If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of Mr. Selfridge’s first season, it’s that in the world of Harry Gordon Selfridge, there’s no such thing as the status quo. Of course, most episodes treated us to the appearance of an iconic guest to the store, and it was possible to tease out patterns (most of them unseemly) in our affable protagonist’s behavior, but more often than not, the only thing that could be counted on was a state of constant flux.
It’s a feeling that has directly reflected (or, even more likely, is a result of) Harry’s inability to rein in his more volatile tendencies, and while his reckless approach to life has inarguably made for a thrilling season of ups and downs, those closest to him can be forgiven for growing tired of the bumpy ride. And unfortunately for some, it looks like there are still more turbulent times to come, even as Selfridge’s, the store around which all of the drama continues to circulate, is finally enjoying some smoother sailing.
Just as it has so many times before, this week began with Harry awakening from a one-night stand and making his way home in what he must think is an inconspicuous fashion. Whether by intuition or sleeplessness, Rose is awake within seconds of his return, and it should come as a surprise to no one that her husband’s antics have finally worn her down to her last nerve. When we first met Rose eight episodes ago, she seemed to be the one of the few who understood her husband. Only now are we seeing the resolve that once anchored their relationship turned against Harry, and the results should have him worried.
Rose wasn’t the only woman scorned this week, as we learned that Miss Mardle may be in need of the solidarity offered by Miss Ravilious far sooner than she might have expected. Through some idle gossip on the sales floor, she discovered that Mr. Grove had asked Doris to marry him, a revelation that she couldn’t possibly have prepared for. Of course, Roger knew that he had some explaining to do, and insisted that Josie was the love of his life – but when he suggested that they continue their affair even after his marriage, she rejected the proposition.
While its leaders fell out behind closed doors, Selfridge’s was being praised in the papers, and its staff was tasked with preparing for the store’s grandest customer to date. With the king scheduled to come in for an afterhours shopping trip, Mr. Crabb did his best to coach employees in their curtsies and bows, and although everyone on the sales floor seemed on edge, his majesty was more than happy to spend the evening exploring the store, and seemed unaware of the drama unfolding behind the scenes.
The upheaval at the store continued, as Henri took Agnes aside to let her know that he had accepted a job in New York, which she correctly guessed would be at the same company as Valerie Maurel. Although she handled the news graciously, Harry was far less amenable to his friend’s career move, and questioned why Henri would choose to leave at the height of the store’s success. However, while Harry and Agnes were sad to hear of Henri’s departure, it looked like it might be the most appropriate present for Victor, who was celebrating his birthday amid all the chaos. With her relationship with Henri now in the past, Victor finally got the chance to attract Agnes’s attention – something that more than made up for his inability to secure a restaurant.
Too bad for Harry, in spite of his recent good luck with the press and the royal family, he wasn’t able to keep everyone on his side. After arriving at the theatre with his majesty’s entourage, Harry went to make what he thought would be a lighthearted visit to his friends backstage, only to receive an ominous message from Frank Edwards at the door. Ellen was even more foreboding, suggesting to Harry that he wouldn’t like the play, and although he protested, it seemed as though she might be on to something (it was, after all, written by Tony Travers).
As it turned out, Ellen was right, and the play was more of an opportunity for the theatrical couple to stage a not-so-thinly-veiled criticism of their former lovers. True to her prediction, neither Lady Mae nor Harry was impressed (to say nothing of his family), although the performance seemed to win over the rest of the audience. And it wasn’t just Harry and Lady Mae whose less-admirable qualities were aired to the public, as the relationship between Rose and Roddy came out as well, much to Rosalie’s distress.
Although resentments in the Selfridge family had been simmering for some time, the play seemed to bring things to a tipping point. Harry finally found out that Henri wasn’t alone in his consideration of a trans-Atlantic change of scenery, as Rose informed her husband that she and the children would be returning to America – with or without him. Unable to leave the store (and probably not welcome on the voyage anyway), Harry was left alone, save for his mother, surrounded by the reminders of his unprecedented commercial success, and of the domestic life that he failed to maintain.
In many ways, the final scene of the season should have been a greater wake up call to Harry than the scathing commentary of Tony’s play. Even as George Towler marvels at Harry’s conquest of his professional field, the storeowner seems to inwardly acknowledge that in many ways, he’s no better off than he was when Selfridge’s was only a hole in the ground. Harry himself hasn’t changed (whatever impulses that have driven him to drinking, gambling, and cheating haven’t exactly been exorcised) but maybe he has gained some perspective along with his rapidly rising net worth. And, perhaps most importantly, it seems as though he’s still ambitious as ever – and even optimistic enough to believe that he can still win back his reputation, his friends and most importantly, his family in the months to come.
– Kate Shepherd