Harlots often has enough squeezed into one episode than some shows do in entire seasons. A slow burn this series is not, but it has the kind of punchy relevance it’s become fashionable to court, yet as difficult as ever to achieve. Even when the themes Harlots explores have been done before (or honestly, better at times), its setting always acts as a deliciously gaudy funhouse mirror distortion of our own troubled times.
Lydia Quigley begins the finale by putting on a new wig, but perhaps her old ways? Funny how one small costume change can reflect so much, but Quigley’s icy exterior has been transforming to something softer, if not still entirely kind. She may be on track to replacing Margaret as the show’s antiheroine, but Lydia is still allied with the monstrous Blayne, who gives her an ultimatum. Get him an innocent young girl to kill or she herself dies.
There are plenty of other signs Nancy won’t get her stated wish to the still imprisoned Lucy, which is an end to the vengeance and blood. Hal, the man who would be the target of it, hasn’t lost a taste for either. He asks Emily if she would want to wear his mother’s ring and says he’s going to treat her like a queen. It’s enough to ruminate on classic abuser techniques, which typically come after big shows of anger and violence. Sure enough, Hal locks Emily in a room after he leaves, then does the bidding of the slave trader who’s been abducting Black people.
In more vaunted halls of power, Kate is enjoying her time with the Prince, only to discover he’s still at least partly in thrall to Blayne, who’s achieved his goal of becoming Governor. When the Prince is removed from Blayne’s toxic influence, he’s a better person, but he withdraws from Kate under Blayne’s corrupting machinations. Kate tries to warn him about the man he keeps dangerously close, only to have the Prince speak of those who envy his friend and want to bring him down. When Kate doubles down on her efforts to get the Prince to see Blayne for what he truly is by gathering a number of women to speak of Blayne’s cruelty, the only question is whether the Prince will believe them, or dismiss them as so many others have.
Lucy, the last Wells woman, can’t exactly do much to assist in the fight, remaining in debtor’s prison for most of the episode. She walks free near the end because Elizabeth Harvey is persuaded by William North to take Lucy’s place. Seems like North still has a soft spot for scheming women who secretly harbor a heart of gold. North also has a hand in putting an end to the abductions, in a satisfying depiction of people of color saving themselves, with a little help from a woman who likens herself to a bit of furniture. To paraphrase the abducted Jack Lively, wives, as well as Black men, have ears.
When Lucy finally does manage to leave the prison Lydia Quigley sees as a twisted refuge, it’s under the usual circumstances. Others have arranged her freedom, and Lydia Quigley takes a decisive course of action for her as well after Lucy is foolish enough to believe she’s a match for her. Fortunately for Lucy, Quigley’s intentions are more benevolent than they usually are…for her, anyway. Nobody puts Quigley in a corner, and her desperation drives Lucy to the darkest extremes. Lucy will probably never be anything besides a follower, but Quigley would be a hell of a woman to guide Lucy on her somewhat new path.
In the world of Harlots, the most satisfying outcome is seeing women make their living without impediment while caring and nurturing each other, rather than fighting for the scraps the patriarchy considers good enough for them. This was a season that shook every character, as even the most formidable stalwarts proved to be as vulnerable as anyone. But a lack of basic rights has never prevented these women from forming loving bonds or even gaining power of their own. Those still left standing not only find a way to get through life, but enjoy it. Ultimately, that is what makes this series truly remarkable.