The latest episode of Harlots is all about the unexpected. Not that anything that happens will be much of a surprise to us. It’s more that the various members of the cast, with their constantly shifting allegiances and fortunes, must try to adapt to circumstances which are constantly changing, with various last-minute, unpredictable occurences thwarting the best-laid plans.
With all the various intrigues and plots swirling around in this episode alone, it’s remarkable that Amelia Scanwell’s situation still has a sense of urgency. Unlike the conundrums many of the other women face, her choice does not have the potential to cause her death. But Amelia has become the moral heart of the show, with her compassion and openness to those others would condemn becoming a shining example, even if they aren’t exactly aware of it. When she embraced Rasselas after a long absence, even Margaret mused that he couldn’t be so bad. Rasselas is another of the many characters who shuffled off, with his disappearance given a very casual explanation considering it was the driving force behind all his actions last season. Harlots quickly mentions his lover has died, then just as quickly incorporates Rasselas into the latest developments by planting him in Quigley’s home as a spy.
People in high places as well as low have noticed Amelia’s righteousness as well. Justice Hunt has become enamored of it, even if he sees Amelia as an angelic being who could keep him on the straight and narrow rather than a kind, well-meaning woman with her own conflicts. He proposes marriage, and many, especially her mother, encourage her to accept him in exchange for a better life. Amelia’s relationship with Violet and what it means for her future has been somewhat underexplored, but now she openly asks how she can not only marry a man she doesn’t love, but promise to worship his body in her vows. However, Amelia has also seen the consequences for those living outside societal norms, and even she can’t resist the lure of a life with a relatively good-hearted man who is offering her and her mother a refuge, even if we sense she won’t be able to go through with it.
By comparison, Quigley’s machinations feel like a bit of a retread, even if they are dire for everyone involved. She’s back to abducting innocent virgins for men obsessed with taking the first bite out of a woman, however unwilling she may be. Charlotte decides to take what could be the biggest risk of her life, and decides to help Quigley procure one in her latest effort to bring Quigley to justice. As the Chief Justice infatuated with Quigley points out, all the evidence against her comes from prostitutes. The word of a “respectable” young woman would be the final nail in the coffin.
But there’s a reason Quigley has lasted this long, and she is able to pick up on Charlotte’s desperate efforts to further Margaret’s rescue plans in a chilling reminder of why she is so formidable. Charlotte has been making steady progress in gaining her trust, but she’s always known that one small mistake could be the end of her. For a while, Harlots had us believing that the spy in Emily Lacey’s household would be the one to put Charlotte in danger, but it turns out Quigley didn’t need anyone to tell her that her would-be protege was untrustworthy. That said, even the ruthless Quigley may be thrown for a loop now that Emily claims to be pregnant with her grandchild.
If Charlotte can’t be blamed for her predicament, the same can’t be said for her sister Lucy. She’s shown signs of being capable of more than stupidity, but faster than you can don’t be an idiot, she becomes infatuated enough with Lord Fallon to basically confess to murder. Seems like Lucy will once again need her mother to come to her rescue now that her sadistic keeper has gotten her to confide in him. Much like last season, both of Margaret’s children are in trouble, and she’ll need all of her resources to rescue them both. If the sense of danger isn’t quite as suspenseful as last time, it’s still going to be satisfying to see Margaret’s claws come out. Small wonder that her partner William has not only forgiven her, but come back to her. When she spoke of her schemes, he chuckled and said, “I’m home.” It’s a small moment, but it explains much of their relationship and many of our reasons for returning to their world time and again.