Harlots season 2 review: Episode 6


Betrayals, revelations, attempted murder and other dark twists rock the world of Harlots to the core.

Harlots has left the specifics of Lady Isabella Fitzwilliam’s backstory out of much of their second season. Instead, the show has simply used the aristocratic noblewoman’s existence to continually debunk the idea that an accident of money, birth or status are enough to give women real power. They aren’t.

As we’ve repeatedly seen, Lady Fitz is rich. She has all the perks that status can buy her. Yet, she has even less agency than most of the series’ titular harlots do. She’s just as much a victim of circumstance as any woman who finds herself selling her body on the street. Her cage just has fancier trappings.

Isabella’s domineering brother controls her fortune, forbidding her access to enough cash to make any major purchase or even to pay her gambling debts without his permission. She has no support system or friends of her own. And the Marquess spends an inordinate amount of time gaslighting her and reiterating that she’s a failure. No wonder Isabella seems to truly believe herself incapable. (It’s also why her sudden joy at the realization that Charlotte trusts her enough to spearhead that failed rescue attempt is so moving.) In short, Isabella — for all her fine clothes and expensive jewelry — has less strength and self-worth and self-belief than the newest of Margaret Wells’ girls.

Lady Fitz’s situation is rendered even more horrifying once we know the full extent of it. Her brother is not only her jailer but also her abuser, her rapist, and the father of the secret child that Lydia’s been holding over her head as blackmail material for years. Isabella has basically lost everything, thanks to him — her child, her virtue, her freedom, her self-esteem, and even the remotest chance at happiness with any other person. (After all, she is a fallen woman, just as much as Charlotte is.)

She will probably never marry and will be chained to her brother for the rest of her life, all while doing Lydia’s bidding to keep herself from becoming a scandal. At this point, all she has is her status, for all the good it has done her. But, in any event, in Georgian London it must be better to be well-off and comfortable, even if one is miserable at the same time.

Speaking of misery, almost everyone on Harlots has a terrible time of it this week, as Amelia finds herself near-death from a stab wound, Margaret lands in jail after confessing to George’s murder, and Charlotte’s undercover ruse in Lydia’s house is fully exposed. The rush toward the end of the season intensifies, throwing twists at viewers at a positively breakneck speed. (So much so that I was convinced the episode must be over when we’d barely clocked the halfway mark.)

Charlotte fairs the best of everyone, probably, as she at least ends up with her freedom and gets a make-out session with Lady Fitz by episode’s end. But there’s no denying that she has lost something in the process. Sure, her relationship with Lydia was toxic, manipulative and fifteen shades of messed up. But there is no denying that the two women did mean something to one another in their own way and, that, on some level Charlotte’s feelings toward her were genuine.

It’s likely she did view Lydia as a sort of mother she never had. After all, she has, for better or worse, largely fashioned herself into a harlot that’s modeled after Lydia much more so than Margaret. Charlotte knows how to be cruel and calculating in a way that her mother does not, and she clearly picked those skills up at Quigley’s knee. And when Lydia asks Charlotte — with no small degree of genuine sadness — whether everything between them has been a lie, it’s hard not to feel moved by it. They’re connected to one another, and likely always will be, no matter what happens from here.

Margaret, for her part, finally listens to her better angels, stepping up and confessing to Sir George’s murder, so that Lord Fallon can’t hold knowledge of it over Lucy’s head. (He’s already threatened to turn her into the law, should Margaret or anyone else mention his role in Amelia’s hanging.) Why Lucy felt the need to confess this to her keeper in last week’s episode is still anyone’s guess, but at least the information has been neutralized at this point. The question of whether Lucy is worth all of this trouble is left up to viewers to decide, but remains a central quandary of Harlots’ very existence.

Margaret’s choice to put herself in the way of the hangman’s noose to spare her daughter stands in sharp contrast against her decision in season 1, when she was willing to let Charlotte go to jail for a crime Lucy committed. Of course, the question of whether Margaret is merely playing favorites among her daughters again is a fair one, and certainly possible. (Even likely.)

However, she does at least manage to apologize to Charlotte for treating her eldest daughter no better than Lydia did her so long ago. They two women have a genuine, emotional moment, which hasn’t really happened since back in season 1. So, it’s progress, of a sort, I suppose. Whether Margaret will have time to worry about being a better mother in future remains to be seen.

Related Story. Lucy’s descent into darkness on Harlots this season is a wild ride. light

The wild card in this story remains Lucy, who seems as besotted with Lord Fallon as she does with the idea of her own success. Will her newfound fascination with her own dark side lead her to make even more reckless choices, or will her mother’s sacrifice snap her back to herself?