REVIEW: ‘Harlots,’ Season 3, Episode 1

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Harlots Episode One, Season Three REVIEW

If you haven’t heard by now, Harlotsa Hulu Original period piece, is the most feminist television programming out there. While Hulu’s other property, The Handmaid’s Tale, has gotten all of the attention, Harlots has presented a period piece that centers around women of the working class struggling to get by and survive with a system that not only puts them at a disadvantage but also actively harms them. Now, season three is in episode one, and there is a lot to unpack.

With an all-female creative team, Harlots has presented us with a “whore’s eye view” of 18th Century London and in season two, the showrunners left fans with mountains of uncertainty and a clean slate to start the next chapter in the story by removing the chess pieces from the board. With Margaret Wells sent off to the colonies, Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) imprisoned in Bedlam, and the Spartans quelled with the death of Lord Fallon, season three is the younger women’s story, one for them to grow in. And with episode one, they sure have come into their own.

The synopsis of season three, episode one is simple. With Charlotte Wells (Jessica Brown Findlay), the bawd of Greek Street, the women are thriving. But where one male force that aimed to take their agency away dispatched at the end of season two, another has risen to take its place: pimps. After Pincher, a pimp looking to build an empire from existing bawdy houses, attacks Greek Street, Charlotte Wells fights back with disastrous consequences. Her cleverness works to win small while it also causes her to lose big, giving a jump start to Harlots season three.

As the series has done in other seasons, it’s all about survival as Charlotte must protect her girls from the men who want to take over her business and aren’t afraid of taking their lives as well. In Pincher, we see Alfie Allen‘s return to television after Game of Thrones and his chemistry and antagonism with Findlay’s Charlotte is phenomenal. With only Mags to protect Greek Street, the Wells women are at a stark disadvantage in the coming battle for autonomy. One of the best things about Harlots is it sets the stakes for both the women and the men looking to control them. True to the period, the Pincher’s men face nothing but losing a quarterly profit, whereas the women could lose their lives.

Harlots Episode One, Season Three REVIEW

The start of Harlots season three has established the weight of decision making in this first episode while also intercutting the narrative of the episode with moments that showcase the pieces that have been removed from play and introducing new ones. The best example of this are the scenes with Quigley, spared death at the hands of the Wells daughters at the end of last season, she was incarcerated in Bedlam, the infamous and abusive institution that claimed to be for the “insane” but was really a way for men to lock away the women in their lives with ease. Having fallen from her status at Golden Circle, we are shown her torment, and for a moment we feel that she deserves it.

But while we revel in Quigley getting her just desserts, we are shown the horrors of Bedlam, the abuse of its patients, the crooked “science” which results in the torture of women simply for being called crazy by a man in their life. I didn’t think it would happen but I have sympathy for Quigley and ultimately Harlots continues to be a show that asks us to see the women as the world sees them, while also navigating the characters as they see themselves.

While episode one showed us all of the main characters, we also learned more about the auxiliary characters that we have come to know and root for as well. Emily Lacey (Holli Dempsey) is being well, Emily Lacey. She’s moved from being her own bawd to becoming a lacky and harlot for Pincher while her old flame Charles is facing expulsion from Golden Square. That being said, Emily is using her body and position within Pincher’s operation to become a real businesswoman.

While Willaim North, Charlotte’s Pa, isn’t in this episode, he is mentioned as having left, not a surprise given his wife’s fate last season. We also get a glimpse at Fanny’s motherhood and ultimately the evolving dynamic between Lady Isabelle (Liv Tyler) and Charlotte. And more interestingly, Isabella and her daughter, maintaining Harlots’ ability to explore motherhood.

But perhaps, my favorite visit with old characters comes when we see the house that Harriet (Pippa Bennett-Warner) has built. A bawd now, Harriet’s found power in running her own house, a house filled with brown and Black women, and promising more diverse perspectives to be showcased, expanding on the lives shown in season two. Not only that, Harriet is modeling herself off of the bawdy houses that focus on culture and play over just their bodies. That being said, she is still seen as being less than; her clients use a slur to describe her and her girls, but they go with them. They survive. And as season three continues, I’m excited to see Harriet and her girls grow.

Harlots Episode One, Season Three REVIEW

Harlots has excelled in not only showcasing the dynamics of class but in race as well. In period pieces the existence of non-white characters is often ignored. With episode one of season three, we also see an expansion of characters of color with the introduction of Lady Elizabeth Harvey (Angela Griffin) and her son, Frado (Aidan Cheng).

While they’re mysterious as of now, they have maneuvered themselves with money and friendship into the center of the story. With their unknown stories now linked to that of Lucy Wells, we’re bound to see them establish themselves as favorites of the series. This is due in large part to their presence on screen and Griffin’s acting ability who was my favorite part of Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie. 

Beyond the leaps taken in the story within episode one, the costuming is the best it has ever been. The dark and muddiness of the London streets is the perfect background to have the vibrant dresses pop, and dimly lit rooms never feel like stress on the eyes as the women are the focus of each shot.

Overall, this is the perfect start to Harlots season three, and a perfect continuation of a story that also builds a new one.

Harlots is streamable on Hulu with new episodes dropping every Wednesday.

Harlots - Season 3, Episode 1
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TL;DR

Overall, this is the perfect start to Harlots season three, and a perfect continuation of a story that also builds a new one.

2 Comments on “REVIEW: ‘Harlots,’ Season 3, Episode 1”

  1. While your review of Harlots 3/1 was generally fair enough, your indifference to the facts of the story borders on egregious. The setting is not Victorian London, but rather Georgian London — only a century or so, but the England of 1760 and the United Kingdom of 1860 were two different countries, vastly different politically, socially, and economically. You also refer more than once to “Lady Quigley.” Isn’t the whole point of the story that Lydia Quigley is no lady?

    1. This is a work of fiction and the writers can take any license they want. Good thing is you can write and can put together any fiction piece you want. You know superman cannot really fly. Oh there is not such thing as superman in any century. Oh and women walked around with their tits hanging out and ran up in court houses making demands. The human imagination is a great thing and always open to ridiculous critics. This show is NOT a history lesson. I always say “for entertainment purposes only”. GET REAL

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