Starring Elizabeth Hurley, William Moseley, Alexandra Park, Merritt Patterson, and Tom Austen
My rating: ★★ stars
Interesting storylines held down by boring, tired ones.
The unevenness of The Royals continues in the fourth episode. The scenes with Queen Helena and those with Princess Eleanor work. Those with Prince Liam and those with Ophelia don’t.
In this episode, the young royals go on separate public relations tours. While Eleanor visits charities in London, Prince Liam flies around the country on a plane tour of small villages with his mother and Uncle Cyrus. Queen Helena invites Liam’s ex-girlfriend, Gemma (Sophie Colquhoun), to join them on the tour. She even manipulates a social media post to make it appear that the two are dating again. But I don’t understand why Helena thinks Gemma would make a good wife for Liam and, eventually, a good queen. In the previous episode, Gemma appeared in the newspapers after a drunk driving accident. She doesn’t have the scandal-free background that would appeal to the image-conscious Helena.
The issue of Queen Helena’s support of Gemma is another contrivance on the part of the writers to keep Liam and Ophelia apart. This episode is full of such ploys. First, Ophelia misunderstands the initial social media post about Liam and Gemma. Then, she makes her own post about Nice Guy Nick in order to make Liam jealous. Then, when she realizes that she has no interest in Nice Guy Nick, Liam, having seen her post, invites her to an upcoming ball and tells her to bring Nick along. There’s no drama here. This whole business of misunderstandings would be over in two seconds if either Liam or Ophelia simply said, “I like you.”
Far more intriguing is the storyline of Princess Eleanor and her bodyguard, Jasper, which, while forever tainted by problematic issues involving consent, nevertheless is full of drama and unexpected twists. I feel bad for enjoying their scenes together. I know how wrong the story is. However, they had some great lighthearted moments early in the episode as Eleanor tries to liven up her charity tour by using Ecstasy, leaving Jasper increasingly consternated as he tries to prevent her from embarrassing herself.
The episode’s plot takes a dark turn when they reach the final charity, a drug rehab center. This visit hits too close to home for Eleanor, making her feel revulsion at her own behavior. When they return to the palace, she orders Jasper to degrade her (and not in a titillating 50 Shades of Grey way, but as a realistic moment of self-loathing), making for an original, if disturbing, scene.
These scenes between Eleanor and Jasper are helped immensely by the strong chemistry between Alexandra Park and Tom Austen. Their pairing calls to mind that of Luke and Laura from General Hospital. Initially, these characters encountered each other when Luke raped Laura, but then the show-runners noticed the strong chemistry between actors Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and retconned the initial encounter as a “seduction.” The writers of The Royals may have a similar quandary here.
The presence of Park and Austen’s chemistry highlights a key problem with the Liam and Ophelia pairing. It’s not that William Moseley and Merritt Patterson lack chemistry. What they lack are scenes together. Viewers have difficulty rooting for a couple if they never see them together.
Queen Helena has a small plot in this episode, which features her trying to use her position to help a group of village ranchers whose livestock are being poisoned by the actions of local distillery. She meets with the distiller, who berates her for wasting the taxpayers’ money. Hurley looked legitimately hurt during the scene, like the queen was struggling to maintain her poise. She leaves the distiller without losing her self-control or attempting to defend herself. Later in the episode, a news report informs us that the distillery burned down. I cheered at this moment, but, on the whole, I feel ambivalent. The distiller may have been nasty, but he wasn’t entirely wrong in his criticisms of Helena. And he certainly didn’t deserve to lose his livelihood for merely speaking his mind.
I appreciate this episode for presenting moments that lead to ambivalence in the viewers. Too often, shows that concentrate on mindless fun, like this one, present only situations that call for black and white thinking. Here, we have more complexity. Yet, I can’t fully praise the episode. Too much time is spent on the boring storylines about Liam and Ophelia. The show needs to work on making all its storylines fresh and engaging.