The third season of Harlots, the Hulu Original period piece, shot from a “whore’s eye view” and focuses on 18th century London’s world of prostitution, is now in episode six. A lot happened last episode, Nancy (Kate Fleetwood) killed Isaac Pincher (Alfie Allen) while with Margret (Samantha Morton) and Emily (Holli Dempsey). Kate’s eyes were opened to Lydia Quigley’s evil, Harriet (Pippa Bennett-Warner) stood up to Lord Leadsom (Nicholas Burns) refusing his money, and Lucy is unknowingly stuck with house sinking with debt. With so many moving parts of the plot, it’s no surprise that episode six is a lot of content in one hour.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing, in fact, the depth of episode six expands on each thread started in episode five, embracing background stories and setting them up to come to the forefront in the rest of the season. That said, the focus of this episode is again, Margaret. After the violent events of the previous day, Margaret makes moves to ensure her family’s safety from Hal Pincher’s (Ash Hunter) wrath and thirst for revenge for his brother’s death. She does this while also balancing her standing as Jonas’ wife, and ultimately the emotion she has for him.
But as Margaret desperately attempts to fix the life around her, she falls into old habits, alienating and lashing out at those she loves, grasping for control to protect them. As the world crumbles around her, she even lashes out at William, assuming the worst in him when he’s done nothing but fight for her.
Watching Margaret implode is rough to see, but ultimately the way each character responds to it, unfiltered and afraid of the formally intimidating Mags, is refreshing. These interactions are as freeing for the audience as they are for her and they show the narrative has moved on from the Quigley (Lesley Manville) versus Wells rivalry. It’s a deliberate choice and one that I am thankful for as a fan.
With Charlotte’s death and Mag’s return, Harlots circled the same old story, and while this grounded the show in what makes it great, specifically the perspective women, I was worried. Now, with episode six, as we watch Margaret make a tough choice as she’s told by those around her that they can live on their own without her in the foreground, we see other stories grow in the background.
Fanny is rising to a more prominent role in the series as she takes on more responsibilities at Greek Street. Nancy is trying to find any will to live with the shock after killing Isaac in the last episode while Lady Fitzwilliam gives her purpose as she attempts to move against her brother, the Marquess of Blayne, leader of the Spartans. But it’s perhaps Kate (Daisy Head) and Elizabeth Harvey’s (Angela Griffin) threads in this episode that carry larger implications for the rest of season three.
For Kate, she’s taken to her role of charming and occupying Prince Harry (Jojo Macari) well. She’s learned how to talk to him, how to woo him, and ultimately how to pull his attention from other women by remaining honest through it all. But, when it’s revealed to her that the Marquess of Blayne is pulling all the strings of the arrangement as his own power play she realizes the dangerous web that she’s been caught in.
As she begins to realize the world that her savior Quigley has pulled her into, she visibly struggles to reconcile the knowledge of the evil old Quigley did in the name of power and the woman she met in Bedlam, who took a cull to save her from doing so. While Quigley has been a character of cruelty, this season has worked to humanize her in light of her deeds and episode six is no different.
We know that Quigley was molested by her father who then opened their home to other men to rape her. We’ve seen it mentioned and now, we see how it formed her. When Quigley tells Kate, “I became what those men me,” she offers perspective for her cruelty. Having experienced the very worst that men can do, Quigley took her pain and turned it into power. Power over the men that come to her bawdy house, and power over the women’s bodies who enter it.
Truthfully, she has changed since we saw her locking Emily in a room against her will and starving her. She’s changed since she abducted young virgins with promises of housework and instead turned them over to the brutal and murderous Spartans. Now, she’s attempting to be a mother to Kate, to be kinder, to stop twisting her love, and ultimately her treatment of Mags is a testament to this change.
As for Elizabeth Harvey, her debt has been revealed to her new husband Salabat and Lucy (Eloise Smyth). While one reacts because of his own debt to others hinted at in the last episode, Lucy now knows that she is trapped in Golden Square, as her mother feared. While Elizabeth ignores the debt, turning to drinking instead, the result is going to be felt directly into episode seven.
Finally, and probably in the most terrifying moment of the season, Jack Lively (Alex Sawyer) is taken. Abducted on the street by Lord Leadsom’s lackeys. The slaveowner who has fetishized Harriet for the entire season so far was barred from Harriet’s house as she took a stance that placed her value above that of the money he could give her.
Now, he’s attacking the Jack, and the fear of him being sent to one of the plantations is real. As the racist Lord pounds on Harriet’s door, she’s terrified, as she and her friend try to keep him from entering. While the Black characters on the show are written with agency and identity that exists outside their abuse and oppression, Harlots is focused on showing its characters’ survival in a world that is never in their favor.
For Harriet and Jack, their race means that they will experience more of the world’s abuses than the other white characters in the story. And like Harriet did in season two I trust the showrunners to handle the terrifying topic of abduction with care and respect.
Episode six of season three continues to show the complexity of the women of Harlots. It continues to show that they are more than their actions and that their motives, even when seemingly simple have a lifetime of experience influencing them. While the show worried me after episode three, it’s back to perfection now.
New episodes of Harlots are available to stream on Hulu Wednesday mornings.
'Harlots,' Season 3 - Episode 6
Episode six of season three continues to show the complexity of the women of Harlots. It continues to show that they are more than their actions and that their motives, even when seemingly simple have a lifetime of experience influencing them.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.