An enjoyable television show can be good and still give you an episode that frustrates you every once in a while. Not necessarily because you think the episode is bad but because the storytelling choices result in a rough viewing experience. Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×02 is one of those episodes. Though decent in its episodic story, its place in the storyline of the overall season is less successful.
One of the most appealing things about Eliza Scarlet (Kate Phillips) has always been her confidence. From the beginning, she has been sure of her abilities as a private detective and struggled to prove them to others. Particularly to William Wellington (Stuart Martin). As her longtime friend and a Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard, his opinion probably matters more than anyone else’s. Eliza can sometimes be reckless in her determination to get the job done, but she knows she is a capable investigator. I feel like this never came off as arrogance, just a healthy sense of self-worth. In the first episode of season 3, we saw Eliza trust someone she shouldn’t have. It didn’t shake her faith in her skills.
…but something different happens in this episode. Eliza has a tough emotional experience on a new case in Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×02, and this time, the writing does not clearly present a purpose for it.
“Unlike them, you’re your own person. And I am glad for it.”
Eliza and William are dressed up for dinner at a fancy restaurant at the beginning of this episode. They’re calling each other “husband” and “wife,” too. Of course, viewers know they’re undercover, but that sound you hear is shippers squealing anyway. Eliza and William are there to try to glean information about recent jewel thefts that seem to be connected to the restaurant. A complication arises, though. The owner of the restaurant turns out to be a woman who bullied Eliza when they were kids at school together. Arabella (Sophie Robertson) is a young, attractive widow, and she claims to know nothing of the jewel thefts.
Eliza doesn’t believe her. Meanwhile, Arabella gives every impression of being reformed from her mean girl days. And William thinks Eliza is letting the past affect her judgment. In the end, it is revealed that one of Arabella’s employees was behind the thefts, creating convincing fakes to sell to multiple pawn shops with glass from his Italian hometown. Arabella used this employee to sell her own jewelry and get fake replacements to keep up appearances. Her restaurant is not financially secure, but she genuinely was not involved in the thefts.
“Pride: I’m guilty of it occasionally, as are we all.”
Arabella may not be a criminal, but that doesn’t mean the audience is meant to like her. She is entirely too charming for my taste, always getting on everyone’s good side with seemingly little effort. I never get the feeling she is completely sincere. Arabella also seems to think she and Eliza can just be friends like the bullying never happened. It’s off-putting. Beyond that, the character’s function is too formulaic. I cringed when Eliza kept insisting Arabella was involved and her evidence was thwarted at every turn. It just felt so typical of “TV writing.” This show has never been this predictable with its situations and conflicts before.
Honestly, the writers showed a lack of imagination when they decided, “Let’s bring in a nemesis for Eliza who plays on her insecurities!” When they meet at the restaurant, Arabella mentions one school day when Eliza burnt a Victoria sponge cake, and Eliza tries to make one later in the episode. The viewer has always known Eliza’s strengths do not lie in the domestic arena, and Eliza has always been comfortable with that knowledge about herself. This moment shows how this type of angst is not the useful kind, which is much more rare than television writers like to think, but the filler kind. To top it off, Arabella gives the usual lame excuse bullies give for their actions: jealousy. Never mind the fact that everyone has something they envy about someone else, but not everyone turns into a bully, I guess.
“You are teasing me…I will not rise to it.”
Besides the undercover “date” in this episode, shippers of Eliza and William have a mixed bag to look forward to. In the attempt to draw out the jewel thieves, Eliza’s mother’s brooch is stolen. William makes sure she gets it back. It’s a sweet scene.
On the other hand, we have to listen to him say she is too emotional about this case more than once. And, yes, her opinions about Arabella are decided before the case begins, but Eliza is not completely wrong as it turns out. Arabella was hiding things, just nothing illegal. Even worse, we also have to endure a loaded glance or two between William and Arabella. Let’s try not to think too much about that.
The important thing about William and Eliza’s relationship in this episode is highlighted by the final scene. Eliza has baked a good Victoria sponge cake under the tutelage of her beloved housekeeper Ivy (Cathy Belton) and shows it off to William. She warns him, though, that this is the extent of her housewifely abilities. “But surely, one day you hope to have a family of your own to look after?” he asks. But Eliza won’t engage on this topic. Then, Arabella waltzes in with delicious delicacies from her restaurant, and Eliza is overshadowed and left out. It’s a heartbreaking moment to end Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×02. I have to wonder how much the writers considered the overall viewing experience of the season so far.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs on PBS on Sundays at 8/7c.