There are two main points this episode: The lengths a mothers will go to in order to protect her children and what happens when the child in question isn’t important. It is about mothers episode but it is also an episode that perfectly highlights the fact that the show-runners could have ignored race, but, they chose not to ignore it. In too many period drama, the writers and directors do not include characters of color in the main or supporting cast and excuse themselves by claiming “history.” When they are included, often there is no sense of the terrible struggle these characters would have endured. But in Harlots, the importance of women is highlighted by also including small discussions of race. Charlotte has turmoil in her life but it will not be the same as Harriet’s and Daniel Marney may be a harlot but he will never endure the same things as William. This episode sets the stage for the next to and is vital to finally getting resolution to our characters and having them become grounded in themselves and their relationships (except Lucy — I don’t like Lucy).
—– Spoilers Below —–
Lucy Wells (Eloise Smyth)
Lucy Wells: Again, it is made clear that whoring is not a job that Lucy is good at nor one that she wants — I said this last episode but it is still the focus of Lucy’s arc. In this episode I think we are supposed to feel for her, have empathy for her position. But her constant antagonizing of the other women in the boarding house paints her as the perpetual brat, incapable of respecting the women in the job that she does not have the stomach to perform. In a way, I feel that this highlights her trouble with prostitution and is her outlet, but it is very off-putting and raising walls between me and the untouchable Lucy. In the opening we see that the other women in the house are frustrated that Lucy can’t take even one client, but Wells won’t hear it. Instead of being forced to take Lord Fallon, Mama Wells is open to the possibility of letting Sir George (Charlotte’s patron) buy her instead. When he comes to take her, and spite Charlotte in the process, Lucy will not have sex with him. As the scene looks to be a rape much like Charlotte’s Lucy stabs him. After the fighting William and Margaret rush up to help. Neither will believe that Sir George did not hurt her and William takes Lucy away to console her.
Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton)
Margaret Wells: After paying attempting to pay off her debt to Lennox we see Margaret talking with Mags. We learn that the women escaped Quigley’s house and vowed to run boards where the women earn and keep their money and are not held captives. While Mags is harboring Emily Lacy, Quigley remains in the dark of her whereabouts. Mags uses their vow to ask Margaret for help but receives silent agreement. But, when your daughter kills your other daughter’s patron, choices have to be made. After Margaret rushes in to see Sir George stabbed, she makes the call to not send Kitty for surgeon. She lets him bleed out, or at least tries to. When Quigley shows up unannounced and certain that Lacey is there, Margaret struggles to keep the dying Sir George a secret. Knowing that Quigley will be unrelenting in her pursuit of Lacey, she makes the decision to save her daughter from murder and stops waiting for him to die. She strangles him. With Quigley’s scouts still posted outside the Greek Street house, she calls Mags (whose very adapt to disposing of bodies — I need more of her story) to help and in the same take goes to Quigley and gives up Lacey. To protect her daughter, Mama Wells has betrayed her oldest friend, fought with her husband, had him dispose of a body, and has turned into a Quigley-esque figure.
William North (Danny Sapani)
William North: I haven’t included men in my recaps because they have largely been background characters reacting to the women in the story. In this episode we see the importance of William in the lives of the Wells women. Beyond this, his story is told in small part and we get to know him as a character more than we get to know any of the other men in the series. When he is first shown in the episode we see him with Harriet, as she fears that her children are doomed to slavery. Here we learn that he was never slave but born a free Englishman but vows to be an advocate for Harriet to his wife in order to help her children know the same freedom. However, when he brings up helping Harriet, Margaret reminds him that they still need to pay their debts to the Lennox son. When we see him next, he and Margaret are with Lennox says that he will not sit near William as he is not a man. William asserts that he will sit where he pleases and Margaret supports him. She doesn’t turn on him to preserve the payment of her debt but as Lennox begin to argue and it becomes clear that William will not bow to Lennox the payment falls through, leaving the relationship soured further. When he apologizes to Margaret, she doesn’t accept it. The willingness of Mama Wells to stand by him even is a testament to their relationship. When Lucy stabs Sir George, it is her Pa that comes to save her, who consoles her. There is no tension between Lucy and William, as if he was the unwanted step-father, instead, their emotional connection is genuine and he is her father. When Margaret comes to him before she kills Sir George, he is shaken, fearful of what will come upon her instead of fetching the surgeon to save him. Surprisingly, William is comfortable trusting the law, insomuch as to escape the mortal sin of murder. But after Margaret kills him, William does what he needs to do and protects her, disposing of the body.
Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville)
Lydia Quigley: Having promised the Spartans a girl to kill, Quigley begins to conspire to find Emily Lacey and offer her as the girl. This would be to cement her relationship with the crooked judge and position her at the same level as the Spartans that seek to rule and subjugate the women that she steals for them. Aside from kidnapping Emily Lacey to gain vengence for her son’s attempted murder, Dame Death does little this episode. But she is very open with Mags’ girls when she abducts Lacey, letting them know that it was Wells who turned on them.
Amelia (Jordon Stevens), Florence Scanwell (Dorothy Atkinson)
Amelia & Florence Scanwell: I will be talking about them together, as this is the first episode where they are not in opposition or fear of each other. Instead of doing as Quigley in fears that she will spill her secret, Mama Scanwell breaks down and tells her daughter about her past. She explains that she was a harlot in the “worst” way and that her blindness was God’s punishment (chances are she has syphilis, so not entirely wrong). Upon hearing this, it seems pretty clear that the confession of her past has alleviated at least some of the shame Amelia feels for being in love with a woman. After the confession, it’s clear that Florence is more than just a street preacher focused on yelling about Hell in front of whore-houses. She is instead a woman who is haunted by her past and uses that shame to “save” others, but in her own shame she wasn’t able to preach forgiveness because she had not felt it herself. With Amelia’s forgiveness, will her outlook change? But as one secret is removed from Quigley’s arsenal, we learn that she has more. Amelia’s kiss at Hades night is in play now, we’ll have to see how it’s used.
Harriet Lennox (Pippa Bennet Warner)
Harriet Lennox: Harriet’s first scene this episode is her holding a pound. She explains that she has never had her own money. With her children taken, her money is the only hope she has. With her children seen as property, money is the only way she can save them. This is the reality. Where Mama Wells must sell her daughter into patronage to a man, Harriet struggles to keep her children from the slavery she knew. Lennox shows to the house and informs her that they are available for purchase but only for a couple of days. He and the children will be leaving to Virginia. When Harriet hears it she pleads and when William shows with money attempting to buy the children, Lennox refuses. It is not clear if he will even accept an offer for them, as he seems revel in Harriet’s pain, seeing it as payback for his father leaving abandoning his mother on her deathbed.
Charlotte Wells (Jessica Brown Findlay)
Charlotte Wells: She wants to leave. Charlotte meets up with Daniel Marney and they plan their escape. They Plan their escape by heading to Sir George’s house to collect her “wages” from the man who kicked her out. They are stopped by Haxby and after an exchange they leave. After they leave, Charlotte and Marney have sex. And she explains that she wasn’t sure how to do it, she wan’t sure what it meant, and that for the first time it wasn’t for work. Marney explains that there is no money in the room. Charlotte’s life is hopeful, but we know Sir George is dead and Charlotte will be the number one suspect.
Some of the side moments: Fanny heads to see the doctor and insists on an abortion as the boarding house will force her out. The doctor informs her that it’s too late and that the child is almost born.
**All photos courtesy of Hulu. Harlots is available for streaming the first 5 episodes, with new episodes posted every Wednesday on Hulu**