Last week’s face-off may have been between Ophelia and Gemma, but this week, familial relationships went up in flames as the tension between Queen Helena and her daughter, Eleanor, went from icy to scorching hot over a single fashion show. (Seriously.)
The subject of fashion—what’s appropriate, who’s wearing what, and which designers are being endorsed by the royal crown—has always been a hot topic in conjunction with the British monarchy and that certainly proves to be the case in “We Are Pictures, or Mere Beasts.” (And if you need more proof, just look to the pages of our sister publication People. Love those pictures of Prince George!) While it’s been clear from the first episode that Eleanor and Helena definitely don’t have a conventional mother-daughter relationship, things entered nuclear territory with the arrival of London Fashion Week, during which Queen Helena plans to throw her annual fashion show. She’s also planning a family portrait session, which causes the King to pout. “My predecessors saved Prussia and I’m posing for London fashion week,” he says. Poor thing! Plus, Cyrus has already claimed his favorite designer. “And don’t even mention the fact that I don’t even get to wear Alexander McQueen!”
This earns an eye-roll from Helena, who plans on wearing purple. Obviously. That is, until Eleanor calls “bagsy” on the royal hue. (We find out later in the episode is the British term for calling dibs. See, this show is sensational and educational!) Helena might not have let this bother her, but the drama gets kicks up a notch when she finds out news of her upcoming fashion show hasn’t made the cover of The Global Standard. But she’s still made the cover, in the form of a headline accusing her of spending £50,000 on lingerie accompanying a photo of her face photoshopped on a “younger woman’s body.” This is Eleanor’s dirty work and it’s payback for Helena’s crackdown on her social media use. Eleanor is triumphant about planting the story, gloating in the knowledge that she’s hurt her mother. Or has she?
“It doesn’t. It hurts you because when the people read this and when they vote to disband the monarchy, you’re going to realize you need this world more than any one of us,” Helena says. “Remind me what your talents are? Other than ingesting other people’s drugs, being young and somewhat attractive, for now? You do nothing. You contribute nothing. And when all this goes away, you’re going to be nothing.” She’s supremely confident as she utters these digs, one after another. “I’ll be fine. But we know you won’t be.”
Ooh girl—them’s fighting words. On the surface, Eleanor doesn’t seem much affected but later, alone in her rooms—alone, that is, except for Jasper— it’s clear she’s smarting in the aftermath of Helena’s mean-spirited spiel. Just then, Helena comes in. She expected to see Eleanor licking her wounds but instead, she’s met with some surprising news: Eleanor is planning a fashion show, “which just happens to be on the same night as your fashion show.”
Helena: “You know my event is the pinnacle of fashion week. You’ll be setting yourself up for illicit public scrutiny, not to mention ridicule from the press when your show is less than mine.”
Eleanor: “I guess now we’ll see. Game on, queen.”
Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, these two are not—but then again, does Eleanor get along with anyone? Turns out, she and Ophelia have forged a bit of a friendship, which mostly consists of Eleanor enlisting Ophelia to dig around in her father’s files for dirt on Jasper. Is he from Nevada, as he claims? Ophelia finds evidence that he’s from an orphanage in Camden, a juicy discovery that Eleanor brings up as he’s driving her to after-hours (read: the afterparty) following a night out with her twin brother, Liam, and Gemma. The three of them had been out clubbing—well, really, it was just Eleanor and Liam when Gemma appeared unannounced—and the latter are leading the way with Marcus, Liam’s bodyguard, in tow. That’s right: Gemma was driving, though she definitely had her fair share of shots.
“You look sexy in that suit,” she says to Liam while driving. ‘I bet you taste sexy, too.” She leans over into the passenger seat (apparently not bothered that Marcus is in the backseat or that SHE’S DRIVING), but they crash into one of those iconic red telephone booths before she can do the deed. OMG, you guys! Luckily, Gemma’s the only one who’s cut up. Marcus starts blathering about extraction protocol and Liam’s ignoring him—he wants to play Prince Valiant and make sure Gemma’s alright—when Jasper shows up and PUNCHES LIAM IN THE FACE. Seriously? It’s presumably a way to get him to shut up and follow protocol, but still. This scene exemplifies how though Liam has good intentions, his mistakes are all too quickly covered up—stripping him of any chance to learn from his many missteps.
This leads to a scene where Marcus tells Liam that the king wants to see him immediately. “Son. I asked you here because I know. The effort you’ve been making in dedication to the crown,” says the king. “I know how hard you’ve been working. And I’m proud of you.” Liam’s all “aw shucks,” and secretly sweating because the king has absolutely no idea that Liam narrowly avoided scandal by removing all signs of his involvement in Gemma’s car crash—especially since he’s been shadowing his father on high-profile meetings, including one with the head of the monarchy abolitionist movement.
Meanwhile, Eleanor is busy planning her fashion show. She’s ostensibly enlisted her obnoxious redheaded cousins to scout out a location for her (a weird, creepy dark tunnel), but when they blab to the Queen, Helena decides she’d like to be super hip by swooping in and stealing Eleanor’s location. Not so fast, Queen—now Eleanor will be able to hold her fashion show in the palace. Burn!
