Say it ain’t so!
There are many love stories that end with “and they lived happily ever after,” but there’s no drama in that, is there? Not enough to sustain a whole series, anyway. If only the Skerretellis had sailed off into the sunset in a beautiful pea green boat. Then we could always smile, thinking of them lounging in a park somewhere, eating strawberry tarts.
But would we have cared as much about the cholera epidemic had it not taken someone we know and love? As Victoria creator Daisy Goodwin said, “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.”
This turn of events on Victoria was akin to Matthew Crawley flipping the convertible. One could almost hear the wails wafting through the miasma across the land, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Or, in the immortal words of W. H. Auden, “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum, Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come…” Sigh.
Episode 4, “Foreign Bodies,” was a heartbreaker.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
In this week’s constitutional crisis, no one can do Victoria’s hair to her liking. Three hapless maids have lost their heads in futile attempts. Still bitter at Skerrett’s resignation, when Victoria receives a letter from her, she just tosses it in a drawer without even opening it.
Speaking as someone with weather-sensitive hair, I understand Victoria’s frustration. I, myself, have often thought of going to Lourdes seeking a cure for the frizz. But Victoria is about to be hit with something even more hopeless than her hair; something that will put life into perspective.
Show Pony Express
Victoria also has a beef with Albert. They aren’t speaking and have become pen pals by default. Season 1’s love letters full of yearning have been replaced by curt missives, hand delivered on silver trays by eye-rolling servants, who have no choice but to be dragged into the family drama. He is mocking Victoria and insists he’s tired of being her arm candy, plus they’re still bickering over Bertie (though no more Osborne Rules for Victoria; she’s back in the driver’s seat).
When required to, Vicky and Al put on such a good face to the public that on the occasion of Princess Louise’s baby shower, Sophie exclaims to Emma, “Oh look, Albert is smiling at the Queen.”
Emma (wearily) says no, like with the baby, it’s just gas. Sophie reasons to Emma that maybe marriage is just a façade anyway, which makes us realize there probably isn’t a single happy marriage at court.
But hey, this is some baby shower! A parade of emissaries from far flung corners of the empire line up to present jewels for baby Louise. No dumb games, no diaper cakes, no storks; just big rocks! It’s quite a haul.
Queen of Hearts
We already knew Sophie’s husband Monmouth was creepy, but the way he touches her in Episode 4 makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it? For a second there, when he offered to fasten her necklace, didn’t it look like he was going to snap her neck? But the worst is when she asks if she can see their son, who’s been squirreled away at boarding school for two months, and the Duke reminds her in a whisper, “everything belongs to me” – meaning, no.
Why would he keep them apart other than to be sadistic and controlling? And also, why is he whispering?
At least at the palace, Sophie is protected: she has friends and allies. Chief among them right now is Footman Joseph, who is trying to run interference for her. He suggests she use the cholera outbreak as an excuse to refuse her husband’s order for a booty call. Brilliant! The Duke does not take her refusal well, and tells acting messenger Joseph that his was an offer she can’t refuse. Luckily, Sophie has a higher card to play; she writes the Duke that the Queen commands that she not leave the palace. Sir Duke is outranked and outflanked. Footman Joe has also taken to whispering to Sophie along the gallery. Is this flirtation as dangerous a game as refusing the Duke?
Misery Loves Company
Feodora isn’t a bystander dragged into the drama; Victoria’s ever-present evil stepsister is driving head first into the Queen’s marital discord and is loving it! She is eating it all up with a spoon. Feodora tries to steer Victoria into thinking Albert is causing their troubles with his need for revenge.
No, I’m thinking it is jealous Feodora who is seeking vengeance. She assures Victoria, not to worry, “I will never desert you,” which, coming from Feodora, sounds less like reassurance and more like a threat. I’m thinking we need a matchmaker to fix up Feodora with the Duke of Monmouth. Where’s Dolly Levi when you need her?
It Ain’t Over Til the Swedish Nightingale Sings
The 19th century version of Beyonce (Jenny Lind) is entertaining the court when Penge interrupts the concert, bearing bad news: There is a cholera outbreak in London. It was thought to be contained in the Seven Dials neighborhood, but now it’s in Soho. It’s an epidemic.
FYI: The opera singer known as the Swedish Nightingale, a.k.a. Jenny Lind, had a two-octave range and was arguably the most critically acclaimed singer of the 19th century. Already a star in Europe, she became famous in the U.S. when P.T. Barnum arranged a tour in 1850. Barnum’s PR machine was so effective that the press named the hysteria that surrounded her tour “Lind Mania.” The tour earned her $350,000 (that’s $10,471,710 in today’s dollars), which she donated to her favorite charities.
