Harlots drops the ball

the young George IV enjoying himself

Altho the writers aren’t the only ones to have dropped the ball: between midterms that spread out unfathomably over three weeks and trying to stay on top of my bills I have also dropped the ball with this project.

In trying to cater to a 21st century audience, they’ve upped the stakes, but in ways that simply make one ask “why?”

Why did they write a character so completely unused to and unsuited to her surroundings as Lucy is? If I wanted to watch virginal blonde be assaulted I would watch SVU or CSI or any one of the number of shows that trade on such imagery. It’s like someone in the executive area walked into the writers’ room and said “you know what was great? From Hell was great. More of that!”

Adding Lucy and tweaking Charlotte’s character and circumstances to such reliance on her protector (though the show will insist on calling him “master” god knows why) was so uncalled for. There was a good story already there in the past, the story they’re telling now is just a variation on one we’ve been hearing for well over a decade and it’s tired: innocent girl sold, tries to defend herself, complications ensue. This squashed cabbage leaf of a story means that all the other interesting narrative currents eddying around Lucy and Charlotte get minimal screen time, and often the show seems to view the secondary characters needs as selfish, detrimental to the needs of the main story — how dare Harriet, for example, ask for help for her children?

There were some murderess whores — there always are, you can’t deal with men and their desires and their inability to imagine your own personhood without the seed of rage starting to grow in your belly — and their actual real life stories it turns out, are much much more interesting than this one is still. Give me Sally Salisbury over sadsack Lucy any day.

I was intrigued by the fifth and sixth episodes, excited at the past hinted at by Nance and Maggie’s discussion, “the kind of bawds they wanted to be,” and how Maggie wasn’t living up to it. The vision of their shared past and shared mistreatment and the bond that created would be so interesting to explore. Seven episodes in to an eight episode season, any exploration of their past will have to wait, barring a very extended season finale. Lucy’s misdeeds and Mrs Q’s wickedness have sucked up all the storyline, and somehow it’s still dull as dirt.

Charlotte is in jail, only a few years after her namesake’s stay in jail, but of course given how the writers have robbed her of any independence (so that the rebellion she actually did engage in, flaunting other poorer lovers and having her protector pay for them) is impossible to display and must be translated into an anachronistic 21st century demand for some unspecified “freedom” a freedom which in 18th century terms was absolute disaster, giving it up in exchange for whatever he felt like giving her, no certainty about it. She didn’t even have her own house! Did the writers think about how ludicrous that would look, or were they too sloppy to include scenes in her own establishment? (And all the more reason for Maggie to have jumped at Lord Howard’s offer, although it would have been very unusual indeed to have just let him at Lucy, and very poor foresight on the character’s part, given how utterly useless her drip of a daughter was being. Lucy should have been sent to a convent and forgotten, she’s not capable of pulling her own weight.)

And thus we have the setup for the story as it is now. Charlotte is in jail for her family’s murder, not for racking up debts that her lover refused to pay before dying because of how disrespectful she had been to him while he was alive. Her mother has alienated all of her own friends on behalf of a daughter who is incapable of surviving in the world she’s been written into, Charlotte’s lover is a fool and so is she, and somehow, in the middle of a stew, Maggie’s husband has maintained a belief in god that draws the line at protecting children from rapacious lords and calls murder a bigger sin than allowing your children to hang.

Okay then!

All I want out of a show about 18th century whores is some real 18th century whores. I want to see my forebears, I want to see my experiences reflected in theirs, I want to see haggling and negotiating and the putting on of the costume we all wear when we are facing our clients. I want to see the masquerade balls and the day to day business of trying to stay disease and child-free. I want to see the sighs of relief as the client leaves, the eager recounting of the money, the allocation of funds to which debt and the excited discovery that since he’s generously thrown down a bit extra, there’s that much extra padding for the safety egg.

I want to see gossip about the living situation of the Duchess of Devonshire, gossip about Kitty Fisher eating a 100£ note, about Eliza Farren capturing her dickhead Earl at last.

We aren’t boring and we have never been boring. We have never needed embellishments to make our lives interesting. We especially do not need our history taken from us and then presented back in a patchwork of 21st century stereotypes about innocent helpless white women, voracious traffickers of virgins, and “love.”

There can be love in a harlot’s life, but not in Harlot’s, apparently.

Do better next season, you guys. With Samantha Morton and Jessica Brown Findlay you have the material for a great show, stop pissing it away. Hire Hallie Rubenheld if you’re so lost.