Miss Scarlet and the Duke has finally graced screens in the U.S., which means we can finally discuss the series episode by episode. For our newcomers, the six-part Masterpiece PBS series focuses on Eliza Scarlet (Kate Phillips), who pursues her ambition and follows her father’s footsteps as a private investigator after his death leaves her with financial struggles. As she navigates her way solving crimes, Eliza partners up with her father’s former protégé, Detective Inspector William Wellington (Stuart Martin), aka “the Duke”, of Scotland Yard. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s begin!
The episode begins with Eliza Scarlet examining what appears to be a dead female body after paying street boys for tip-offs for crime scenes. During her examination, Eliza finds the woman’s glass eye next to her. The dead body turns out to be just a passed-out drunk one, and after a scuffle, Eliza returns home with the glass eye still on her person to find the wealthy Mrs. Parker (Helen Norton) and her son, Rupert Parker (Andrew Gower), awaiting Eliza and her father, Henry (Kevin Doyle). In his absence, the three have tea and discuss the rising criminal activity in London. Mrs. Parker immediately evokes a demanding and vocal personality over her son’s quiet demeanor and expresses her opinions on proprietary while strongly hinting at a marriage match between her son and Eliza. (She may mean well, but we wouldn’t want her as a mother-in-law.) As Eliza agrees with Mrs. Parker’s opinions, the glass eye pops out of her sleeve.
After their departure, Eliza is shocked to learn from Ivy (Cathy Belton), her housekeeper, that the household is behind on their payments. Eliza marches off to her father’s office, running into the nearby undertaker, Herr Hildegard. She asks him if he has seen her father and he replies that he hasn’t in the past few days. Eliza enters her father’s office, only to find it unoccupied except for some empty bottles. Concerned about her father’s disappearance, she visits the womanizing Detective Inspector Wellington. He initially tries to have her sent away, clearly expecting anything but a pleasant exchange, but Eliza waltzes in anyway. The pair obviously know each other well, referring to each other by their respective first names, and their bickering suggests that it is a familiar method of communication between them. We should also say: they may be bickering, but there is a lot of tension and chemistry going on here. Duke brushes off Eliza’s concerns, stating that her father is a trained former police officer who could take care of himself. Eliza is still worried, expressing the household is reliant on her father. Duke brings up Eliza’s hobby of pretending to be a detective and his current caseload, stating that he is too busy to worry about her safety. Eliza glances at the files, noticing that a photograph of a slashed victim shows signs of syphilis, deducing that the man was having an affair and his wife should be questioned. Duke ends the conversation by stating a woman shouldn’t be seeing these types of things and sends her off. However, he does not dismiss her advice and has one of his men, Frank Jenkins (Danny Midwinter), bring in the victim’s wife for questioning.
Eliza returns home, only to find that a Dr. Edwards (Barry McKiernan) had discovered her father on the street and brought him home. Eliza assumes her father is passed out, inebriated; Dr. Edwards sadly informs her that he suffered a cardiac arrest and has passed away. At his funeral, Eliza and William share a moment, remembering how much Henry meant to their lives as William tries to provide comfort by reminding her that parents are now reunited.
At home, Eliza gets a visit from a man who introduces himself as Alfred Winters (Aiden McArdle), who is looking for her father, unaware that he has passed away. Citing his declining health, Winters wants to find his niece Clara Simms, with whom he broke contact after not approving of her marriage. Given her financial situation, Eliza decides to take the case on her own. Eliza bluffs that her father is working on a “high-profile” case, but she will relay the information to him and have him meet Winters the following day. Eliza then sets out to begin on the case.
We then see a flashback of a younger Eliza in the kitchen with her father and a frog, which he names after her teacher. The pair discuss the different types of drugs a criminal might use to poison their victim, with Henry asking questions and an attentive Eliza keenly answering them. In the present, a boy leads Eliza to speak with a street preacher, who tells Eliza to “trust in Moses”. She goes to the brothel where Clara is believed to be and runs into the woman with the glass eye. After Eliza shows her a photo of Clara, the woman tells her to “ask Moses, he’ll know”. Upstairs in his office, Eliza finds Moses (Ansu Kabia), who protects the women in the brothel. Eliza offers money for information; however, Eliza’s lack of experience comes into the fold when Moses one-ups her and takes her purse. Eliza quickly bounces back, pretending to flirt with Moses and successfully chains him. Threatening to burn the brothel down with turpentine, Eliza manages to retrieve her purse and learn where to find Clara Simms, but not before impressing Moses, who states “I think I like you”.
Eliza finds Clara (Ellise Chappell) immediately, and she agrees to see her uncle. However, the brothel is raided by police and both women are arrested for prostitution. After her protest that she is not a prostitute falls upon deaf ears, Eliza states that she is the “favored whore” of William Wellington. We then see Eliza and an amused William sitting on opposite sides of his desk. We learn the two have history as William teases her that he had no idea “one chaste kiss” when they were younger would make her his favorite whore. (NOT surprising at all, given all that tension and with all those stares. What’s more surprising is that she decided to slap him away.) Realizing that she is too stubborn to give up, William locks her up for the night. Following her release in the morning, she meets with Alfred Winters at Cavendish Hotel, who reveals that he is aware Henry has passed after reading his obituary and declares his intentions to use Gill and Son, a competitor. Eliza warns against it, stating they’ll take his case on a daily rate and won’t begin working on it until the next week. She also remarks that Alfred forgot to mention Clara’s different-colored eyes. Realizing Eliza has found Clara, he agrees to pay Eliza 50% of her (now-increased) fee upfront and the remaining 50% when Alfred is reunited with Clara.
