That feeling when an entertaining show decides it’s time for the audience to go through painful angst over the central will-they-or-won’t-they couple is the worst. And, unfortunately, that is the case with Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×04 and its final scene. The other plotting of the episode genuinely works for me. But the plot arc begun by the ending here overshadows everything else.
I feel naive when I think back to the end of the second season premiere of this show. I thought William (Stuart Martin) putting a hold on any romantic progress between him and Eliza (Kate Phillips) would be the worst moment shippers would have to endure. Boy, was I wrong! That was the closest the pair came to directly addressing a romantic relationship between them, and William made the choice not to go through with it. It was rough. I realize now, though, that all that was just a bump in the road. Now, fans face an actual roadblock. And it ain’t fun. Some viewers might think the obstacle comes in the form of Patrick Nash (Felix Scott) after the last episode. But no, the threat to William and Eliza’s eventual happily-ever-after comes from another source. At least, for now.
In many elements, Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×04 is a solid episode. The case is an interesting one, and the beloved supporting characters are used in engaging ways. But then that gut punch of a final moment comes.
“That’s not the way justice should work.”
We open this episode with Detectives Fitzroy (Evan McCabe) and Phelps (Tim Chipping) of Scotland Yard playing chess in a local watering hole with other officers on the force. As usual, Phelps is a jerk to Fitzroy, so Fitzroy gets to use the boxing skills he has recently learned from Eliza’s associate Moses (Ansu Kabia). That is quite satisfying. But what’s not satisfying is the fact that William is away on police business so Phelps is the acting Inspector in charge. Ugh.
Phelps takes Fitzroy with him to tail a suspect in a recent robbery. As they catch him, Phelps plants evidence on him. Fitzroy comes to Eliza for help to find out what’s going on. The suspect is Michael Galanis (Alex Bhat), a young member of a dangerous crime family who is ill-suited to his family’s business. With an assist from Moses, Eliza figures out that Michael’s own grandfather paid Phelps to frame him. He was trying to save Michael from being forced to take a life by Michael’s uncle. Eliza cleverly devises a solution that is best for all involved.
The writers execute the case well on multiple levels. It is surprisingly emotional, in the relationship between Michael and his grandfather. The parallels between Michael Galanis and Fitzroy’s early story on the show are clear, which adds a nice layer. And it even wraps up a case William was working on in 3×01 but was left unsolved.
“It’s most definitely a compliment.”
Besides Fitzroy, the other supporting characters who help make this show what it is also get their share of the spotlight in this episode. Ivy (Cathy Belton) has always been more than Eliza’s housekeeper — she is a mother figure to her. So, when Ivy avoids seeing Mr. Potts (Simon Ludders), who began courting her last season, and then makes a cutting remark to Eliza, we know something is up. Ivy doesn’t want to talk about it at first, but eventually, she does open up to Eliza. She admits that she is afraid of moving forward with Potts because she doesn’t want her relationship with Eliza to change. She’s also not sure if she even wants to get married, thanks to Eliza’s independent influence. Ivy finally does decide to become engaged to Mr. Potts, though, and he seems a bit dismayed about how long Ivy wants the engagement to last!
Moses, meanwhile, has always had an air of mystery about him. He helps Eliza navigate the criminal underworld, especially when she heedlessly charges into dangerous situations. He is good at finding out things and connecting Eliza to valuable sources of information. This episode reveals that he speaks Greek, and when Eliza asks him why he was in Athens, his typical Moses response is, “Because I had to leave Madrid.” Eliza is right — Moses is cryptic…and we love him, anyway!
“Some things are best left alone.”
The previous episode of this show gave fans an unpleasant surprise when William did not appear in it at all. Just when viewers think this might happen again, an even worse surprise occurs. Eliza and Phelps have reached an uneasy truce even though they dislike each other. Phelps comes to Eliza’s office to inform her that William is back in town. He sadistically wants to see Eliza’s reaction when she learns where William is. He’s with Arabella (Sophie Robertson), the schoolmate who used to bully Eliza, who viewers met in 3×02. William is courting her. Eliza watches from across the street as the two exit Arabella’s restaurant and kiss.
What a kick in the gut this moment is for us shippers. Now comes the time TV writers insist on putting one-half of a “will they or won’t they” couple with someone else. They make us suffer through that angst, and it’s usually just to fill episodes. Writers make excuses like character development. But in reality, the usefulness of this kind of pain for the character is negligible at best. Instead of making Eliza more likely to tell William how she feels, this will make her more hesitant. So far, Eliza has only felt insecure at how different she is from Arabella. Even when the courtship between William and Arabella inevitably ends, Eliza would believe she is risking rejection if she admits her feelings. So, why would she do that to herself? I am still sure Eliza and William are endgame, but this part of the way there is a slog.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke 3×04 may have decent plotting otherwise, but the stab in the chest from the final scene will have shippers being like William and Eliza and getting out the whiskey.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke airs Sunday at 8 PM on PBS.