“Eleanor, this was something I cared about. It was prestigious to be selected for my show… I’ve spent my life cultivating the image of this family. Deciding who sees us and how they see us,” Helena says to her daughter. “Living your life in the family eye and making mistakes is one thing but to maliciously undo the work I’ve done, the steps I’ve taken to protect you and this family, its unforgivable. You want the press to decide, fine. But as far as I’m concerned, the press shouldn’t decide anything for us or about us, ever.”
It’s a remarkably strong perspective on the power of the press and a testament to the relentless scrutiny of the British paps in particular. But the show—or in this case, the shows—must go on, and the Queen’s is full of ruffled looks veering on the traditional side while Eleanor’s is rock n’ roll, complete with glow-in-the-dark war painted onto the leggy models. Eleanor—wearing a cleavage-baring mini dress and thigh-high boots—proclaims herself the victor, and has even painted her clavicle with the words “I win.” A bit childish, no?
NEXT: More eye candy, right this way.[pagebreak]
After the show, Gemma goes to find Ophelia, who proceeds to ask her how she’s feeling. “Oh that,” replies Gemma. “Our lawyers will fix it.” Just on the other side of the room, Ophelia sees Liam, who’s hanging out with a very blonde, very leggy model—whom Liam slept with earlier this episode. “Women love power and Liam loves women. Comes with the territory.” While Ophelia wasn’t under the impression that she and Liam were exclusive by any means—heck, the two haven’t even hung out this episode nearly 40 minutes in—she’s certainly shocked and a bit hurt that he’s been sleeping with someone else. (Though for the record, she’s been getting acquainted with a cutie at her school named Nick, who’s good at helping her escape the notice of the paparazzi and has the advantage of being decidedly normal.) Liam finds her, and comes clean to her about his involvement in Gemma’s car crash. Maybe Ophelia is his truth-telling kryptonite?
“Gemma’s car accident—I was with her. I lied to my father. I didn’t tell him the truth either. I’m not proud of that. I’m not proud of any of it. I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this …it’s just that I don’t want to lie to you about it.”
Save it, homeboy. “How did the press not know about you and Gemma?” asks Ophelia. Extraction protocol, of course. “It was good seeing you. It always is.” And with that, Liam leaves. Clearly this hot-n-heavy romance has gone cold—though I can think of worse things, especially since Nick has officially asked Ophelia out. You know, on an actual date—none of this cheap chai nonsense.
In another area of the palace, the King and Cyrus are sipping brandy, chatting about Liam’s progress in learning about the monarchy. “Let’s put him on a plane tour,” the king suggests. “See how people respond to him.” Cyrus does not like this plan one bit—though to be honest, there’s little about the king he likes—and tells him so. “The plane tour is the one chance I have to curry favor with the people.” No dice—the plane tour is now Liam’s.
Meanwhile, Queen Helena is face-to-face with Eleanor for the first time since their respective shows. Eleanor is positively glowing over the rave reviews and favorable headlines her event has received. But wait—it turns out that one plum review was from a critic who allegedly attended Helena’s show; he never attended hers. Queen Helena was behind it, asking critics to be kind to her daughter’s inaugural event. “It was your first fashion show, sweetheart,” says Helena. “When you succeed, the monarchy succeeds. See, I can plant stories too.” It seems as though Eleanor’s victory was short-lived, and she begins crying. Lucky, Jasper is there to offer her some sound assurance (I know, I know). “I know I’m lying about something. The queen is lying about everything. But those reviewers, they’re telling the truth.” It’s the only moment to date where we’ve seen a flicker of honesty between the two and it’s short-lived, as Eleanor proceeds to light the newspaper review on fire.
Sparks fly between another set of royals when Cyrus tells Liam that he’s cleaned up further evidence of his nephew’s involvement in the car crash of the night before. He understands Liam, he says. After all, they’re “a lot alike.”
But no matter what differences the royals have between them, they won’t outwardly shirk their royal duty. There’s a family portrait to be taken, after all, and they grin and bear it—their first family photo without Robert. Which leads to the final exchange of the night: “You need to be better to your children,” the king says to Helena as the two are in bed for the night. “We may not always be a monarchy, but we’ll always be a family.”
“It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” responds Helena. It seems like this is one mother whose instinct to protect doesn’t necessarily extend to her children. Is there any way for this to end well?
Liz’s best lines:
“I smell supermodel. Poor Gemma.”
“See what Twiddledee and Twiddledumbass know.”
“Eleanor does best when she feels her whole life is one great injustice. She needs a good adversary.”
Real-life royal reference score: 2 (Liam’s upcoming trip is clearly inspired by traditional goodwill tours undertaken by the monarchy; Liz gave off the most magnificent imitation of Queen Elizabeth’s royal wave.)
Does this week represent the breaking point between Helena and Eleanor, or will they kiss and make up? And what about Cyrus—now that he’s making regular trips to the aesthetician (“No use wasting a good bleaching!”) will he continue cozying up to James in hopes of a payoff in the form of a throne later? And what about Nick—is Mr. Right Now better than a royal Prince Charming?