The third episode of Harlots may be mostly filler, but it’s more interesting than such episodes usually are, even if it mostly hammers home what we know before. Mostly, it shows the women inching forward in their respective storylines before things explode, as we know they will.
At least it does better by Margaret Wells, which is a relief. At times Harlots lumps her in a bit too much with the Quigleys of the world. Her daughter Charlotte called her a pimp, and it’s not far from the truth. Hell, it’s true enough. She auctioned off the virginity of her other daughter Lucy, and she encouraged them both to become whores, with Charlotte getting her start at the age of 12. Bad parenting by any stretch.
However, when Josiah Hunt (oh, these names) comes to Margaret’s house to see if she’s conducting business, he finds not a house of pleasure but various people she shelters, including the Scanwells, and Nancy, the woman he had flogged. The show is smart enough to point out that her generosity is probably due to guilt, but it also uses Florence Scanwell-of all people-to point out that Margaret isn’t the monster that Quigley is.
This is really what Harlots does best. Many of these women are at odds, but there’s real true bonds between many of them. Nancy has especially served as an unlikely lynchpin between Margaret and her children, mothering both Charlotte and Nancy when the bonds between them and their mother have frayed. Florence may be a hypocritical prude, but she and her daughter preach with compassion, and Florence especially advocates prosecuting Quigley and the men who use her to satisfy their murderous appetites with equal vigor. Once again, the men would rather take their rage out on the women who they see as living embodiments of sin and weakness.
Quigley herself is still hanging on, having turned to an old frenemy in her hour of need. We don’t get much of Quigley’s backstory in the process, but what we do get is chilling enough. She was victimized early, and she’s passed on that pain to others to enrich herself while denying that she is the source of that pain. Hopefully more will be explored later as Charlotte gets closer to her, but in the meantime, it’s satisfying as hell to see Margaret punch her at a literal Pleasure Garden for the wealthy.
What will become this season’s most compelling or frustrating storyline was also set in motion, as Lucy decides to take Lord Fallon up on his offer and become his mistress. Fallon, of course, is one of the men who Quigley has been supplying victims for, and he obviously has more in mind for Lucy than just being her keeper. Lucy has shown more signs of being more able to handle herself, so hopefully she’ll come off as an interesting character rather than an annoying one. The show is still referring to the story of Persephone, a goddess who became trapped in the underworld, so we know things will at least get worse for Lucy. Fallon clearly has a more complicated plan than the abuse we know he’s capable of dishing out, so this could unfold in any number of directions. If Harlots didn’t give us many new ones this time, it’s at least laid the ground for some very rich potential.