Tea & Review: Harlots – Episode 4

Lucy’s (Eloise Smyth) naiveté lingers in episode 4. Despite a customer leaving her bed agitated and dissatisfied, she still asks Margaret (Samantha Morton) if he is to be her keeper. Shockingly, she believes that to be in the realm of possibility.

Later when she plays cards, Lucy yet again demonstrates her fledgling social skills. Not unlike her time at the Reptons (Tim McInnerny), she attempts to participate in banter and ends up missing the mark. Unfortunately though, to Lord Fallon (Ben Lambert) she sounds enticing. This is, of course, most dangerous given his particular, possibly murderous, sexual preferences.

She becomes increasingly more aware of her weaknesses as a harlot, rather keenly so when she overhears Margaret express concern at the lack of takers. To her credit, Lucy takes some initiative and seeks out Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) for advice. From their conversation though, it’s clear Charlotte didn’t struggle early on to satisfy customers as Lucy has.

It’s hard to tell if Lucy’s bumpy entry into sex work is par for the course or if it veers from the norm. The only other new Harlot whose experiences might provide comparison and insight is Harriet (Pippa Bennett-Warner). Her expert handling of Repton does indeed put Lucy’s amateur fumbling in rather harsh perspective, but we might remember that Harriet is not new to this game. As she says, this is just the first time she’s getting money for it.

But when Lucy, barefaced and dressed in white, wanders amongst half-dressed heathen partygoers, it’s clear she doesn’t belong. When she sits down to play the piano, it’s the best she can do to take part in the activities. She craves attention. She craves to be a star. But Margaret trained Lucy to play the piano and sing and be seen; she didn’t actually train Lucy to be a harlot.

Lucy’s begun to question her suitability for this work and asks Margaret why she even needs a keeper. She asks why she can’t simply stay home. Separately, Charlotte also asks to live with Margaret as the relationship with George Howard (Hugh Skinner) deteriorates and her financial stability weakens. Unfortunately for them both, Margaret does as every parent has done in the history of the world. She tells her girls to get a job and make money.

But supposing Lucy is, in fact, an outlier, what does that mean for her propensity to make money? For her future? Not everyone is suited for every job, and that’s okay. But what becomes of a harlot if she doesn’t have the aptitude for sex work?

And what becomes of Charlotte if she can’t find sex work (at least the profitable kind which actually breaks the cycle of poverty)? She tries to secure a new keeper to replace George, but she finds herself with less currency than she once had.

Meanwhile, in Golden Square, Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) plays hostess to all kinds of villains from Osbourne (Morgan Watkins) and Cunliffe (Richard McCabe) to the unidentified ‘Spartans.’ For his part, Charles Quigley (Douggie McMeekin) refuses service to Osbourne, permanently putting an end to his patronage. Though in truth, the victory was incidental. Charles’ sole intent was to stop Osbourne’s abuse of Emily (Holli Dempsey); he happily offered any other woman of Osbourne’s choosing.

And in doing so, Charles represents every man who’s outraged by the abuse of a woman only when the abuse affects him personally; when it’s his girlfriend, his sister, his mother, his daughter. As Margaret said in episode 1, “Men don’t respect women; they respect property.” It’s because of Charles’ relationship with Emily Lacey, that he finally stops Osbourne’s abuse of Quigley’s harlots.

And in this landscape, a woman derives worth only through a male conduit; intrinsically she’s worthless. The logical extension of this philosophy meets its heinous end when the ‘Spartans’ murder Quigley’s kidnapped virgin. The young woman, as so many are, is quite literally disposable.

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