An Unannounced Appearance
Victoria summons her Prime Minister and his experts to ask what’s being done about the cholera outbreak, but gets no real answers. The Prime Minister suggests they call for a national day of penance and fasting (a great idea for people already malnourished). The experts float their theories about the cause of the outbreak: foreigners (always the fallback scapegoats) or miasma (meaning, it’s in the air). There is a stuttering dissenter, Dr. Snow, but he doesn’t want to share his theory because he can’t yet back it up with evidence.
Victoria wants to see for herself how the epidemic is affecting her people. Who’s she gonna call? A Rule Buster! Lord Palmerston is Victoria’s walk on the wild side. She wants him to spring her from her gilded cage. Here, again, they find common ground.
He arranges for what turns out to be a brutal scene at the overflowing Women and Children Hospital. When a patient tugs at his sleeve, Palmerston gets the heebee-jeebees and flees to the safety of his carriage.
Victoria continues her visit and meets a nurse who doesn’t believe that miasma is the cause of the cholera. If it were in the air, she reasons, she’d already have it. All she knows is it “follows poverty and dirt.” The nurse says only one doctor comes to visit the hospital, Dr. Snow. Victoria trusts this woman – who, strangely, keeps a pet owl in the office – and asks her name. It’s Florence Nightingale. And she really did have a beloved pet owl, Athena. Learn more about the woman considered the founder of modern nursing and cholera in our True History article.
Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
There is a happy marriage at the Seven Dials Hotel, which newlyweds Chuck and Nancy are preparing to open in just a few days. As they lounge in bed, Francatelli says he’s got a great name for their new B&B: The Palace. The Palace? Bad move, dude. It should have been kind of obvious that any reference to the job you made wifey give up – serving the leader of the semi-free world – would be a sore subject.
Nancy bounds out of bed and angrily puts on her corset. I have to say, in all my years watching costume dramas, this is the first time I’ve seen someone angrily put on their corset, and it is quite effective.
Nancy brings in Abigail to help with the décor. In a move the seamstress learned from Scarlett O’Hara, she uses her old Chartist banners to make drapes. The makeover is interrupted by screaming in the street: a woman wails as her dead loved one is carried away. Skerrett says all the dead bodies rolling by on pony carts are putting a damper on the buzz for their new venture. She’s worried, but Francatelli dismisses her concerns.
Skerrett has other concerns as well; she is pregnant. She goes to see some kind of snake oil saleswoman for a tonic. She is offered a choice of two: one if she’d like to welcome a little stranger, the other if that little stranger is not welcome. We assume she wanted to welcome him or her, because as soon as she gets home she tells Francatelli about their little Bombe Surprise. He is over the moon about it.
Nancy is soon chugging the tonic – and having bad cramps. A miscarriage? No, by the next day, we suspect it’s more. She’s delirious. She thinks Mr. Penge is going to catch them, and says she wants to name the baby Victoria if it’s a boy, Albert, if it’s a girl.
A Mystery Solved
Dr. Snow is methodically (desperately) working his way around the geography of the cholera epidemic and interviewing victims. He’s trying to find the source, diligently marking a map with every case. After speaking with Nurse Nightingale, Victoria summons Dr. Snow but he refuses – he’s busy seeking answers.
He finds the Rosetta Stone in the snake oil sales woman, who has fallen ill with cholera. She lives completely outside the danger zone, but does stop at the Broad Street pump in Soho for water for her tonics. Eureka! He finally has the answer: The water from that pump is responsible for this epidemic. When he tries to shut down the pump he gets beat up for his troubles. He goes to the Queen.
Back at the palace, stammering Dr. Snow has trouble speaking in front of the impatient Prime Minister. The empathetic Victoria asks the PM to leave and shares with Snow how she handles public speaking: she pretends she’s talking to doggie Isla. The doctor laughs, and now relaxed, can explain what he’s discovered.
Goodbye to Skerrettelli
Thanks to Brody’s eavesdropping on Dr. Snow and Victoria, we next see Victoria sprinting to Skerrett’s side with Dr. Snow in tow, commanding him to do something. But there is nothing that can be done. Writhing in pain, Skerrett is beyond peaches.
Skerrett tells Victoria she wants name her baby after her, if it’s a girl, and Victoria tells her old friend she cannot think of a greater honor. It needs to be mentioned what great bedside manner Victoria has – whether at a hospital, a bedside or a drawing room.
Nancy and Chuck spend their last moments in bed talking about the time they wasted not being together. Nancy says of their marriage, “It wasn’t long but it meant everything.” If you didn’t start crying right there you are made of stone.
And with that, she is gone. Francatelli is last seen sitting on the bed with her body, sobbing uncontrollably.
