Harlots Watching Harlots: Mary Cooper, rides so high no man can dupe her

Okay these credits are new and fantastic. Cut outs of 18th c style (at least, they may be authentic) illustrations moving like puppets as the credits roll. Excellent stylistic choice and a good strong start!

That said, I have to get this off my chest: in the recap of last week’s episode it flashed to Charlotte, and I have to say that that wig is not doing Charlotte or the gorgeous Jessica Brown Findlay any favours; she’s bangin yet it makes her head look funny!

Domesticity! Margaret Wells is cleaning furiously as a way of venting her anger at having to auction Lucy’s virginity off (at the end of last week’s episode) before either of them were ready, while her lover tries to console her and buck her up for what’s to come. He reminds her that Wicked Wealthy Bitch Mrs Quigley has the law, clergy, and lords in her pocket (or their members in her girls’ mouths, to more accurately paraphrase). Mrs Wells is unmollified.

YIKES and there is Charlotte still in that wig! Why have you done this to her? I’m going to need some answers.

She’s still with the gabby Irish chairman too.

***spoilers for things that happened nearly 300 years ago and my guesses at what they mean for the show!***


In reality, setting aside the years the show has fast forwarded through (for now), Charlotte had two Irish lovers: Sam Derrick and Dennis O’Kelly, whom she met during her stint in debtor’s gaol. Both were impecunious impoverished and impertinent men but only O’Kelly worked as a chair man; that’s very slim to work off of but my prediction is thus: they’re going to merge the figures of Derrick and O’Kelly for reasons of time and chronology and the ensuing O’Derry character will be the writer of Harris’s list while Charlotte kicks up mischief around him.

Let’s see!

Oh he’s so well traveled and she’s such a fool!

Her ridiculous and spiteful lover is on his knees in a nightshirt and she’s like “All I ever wanted was your trust.” Really? That’s your priority? For shame, Miss Wells!

But maybe she knows what she’s up to because now he’s talking about how sorry the serpent is (is anyone else getting unpleasant flashbacks to Viserys Targaryen bullying his sister?) and she’s gotten him to pay off all her gaming debts in exchange for forgiving the serpent. All right then! That’s the spirit I was waiting for!

Ugh and the po faced man servant seems to really have it in for Charlotte! Not only did he rat her out last week, he’s now listening at the door with a look like curdled milk. Accepting bets on what his problem is, and how negatively it will affect Charlotte.

And so back to her mother! Margaret Wells is conferring with Nancy Birch (Kate Fleetwood), the attractively androgynous person last seen wearing a lace mask and flagellating some bare buttocks. Nancy wants to know if Mags (Margaret) is quite sure she wants to kick that hornet’s nest – “a host of hornets may swarm you,” she warns, before her trussed up client grunts and she leaves the room momentarily to hit him some more.

The activity seems to feed her creativity: she may have an idea.

Were you just wondering what’s up with spiteful but in-over-her-head Emily Lacey? Same!

The dead-behind-her-eyes French girl, who by the way has my undying devotion for her shameless lack of enthusiasm, is waking Emily up and letting her know just how far in over her head she now is.

“Your dress, your perfume, your shoes?”

“Your meals, your room?” the other Quigley whore chimes in. “She takes it from your money.”

Much like a Nevada brothel or a modern day strip club, before Emily can make the fortune for freedom she’s longing for, she’s going to have to pay Wicked Wealthy Bitch Quigley a debt that will only mount the longer she’s in Mrs Quigley’s house.

Oh lord. Dock 20 accuracy points for Mrs Quigley’s concern about providing a “virgin” for a long time client. It’s dangerous, she says, what happens to her after, she says – questions that wouldn’t have been of much concern as producing young women who could pass for virgins would have been a regular activity for her, as well as continuing them on in her service bc lord knows turnover in the sex trades is consistently high: we get lucky for a bit, or punters get bored, or we get dead or otherwise retire.

Nancy Birch is acting on her idea, and rouses two of her girls (one a woman of colour!) from sleep to find a Mary Cooper. “She’s had every lord and trooper” chants one of the girls, before yawning and covering her face.

