Wheels never spin for long on Harlots, and things are once again in full motion on the fourth episode of the show’s sophomore season. The women are firmly established in the places that will make or break them, with Quigley providing a new wrinkle just as justice finally seems to catch up with her. Again.
Lucy is now in Fallon’s home, reacting much the way a typical teenager would with the game he plays. He endows her with magnificent clothes and jewels, instructs the servants to treat her as wife, then refuses to consummate their relationship as they both circle and tease each other. So it’s understandable that Lucy would be dismissive of her mother when she comes to check on her. Lucy does manage to just barely hold her own, as Fallon’s world is as seductive as he can be. Even if the swordplay they end up engaging in isn’t as suspenseful as intended, it’s still a fitting, if rather obvious metaphor for the stakes Lucy is unable to perceive in their relationship.
Charlotte isn’t faring much better, having been forced to take up with Lady Isabella’s brother the Marquess of Blayne after promising she would not. The battle between the siblings gets even more intense as Blayne offers to be Charlotte’s keeper. It’s another reminder of how he refuses to allow his sister anything of her own, even if it doesn’t exactly threaten to break the alliance Charlotte and Isabella have established, with Charlotte offering to explore the sapphic undercurrents between them.
Quigley once again proves to be a distraction however, and we finally learn the nature of the secret she’s been keeping on Isabella’s behalf, which also explains why such a woman of such wealth and beauty has remained unmarried. Even all the privilege of Isabella’s position can’t secure her a marriage if she is deemed too tainted for it.
The episode does allow us to sympathize with a surprising figure: Josiah Hunt, the stuttering, bespectacled Justice. In the past, he has shown more interest in persecuting the women for their profession than in getting any real justice for them. This time, his and Margaret’s interests happen to align when she and Fanny discover who the button in the deceased Kitty Carter’s hair belongs to. To his credit, Hunt actually tries to do something about this, only to find Quigley literally in bed with a Chief Justice. It’s another one of the show’s more obvious metaphors, but it’s also one of the more hilarious. Interestingly, it underlines Hunt’s sincerity all the more. He may be a hypocrite, but he also tried to do what’s right. He doesn’t rail against bawdy houses and secretly indulge in them like so many others, or take sexual advantage of Violet, the woman who was forced to pay for her thievery by working in his home.
Otherwise, much of the developments are the same as they ever were. Quigley is almost brought to justice, then escapes. Then a very interesting new development occurs when one of the women in Emily’s house, which is quickly establishing itself as a purveyor of more exotic tastes, offers to spy for Quigley and break the bond between Quigley’s recently disinherted son and Emily, which could also potentially break the firm alliance that has formed against Quigley. The women opposing her may be firmly united, but they are also mostly unaware of how ready their opponents are to pounce on their weaknesses, be they personal ties or secrets.
It’s the kind of upset Harlots could really use in a season that’s been mostly repetitive. Once Charlotte and Lucy once again find themselves in real danger rather than teetering on the brink of it, hopefully that changes.