Well, that was a short wait! It’s been less than two months, but Eliza Scarlet and Detective Inspector William Wellington are now back on our screens. They’re ready to solve all the crimes that Victorian-era London has to offer. Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×01 starts off the third season with a good episode that almost, but not quite, reaches the heights this series is capable of.
When last we saw Eliza (Kate Phillips), she almost revealed her feelings for longtime friend and colleague William (Stuart Martin). He was about to be forcibly transferred to Glasgow for unfair reasons, so the idea that they wouldn’t see each other every day nearly changed everything. However, things worked out so William did not have to leave. And Eliza stopped short of declaring anything. William put a hold on any romantic future between them in the first episode of season 2 because he was worried about the possible negative effect on his career, so when he seemed more receptive to what Eliza might say in the final moments of season 2, it felt like progress. We shippers were ready to watch as season 3 continued their journey.
Eliza is the first female private detective in the city, and William has earned a lot of respect in his position at Scotland Yard. Their stubborn natures have helped them succeed in their work but have resulted in a slow burn for their personal lives. Though Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×01 does feature the humor and feminist themes that make this series stand out, a bit of a storytelling rut looms on the horizon.
“I will give you no more trouble.”
Eliza approaches smarmy reporter Basil Sinclaire (Oliver Chris) to run an ad for her business in his paper when he counters with a job offer. A veteran magician has disappeared during his act. Basil wants to write a hit series of articles as London’s only female private detective solves the case. Despite Basil’s double-dealing in the past, the free publicity is too strong for Eliza to resist. It’s soon clear the magician didn’t just orchestrate a prank to start his retirement. His body washes up from the Thames, and the case is now a murder investigation.
For most of the case, Eliza is not working with William. This is because some of the officers at Scotland Yard supplement their income by tipping off journalists. Basil is one of them, and he has ruined cases before. So when William learns Eliza is allied with Basil, he refuses to share information with her. Unfortunately, it turns out to be an example of, “shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice.” Basil betrays Eliza again by publishing information early. She is angry with both him and herself, that she let ambition cloud her judgment.
“Who knows what novelties tomorrow may bring?”
Eliza is not the only one dealing with workplace stress. Young Detective Fitzroy (Evan McCabe), who audiences met last season, is still trying to fit in on the force. Detective Phelps (Tim Chipping) is Fitzroy’s biggest bully. He was a jerk last season, and he has not improved over time. Phelps is one of the police officers feeding information to the press (big surprise), and Fitzroy unknowingly reveals this to William. Phelps reacts exactly how we expect him to.
Seeing Fitzroy with a bruised face is starting to get really repetitive. As is Phelps being an ass. Other than William and Fitzroy, the viewer has never really spent time with a policeman who was nice. William’s old and new superintendent, Jenkins from the first season, the police commissioner, and Phelps have all been horrible. It’s getting old.
Something that felt new last season was the interactions between William and Eliza’s associate Moses (Ansu Kabia). William has never liked Moses because he’s Eliza’s link to the criminal underworld. But now, these two characters play off each other again when Moses gives William a bit of help. Also, best of all, William asks Moses to teach Fitzroy how to box. That’s another good combination of characters, so at least this episode has that going for it.
“Life can’t be all about work, you know.”
The biggest thing this whole series has going for it is the central relationship between Eliza and William. From the start, they have been established as a slow burn ship, one that audiences would have to wait for. I think it’s clear that they both have romantic feelings for each other, and if the show lasts long enough, fans will get to see them become a couple. This is a mystery show, so more screen time must be devoted to that storyline in each episode, but the romance is definitely there. Season 2 delivered some angst and ended with a bit of progress. So far, so good.
This episode, however, is a mixed bag in terms of William and Eliza. During season 2, it often felt like the characters were maturing into the people they need to be in order to come together as a couple. There is a line of conversation between them here, about work/life balance, that performs that same function. We see that perhaps Eliza is open to the idea that her work cannot consume her the way it did the missing magician. At the same time, there are moments when William doesn’t seem to perceive all of Eliza’s motivations when she tries to get his assistance on a case. This happened in season 2 quite a bit, and now in this episode. It irks me…a lot. Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×01 is a decent beginning for a new season, but we want more of what this show can be at its best.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs Sunday at 8/7c on PBS.