Harlots season 2 premiere review: Episodes 1 and 2

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HARLOTS — Episode 1 — 201 – When an unyielding new Justice makes a surprise arrest, Margaret and Nancy must race to find witnesses to give evidence against Lydia Quigley. Could this finally be their chance to get Lydia to pay for her crimes? Charlotte Wells (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) shown. (Photo by: Liam Daniel/Hulu)

Harlots season 2 premiere review continued: Episode 2

In the wake of Kitty’s death, Margaret finds herself further isolated from almost everyone in her life, thanks to her insistence that Lydia is behind the murder. Since Lydia is pretty monstrous, this isn’t the most outlandish leap to make. However, since the woman was in prison with no funds and few friends, this accusation is technically weak at best. (Plus we, the audience, already know Lord Fallon was responsible.) But that’s not really the point.

Her obsession with pinning Kitty’s death on Lydia is another masterful example of Harlots dedication to complicated characters. Margaret is, ostensibly, a “good” person.  We’re meant to generally root for her within the world of the show. But here? She’s just wrong, and we’re allowed to see her as such and judge her accordingly. Her determination to see Lydia hang leads to a neighborhood riot, lands Nancy in prison and sees her whipped within an inch of her life. Now, perhaps Margaret thinks that’s worth it. But it’s doubtful that anyone else does. Particularly Fanny and anyone else who actually cared about Kitty, since the ensuing mob basically ruins the poor girl’s wake. Well done, everyone!

Margaret’s unchecked rage at Lydia also further estranges her from her eldest daughter. The two have plenty of outstanding issues already, what with Margaret consistently choosing Lucy’s fortunes over Charlotte’s last season. Yet, despite her own behavior –- and let’s be honest, her own culpability in Charlotte’s decision to turn to Quigley in the first place — Margaret seems willing to disown her daughter over her decision to pay Lydia’s bail. (Even though the money isn’t hers, and it’s not entirely clear what she thinks Charlotte should have done instead.) Margaret’s inability to rationally consider anything even vaguely connected to Lydia is damaging her relationships with everyone else in her life. And, as a result, she deserves at least some of Charlotte’s scorn on that score.

For her part, Charlotte’s divided loyalties will clearly drive much of this season, as she wrestles with her desire to punish Lydia and the strange connection she still obviously has with her. Quigley provides a unique mirror for Margaret, and not just because the two share a knotty, complicated history the show has yet to fully explore. The two women are much more alike than they are different, despite their drastically different material situations.

Both have overcome tremendous odds. And both are determined, scrappy survivors. Yet both women are also terrible mothers, who have driven away virtually anyone that cares about them. Their ongoing feud is entertaining to be sure, but their mutual inability to let go of their hatred of one another is just another bond that ties them together. Of course, Charlotte feels a kinship with Lydia. She’s so like her mother already. Only Lydia clearly chooses Charlotte, whereas her actual mother does not. Where will that go in the future? Will Charlotte be able to bring down Lydia in the end, or will her feelings get in the way?

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The fact that Harlots focuses so strongly on the relationships between these women — rather than their chosen profession or the competition between them all because of it — is one of its greatest strengths. Season 2 looks ready to dig even further into the messy triangle that is Margaret, Charlotte, and Lydia. Which, honestly, is much more interesting than any sexual or romantic relationship the women might have. This is actually true for almost any relationship on the show, come to that.

Harlots understands that its female relationships are what make the show worth watching, and it looks more than ready to keep delivering on them in season 2. Let’s enjoy the ride.