Watching the penultimate episode of the second season of Harlots, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it’s not the season finale. This season had a slower build, but the stakes were higher than ever for Margaret, this time because she actually tried to do the right thing. She confessed to murder to save Lucy and is now sitting in a jail cell waiting to be hanged. Her family and Justice Hunt are both appalled and shocked. After years of protecting others and serving as a stalwart force against the likes of Quigley, it is now she who must be saved.
She also isn’t the only one. Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam has always been a pitiable case of a woman who is just as trapped as the show’s sex workers, but her predictament gets even more dire as she grows closer to Charlotte, having spent the night with her. Her brother has always sought to deprive her of everything and keep her in a subservient position, but now that she has managed to find a kind of love for herself for the first time in her life, he threatens to take away even her gilded cage and send her to an asylum. He’s also figured out the secret Isabella has been keeping from him is a child, unaware that the girl he believes is his niece is actually his daughter, the result of the rape of his own sister.
Lucy also continues her descent into darkness, having returned to Lord Fallon’s house, unaware of…well, everything. She refuses to believe he has committed any of the crimes he’s accused of, including the claim that he was the one who stabbed Amelia Scanwell, or that by giving him an alibi she is effectively sentencing her mother to death. She is even unaware of her mother’s confession and imprisonment. All this would be more interesting if she was actually interesting herself. Her decision to stay with Fallon turns her into another lovesick teenager who thinks she’s a better player than she is. But as her mother now knows, Lucy would have told her secret eventually. She’s a burden her family must now bear. Even though Margaret is aware of this, she is still willing to sacrifice herself in the hopes of keeping her safe from Fallon.
Lady Fitzwilliam and Charlotte try to save Margaret, but Quigley intervenes, managing to get Margaret’s hanging moved up. We keep waiting for something to happen to save the character around whom everything else revolves. We keep waiting as she walks down the stairs, as the rope is placed around her neck, and we recoil in horror as she is left gasping for breath as the hangman actually does his work. For a minute it seems as if Harlots has been transformed into a completely different kind of show in its ability to shock. But she is saved by Justice Hunt, who has become disillusioned with the law and cannot bear to kill her. Instead, he posts a false notice of her death and arranges for her to be transported out of the country, away from the family that has become her life. He sees it as a mercy, while Margaret sees it as a kind of living death.
Legacy has often been explored in Harlots, but strangely love has not. But in this latest episode, we see how every action is wrapped up in love, or the lack of it. Margaret was driven to this out of love for her daughters. Quigley took despicable action because she was betrayed by Charlotte, someone she had come to see as a surrogate daughter. Even someone like her still feels the need for love, and it’s why she welcomes her son and Emily Lacey back into her home who, contrary to her claims, is not pregnant. She’s also planning to spy on Quigley and rescue the girl she kidnapped, while Charlotte and Nancy are poised to bring down the ones they believe engineered Margaret’s death. All the pieces seem to have been moved into position for the next season, but there’s still one episode remaining. After the twists it’s already given us, what exactly will Harlots do next? It’s truly impossible to say.