Harlots, Hulu’s original period drama set from the “whore’s eye view,” is in its second episode of the season. After episode one’s firey ending, season three of Harlots’ stage is set and the danger, excitement, and drama are bigger and better than ever. For episode two, the Wells women are dealing with the fallout from the events of the last episode as Greek Street is damaged and unable to take culls after Pincher (Alfie Allen) retaliated for Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) throwing him into jail. Not only did Pincher’s arson lead to halting Charlotte’s business, but it also put her girls and child with them in danger.
Beyond that, episode one saw Lucy teaming up with the new bawd in town, Elizabeth Harvey (Angela Griffin), buying the Quigley house in Golden Square together. And finally, we saw Lydia attempting to keep herself in the face of the abuses of Bedlam, and in episode two, it only gets worse.
While Harlots has shown us the bad in men, specifically in their current rival and Bedlam, episode two has also brought back one of my favorite characters, William North (Danny Sapani). The patriarch of the Wells family, William, is back in town, just in time to be there for his girls. As Charlotte is at her lowest, her father brings an even larger sense of confidence as he attempts to persuade her not to fight back. Instead of being scared, she’s angry. Knowing his daughter he urges her to stop, to wait, to let him take care of them.
“You must because he won’t” stop he says to her, a concerned father, looking to stop his daughters’ suffering and struggle. It’s here that we are introduced to a new dynamic, one we have only seen on the surface, but with their exchange, I’m hopeful to see more of a father-daughter dynamic. With Margaret gone, the Wells women need support more than ever. Lucy is out of her depth with a woman who is looking to rebuild herself no matter the cost and Charlotte is at war with a pimp who refuses to stop.
For the last two seasons, Harlots has been a beautiful depiction of moving through struggles as a family with a strong focus on the bond between mothers and daughters. That said, William has stayed as one of the only good men in their world, a father, a husband, and looking to do good. He’s scared for his daughter, scared that they will end up like their mother, his wife. This season, I hope to see more of him and more of his love for his daughters as family remains the center of the story, moving and protecting our characters.
While Bedlam is a smaller point of the overall story, Harlots has decided to explore even the worst of the violence towards the women in its walls. Kate Bottomley (Daisy Head) was brought into Bedlam for falling in love with one of her houses servants, their sex seen as insanity and not agency. Now in Bedlam, episode two shows her being assaulted in the name of “modern physics,” her uterus apparently the cause of her sins. She wants to fight, but as Quigley (Lesley Manville) explains, they can’t resist outright because it will get worse. And like Harlots always does, we see how she and Quigley will survive. Not by some grand action escape, but instead playing the game of the “doctors” and ultimately surviving, waiting for the moment to exploit their weaknesses.
The slow biding of time and ability survive has us rooting for Quigley for the first time in the series as she and Kate plan their escape and look to the future. The goal is to maintain the fire inside, to keep it burning even as the “doctors” try to quash it.
As Lydia and Kate bide their time, Charlotte refuses her Pa’s directive and moves on Pincher. But this time, it isn’t just her. With the help of Harriet’s (Pippa Bennett-Warner) house and the Greek Street girls, they use every resource at their disposal, their knowledge of pleasing men, and their wits to take back what’s theirs. It isn’t some grand revenge scheme so much as it is a well thought out plan that uses every connection and skill that the women have at their disposal.
There is a line in episode two that not only sums up the episode but also provides the heart of the series. While Lady Fitzwilliams (Liv Tyler) is mourning the loss of her daughter’s virginity, scared that it has ruined her, Nancy calms her, pointing out that “we are more than what people see.” Harlots has succeeded because it never rests on stereotypes and even though it features grand and gorgeous costumes, it never rests on its appearances. Instead, Harlots creates characters that grow, that feeling, and that ultimately show how they move past the preconceived notions of who they should be.
Harlots is a period piece unlike any other. It focuses on poor women, on women who have had no choice in their circumstances, who have been victimized, and yet it never feels exploitive. It never paints them as lacking identity, even when the show highlights the way the world strips it from them. There isn’t a single woman who is just one thing. They are all dynamic, they all have a reason, and they all have agency. The characters aren’t just harlots or just women, but so much more.
In addition to moving the period drama away from pristine romances and the upper to the middle class of Jane Austen, or the aristocrats of other series, Harlots also focuses on its Black characters. Not only do they exist, but they have stories and paths, and identities. Although their stories highlight their position in society and the racism they face, similar to how the white female characters experience oppression and still maintain individual identities outside of it, so do characters like Harriet and William.
This may seem small but Harlots shows us how their race affects their position in the world without reducing them to tokens in a story and ultimately giving them their own stories. This is extended as we’ve seen the addition of Elizabeth Harvey and her son Frado (Aidan Cheng) who offer up an experience that is from Quigley’s end of aristocracy adjacent, showing us something outside the squalor William and Harriet have experienced.
Episode two of Harlots continues to bring the drama, the fast pace, and the character-building that I’ve come to expect from every single episode of the series. With more pieces moving, I’m excited to see what happens next as some of the central fights are concluded in this episode. What does a pathway forward look like for the women of Harlots? I’ll have to keep watching to find out.
Harlots has a new episode streamable on Hulu every Wednesday.
Harlots, Season 3 - Episode 2
Episode two of Harlots continues to bring the drama, the fast pace, and the character-building that I’ve come to expect from every single episode of the series.