Harlots is set in 1763. While London is booming, 1 in 5 women makes a living in the world’s oldest profession. Lucy Wells (Eloise Smyth) returns to the brothel. She shows off Harris’s list to the other girls. Eventually, they dig into the details and learn what Harris has written about them. Emily Lacey (Holli Dempsey) urges Lucy to read hers. Instead, Lucy gives the girls details about Betsey Fletcher (Alexa Davies). Nancy Birch’s (Kate Fleetwood) description is read aloud next. Seconds later, they turn their attention to Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay). While we hear the flattery, we see Charlotte playing cards with some of the local men. Finally, Emily gets on everyone’s nerves, so Lucy belittles her to the best of her ability. They argue briefly before Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) enters and puts a stop to their nonsense.
Emily is ordered to go service Mr. Holland. Once Emily leaves, Margaret tells Lucy to stop vexing her best girl. At Margaret’s request, Lucy plays the piano for Mr. Gibbon (Matthew Earley). All the while, Mr. Gibbon tries his best to buy Lucy’s virginity. Margaret refuses all of his offers. Seconds later, we’re introduced to Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville). Lydia ridicules Marie-Louise (Poppy Corby-Tuech) for being dead behind the eyes. Charles (Douggie McMeekin) is forced to translate for his mother. That night, Margaret’s brothel is raided by soldiers. Lydia watches the chaos unfold. Margaret is charged and taken to the station. In the morning, Lucy wakes up in a pile of hay. Meanwhile, Charlotte is awoken by Sir George Howard (Hugh Skinner). They prepare to have intercourse, while Charlotte asks George about his chest. She opens it up and finds a pineapple.
Also, Charlotte admits she has still not signed the contract to become Howard’s possession. Howard’s butler interrupts and informs Charlotte that her sister is outside. Margaret defends herself in the courtroom. The judge insists a witness declared he paid Margaret for intimate congress. However, he refuses to give the name of the witness. Charlotte arrives with Lucy. Charlotte tries to defend her mother. Nevertheless, Margaret is fined 100 pounds for running a disorderly house. Next, Margaret and Charlotte about Howard. Margaret becomes angered that her daughter has yet to sign Howard’s contract. Lydia learns about the Wells women. Meanwhile, William North (Danny Sapani) transports the women back home. Along the way, Emily Lacey gets into an argument with the others and goes her own way.
Margaret gets bad news. The landlord has hiked the rent and she has been given till Monday to get it paid. This puts her in a bad spot and gives her little choice, but to sell Lucy’s virginity immediately. Florence Scanwell (Dorothy Atkinson) and her daughter speak with Lydia. Lydia agrees to give the women free return, if they continue to fight Margaret. Meanwhile, Howard learns about Charlotte’s activities while he was out of town. He becomes enraged after learning she lied to him. Margaret and Nancy speak in private. They contemplate who could be responsible for turning them in. Emily Lacey visits Lydia and volunteers to become one of her girls. Lydia admits the girl will need a lot of refining. Nevertheless, she decides to take her on, as a way to get back at Margaret.
Howard lashes out at Charlotte for lying to him. Emily is locked up and forced to sleep with Charles. Lucy becomes concerned about her decision to sell her virginity. Margaret visits and gives her a pair of yellow shoes. Margaret also tells her daughter about being sold by her mother at the age of 10 for a pair of shoes. Charlotte contemplates whether or not she should sign Howard’s contract. Lady Repton (Fenella Woolgar) and Lord Repton speak with Howard. He learns that Lord Repton had Charlotte and plans on buying her sister’s virginity as well. Charlotte gets a lift from an old friend. Charlotte refers to her friend as a harlot. Once Charlotte arrives at the opera, she argues with Howard. Lucy cries as she comes to the realization about what is going to happen.
As the opera ends, the men begin placing their bids for Lucy’s virginity. In the lobby, Margaret argues with Lydia. Margaret demands the 100 pounds she was forced to pay for the fine. Howard puts a substantial bid in for Lucy. This leads to further turmoil between himself and Charlotte. Margaret tries to get to the bottom of Charlotte’s reasoning for pushing Howard away. Charlotte admits she has no interest in his money. Howard tries to have sex with Lucy, but he is unable to do so. They agree to pretend they’ve gone through with it anyway. Charlotte runs into her taxi friend again. She agrees to pay him for company. Margaret speaks with William about her remorse for selling her daughter’s virginity.
William insists it’ll be okay, since Lucy is strong like her mother.
Harlots was far different that what I initially expected. I figured the show would try to take a more realistic approach to the subject matter. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the first episode. It had a good mixture of humor, emotion, and plenty of backstabbing. Charlotte’s storyline will most likely lead into something romantic over the coming episodes. Margaret and Lydia will continue to bicker until one of them emerges as the victor. And of course, Lucy has taken the center stage. It is fairly obvious the girl isn’t cut out for the prostitute route.
Where does Lucy go from here? Does she follow in the footsteps of her mother and sister or will she ascend to something better? Only time will tell. The series started out good. The pilot episode scores a 7.5 out of 10.