I wonder if series creator Daisy Goodwin was getting something similar off her chest with this episode. First, she subjected the queen to all sorts of indignities from the moment she becomes "indisposed out of her mouth," as Lohlein so aptly put it. She scarcely has time to adjust to the news of her pregnancy herself before Prince Albert is eager to announce his victory to her council. Then the Duchess of Kent steps in with such a kind motherly reminder of Princess Charlotte's death in childbirth. That's exactly what she wanted to hear! Also, her mother thinks laughter is bad for the baby, but brandy and cream are great for nausea. Excuse me while I go barf. (FYI, I'm not pregnant, everyone!)
The ultimate slap to the face upon this happy news comes from the Lord Chamberlain, who says Victoria has to nominate a regent in the event that she dies in childbirth but her child survives. Which, sure, that's a good idea, but it would be nice if people spent as much time concerning themselves with, say, research into the causes of death in childbirth as they do with this regent business. Also, way to make a girl feel like she's anything but a womb.
Albert, meanwhile, is still trying to prove he's more than a sperm donor, and he's decided to geek out over manufacturing and the hottest new tech: the railroad. He'd be such a bore if he didn't also say stuff that makes me feel all tingly inside, like, "A love like ours can burn down a city." Seriously, you can almost see sparks when they so much as brush up against each other. And because she's so swoony over him, and she can't wait to get away from her mother's helpful advice, Victoria declares they're going on a road trip north to Staffordshire. Everyone can take their advice to avoid strenuous activity and stuff it. (Except, oof, carsickness in a carriage looks awful.)
At the home of stuffy Sir Piers Gifford, even the servants are snobs. The guy's butler tries to trick Lohlein into dressing him all wrong for a shooting expedition, and later into making the prince sing "God Save the Queen" while he gets dressed. Good thing Mrs. Jenkins is there to save the valet, and Robert Peel is there to become Albert's BFF.
There are a few layers to the conflict that goes on in Staffordshire. Victoria believes that playing along by the Giffords' rules will make things go more smoothly for her husband. ("Softly, softly, catchy monkey," she says, invoking a saying with a fascinating history, if you're into that sort of thing.) Albert prefers a more direct approach to getting what he wants, and if Gifford won't give it to him, he'll seek it elsewhere. So, he arranges for an early morning escape to visit the train with Peel. This is such a typical married man move, by the way — the wife says no to something, so he sneaks out and does it anyway, hoping she won't mind if she doesn't see him do it. Never mind that him doing so undermines her authority after everyone saw her nix the trip the day before. Both of them could use some better conflict resolution skills in their marriage.
Peel knows what's up, though. While Gifford warns him that it's useless to curry the favor of the prince, who has no power, Peel has figured out that Albert is the queen's weakness. She'll do anything to make him happy. That's why she hops on the train she previously feared, and why she begins to see Peel as something more than a "stuffed frog." In return, he not only puts his full support behind the prince's regency, but he also lets out the funniest single "Ha!" in response to her wry statement that she's "far too busy to die." It's a start.
Back on the home front, for the first time, the downstairs plot has become something more than just a distraction. Francatelli has stopped being a creepy blackmailer and decides to woo Skerrett/Nancy in the most delicious way. The camera work during each scene of his dessert creation possibly made me gain 5 lbs by watching. Her adamant declarations against the life of servitude that marriage would mean for her seem to have seeped in, too — he gets her attention by appealing to her brain as well as her palate. Even crotchety old Penge shows himself to be a secret softie, helping the chef's romantic endeavors and soothing Brodie's crushed heart. I think by the time this season ends next week, we might find ourselves liking all of its characters. It's all up to you, Duchess.
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