scandal that could be unleashed, even if she is right, given that Lady Flora has many Tory friends and flying mud doesn’t necessarily have a good sense of direction – but Victoria is undeterred.

Upon examination the doctor declares Flora to be Virgo Intacto which makes Victoria rather Gemini Confused-o. But is she pregnant? As it turns out, pregnant, Lady Flora was about to give birth to a 15 pound bouncing baby tumor. An honest mistake. Flora is gravely ill and Victoria’s enemies use manufactured outrage to try and turn her subjects against her and snatch the crown off her head, all the while tsk, tsk, tsk-ing about how unfortunate it is the story got into the papers. The caricature of Lady Flora’s misadventure in the stirrups, being sold out on the streets, seems to have been the Victorian version of a mean tweet. The scandal causes Victoria to be heckled in public as she reviews the troops.

Fake News!: A Historical Note: In real life it was Lady Flora herself who leaked the story to the press by writing a letter to be published in (the appropriately named) The Examiner, claiming she had to defend herself.

  • Never let ‘em see you sweat: Queen Victoria learns to keep her head up.

In the aftermath of the Lady Flora debacle Victoria thinks all is lost. Ahh, she of little faith. (If only she knew she had a 60 year reign ahead of her!) It falls to Lord M to restore that faith, and he does. He tells her how he had lost all faith himself until she came along; guiding her has given him a new lease on life. He urges her to remember her duty; to smile and wave and never let light on the tsuris beneath the sparkle. Victoria realizes it is time to put away childish things so it’s goodbye to the creepy dolls. She also decides to cut down on hecklers at public events by eliminating the two-drink minimum at Privy Council meetings.

  • Living in a rat’s paradise: Stewards, dressers, and other vermin have their run of the place.

The Palace is infested with rats and not just the four-legged kind. It is rife with corruption downstairs, led by Mr. Penge and Mrs. Jenkins. They may have all got their noodle bangs on sideways but make no mistake about it, they make Downton Abbey‘s Thomas and O’Brien look like rank amateurs. Penge has cornered the market on used candles and Jenkins is selling all Victoria’s gloves on vBay. Carson would never stand for this. Lehzen tells Mr. Penge that there’s a new sheriff in town and he does not take kindly to it. He’s got a good perk going and he’s not going to let Lehzen ruin it. When she balks at the wasted candles and moves full steam ahead with converting the Palace to gas, Penge plots to make palace life a misery until she relents.

In the Netflix series The Crown, there was a scene that took place in the Buckingham Palace kitchens in the 1950’s where rats were pretty much sauntered through the kitchen, going about their business, out on a table of food, just as we now see them during Queen Victoria’s time. Who knew? All this time we thought the royals were living in splendor when they’re actually living in a rodent tenement. Just ask Jack Black, the self-appointed royal rat-catcher to Queen Victoria.

Penge conspires to keep his candle business going by turning the chandeliers into a drippy mess and starts playing three card monte with the rats, utilizing a catch and release scheme that sets them loose in the rooms the Queen occupies until they finally jump out of her birthday cake. The result? Rather loud – though I might have screamed louder.

  • Nun but the brave: The Queen’s personal dresser gets a plucky new assistant.

Elsewhere there is new-hire Miss Skerrett who arrives at the royal household with nothing but a hand basket and a dream. She’s got spunk, and Mrs. Jenkins hates spunk. She seems to shock the other bedchamber staff when she offers up suggestions, but she relates well to the Queen, maybe because of her age, or maybe because she’s the only one there without an ulterior motive. And despite Jenkins’ nastiness, Skerrett saves her skin by taking the fall when Lehzen discovers a parcel on its way to the pickers. When asked why she saved her, Skerrett says, ‘Do as you would be done by.’ This seems to be Miss Skerrett’s version of, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ In the end, all was well because Victoria didn’t mind the hoi polloi trading in her cast-offs.

Miss Skerrett also receives some flirty attention from Chef Francatelli. However that flirtation quickly becomes ominous as Mr. Francatelli realizes he recognizes her from a place called Ma Fletcher’s Nunnery which, one supposes, is not a convent, and now says he wants to ‘become better acquainted’, if you know what I mean.

  • Isle of Caprice: Sir John and the Duke of Cumberland join forces against the Queen.

You’re not paranoid when people really are out to get you – and they are out to get Victoria. If Sir John cannot manipulate Victoria, he’ll work to remove her. He uses Victoria’s reaction to the birthday rats to insist she needs ‘calm and seclusion’, conspiring with Uncle Cumberland to have her declared unstable like his mad Dad and sent away to live on a farm. The plotters all agree they want to undermine her, the only thing that stalls their plans is their bickering over which of them would take her place.

The Duke of Cumberland wants Victoria gone so he can take over as Regent (temporarily, or so they say), for her own good, don’t you know. One suspects that if they had been successful in this ruse it would not be temporary at all. She would have, once again, been conveniently locked away, never to be deemed sane again – the Duke would have become the permanent Prince Regent, and when he died the crown would pass to his son. All neat and tidy.

  • Whigstock: The party of the common people abolishes slavery.

As Little Vicky’s nearest and dearest are busy playing musical Regents, a constitutional crisis brews after a Whig anti-slavery bill passes by only a small margin. For some reason this means Lord M can no longer be Prime Minister and he tells Victoria she will have to call in a Tory (perish the thought) to form a new government. She does not take it well.

First up is the Duke of Wellington but he feels he is too old and suggests Robert Peel. Unfortunately, Victoria found Sir Robert, shall we say, unappealing – mostly because he was no Lord M. She also did not like his request that all the single ladies would need to be replaced. Apparently Parliament can collapse if the wrong ladies have access to the royal underwear. Lady Emma put her hands up to volunteer to go but Little Vicky says to stay put. Wellington tells Victoria it is a battle she cannot win, but she has other ideas. Given that this is the first time in her life she has been able to surround herself with people she trusts, it is understandable she wouldn’t want to give them up.

They all underestimate Victoria; she is no dumb bunny. Is it just possible that her upbringing at the hands of Sir John, far from making her more compliant, actually made her stronger, strong enough to outwit him in the end? It was a lucky break that when Victoria faced her Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington was there to pull the hand brake, preventing the Duke of Cumberland and Sir John from succeeding with their sinister plans, and giving Lord M his tacit approval to form a government once more, returning to Victoria’s side to serve his Queen. He knows his days are numbered, but for now, in the words of philosopher Rocky the Squirrel, ‘All’s well that ends well.’ Sigh. Little Vicky; happy at last.

FYI: She Oughta Be in Pictures: The portrait sitting with painter Sir George Hayter depicted in episode one was for Victoria’s first official portrait as Queen. She commissioned Hayter because she knew him; he had instructed her with her own oil painting. Afterwards she appointed him her ‘Painter of History and Portrait’. The painting now belongs to the Royal Collection Trust.

Notable Quotable:

‘I will bear that in mind’ is a phrase I’ve got to start using. It seems like it really means, ‘No. Now get out of my face, you putz,’ but in a way that prevents the person it lands on from continuing to plead their case. Win-win all around.

You’ve also gotta love that word, ‘disrepute’. It’s a word that was tossed around this week and it has such a great, snooty, staccato sound to it I’ve just got to find a way to use it. Let that be your assignment this week too, Victorians; Incorporate the word ‘disrepute’ into your daily conversation and report back on the response you get. And while you’re at it, start referring to yourself with a royal ‘we’. You have our permission. Join the conversation below or Tweet using the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.

If you are on Twitter you can follow THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette. On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomato.