Queen Charlotte Season 1, Episode 4 Recap: Retreading old ground

Written by on May 15, 2023

(L to R) Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte, James Fleet as King George in episode 4 of “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.” (Liam Daniel/Netflix)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Episode four of the “Bridgerton” series spinoff “Queen Charlotte” picks up right where episode three left off. A disoriented young King George is being bathed by Queen Charlotte and his bodyman Reynolds as Charlotte demands that Reynolds and her bodyman Brimsley tell her what is going on with her husband, whom she’d just pulled out of a hole in the garden as he ranted at the sky. Neither Reynolds nor Brimsley speaks. 

In a show that jumps between a young Queen Charlotte’s origin story and the “Bridgerton” present-day timeline, this episode gets even more complicated as it delves back into a past we’ve already seen from Charlotte’s perspective in order to see what George was up to the whole time.

It begins with George working in a field before he’s interrupted by Reynolds with news that his mother Princess Augusta has arrived and has found him a queen. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the young King George III in the previous three episodes, it’s that George is also a farmer. 

Whereas his mother and the Parliament want George to marry and produce an heir, George believes he can rule in a better way by devoting himself to the agricultural sciences and improving farming techniques like using horses instead of oxen to plow fields and produce cheap bread for the people. 

Too bad neither his mother nor the powerful lords are buying that reimagining of kingly duties. And the rest of the episode retreads word for word entire scenes we’ve already seen, with the added context that George has been suffering at the hands of a sadistic doctor that his desperate mother brought in who intends to “break” George and isolate and cage him as a means to treat his mental illness. It’s unclear and frankly irrelevant whether the doctor has good intentions toward George; his methods are literally torture and cruelty. 

When George is able to perform for Charlotte as if all is well, he credits his doctor’s terrible torture. Just before he was able to charm Charlotte into marrying him instead of going over the wall and escaping in episode one, his torturer just slapped him silly and basically told him to man up. 

When George leaves Charlotte on their wedding night, it’s because he’s been performing not only charm but sanity all day and he’s exhausted. Every moment George was away from Charlotte, he thought he was doing what was best for her all while trying to get cured of his unexplained mental illness. George is, after all, a man of cutting-edge science and technology; he is desperate and willing to endure the same experimental methods for his treatment.

All of this retreading might have worked if we didn’t already know from two seasons of “Bridgerton” that King George has a mental illness. Even without those previous two seasons as background, it’s pretty clear in episode one, two and three that something is up with his health. We don’t learn much more about his illness in this fourth episode beyond how debilitating it can be, so it doesn’t quite work the way a grand mid-season reveal that materially changes what we thought we’ve known so far. (I’m thinking of the mid-movie twist in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” for one.)

With this structure, the suspense is gone because, as I said, we’ve already seen these scenes and we already know how they play out, even without the fuller context of George’s mental illness and subsequent torturing.

I suppose the big reveal is that a sketchy quack has been torturing him almost to death this whole time in pursuit of performative “health,” but even that isn’t shocking enough to fill a whole episode. 

Honestly, instead of what amounts to a filler episode towards the end of an already short six-episode season, it would’ve been much preferred that only Queen Charlotte be kept in the dark about what’s going on with the king as the audience watched both of their stories and their subsequent miscommunications play out. 

Seeing the torture he was going through ratcheted up each episode would’ve also raised the stakes sooner too in a show that too often leans on Charlotte’s childish-in-comparison concerns about whether her husband likes her or not. 

Episode four should be the point where we get to the meat of their love story. Instead, we’re served the empty calories of the retread, though, fortunately, the flash-forwards to the “Bridgerton” timeline (where not enough is happening to justify its presence in every episode of the first half of the season) is noticeably absent from episode four.

The thing about “Bridgerton” is that it doesn’t really do deep and heavy; that’s part of the appeal for many fans who just want to see steamy, bodice-ripping romances. It’s also likely the reason why race and racism are never quite addressed fully. I imagine that’s also why the most distressing part of “Queen Charlotte,” the horrific torture of a mentally ill person, is confined to a single episode instead of the audience seeing George deal with mental illness and ableism in every episode until Charlotte finds out. 

But the truth is, mental illness can be deep and heavy on its own, even without the ableist cruelty that mentally ill people suffer through. As a storyline for a main character, it will inherently make the show more tragic than its lighter, more comforting counterpart, “Bridgerton.” But so what! The writers should’ve tackled the issue and committed to it from episode one in the text rather than the subtext and given it the space it deserved.    

Nevertheless, by the episode’s end, George waffles between going all in on these ghastly procedures and believing his spunky new bride and their love could heal his illness. They’ve already cured racism with their love, why not illness, too? 

Unfortunately, the morning after the breakdown that Charlotte witnesses, George overhears her talking with his mother about feeling deceived into marrying him because he is unwell. Sadly, this convinces George to go harder with the torturing and to keep Charlotte away from him until he is cured.

Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”

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