Lydia Quigley is bulletproof and Harlots is all the better for it


Shady madam Lydia Quigley may never get the comeuppance she deserves on Harlots. And thank goodness for that.

For Harlots, Lydia Quigley is the monster that lurks in the dark.

Ask at least 50 percent of the women on this show, and Lydia’s at fault for nearly all their ills. She’s apparently responsible for virtually every ill in Margaret Wells’ life, she keeps all her girls enslaved through crushing financial debt, and she bullies her weak-minded son to no end. Oh, and she was sort of involved in a weird pleasure cult that likes to murder virginal women for fun.

Okay, fine, Lydia’s certainly not the greatest person in the world. But she is one of the best parts of Harlots. And though the show regularly acknowledges what a truly despicable person she is, it also doesn’t shy away from giving her layers, or from confronting her with the consequences of her actions. So far this season, Lydia’s ended up in jail, lost her house, and been forced to depend on the kindness of strangers (or at least people she’s done wrong in the past) more than once. We’ve seen her lose, and we’ve seen her suffer. But despite all of this, we’ve never really seen her defeated.

No matter what happens, Lydia’s never down and out for good. In fact, every time it seems as though she’s about to face real consequences for her actions, she manages to scheme or otherwise wriggle her way out of it. It’s hard not to admire her, on some level. Because at this point, Lydia seems bulletproof. And let’s be real: The show is better for it.

Sure, there are moments where Quigley must face challenges or setbacks. That’s a natural part of any good story. But none of us really want to see Lydia taken down. At least, not in the way Margaret Wells intends. We’re much too happy to watch her work.

If Lydia were to be hanged for her – admittedly, many – crimes, Harlots would not only lose one of its most complex and interesting characters but several of the main emotional tensions that drive the show. The basic premise of the series involves two competing bawd houses, both with different styles, employees, and clientele.

Furthermore, the rivalry between Lydia and Margaret is the emotional bedrock upon which much of Harlots is built, and we’ve still only barely scratched the surface of their history together. (I can’t be the only person who desperately wants to know more about how Lydia got those scars or how Margaret got out of her house.) There’s no way Harlots is letting go of any of that storyline gold anytime soon.

Plus, there’s also the issue of Charlotte. Exactly zero people really believe she’s going to manage to let go of Lydia completely, if only because she’s the last person who still chooses Charlotte when given the opportunity to do so. Their messy pseudo-mother/child bond is the kind of compelling television that you don’t just throw away by tossing half of it in prison forever or sending it to the hangman’s noose.

Yes, Lydia has done some terrible things. But is anyone on Harlots innocent? Lydia’s crimes are particularly egregious, in that they are sins against the sisterhood of women around whom the show revolves. But Margaret is no better. Not really. She’s a bully, a terrible mother who favors one child over the other, a jealous wife, a selfish neighbor and a murderer on top of it all. And she came within a hairsbreadth of committing the same crime Lydia did, as well. Quigley’s certainly worse (if we’re ranking these women exclusively on a morality scale) but Margaret’s really not far off.

Mostly, the overall quality of Harlots would suffer in Lydia’s absence. Every drama needs a villain, and even in a world of decidedly gray characters, Lydia stands out. She’s willing to do things others aren’t’ – from murder, to blackmail, to generic social climbing. And, more to the point, she’s entertaining. There’s a reason the most memorable scene in season 2’s fourth episode involves Lydia thwarting an arrest warrant because it was delivered while she was literally having sex with the Lord Chief Justice.

You can never, ever count Lydia out. And even when she appears to be at her lowest point – abandoned by her family, in jail, on the verge of arrest, with enemies corralled against her – she’s never really defeated. There doesn’t appear to be any situation that she can’t conquer with the right combination of money, connections, and information. And that’s part of what makes her so fun to watch.

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So roll on, Lydia. Keep blackmailing your enemies – and sometimes your friends. Boss your son around. Make Emily Lacey’s life miserable and feud even more with Margaret Wells. Befriend Charlotte, since Lord knows you both need one. And keep avoiding the hangman’s noose for as long as ever you can. Harlots needs you.