Eliza tracks down Clara once more and helps her get a presentable outfit. As Clara gets ready, she shares her story with Eliza. She admits her uncle was right about her husband Joseph Simms; he was only interested in her money, and she eventually ran away, supporting herself by working in the brothel. She also reveals Joseph had been married once before, explaining Joseph and his first wife were on the steamer Princess Alice when it crashed, resulting in her death. Moments later, Alfred Winters enters, only for a stunned Clara to say Alfred isn’t her uncle. He removes a prosthetic beard and we learn that it is Joseph Simms. The real Alfred Winters has died, and being the greedy asshole that he is, Joseph wants to claim the inheritance by committing Clara into an asylum. Joseph smugly thanks Eliza for her work and pays her remaining 50% as Clara is taken away.
Determined to help Clara escape her situation, Eliza goes to an enraged William for help, who explains that despite having a lengthy criminal record, no court will touch Joseph Simms since he is now a wealthy landowner. Upset, Duke also refuses to allow Eliza to look at Joseph Simms’ file. Feigning feeling faint, Eliza asks for salts so Willian leaves the room. Eliza grabs the file and departs for her father’s office once William exits. She skims through paperwork as William bangs on the office door. At this point, you can’t help but admire Eliza’s actions. Most people in this type of situation would accept defeat and certainly avoid angering an overworked Scottish policeman even further, but Eliza is fueled by her determination to make things right. As she mindlessly plays with her mother’s wedding ring on her finger, Eliza seems to be overcome with an idea.
In the next scene, we see Joseph Simms in his hotel room, drinking a cup of coffee and packing up his belongings. Eliza enters the room, having obtained the key after threatening to expose the manager’s affair with a maid. She confronts Simms after discerning that he lied to Clara about his wife Beatrice drowning on the Princess Alice after consulting her father’s records on the Thames. In fact, Beatrice survived, thus making Joseph a bigamist and his marriage to Clara not legally binding. Before he can attack her, Eliza informs him Scotland Yard is waiting for him outside (which was a fib) and divulges she laced his coffee with laudanum. Seconds later, he drops to the floor. An hour later, Eliza watches from the safety of a carriage as police arrest him. William approaches Eliza and warns her he’ll have to arrest her the next time she steals police property or poisons someone. She thanks him and Clara is released from the asylum, free to collect her inheritance.
Eliza arrives home and learns Mr. Parker is waiting for her, and Ivy believes he wants to propose to Eliza, encouraging her to say yes. Eliza embraces for a proposal. Mr. Parker discloses that his mother is convinced Eliza would say yes due to her financial situation, but claims he is not ready to get married yet. Worried about his mother’s reaction, Eliza offers Mr. Parker to say that she turned him down to avoid her wrath. Touched by her kindness, he offers to help in any way we can.
We next see Eliza standing in front of her father’s office as it gets some touch-ups. William comes by and learns Eliza is going to continue her father’s private detective business. They go inside and she reveals the money she earned from Joseph Simms paid off her accounts and Mr. Parker has provided her with a loan as an investor in the business. William then informs Eliza that she was right about the slashed victim, and the man was killed by his wife. William then leaves, and Eliza imagines her father in his chair, who is proud of her and tells her to straighten the photo of the two of them on the wall. The episode ends as Eliza sits on her desk, ready to work.
Despite being on the first episode, the series establishes its tone well, particularly its humor. But the great takeaway of this episode is its characters, particularly Eliza, who is wonderfully illustrated as a smart and independent woman with a compassionate heart. Within the first minutes of the episode, we understand that solving crimes is not just something she has talent for — it plays a large role in her life and she truly enjoys it. And while she certainly lacks field experience, she has proven that she is a quick thinker and can adapt in sticky situations. Furthermore, she doesn’t idly wait for someone to solve her problems, preferring to tackle them on, without a care of what others think or sacrificing her femininity (her wardrobe, mostly in blues, is gorgeous).
Eliza’s relationship with William Wellington is also a highlight of the episode. While it will undoubtedly be developed in the upcoming episodes, there is already much that can be unboxed. That first groan from Duke when Eliza is announced at his office combined with his feeble attempts to get rid of her perfectly sets up the tone for the interaction to come. These two individuals have clearly been around each other for a long time; they’re not afraid to let their thoughts be known around each other, to get under each other’s skin, and to say how it is. (Their verbal jabs are quite hilarious!) And while they may not always agree on everything, they don’t just hear what the other is saying to prepare for the next retort, they actually listen. In spite of their quarrels, it’s hard to miss that they care for one another, and more importantly, they have mutual respect. William may think it’s not suitable for a woman to be a detective, but it’s not because he thinks her incapable since he never questions her capabilities — societal constraints prevent her from having the same advantages as men. He does worry for her safety, understandably so, especially since he most likely feels it’s his duty to her father to protect her.
Now that we’ve got the chance to soak in the first episode, we’re looking forward to the rest of the season and the storylines the show has to offer. We’ll be providing weekly reviews for each episode, so don’t forget to join us next week for our next episode recap. If you enjoyed the premiere, let us know your thoughts and favorite moments down in the comments below!