Harlots season two, episode two, is very straightforward. It picks up immediately where the last left off and follows the fallout of the death of a woman close to our main characters. To put it simply, no one wins this episode. Mothers are left alone, Quigley (Lesley Manville) is out, the Spartans are still strong, and Nancy (Kate Fleetwood) does the most she can to make no change. In this episode, we understand the system of justice women live in and how each of them has a very different but related experience in it based on their position. Keep reading for a recap of episode two, spoilers below.
This entire episode is shaped by Kitty’s (Lottie Tolhurst) death. Opening on the scene we left last and quickly changing to Margaret (Samantha Morton) preparing her body for a wake, while Nancy, Fanny, and Lucy plan, mourn, and try to pretend it’s a dream, respectively. The fallout around Kitty’s death is used to highlight the helplessness of the women in charge, William (Danny Sapani), Fanny (Bronwyn James), and all poor women and harlots who are subjected to trauma while the rich walk free of their crimes. Fanny walks aimlessly around London, finally ending up at William’s tavern room and informs him of Kitty’s death. Like Margaret who bears the guilt of Kitty’s death on herself, William’s first sentiments are guilt. “I should have been there.”
Inequality in London
After Kitty is discovered Prince ran, leaving only Emily Lacey (Holli Dempsey) to testify against Quigley and bring up charges of kidnapping and murder. However, after Nancy and Margaret reveal Kitty’s death her, she runs scared. Even without the Emily as their witness, Nancy, and Margaret, take their suspicions to Justice Hunt (Sebastian Armesto) only to be turned away because they are Quigley’s competition. As they are leaving, they see Charlotte, paying bail for the kidnapping pimp and murder Lady Quigley. At this moment it is clear that the price for a crime committed by a noblewoman is low while the ones paid by women on the London street is steep, costing them their lives. Quigley’s release not only stands in stark contrast to Kitty’s death but also to the imprisonment of Violet Cross (Rosalind Eleazar).
A Black woman and a harlot caught as a thief, imprisoned, and set to be taken for seven years of servitude in America. For Violet, the branding and even travel is nothing compared to losing her very freedom. As her love interest, Amelia Scanwell (Jordon Stevens), uses her standing as the daughter of a preacher to ask Justice Hunt to show mercy to Violet, and by doing so gives up the chance to provide food and housing for herself and her mother. In spite of Amelia’s generosity and genuine love for Violet, they share a moment where Violet explains working for no pay, unable leave, is slavery, not freedom. Although Violet may escape the poxed mice on the ship, she is at the will of Hunt and no longer a free woman. Again the shows the difference between a rich woman, being a poor woman, being a harlot, and being a woman of color.
As the episode further explores the lives of the women affected by Kitty’s death, we understand the sobering reality of being a prostitute in 18th century London. There aren’t enough police to inspect the crimes of the rich and they will never find the people responsible for an “average dead street girl.” Spoken to Fanny while seeking comfort from the inspector who comes to see her in the brothel, he also explains that women will always be “at the mercy of men’s power.” To which Fanny realizes and explains, “it isn’t their power we’re at the mercy of, it’s their weakness.”
Every piece of Harlots is made to have you understand and see the experiences of these women. It is Fanny’s line that frames the episode. It isn’t the power of men, but their weakness which drives the women into darkness. At the wake for Kitty, the women and men gathered around her make it clear that there will never be a sentence handed out to a white wig – a reference to the wigs worn by the rich. It is because of this, that a recently hopeless Nancy leads the people into the streets to exact justice from Quigley.
Instead of stringing up Quigley, Nancy is arrested. The most powerful and respected women in the poor area of London, everyone shows up for her trial but are barred entrance. The next we see Nancy she is being strapped to a post and flogged for leading a mob. Quickly the image we had just had of Nancy leading a mob through the streets to get justice for a woman who the police will forget is removed. We see a pained Nancy, hurting but refusing to scream. The scene is powerful and in only episode 2, this show isn’t going to go easy on the situations our characters are put through.
What can we expect next?
At this point, the women of this show have also been disowned by or disowned their children. Quigley has disowned her son Charles (Douggie McMeekin) after his party while she was imprisoned and Margaret has been disowned by her daughter. Beyond that, Harriett (Pippa Bennett-Warner) has joined up with Emily Lacey and Charles to start a brothel of her own and there is no justice in sight for Kitty. Although Quigley now has police stationed at her home, she is still able to leave and meet with the Spartans who are insidiously making their way to attack Margaret through her daughter, Lucy. It would be easy to say that everyone has lost, and in a way they have, but as a white wig, Quigley is the most undisturbed.
With known Spartans making appearances, I am hoping this season gets to their storyline quick and they find justice, not at the hands of Justice Hunt, but from the women they have hurt. In a show that was built around relationships in season one, we’re in episode two and so many relationships have broken apart. At this point, the slate is pretty blank but after Nancy’s flogging and following Fanny outside of her room, I think this season will include more character development for them all. Overall it’s another great episode that leaves me ready for more and hoping to understand more of each character’s life — except Lucy, I still don’t like her.