Photo: Nick Wall/Netflix © 2023/NICK WALL/NETFLIX
I must pose a question, gentle readers: Is this show about Queen Charlotte, as it claims? It increasingly feels like the writers struggled with what to do with her and put more and more of this story’s narrative weight on Lady Danbury’s shoulders. I feel I should be upset by this, but this is easily my favorite episode of the bunch, so instead, I feel conflicted. The trouble with Charlotte is that her story can only be as interesting as the people who drift in and out of her orbit. And no one really drifts into her orbit because, you know, she’s the queen. Plus, there is no George in this episode since he is confined to his basement torture chamber. While I am sympathetic to their struggles, there just isn’t much to say! So let’s flip the script and give our primary focus to a woman well deserving of it!
After Lord Danbury’s funeral (and some inappropriate but still hot eye contact with Lord Ledger), Lady Danbury finds herself unable to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, wandering around and trying to drink port. It’s not that she misses her husband because, well, how could anyone miss being treated like that? But she was promised to him when she was 3 years old and spent her life being raised to be his wife. His favorite color was her favorite color, and his favorite foods were her favorite foods — even the wine she drinks as she wanders around the house was his favorite. She doesn’t even like wine! As Sondheim might say, “How can you know who you are / Till you know what you want?” This is the freedom Lady Danbury has always wanted, but it’s impossibly daunting to take it on all by herself at four in the morning, slightly tipsy on wine she hates. It’s a lovely bit of acting from Arsema Thomas, who is, as ever, luminous.
The next day, quite a few of the newly titled class are milling about Lady Danbury’s sitting room, and they all have the same question: What happens now? Lord Danbury was the first of their group to die, and the laws of succession are unclear. Does this mean Lady Danbury’s 4-year-old son is now Lord Danbury? I was thrilled to see this detail included because the ability to inherit is what will allow these newly titled families to continue to build wealth and power. Because she’s a real one, Lady Danbury gets to work and is only slightly stymied by the possibility that her late husband’s solicitor will not come to see her, a woman. She will just sign her name like a rude man and trick him! Flawless plan.
Lady Danbury decides to take up one of the favored pastimes of widows all over — wandering through the grounds of her estate. And who should she happen upon while out in the woods but Lord Ledger? He is out “rambling,” which is better than walking because it sounds poetic and thus less insane; it seems their properties abut. Oh, I bet they do, sir. I bet they do! It’s quite sweet, Lord Ledger musing on a murmuration of starlings (top among the best collective nouns for animals) and enjoying nature. Once again, I must ring the chemistry alarm! There is such a surprising sweetness to this pair that I find we are sorely lacking everywhere else. It makes it quite easy for one to root for Lady Danbury to sleep with this man who is — I cannot stress this enough — her future friend’s father. They come so close to kissing after confessing their relative unhappiness. Like, faces are literally centimeters apart before he leaps up to return home. BOOOOOOO! Kiss her!!
As if the lack of making out weren’t enough, the solicitor drops by to hit Lady Danbury with a real double whammy: He has no idea if her late husband’s title will pass to her son, but he doubts it. Oh and also? Lord Danbury was wildly overspending, and she may be penniless. Better luck next time, babe, he says, breezing out of her life and leaving Lady Danbury no choice but to take her feelings out on the furniture. After her rage has cooled, she gathers her son (you would be forgiven if you forgot she had children, as I did), dresses him in his finest, and brings him to meet the Dowager Princess. “I thought it high time, your highness, that you met my son, Lord Danbury.” With a hint of respect in her eyes, Princess Augusta comes close to accepting it until that absolute bummer Lord Bute reminds her that the issue of inheritance is far from settled and she rebuffs the pair. Lady Danbury still has enough presence of mind to give her son a speech worthy of a kinder Papa Pope: “You come from warriors. We win. Never forget that.” He gives her a tiny, adorable nod, and they leave the palace hand in hand.
When the twosome arrive home, yet another surprise is waiting for them. It’s the queen! After offering her official condolences (“Sorrows. Prayers”), Charlotte is like, “So, the thing is, my life sucks, and I cannot go back to the palace, so you want me to put my things in the guestroom, or …?” In fairness, Charlotte has really been going through it. Princess Augusta has moved into Buckingham House for the duration of her pregnancy, her husband has given himself over to the charming practice of medical torture in Dr. Monroe’s hellish basement lab, and all the letters she has sent him are being ignored.