FYI: Dr. John Snow is considered to be the father of public health research and epidemiology. In his day he was (at first) considered an eccentric. His theories weren’t fully accepted until after his death from a stroke at age 45. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control still utilize Dr. Snow’s theories to investigate disease outbreaks and the John Snow Society is dedicated to promoting his life and work. Dr. Snow was also a pioneer in anesthesia, and attended Queen Victoria’s births #8 and #9, to administer anesthesia. Dr. Snow has a monument in Soho: a water pump, like the Broad Street pump featured in this episode. Read more about Dr. Snow and the Broad Street pump.
Cambridge: Don’t Know Much About History
Ah, the irony – or is it karma? Given the way Albert treats little Bertie over his education, it was kind of sweet that when he was asked to be chancellor of prestigious Cambridge University, he gets the cold shoulder. He’s even mocked by students and alumni who are resistant to his modern ideas (mainly because they could lead to dancing).
At first Albert was a bit drunk on the power of the appointment, but then he realized that, just as with his royal position that has its perks, it doesn’t actually carry real power. After a perfunctory welcome at the university, Albert gives a speech, but he is no good at reading the audience. He goes on and on about enlightenment and challenging tradition but all these frat boys want is an invitation to the next kegger at the palace. To add insult to injury, one of said olde frat boys decides to challenge the German sausage for the chancellor position.
Albert has a narrow win, and he did get Palmerston’s vote, but it is a shallow victory. He returns to the Palace rattled and defeated. He realizes he should have listened to Victoria: it’s not enough to be right if you can’t bring the public on board with you. Feodora sees Albert and Victoria embrace and turns to stone. All her well-laid plans go “poof” in an instant. Curses! Foiled again!
Victoria receives a letter that she knows, before she opens it, is the announcement of Skerrett’s death. It is only then that she finally reads the letter Skerrett sent her. In it, Skerrett apologizes for leaving Her Majesty when she needed her most, but says she had to follow her heart. They still speak the same language. Skerrett recommends a new dresser: Abigail Turner.
Victoria is wracked with guilt that she didn’t read the letter while Skerrett was alive. Albert consoles her and we end the episode with some detente, a bit of bodice-ripping make-up sex – and given Vicky and Al’s track record – I’m guessing baby #7. Or is it #8? (I’m as hopeless at math as Bertie). I hope she’ll name it Charles if it’s a girl, Nancy if it’s a boy.
The 7 Top Skerrett Moments
This week, we interrupt out regular Top We Are
7. In the very first Victoria episode, Skerrett takes the blame for selling Victoria’s used gloves, even though Mrs. Jenkins (who had never been anything but nasty to her) had done it, and it could have gotten her fired. Because that’s just the kinda gal she was: kind.
6. In so many moments, Skerrett was Victoria’s link to the outside world, like when she introduced her to Chartists.
5. In the Irish famine episode – Season 2, Episode 4 – Skerrett stands up for the housemaid Miss Cleary, defending her from Mr. Penge’s anti-Catholic, bigoted bullying.
4. In what was essentially some very drawn out (and yummy) foreplay in Season 1, Skerrett and Francatelli invent chocolate covered ice cream. Hello!
3. That time when Skerrett needed Francatelli’s help to save her cousin and baby Nancy during a previous cholera outbreak in Seven Dials. He wants a token of “payment” and she reluctantly agrees (even though she mistakenly thinks “be nice” is a euphemism for something else). But all the payment he wants is to know her real name: Nancy. I recount the moment in the Season 1, Episode 5 recap.
2. Even in the end, after Victoria snubs Skerrett for resigning, Skerret seeks closure and tries to help Her Madge find a replacement. She recommends someone who can be pulled out of poverty, like she was: Abigail Turner.
1. When her cousin – the real Miss Skerrett – asks if she and Victoria had become friends, Skerrett replies, “No, we’re not friends, but sometimes she notices me and realizes we’re just two girls doing our best.” Sigh. The moment is fondly remembered in our Season 1, Episode 4 Sip n’ Chat YouTube recap.
RIP: There’s a lot we never found out about Skerrett and her backstory, like her childhood or any family beyond her cousin, or how she ended up the laundress in a brothel. Those stories will remain lost to the mists of time – unless Daisy Goodwin writes a prequel series about Nancy Skerrett Francatelli’s life before that day she walked to the palace, with nothing but her handbasket, and made a little bit of history. Hey Masterpiece, there’s your next Victoria spin-off idea!
What do you think about it all, Victorians? Join the conversation in my recap – posted every Sunday evening after the broadcast – in the comments, below! Please share this recap with your fellow Victoria fans!
On Twitter you can use the hashtag #VictoraPBS and follow @THIRTEENWNET and me at @E20Launderette. On Instagram, find THIRTEEN at @THIRTEENWNET and me at @GothamTomato and also use the hashtag #VictoriaPBS.
Watch episodes for two weeks after broadcast, and continue streaming on demand with the member benefit THIRTEEN Passport.