I watched episodes 1 and 2 back-to-back, so I almost revealed some details from the second episode in my post on the first one. Oops!
Did you miss my first post? Check it out here. Also, there will always be spoilers in my posts, so if you haven’t watched episode 2 yet, don’t read this post!
Carrying on as if you have watched it ….
It’s interesting that the writers really play up the spinster element in this episode. The eldest “charge” Augusta (age 18, probably close in age to Charlotte!) complains that Charlotte couldn’t possibly teach her to become a marriageable lady because Charlotte has no experience herself. Isn’t that what you’d find with most governesses? Isn’t that why you become a governess–you’ve got no other options or you don’t want to marry? The spinster/governess role is constantly critiqued in the show, to the point that it’s even framed as a burden and the figure as an outcast. Alison, too, gives her sister a hard time about it. When Charlotte has to sit at the spinster end of the table at the mess dinner, it’s like, wow, she’s already doomed!
There’s this fun gender game being played in this episode, and the problem of biased education is exposed. Colbourne wants Charlotte to teach the female children how to be “young ladies” while Charlotte wants to expand their minds. Clearly, book smarts is for lads only. Ladies don’t need that kind of stuff. Where would they use it anyway? They’re not going to be governesses! No, they need to know how to embroider and play the pianoforte, how to sing and dance. Make yourself useful, why don’t ya–look pretty, sound pretty, make pretty things!
I am also interested in how the writers poke fun at clothing as one of the initial ways we read gender when we meet someone. In episode 1 there’s this short-haired kid in a faded red coat following the soldiers down a path and acting like one of them–this kid is so enthralled with the soldiers that they end up almost dying by being trampled by a horse during a parade. Luckily, quick thinking and acting Charlotte saved the wannabe soldier from an early demise, tends to their wound, and takes them home (where she overhears that a governess is needed–remember?). In the first episode we learn that the boy is not a boy, but Leonora, a girl living as a boy: Leo.
Is this a trans character? Yes. But that part is stomped on as well, for the father insists “she” wear a dress. Episode 2 shows the child in such constricting attire, but it clearly undercuts the father’s edict when we see Leo still wearing the hat and boots and playing soldier. That doesn’t stop daddy-o from demanding that the governess teach her some lady skills, though. Even with a dress on, we still see Leonora, aka Leo, acting more Leo than Leonora. For example, Leo says “damn” and “silly dress. I wish I could wear my short britches.” Even Charlotte realizes it would “be more practical” for the outdoor activity.
By the end of the episode, Leonora is back in Leo’s clothes (and daddy’s furious). Leo throws Charlotte under the bus by saying Miss Heywood said a girl can wear whatever suits her purpose, and worse, a girl can be whatever she wants to be! Feminism! Charlotte also stands up to Colbourne like a badass bitch. Hell yeah! Oh, and you can tell he’s falling for Char after he yells at her and she doesn’t give in. This is sooooooo Rochester & Jane Eyre .Everyone in the Colbourne household–even the patriarch himself–bets Charlotte won’t last a week as governess. Spoiler: she does, and he’s glad.
That said, there’s something really profound about the way this episode handles grief. From Charlotte’s grieving of Sidney to Colbourne’s of his wife to Augusta for her parents to even Leonora’s dismissal of grief for a parent you never knew, I was impressed by the way the writers captured how hard it is to live without your loved ones and to be happy. The end of the episode gave me hope.
On to other things and characters in the episode ….
Georgiana has had her “fill of suitors”–they keep coming, she keeps rejecting them, and she tells Mary not to let any more call on her. But she still has to go to the mess dinner and be civil because that’s what ladies do, she tells Charles Lockhart. (Un)fortunately, she falls into the trap set by Charles and Arthur to get the two some time together. Charles is fascinated by her, he says. But why? Is it her beauty? Her disdain for him? Her money? Is he just an artist looking for a subject or a man after her fortune?
I gotta admit that I’m warming up to Charles based purely on the actor. Isn’t he great? That Napolean-abolition speech was funny, too, and his banter with Georgiana is enjoyable. However, the lamb/Lambe stuff is kinda forced. He talks about his lamb dinner is tough and cold, and later he calls her the lamb wandering from the flock. Like, we get it. OK. Y’all know puns. Fine. 😀
I appreciate how we’ve got Augusta who desperately needs to marry to get out of her uncle’s house and Georgiana who doesn’t want to marry because she knows that she’ll lose all of her power once she does. (And she’s right about that! Once a hubs gets his hand on her money, he’ll treat her like crap. We’ve seen this time and again in stories from this time period. Want to read one? Lucy Peacock’s short story “The Creole” gives a good example.)
And we know what happens when women of a certain class marry: they need to produce heirs. Lady Babington (Esther) has suffered a miscarriage, almost died, and has been told that she will not be able to bear a child without high risk to her own life. She has to do whatever she can to have a baby, though, including going to Dr. Fuchs and a midwife for some herbs. What else can she do? Here we have another one of those oppressive results of marriage: if she can’t give him an heir she’s worthless..
Ugh. There’s so much subtle misogyny in this episode, and it’s intentional of course, like when the captains are sparring at the camp and one of them tells Georgiana and Alison “Ladies, this is no place for a young woman.”
At least Colonel Lennox isn’t such a tool. He’s really growing on me. While dancing he gives Charlotte some good battle advice for dealing with her charges. And she definitely earns some ground in this episode. She even lies for Augusta, which wins her some points.
And then there was Clara…
This episode ends with a bang! Clara Brereton returns destitute, pregnant, and claiming the baby is Edward’s. Is it? Probably not given the end of last season. We’re not supposed to trust Edward or Clara, so who knows. The best part of this scene is the look on Lady D’s face–she looks like she’s about to drop dead!
Side note: did anyone notice that the actresses are wearing a lot more makeup this season?
Hope you enjoyed the episode and this post! Once episode 3 airs on PBS I’ll post again. Want to read my posts from 2020 on season 1. They’re on this blog, too. Just search for them.