If you’ve ever loved a television show that lasted more than a couple of seasons, then you might know what it feels like to watch an episode that just doesn’t fit. You get used to a certain pattern and rhythm. And then along comes an episode that’s different. In a bad way. That’s unfortunately what happens with Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×03.
For 14 episodes, we have joined Victorian London’s only female private detective, Eliza Scarlet (Kate Phillips), as she throws herself into investigations alongside Scotland Yard detective inspector William Wellington (Stuart Martin). Eliza will make headstrong and sometimes reckless decisions in her focus to solve cases, while William huffs out his exasperation on the way to solving the crime. The two are fleshed-out characters, and their interaction is always engaging. They have known each other for most of their lives, and that history is always in the background. The romantic tension between them simply adds another layer of enjoyment, like rich icing on a delicious cake. On top of that, the mysteries they tackle are usually genuinely interesting and sometimes examine feminist themes.
This episode does exactly none of those things. In fact, if Eliza wasn’t in it, Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×03 would barely be recognizable as the same show. For me, it’s the least satisfying episode of the entire series so far.
“Truth never comes to the closed mind.”
The differences in this episode are evident from the first frame. The bustling, cobbled streets of London are nowhere to be found. Instead, we are in the sleepy, snowy French countryside, at the Hotel St. Marc. It’s a small but high-end place. The kind of place where a con artist with lots of enemies and a gift for disguises could hide out with ease. That’s exactly what Eliza thinks she’s found when she handcuffs Jeremiah Slade (Robert Wilfort) to his bed while he’s sleeping: a con man. Slade is an alias of Scotland Yard’s most wanted man, Charles Percival, but he insists Eliza has the wrong man.
There’s another wrinkle, as well. Eliza’s rival private detective, Patrick Nash (Felix Scott), is also at the hotel, and he has a suspect in custody too! This guy is adamant that he is not Charles Percival either. Things become even more complicated when the local police chief arrives to assist with extradition to England. He asserts his authority to question the two suspects and ends up poisoned from the water jug in Slade’s room. Detectives aren’t the only ones who can track down a criminal in hiding. Eliza finally figures out the twist of this case: Charles Percival is actually a group of people, and the leader is posing as the hotel concierge Eliza has been interacting with the whole episode.
“I thought you of all people would be above that.”
If the general parameters of this case sound vaguely familiar, they should. There are many examples of mysteries that take place within a confined geographic location in the genre. In fact, the snowbound setting and more than one culprit being responsible for the crime have a bit in common with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. And while gaining inspiration from effective stories that have come before is not a bad idea, writers should take care to make that work within the unique elements that make their show special. “Hotel St. Marc” doesn’t succeed with that.
This series usually provides mystery plots that keep viewers captivated and surprises us a little. I would almost call that a trademark of this show, but I guessed the details here from quite early on. There is a fleeting moment every so often that is fun to watch. I was glad when Nash’s suspect revealed himself to be an American detective posing as an English aristocrat to track Percival down. Since Slade already admitted to being part of the Percival group, this meant Eliza was the one who had the right man. Her skills had not let her down. Overall, though, this episode’s case unfolds in a more derivative way than I ever expected from this show.
“You lie so much I think it might be a medical condition.”
Another unwelcome thing that I never expected happens in this episode, too: William does not appear in it. Yep, the “Duke” of the title (it’s his nickname on the force because of his last name) is not even in this episode. Eliza and William’s relationship is the central interaction of this entire series, and to have him not even appear in an episode is, quite simply, a huge mistake. Their dynamic is a major draw for viewers. It’s something unique and special that sets this series apart. To ignore that, even for a single episode, is a setback.
To make matters less satisfying, William’s presence is replaced by Patrick Nash’s. Nash’s behavior when he and Eliza first encountered each other was underhanded and unscrupulous. Because of this, the writer’s attempt to position him as a romantic possibility for Eliza is another mistake. I don’t know how to make it any clearer except to say that we don’t like Nash, we don’t want Nash, and we don’t care about Nash. There is a scene in this episode where Nash recounts losing his brother, and the bid for sympathy doesn’t work with me. He also admits he was only on Percival’s trail to the hotel because he broke into Eliza’s office and saw her notes on the case. This is not someone we want Eliza with. Eliza refuses Nash’s offer of a job again in this episode, and I hope the writers stick to that.
Without William and supporting characters Moses, Ivy, and Fitzroy, Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×03 is not on the right track for a successful season. As fans, let’s cross our fingers for better future episodes.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs Sunday at 8 PM on PBS.