Miss Scarlet and the Duke 2×01 kicks off the series’ second season without missing a beat. Let’s dive right back into all the crime-solving with a dash of romance.
The pandemic caused delays for a lot of productions, but the PBS Mystery series Miss Scarlet and the Duke had a particularly long one. Period drama fans here in the U.S. met fledgling private investigator Eliza Scarlet and detective inspector William Wellington (or “the Duke”) in March 2020. Now, more than two and a half years later, the second season has begun.
Since it’s been used as a setting so often, the streets of Victorian London should be almost too familiar to film and TV audiences by now. But this show proves that fresh interest can be found in that time and place. Especially if there are strong lead characters, engaging plotting, and a sense of fun supporting it all.
“You have such freedom.”
Eliza Scarlet, played by Kate Phillips, now has plenty of experience as an investigator after taking over her late father’s business. But she’s also still a woman in a time when our rights were minimal at best. She still struggles to gain respect from almost all of the men she comes into contact with and occasionally, from women as well. Eliza’s nature is sometimes reckless, and so she chafes against this treatment even more. Miss Scarlet and the Duke 2×01 begins in classic Eliza fashion when she sets a client’s birds loose in his gentleman’s club because he refuses to pay her on time.
In fact, Eliza’s case in “Pandora’s Box” serves to illustrate the ways her situation is unique and the ways it is not. Eliza is not the only woman working for herself, but she has more personal agency than the missing shopgirl she is searching for. The high-end department store where the girl worked turns out to be a front for an escort service.
During this time, Eliza also meets Hattie Parker (played by Jessie Cave, who Harry Potter fans will recognize as Lavender Brown). She’s the cousin of Eliza’s gay BFF Rupert from season one. Hattie envies Eliza’s independence, and her personality is a foil for Eliza’s as well. She seems meek so far, which Eliza most definitely is not.
“These things have to be done from time to time…”
By the same token, no one could describe William (played by Stuart Martin) as meek either. Though he is the “Duke” half of Miss Scarlet and the Duke, that’s just a nickname. He is not a nobleman, but he is skilled at his job, as this episode makes clear. His abilities are contrasted with the incompetency of a young new addition to the detective ranks of Scotland Yard, a bit like Eliza with Miss Parker. The parallel between the two title characters in this episode is brilliant.
Eliza and William have always been presented as the central relationship on this show. This series isn’t just about each of them — it’s about them TOGETHER. Even during the first season, when Eliza was mourning her father and discovering what really happened to him, William was there. To work together (sometimes grudgingly on his part) and to support each other.
More than that, romantic tension underlies so many interactions between these two that it’s almost obscene. The final shot of the first season showed them off to share dinner together. As Miss Scarlet and the Duke 2×01 begins, they still have not explicitly labeled their relationship. However, by the end of the episode, a significant moment has arrived.
Shippers, brace yourself: It seems that the angst portion of the proceedings has commenced. Eliza begins to express her need for equality, but William stops her. He tells her their recent case has shown him that his work is not compatible with a future for them. They may decide to keep things the way they are between them, but the audience knows this season has just started.
Look at the way Eliza and William both look back toward the door separating them. It proves we should be there for the story yet to come on Miss Scarlet and the Duke.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs on PBS on Sundays at 8 PM.