Back at the Wells place, Mags is putting that damnable ribbon back into Lucy’s hair as a headband. I know from previews that at some point she gets to wear a regular rococo style and I cannot wait. I feel like there’s a kid from the 1940s masquerading in an 18th c brothel and it’s awkward.

She does share a knowing smirk with her mum tho, when Maggie reveals that she’d sold Lucy’s virginity twice over. Then two of the other workers come in to give her a gift of garters, now that she’s on the town.

Lucy’s back to the stable. A horse girl, of course. Or… is it a stable lad who has her interest?

And here we go again with Charlotte’s short sightedness. She let that dour valet see her with her Irish fella (-1 accuracy point, the show has given him a whole new name, Rennet or Whey or something like that) and just as her lover was about to pay her gaming debts, the valet lets it drop. At least historical Charlotte seemed to be insulting her protector deliberately and with malice aforethought; Show!Charlotte just seems to be foolish and sloppy.

Nancy Birch’s harlots, Violet and Betsy (Rosalind Eleazar and Alexa Davies) are now out of bed and dressed, are searching for Mary Cooper and run into the mad blind woman and her daughter, who seems judgey and racist, passing over the black worker to give bread and a blessing to the white one.

Maggie and her lover (I think his name is William North, played by Danny Sapani, but imdb only credits him with one episode) are discussing an old acquaintance of hers who’s come asking after her.

“He was telling the assembled company of his fine plantation and his thousand slaves,” North tells her. “Strange you never mentioned him.”

Mags starts to smile. “I’ve been sitting here desponding, Will,” (that answers that!) she tells him, but it may be that the answer to all their needs just showed up.

In good fortuitous fashion, Violet and Betsy have found Mary Cooper. She might be dead. They don’t want to touch her to find out.

And Mrs Quigley has gone to find a Moll Hackabout-style country bumpkin to trick into service. She finds a newcomer looking for work, and pulls her away from another woman, whispering, “that woman is an infamous bawd… she would feast on your innocence.” It’s a good thing she’s wearing all that powder, cover up any blushes at her shamelessness.

Mags goes to visit her old acquaintance Nat Lennox (Con O’Neil), he of the thousand slaves and nice plantation, and finds he has married a black woman, adding yet another woman of colour to the speaking cast. Mrs Lennox (Pippa Bennett-Warner) doesn’t seem fooled or thrilled by Margaret’s pronouncement that she keeps a boarding house, while her husband, like all tricks, doesn’t want to talk business with Maggie, only pleasure. They never ever do.

He does announce that he’ll be visiting her later, with his son. He thinks his son will like her house. Indeed.

Mrs Quigley is settling her new find in and – could it be? – feeling pangs of guilt? she even mentions how she is reminded of her own long lost innocence! Tuh. She locks the girl in and hands the key to her entitled old goat of a client.

Speaking of entitled, it’s back to Charlotte and her whining lover. He’s got her some proper jewellery at last and is having her pledge her fidelity to him as he slides it on. Yuck! But I’m not fooled, his sour faced valet (Haxby) has lured him into another bitter revenge move, he has more nastiness up his linen sleeve, I can feel it.

He’s leaving town again and he’s setting the valet on her, to follow her like a dog.

“I don’t think you’re a dog at all,” Charlotte tells Haxby. “I think you’re a bitch.”

This show is seamless, from one bitch to another, here we are back with Emily Lacey! She’s dressed for a tableau and visually fits right in. Her accent isn’t polished, but she has a plan for that too. If every girl has her niche, than hers is to be the guttersnipe dirty girl. It’s like she had Tyrion advising her in that plummy whisper right in her ear:

Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you.

Violet and Betsy have enlisted Nancy Birch to carry Mary Cooper to Margaret’s house, where (over Will’s protests) she’s popped into a bed partially out of humanity (very partially) but mostly because she makes a shocking impression, sick from syphilis as she is, and Emily Lacey’s old lover is a writer, foolish enough to be moved by a different sort of tableau into picking up his pen and denouncing Mrs Quigley and her practises and her unsafe house.