It’s gotten so bad that Charlotte wrote to her brother, and he skips right on over to see her despite the challenging crossing. Even though he straight-up refuses to take her back home to Germany — apparently, he is not interested in committing treason by kidnapping the future king of England — I have to give him a hand for making that trek! Charlotte pulls herself together enough to sit through dinner and music with her brother and Princess Augusta, narrowly avoiding a full-blown breakdown on her walk back to her chambers. Yes, the shot of Brimsley raising his hand as if to rest it on her shoulder while remaining five paces behind her is cheesy, but it is touching.
And now here she is at Lady Danbury’s, acting as if the queen of England can simply shack up with one of her friends, no problem. Yes, she has been lied to by everyone around her and has been wandering around Buckingham House by herself, but still, girl, you can’t just move out! Lady Danbury can see Charlotte is on edge and admits that she has been using Charlotte to improve her own prospects without getting to know the woman behind the crown. They agree to start again as proper friends, commiserating about their relative lack of options as women. It’s a start, and that start is powerful enough for Charlotte to venture off to Kew and rescue the king from his basement hellhole.
Dr. Monroe is pissed that his pet subject is being ripped away and tries to tell the queen he cares as much about the king’s sanity as she does. Whatever reservations I have about this mental-health plotline, I did like Charlotte’s response: “Let him be mad, if mad is what he needs.” Not that I don’t believe in, like, modern medicine or what have you, but if your other choice is “get plunged in an ice bath,” then hell yeah, let the king be mad!
And finally, finally, Lord Ledger returns to Lady Danbury’s house with a birthday hat he made for her. She tells him he can’t be there, and he replies that he is not. Nor is he inside, nor will he be loud. He whispers all of this to her in her doorway, and yeah, it’s hot and I am very into it! My favorite detail, though, is the moment when she realizes she’s staring at the ceiling of her discontent and flips him over. “There,” she sighs, satisfied for the first time ever in her sex-having life. I sure hope this doesn’t come back to haunt her!
Our “present” timeline continues to deliver, giving us one of my favorite scenes in recent memory. Lady Danbury meets up with Violet to take in some art and notices that her friend is … rather worked up. Violet, you see, had a garden, one that she and her husband would tend to frequently; it has been dormant for years, but now, well, the garden is blooming. You get that we’re talking about sex, right? That’s right, Violet is hornt up, and there’s nothing better than Ruth Gemmell’s line reading of “I am becoming … dangerous, Agatha. I almost asked a footman to lie on top of me today.” Lady Danbury is as delighted as I am by this line, but her surprised laughter makes Violet flutter away in shame.
Later, Lady Danbury apologizes to Violet for laughing at her desperately horny confession and thanks her for her honesty. Why do they never have real conversations, these older, mature women of the ton? There is so much more to life than society gossip and marriages, and Lady Danbury is touched that Violet feels comfortable enough to share with her. She returns the favor, hinting that her own garden didn’t bloom until her husband died. Because I can only be me, I have to admit I can see, like, 30 fanfic options popping up here, and simply none of them include a man. Alas, we’ll just have to sit with the knowledge that the person who made Lady Danbury’s garden bloom was, again … Violet’s father. Cool!
• I can’t believe I have to relegate the queen’s present-day story to the end, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes! She has, as promised, chosen brides for her sons William and Edward. They try to get out of the marriages by pointing out that, uh, technically, their brother George is the regent and makes those decisions. “You are right. I forgot myself and overstepped,” she says. “As prince regent, the matter rests entirely in the Prince of Wales’s hands. He is acting sovereign and ultimate authority. Georgie, be a good boy and approve the marriages.” And reader, he does.
• Ultimately, we get a nice moment from Charlotte and Edward on his wedding day when he confesses he is afraid he won’t be able to love his new wife. Charlotte takes a breath and is honest with her son for what seems like the first time. “The life of a royal is … lonely,” she says. “So you grab someone and you hang on. You hang on and you love hard because if you do not, you are lost.” There is the slightest glimmer of tears in her eyes, just enough to convey how much she believes this is what kept her together all these years. Acting! We love to see it!
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