The women of Harlots have had many a morning after some truly wild and fraught nights. In the latest episode, however, it’s murder that’s giving them a hangover—or, at least, its emotional equivalent. Not that some of them aren’t familiar with that experience, as Margaret Wells reminds them. Nancy is less so, which is probably why she confesses her crime to Lady Isabella fairly quickly. To her shock, Isabella calls her a brave soul. Nancy disagrees, but Isabella’s still dealing with her brother Blayne’s machinations, which is probably why she wishes she killed him long ago.
Blayne is certainly in the midst of many of the current subplots. He’s gotten rid of the young kept woman who is understandably distraught at being separated from the son who is now being raised by Blayne, potentially passing off his toxicity to the next generation. He’s also paying the man who eloped with Isabella’s daughter and he’s trying to bully Kate into manipulating the Prince into giving him a prestigious position. He probably deserves some credit just for keeping up with all his own nefarious schemes.
Thankfully, the women of Harlots have always been far more than potential victims of the many men who are often set on bringing them down. Blayne’s machinations are far less interesting than the devastating decision Margaret Wells has to make. In any other show her position would be a series of melodramatic ploys, but Harlots, and the wonder that is Samantha Morton, is able to make Margaret’s choice suspenseful until the end. As the law closes in and her best friend grapples with her crimes, Margaret must either leave with the husband who’s understandably losing his patience, or remain with her family and risk her life.
Lydia Quigley has long since desired to see her Maggie—as she’s not so affectionately fond of calling her—ever since she’s learned that Margaret is still very much alive and well. Her old rival brings out both the best and worst in her, laying the path for her further redemption while reminding us just why Lydia has always been a fantastic villain. She may inform the authorities that Margaret still lives, but she also can’t bring herself to actually deliver Margaret over to them, hiding her when they actually arrive and even tenderly bidding her farewell.
This potentially leaves Lucy as the only Wells woman on Harlots. At least the obstacles she’s facing are the more respectable kind. Her partner Elizabeth Harvey makes what turns out to be a very ill-fated marriage to pay off her debts, which only serves to put their assets in further jeopardy once Elizabeth’s new husband decides he’d rather confiscate his wife’s possessions rather than respect or invest in them. Lucy may not want her mother to leave, but she probably should put more consideration into Margaret’s offer to abscond to America. Even if she’s a more able player this season (not that that says much), Lucy is still far from a competent one.
Maybe she just looks better on a show that has Emily Lacey making all kinds of wrong turns. Her lover Hal believes Margaret murdered his brother and is hell-bent on making her suffer the consequences. Emily is smart enough not to reveal who the real killer is or her own involvement, but she’s dumb enough to not only be bribed by another member of the profession who saw her fleeing the scene, she’s also still standing by Hal. When she professes his love for her, Nancy replies, “How many dead girls said that about a man?” At least Emily is still savvy enough to know Nancy has a point.
Harlots leans far more into its most serious and horrific subplot. The series has mentioned that Black people have been disappearing and this time it is Jack Livley who’s taken right off the street, most likely by the man Harriet spurned. He also shows up to demand that Harriet not only cater to his whims, but be grateful for being chosen to do so, in a terrifying reminder of just how high the stakes are for women of color in a system that condemns them for both their gender and race. Hopefully the next few episodes will give this particular storyline the space it deserves.