This is part of the Victorious Blog series. Click here to read the series.
OK, Daisy Goodwin. I’m wise to your technique, now. You sandwich low-drama episodes in between the dramatic ones to give us a little respite. And we appreciate it.
But this week was pretty intense. Potato famine! A brooding Ernest! Tension downstairs! But mostly potato famine. Heartbreaking… but necessary. And Victoria – both the show, and the Queen – handled it with grace.
Continue reading below to recap the episode. Spoiler alerts abound!
Miss “Faith, Hope & Charity” on TV? Watch Victoria on demand, anytime, on our website by clicking here.
As the episode opens, we’re transported to County Cork, where the Irish Potato Famine is wreaking havoc. The potatoes are all rotten from potato blight, but Protestant leaders are reluctant to help starving Catholics.
At the soup kitchens, all are welcome and congregations are swelling. (“Silver linings!” according to many clergymen.) But if a beggar doesn’t have a certificate of baptism, they won’t get a meal.
Amidst all the misery in Ireland, a Dr. Robert Traill actually shows signs of having a heart. He defies his compatriots, visiting people suffering from the famine. During one of his visits, he witnesses one woman die of starvation, leaving five young children behind. Understandably, that visit leaves quite an impression on him.
Historically, as the famine of 1845-1921 devastated Ireland, real-life rector Robert Traill led efforts to fundraise and feed the hungry. For more on the real life history behind tonight’s episode of #VictoriaPBS visit: https://t.co/KFOQZeboTf pic.twitter.com/4opQkKTM5w
— Masterpiece PBS (@masterpiecepbs) February 5, 2018
Meanwhile, in England, Victoria and Albert emerge from a sermon about the plague.
Victoria: What a gloomy sermon.
Albert: I found it thought provoking – how pestilence and plague is part of God’s will.
Victoria: What can be gloomier than that?
“If the peasants aren’t Catholic, why are they paying money to a church they don’t belong to?” asks Victoria. Good questions, ma’am, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to ask a lot more questions before you get any answers.
Meanwhile, in Ernest and Albert Land…
Ernest surprises everyone by making it to the christening. Apparently, he’s still behaving like his late father by living it up in sassy Coburg – and he admits that he “enjoyed himself a little too much in Paris.”
So, speaking of that…
Brodie finds a tin of mercury chloride – a treatment for syphilis – in some of Ernest’s clothes while tidying. Brodie accidentally spills the powder, so he must confess his discovery to Ernest and apologize. “No man is a hero to his valet, I suppose,” sighs Ernest. “I do not have to ask you to be discreet.”
Tired of home remedies, Ernest decides to head to the doctor, who informs him that there’s a new – albeit expensive – treatment. “Oh, don’t worry, Doctor,” Ernest assures him, airily. “I can pay your fees!”
Money ain’t a thing in Ernest’s world.
Ernest heads to a nice relaxing sauna in … mercury vapors?! HARSH.
So… Ernest is having some issues. And Albert is, too.
Albert: The palace is built on a sewer?!
Also Albert: Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Albert, basically: You get a water closet! And you get a water closet! Everybody gets a water closet!
But it IS very Albert-like that he is genuinely worried about everyone having access to proper sanitation. He doesn’t just want a private “throne” (*giggle*); he wants everyone, including house servants, to enjoy the modern luxuries.
Before Prince Albert’s renovations, the sewer waters would regularly flood the kitchen and release an odor through the entire palace. Albert’s modifications to the sewer, lighting, and heating systems greatly improved quality of life for all inhabitants.
Victoria… on a Mission!
Albert tries to show Victoria his loo plans, but Victoria is understandably still fuming about the lack of resources being devoted to the potato famine. (Does it strike anyone else as quite strange that Albert, who is usually incredibly kind, level-headed and generous, seems rather unbothered by the plight of the Irish?)
Victoria cannot fathom why people are OK with ignoring the starving, and she decides she wants to visit Ireland to assess the situation. But both Sir Robert Peel and Albert dissuade her from making the trek.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, poor Traill is risking it all to be a good person. The clergy say it’s not the church’s responsibility to feed the starving Protestants, and that they should learn to live “within their means.”
“What means?” Traill demands.
Victoria reads some of Traill’s heartfelt writings about the famine in The Times. Immediately, she pulls out her pen and ink and gets to work writing to Traill, inviting him to the palace. Traill, obviously overcome by this invitation, heads to England immediately. And when he gets there, there’s food everywhere … including extremely healthy potatoes.
