To their dismay, Victoria and Albert like each other
Credit: ITV
S1 E3
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Good news: I think Victoria just figured out what kind of show it wants to be. Better news: I love that show. Albert is just what we needed. The first three hours of the series made it out to be a smart period piece: lush, engaging, and at times a bit serious. But Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) is so serious that he throws the whole show into almost satirical relief. He’s serious in the way college students are when they come home for their first winter break: broody and self-important, prone to saying things like, “To be among the trees when the wind is blowing is to feel the sublime.” Albert turns Victoria into the best kind of rom-com, mainly because he’d hate the thought of being in a rom-com.

“The Clockwork Prince” picks up right where the last episode ended — with a rudely interrupted piano solo. Albert seems like a quiet charmer, but then he compliments Victoria for playing “with fewer mistakes” than she did when last they met. Let the burns begin. He asks Victoria if she might be willing to show him the palace’s art collection tomorrow — he’s jonesing for da Vinci — but the queen dodges the request. She and Lord M have work to do, and anyway, she doesn’t know anything about any da Vinci. Albert grumbles all the way to his room: “Imagine not knowing if you own a Leonardo!” That’s the thing about Albert: He’s melodramatic, but sometimes he’s right.

Albert refuses to play the games that George and the Grand Duke played last week. He isn’t here to be a contestant on the royal edition of The Bachelorette; he’s just dropped by to see if the queen might possibly be interested in marrying him. At first, it doesn’t look good. Victoria is the kind of person who sees her likeness on a stamp (a modern marvel) and laughs at the thought of everyone in England licking her face, while Albert is the one who stands pensively by the window and scolds her for laughing at someone else’s invention. I’ll give them this for common ground: They’re each used to being the most dramatic person in the room.

Almost all of Victoria and Albert’s early conversations devolve into lists of things they “do not care for.” Albert doesn’t like card games and being told he can’t finish his dinner. Victoria doesn’t like paintings of people with “wobbling flesh.” But no sensitive child of privilege can resist a good piano. At the request of Albert’s brother Ernest (David Oakes), a persistent matchmaker and the unsung hero of the hour, the queen and the prince team up for a deliciously stabby duet. Albert asks Victoria if she can handle the more difficult part. “I have never had a problem with it,” she insists. “No?” Albert jabs. “But it has so many chords, and you have such small hands.” Their kids are going to be so petty.

The next day, Ernest ribs his brother for finding so many excuses to touch Victoria during their duet. (“It’s a complicated piece!”) King Leopold, meanwhile, urges Victoria to hurry up and propose to the prince. They played music together, so obviously they’re compatible. Shut down Tinder and buy your crush a grand piano already. Victoria isn’t there yet, but she’s getting there, even if she won’t admit it. She treats herself and 100 of her closest friends to “a very small dance” — not because she wants to dance with Albert, she tells Melbourne, but just because she likes a party. And maybe she wants Albert to be there.

Poor, tortured Lord M seems like he’s starting to regret turning down the queen’s proposal. On the one hand, I have sympathy for the guy; he’s been in a tough position from the start. On the other, all of his best talking points involve birds. Albert is a much more versatile brooder. The two wallflowers size each other up from opposite ends of the dance hall — Lord M calls Albert stiff (“a clockwork prince”), while Albert worries that Victoria would rather dance with her prime minister than with him. But Melbourne knows he lost his chance; just as he’s about to ask Victoria to waltz, he sees Albert approaching and backs away.

NEXT: Rip those shirts

It’s a good thing Melbourne backs off, because he’d never give us this kind of dime-novel goodness. Albert, a better dancer than either he or Victoria suspected, compliments Victoria’s corsage, a gift from Lord M. Albert’s mother always wore gardenia in her hair. Victoria hands over the flowers without a second thought, but the prince has nowhere to wear them — so, without breaking eye contact with the queen, he pulls a pocketknife from his boot and just gashes a hole in his shirt. “I will hold them here,” he says. “Next to my heart.” This is easily the most obscene thing Lord M has ever witnessed.

This is also where everything changes for Victoria. Before the dance, she shamed Albert for preferring forests to gardens; the morning after the dance, she declares that they’re all going to Windsor to look at the trees. (“You know how fond I am of… trees.”) She even brushes up on the art collection at the palace. But she still needs the approval of her trusty Lord M, which is how he winds up schlepping it to Windsor for the grumpiest dinner party yet. Albert does not care for wearing gold braid.

The next day, Ernest manages to get Albert and Victoria alone in the woods together — and for Albert, the only thing better than quality time with the trees is quality time with Victoria. They look almost ready to kiss when Victoria’s dog, Dash, yelps in the distance. He’s broken his leg. The prince, who loves just ripping his shirts to shreds, tears off his sleeve to make a splint.

But his gallantry goes south when he wishes out loud that the queen would spend less time with Lord M, who doesn’t even like Dickens. Albert tells Victoria about the poverty he witnessed in London — the kind of poverty Lord M doesn’t want to read about, much less see for himself. “I, on the other hand,” Albert argues, “would rather see things for what they are.” Judging a person’s entire character on their taste in books does seem a little harsh, but I’ve questioned my friendships with people who don’t like certain TV shows, so I shouldn’t throw stones.

Albert and Victoria leave Windsor convinced that they’ll never see eye to eye, but when Victoria replays their fight for Lord M, she realizes something: She wants Albert to smile at her. Melbourne points out that Albert isn’t a big smiler. “I know,” Victoria admits. “That’s why I want him to smile at me.” Girl, propose already. Taking the hint, Melbourne reassures Albert that he won’t be prime minister much longer.

And so Victoria proposes. Skerrett tracks down gardenias for the queen’s hair — asking Melbourne for more would have just been rude — which Albert appreciates. Should we worry that Victoria wants to remind Albert of his mom when she asks him to marry her, and Albert is into it? The prince plays coy when Victoria pops the question, insisting that he has to kiss her before he’ll answer. They twirl-hug instead. “For me this is not a marriage of convenience,” Albert assures. “No,” Victoria says, “I think it will be a marriage of inconvenience.” They finally kiss.

In case you’d forgotten, they’re first cousins.

Royal scraps:

  • “Albert is worth 10 of me.”
  • The downstairs plot is finally picking up: Eliza Skerrett’s real name is Nancy, and she’s funneling money to a friend with a young child. The friend’s name? Eliza Skerrett.
  • “Please, Mama. They are not racehorses.”
  • Dash had better make a swift recovery.
  • “Windsor on a Wednesday, whatever next?”
  • “I’ve decided to go to Windsor.” “On a Wednesday?”

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