Harlots season 2 finale review


Harlots wraps up its second season with a wild finale that clears the slate for its future.

Harlots season 2 has been many things: Dark, uncomfortable, occasionally ridiculous, yet intensely emotionally satisfying. It has deftly explored ideas of female oppression, and the ways in which women are conditioned to betray one another to survive in a patriarchal world.

The season finale takes this a step further, simultaneously showing the power of women when they band together, while underlining that many are still conditioned to turn on each other rather than to actively resist the patriarchal structure they live in. But it also offers an ending that indicates things can change, even if that change is nothing more than allowing different people to make better choices than those than came before them.

Season 2 ends with a look to the future, one which positions the show to tell entirely new stories about its next generation should the show – hopefully – get a season 3. Margaret Wells’ family learns she is alive, but lost to them in America. (Though Harlots certainly leaves the door open for Samantha Morton to return at some point.) Lydia Quigley is forcibly committed to Bedlam by her son, left alone and powerless in a room of drooling asylum prisoners. Fallon is forced to commit suicide to hide the existence of his cabal of rapist friends, and Lady Isabella blackmails her brother into releasing her fortune and illegitimate daughter to her care.

That Margaret and Lydia should both meet such ends is pretty surprising, given the central roles they both play in the existence of Harlots to begin with. The show’s original premise was based on the long-running feud between the two women, and the subsequent rivalry between their two houses. While that got real dark real quick in season 2 – as both women basically aimed to have one another killed – their relationship, and the history between them still formed the emotional backbone of the show. This finale clearly aims to change that, as it recenters the story around Harlots’ younger generation, and opens the world of the show to potentially become something much larger than it was before.

Will we miss Lydia and Margaret sniping at one another? Of course. But considering season 2 saw them both arrested and nearly hanged, their rivalry doesn’t have a ton of story left in it at the moment.

But as Charlotte steps forward to take over her mother’s business, and become something more than a piece of society arm candy, a new sort of story unfolds. How will she learn the lessons of both her mothers – and, yes, despite her dreadful extracurricular activities we can’t deny that Lydia cared for Charlotte too – and what kind of woman will she choose to become now? Charlotte, at her best, possesses both heart and ruthlessness, something neither of her mothers ever really managed at the same time. Her reign on Greek Street should be an interesting one, whatever it looks like.

Lucy Wells spent most of season 2 playacting at darkness, so on some level it makes sense that when confronted with the reality of Lord Fallon’s various murders, assaults and cover-ups, she could no longer countenance protecting him. And yet, Lucy’s dalliance with the dark side carried on for such an extended period of time that it’s hard to understand the quickness with which she rejected it.

Perhaps she finally realized Lord Fallon’s life was darker than she knew, or that role playing as a dangerous woman isn’t the same thing as becoming one. Either way, the finale gives us very little in terms of her perspective, though her grief over Margaret’s “death” certainly seems real enough. Where Lucy goes from here is largely a mystery, as the character feels more than ever like someone we don’t really know anymore.

Elsewhere, Amelia survives another attempt on her life, and will apparently marry former Justice Hunt despite her feelings for Violet. Emily Lacey’s pregnancy ruse is exposed, leaving her alone, homeless and selling herself in a tavern. Ann Pettifer ingratiates herself with the Marquess of Blayne. Harriet and Nell head off to start their own bawd house, which one has to assume will bring more clients and characters of color to the fore. Even Charles gets he opportunity to become something more interesting than he was, ending his relationship with Emily, agreeing to commit his mother, and taking over her house in Golden Square.

As the season comes to a close,Harlots has never felt quite so open.

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Yes, the show is ostensibly about a certain group of characters, and their relationships with one another. But it’s also about a class of people struggling to survive, women who struggle with poverty, violence, and loss on almost level. One in five women in Georgian England sold themselves to live, to try and make a better life for themselves. So there’s no shortage of story for Harlots still to tell – whether Margaret and Lydia are part of it or not.