Below, in the kitchen, Kitty (Lottie Tollhurst) is washing out a lamb gut cundum (early condom, the only protection from stis and pregnancy available at the time and the second time the show has shown one, 5 accuracy points and another for promotion of attempts at sexual health!) and chatting with Lucy.

Lucy asks Kitty what her first time was like.

“My father’s friend saw I was alone,” Kitty explains. There are worse things that can happen than having a spoiled man child trying fruitlessly to use you to make your sister jealous.

Margaret and Will are having tensions over Mary Cooper, her sickness, and her utility as a tool for use against Lydia Quigley.

Morton’s face is a gift. She’s just a gift. The look on her face as Will leaves her, instructing her to think about what she’s doing using a dying girl and stirring up the venom of the Wealthy Wicked Bitch, it conveys so much but she’s barely doing anything with it at all. Chin a bit crumpled, face tired, worried, just a worn face but so much emotion and fear and ambiguity!

It’s too late for second thoughts though. She’s sent Emily Lacey’s writer/lover out into the world to hit at the Hornet’s Nest that is La Quigley and her affairs. Kitty reads the his attack on Quigley (Dame Death!) over breakfast. Will looks unpleased.

“Infection was Mary’s reward,” reads Kitty, “for disease respects nor rich nor poor. It lingers when the sport is done, and may still hang like a pestilent mist,”

– Nancy Birch polishes her whipping broom while leaning over the same editorial, still being read by Kitty –

“over the heartless madame’s pleasure house in Golden Square,”

– now the mad blind reformer and her daughter are reading it, now Lydia Quigley’s son over the breakfast table in that very Golden Square house –

“Ejected by this fiendish madame, whom we can only call Dame Death, Mary was taken in by MW, a kindly widow of Covent Garden who is comforting her in her final hours.”

Emily comes in as he finishes and announces that she doesn’t want the pox. (No one does, dear.)

“When I want emptyheaded and fatuous commentary, I shall buy a parrot!” is Dame Death’s tart response.

Back at the kindly Covent Garden widow’s house, Mary Cooper is feeling better and bitter. “No one uses me without paying!” she rails. “I want gin!”

William’s face isn’t clear but he’s emanating I told you so.

“I want laudanum! I want £5 and a roast chicken!”

She doesn’t seem quite on the brink of death to me! Very lively, in fact, and more than a little threatening. William is definitely radiating “I told you so.”

Turns out, Mary Cooper didn’t get French Pox until after she left Mrs Quigley’s, or so she says in her threats to get gin. Not that there would really be any way of knowing, even if this wasn’t fiction.

“Say nothing,” Maggie finally tells William.

WHAT! Lucy has gone back to the stable and the stable lad (not a horse girl after all, despite that damn ribbon headband) and appears to be soliciting the stable lad to take her actual virginity.

“They say you only remember your first one,” she explains. “Would you like to remember me?”

He says he needs his money for food but like a good whore she takes it anyway, although not before trumpeting her name and fame as a courtesan which seems devilishly reckless and unnecessary but okay. Okay.

Mrs Quigley is busy trying to get her latest deflowered virgin to stop sobbing and calm down. “You just earned more than in a year as a maid!” She’s exasperated, and why not. She’s nonconsensually given the girl a whole new future.

In her drawing room, Emily is making fun of her Madame. “When I want dull-witted and fatuous commentary, I shall talk to my son!” she announces right as the door opens and the son appears.

Emily Lacey is a sharp girl with a bright future ahead of her and that’s all I have to say about that.

Charlotte’s taking Haxby with her everywhere as punishment and it looks like it’s working. He looks viciously uncomfortable and only more so when Margaret assigns them to keep Mary Cooper quiet and from shouting for gin.

The mad blind woman reformer – Mrs Scanwell – is living in Mrs Quigley’s property and hasn’t yet managed to have Margaret Wells arrested, but Margaret has managed to interfere with the flow of cash into Mrs Quigley’s establishment. Mrs Q is deeply pissed but taking it out on Mrs Scanwell, a fanatic without eyesight, seems a bit misguided.

