Dull moments have never been a thing on Harlots, but the latest outing is so overstuffed that nearly every main character not only gets a subplot, but a new threat. It’s the classic case of too much of a good thing which can give even the most action-hungry viewer a new appreciation for quiet moments.
Margaret’s reappearance means she’s showing her face to more and more of her old acquaintances, and it’s starting to cause some serious problems. Her already long-suffering husband is forced to sell his land to the Pinchers at a price that’s not exactly to his advantage now that they’re aware of his baggage, and Lydia Quigley is attempting to bully Lucy into giving her back the house she’s now using for her own thriving business. Quigley also demands a meeting with Margaret, or Maggie, as she calls her.
The family matriarch isn’t exactly helping her situation either, getting back into bed with William while stringing along her husband. It’s a situation that leaves her friends somewhat amused, as Fanny dryly remarks, “Most of us can’t find one decent man, let alone two.” Even Margaret’s paramours see the humor in the predicament, one they both know they should’ve aged out of by now. At least they’re mature enough to share a fraught yet friendly drink together while they’re “fighting over a girl.”
Yet it isn’t Margaret’s efforts which might just see her wriggle out of a death sentence yet again. It’s her husband and her friends who are looking into getting her a pardon, even if they’re still holding onto some kind of semblance of discretion and telling the authorities it’d be a posthumous one. And they’ve made enough friends in high places that they might just be able to pull it off.
Yet Harlots has never failed to remind viewers of just how much its female characters have to fight and scrape for every bit of ground they gain and how much it can involve abetting the very system that keeps them trapped, despite their best efforts. For all that, it’s hard to remember a time when the series was so bent on proving it. Not only is Blayne meddling in his sister’s life again, Elizabeth Harvey must contend with the return of a vicious husband who abused her and her son Fredo, and Harriet is shaken when she learns her best customer is most likely a slave owner.
Emily Lacey is also contending with just how much she’s trapped herself with the Pincher brothers and how quick her former friends are to remind her of that. Even if it’s somewhat unlikely that she’d dig herself into such a deep hole, it’s still plausible. Less so is Nancy’s decision to leave, which Margaret claims is a pattern for her when people get too close. Yet Harlots has shown us no such pattern of behavior, which makes it odd that a character who’s always proved to be a stabilizing force would break, then commit a brazen, fatal act out of panic.
Harlots has always been so bursting with characters that some of the side ones are apt to come and go with little more explanation than a line of dialogue. It’s so much at once that it’s probably miraculous that only one feels cursory. Nancy’s head has always erred on the level side, even when she’s been in the thick of some of the worst Harlots has dished out to its characters. For all that, she’s always had the kind of distinctive personality that didn’t need misdeeds to add anything to it, so committing some now feels like a disservice to the excellent development the show has dished out even in its hastiest moments.