Traill arrives at the palace. He’s like: “Um, yes, on the way over, I saw quite a lot of food over here. Even saw some food from Ireland headed elsewhere. So, um, that’s kind of weird, right?”
“I am the Queen, and I too, do not understand,” Vicky admits.
So Traill’s like: If you really want to help, you need to send money to the parish. Or else many more people are gonna die. And on THAT cheery note, Traill’s ready to head back to Ireland.
As he leaves, though, Miss Cleary – who has just received a generous gift from Mr. Fancy Book-Deal Francatelli – asks Traill to give the gift to her Irish family. They’re starving and facing eviction, and while she had asked for a paycheck advance from Penge, the horrible Penge refused. (Seriously, Penge and Trevelyan should be BFFs.)
From this exchange, Cleary is outed as a papist, and Penge is furious. This leads to a HUGE kitchen fight in which everyone stands up for Cleary and calls Penge a bully, and Penge has no retort. Hopefully this man will learn a lesson one of these days …
After Traill leaves, Victoria is done being pushed around. She will not stand by and let the Irish die of starvation, despite what the awful Trevelyan advises. Sir Robert Peel is also being pretty awful, but the difference between Trevelyan and Peel is that Victoria is pretty darn sure that Peel has a heart.
She makes Peel follow her to baby Alice’s nursery. And once there, she lifts Alice from her crib and holds her up to Peel. “Can you imagine what it must be like to be a mother in Traill’s parish?!” she demands, in a tearful performance that no doubt proves Jenna Coleman’s acting prowess.
After explaining to Peel how horrible it must feel to watch your babies die, Peel finally exclaims: “I understand.”
“Then act, Sir Robert!” Victoria shouts. “Please act!”
Bad Timing, Sad Ernest…
Ernest is sick. So much so that’s it’s interfering with Albert and Ernest’s brotherly exercise time. While lounging around outside, Ernest starts whining about the fact that he’ll have to marry a bride chosen by Leopold. That’s when Albert spills the beans that Harriet’s husband has died.
At the time of this scene, Ernest is lying on the ground, wearing white, surrounded by bright green plants and staring at the sky. It’s a really beautifully shot scene. He looks so sad; he loves her, but the timing is just not great.
Ernest returns to the doctor. And while it seems that the vapors helped, there’s no guarantee that he’s healed. The doctor not-so-subtly warns him that it would be unfortunate to infect an innocent party, HINT HINT, and that children born can be terribly blighted. (Insert sulky Ernest face here.)
BUT! We do get a small teaser of a conversation to come! Ernest is playing the piano (as he is wont to do), and we see Harriet walk in, dressed in mourning garb …
What – you thought we would get more?
#VictoriaPBS‘ @David_Oakes aka Prince Ernest talks with MASTERPIECE Studio host @televisionary about the burden his character must carry alone this season… Listen to the full episode now: https://t.co/zCQh0hOOVE pic.twitter.com/dwhcc9eSyu
— Masterpiece PBS (@masterpiecepbs) February 5, 2018
A Very Sad Goodbye
In Ireland, Traill sends his family away so that he can start a soup kitchen. His wife says that if she goes to Dublin, she will not return. Traill holds firm: “My place is here.”
He works tirelessly, day in and day out, to change things for the better. He even invites Father O’Connell to a meeting, which causes most attendees to walk out on the spot. We see Traill serving rows and rows of ill, hungry people outside of his home.
But we also see him cough, which tips us off that he’s ill himself. (NOOOO!)
Thus, Victoria receives word that Traill has died. In what is no doubt a very emotional scene, we watch as hundreds of poor turn out to mourn him.
Screen: Dr. Robert Traill died of typhus fever in 1847. The Irish Potato Famine was the worst disaster of its kind in 19th-century Europe. At least one million people died in the famine. Another two million emigrated.
So … that was a depressing episode. But we see glimmers of hope, largely spearheaded by Queen Victoria herself.
When Cleary bravely goes to Victoria and admits that she’s Catholic, Victoria says, “I have no objection to Catholics in the household,” and asks her about her family. Lehzen makes it clear that she did not know that Cleary was Catholic when she hired her. “As if that matters,” says Victoria as she turns and walks away.
And that, my friends, is why she’s Queen.
What did you think of this episode? Do you think next week’s episode will give us a much-needed happy break? Let me know below!