A lot like Nat Lennox taking his wretched racist son into Margaret’s house. The son tries to pull a Mr Darcy and announces that Lucy is the only one present worth anything, then insults Violet (who is black) and his stepmother and half sister and father when he announces his half sister will grow up to be just like her.

Violet asks if all Americans are so grotesque, and Lennox sends his son away, rightfully ashamed. More of Morton’s facial expressions. But Lennox doesn’t want any of the girls, he wants Margaret, who runs to William for another awkward conversation.

But the money does have to be got somehow.

Margaret takes him to bed and has just gotten to the point of asking how much he’ll lend her when bloody Mary Cooper escapes from bloody useless Charlotte’s inept care and barrels into the room where Margaret and Lennox are negotiating. Margaret’s face as she turns around, breasts heaving out of her corset, to scream “Mary Cooper fuck OFF!” – that all too familiar rage when the drunk busted coworker bursts in to ruin your sale and not even for her own profit but out of sheer sloppiness – has me screaming too, but with laughter.

Poor Margaret!

For an old friend Lennox really isn’t that understanding.

Mrs Quigley tries to get the justice – the old friend for whom she provided the misled virgin – to arrest Margaret Wells for slander, but he isn’t biting. Even when she reminds him she kidnapped a girl for him! that’s men for you.

And her day’s about to get worse. After wreaking all the havoc she possibly could (honestly more than a girl dying of syphilis seems capable of) Mary Cooper died, and Violet goes to Mrs Quigley’s door to share the news with “Dame Death” and to tell her to avoid Covent Garden, for “there’s a lot of girls who want to scratch her eyes out.” Quigley Jr blanches.

Bright cleversticks Emily Lacey gets him while he’s beaten down and asks him what happened between Mrs Quigley and Mrs Wells, but he doesn’t bite, or he doesn’t know.

Margaret and her girls have a funeral procession for Mary and run into the vicious blind woman. Basically a Fred Phelps for the 18th century, she announces that she got what was coming to her, a poor choice in the face of a funeral procession of furious marginalised people who’ve just lost one of their own, in the process being reminded of a fate that may await them.

“Mary Cooper lit up this town like a flare!” Margaret yells. “And for those who damn us? I say be damned! Mary Cooper!”

“Mary Cooper,” Nance Birch repeats over her body. “Mary Cooper,”

She’s had every lord and trooper
Mary Cooper Mary Cooper
leaves her lover’s in a stupor

The room joins in.

Riding high, no man can dupe her
London’s Venus, Mary Cooper

We still die too young and too unmourned, but at least we have each other.

Charlotte’s ridiculous chair man comes in and tells her nonsense about the world being full of wonder. I get it, the right timing for that kind of twaddle, for that kind of hope. He leaves the funeral and she doesn’t cry.

Betsy’s gone outside to convince Mrs Scanwell that she’s repented and wants forgiveness, and it isn’t til Violet intervenes that the mad old bat realises she’s been duped. She’s no Mary Cooper! Like an 18th century Julie Birchill she rains invective down on the departing whores, “murders and drunkenness will follow you!”

“I love you too!” Violet calls back, and blows a kiss to Mrs Scanwell’s sadsack daughter. I sense lesbian intrigue coming up!

Lennox comes to the wake and asks Margaret to come to his to talk about the money. We all know what that means, and after working herself up to compromise followed by such a near miss, it has to be especially hard to hear. But at a wake, surrounded by people who rely on her and a corpse whose fate they all might follow – can’t really be ignored, can it. I still hear Fancy’s poor mama’s voice ringing in my ears, and I’m 32. “Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.”

Mrs Quigley is just about to divulge her past with Margaret Wells (“The woman’s a menace”) when there’s a knock on the door. The whole house rouses, to find Mary Cooper’a body, surrounded by flowers and candles, at their doorstep. Margaret literally laid Mary Cooper’s death at Lydia Quigley’s door! Genius move! very theatrical!

And there she and her whores are, gathering across the square, as full of menace as Mrs Quigley ever dreamed.