This episode of Moriarty the Patriot gave me the wild urge to have the show rework history a bit to see how the Lord of Crime would have felt about militant suffragist Emmaline Pankhurst. Although her heyday came a bit later (she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903), her fierce devotion to her cause may well have spoken to the Moriarty brothers, much as the fictional MP Adam Whitely does. Like Pankhurst, Whitely is a champion of voting reforms (how he would reform things isn’t really dealt with in the episode), and unlike the Moriartys, he’s going through official channels. This is gaining him quite a bit of notoriety and anger from the House of Lords, who certainly don’t want to make things any easier or better for those they see as beneath them. But can Whitely really be as good as he seems to be?
That’s what’s holding William back at the moment, although some of the glances and body language between him and Albert imply that they may not be in total agreement about how to handle the Whitely issue. It is a tricky question, because while on the surface he looks like their kind of man, that could simply be because he doesn’t have the sort of power that the members of the House of Lords do – namely, a title. If he were suddenly handed all of the information that he needed to bring down those opposing him, would he remain devoted to the cause of what’s right and just? Will’s not sure, and it looks like his method of finding out is to give him the rope and wait to see if he hangs himself with it.
The idea of a straight-laced politician trying to work towards equality is interesting in and of itself in the context of the show, but in some ways this episode is more fascinating in what it does with its setting. Like with the matches before, we get a clear shot of a real Victorian product’s label, Eiffel Tower Biscuit Flour, which is my kind of Easter egg and really adds verisimilitude to the show. (The link, by the way, will take you to a cookbook put out by the flour, a common marketing plan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) Among the members of Parliament who attended the opening of a park redesigned by Whitely with the aim of making him look bad, we also get what is probably the best illustration of what Victorian privilege looked like: white, male, and with questionable facial hair and tallish hats. It’s like the animators looked up a photo of “ubiquitous Victorian gentleman” and used it as a base. Adding to the historical interest are the wheelchairs present in the episode, which are picture perfect, down to the blankets “invalids” were expected to cover their legs with, either out of misplaced health ideas or to prevent the unsightly image of less than perfect bodies.
The wheelchairs are important because Whitely’s younger brother, Sam, uses one. This is well-foreshadowed by a scene of the Whitely family table, where there are four plates set and only three chairs; moments later, Sam enters the scene in his chair. Whitely reveals that he forced the redesign of North Cross Park (which I believe is fictional; it bears some similarity to Victoria Embankment Gardens, built around the time Moriarty the Patriot is set) in order to be wheelchair accessible – it’s all on one level with wide, paved paths. Since accessibility wasn’t even good when I was younger, this is one of the signs that convinces Will and Albert to move ahead with their plan. The fact that Milverton, who is behind the attempt on Whitely’s life early in the episode and the murder of the man responsible for setting the bomb*, is now ready to go after Sam could change things. How would a man who redesigned a park so that his differently-abled brother can use it react to that same brother’s murder? Not well, I’m guessing, especially if he has the tools to hurt the people he’s likely to blame for it. Whatever his reaction, just don’t trust whatever the Dairy Londoner has to say about it – it reported the attempt on Whitely’s life as an attempted suicide. You just can’t trust the media, can you?
*Interestingly enough, the bomb in Whitely’s carriage may be another historical reference to the fear of bomb-setting anarchists in the late 19th century. No mention of it is made in the episode, but if you’re interested in seeing a similar plot point play out differently, I highly recommend the first episode of the French TV series Mystery in Paris, which also has the best can-can dancing I’ve ever seen.
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