Despite the departures of fan-favorite Lord Melbourne and faithful companion Dash earlier this season, I think we can all agree that this week’s episode of Victoria was the most difficult one to watch. Albert’s side story about remodeling the plumbing in Buckingham Palace seemed silly at first, but it was a necessary diversion (and a much needed chuckle at Albert’s declaration that everyone should have access to a “throne”) in comparison to how dark and depressing the rest of the episode was.

If you found yourself shocked at the display of the Irish Famine on Sunday, you aren’t alone. Besides Queen Victoria herself in the show, many viewers from the UK were surprised to find out just how little they knew about the Irish Potato Famine, calling for commentary on addressing the vast lack of knowledge in the British school system.

Mr. Francatelli and Mrs. Skerritt confront Mr. Penge about his anti-Catholic views

But let’s talk about what happened. The most important plot that, rightfully so, dominated the episode was the question of how to respond to the famine in Ireland. Up until now, Victoria has been kept in the dark about the severity of the famine by her advisers, partially due to the expense it would cost to provide food for Irish citizens while her English subjects could barely provide food themselves, and partially due to the prejudice against Catholics at the time (her newest maid, Miss Cleary, is revealed to be an Irish Catholic as well). It isn’t until Victoria reads an article by Dr. Robert Traill, a clergyman in the Calvinist Church of Ireland (and ancestor of Victoria author and series showrunner Daisy Goodwin!), that she begins to understand just how desperately her people need her help. Against the advice of Sir Robert Peel and Prince Albert, she invites Traill to Buckingham Palace to speak to him in person.

Dr. Robert Traill provides words of comfort to the new Irish Catholic maid, Miss Cleary

Traill chooses to leave Ireland at a troubled time, both personally and in terms of the country-wide struggle. He dreams of going to Dublin to move up in his career, but his sympathy towards every Irish citizen, regardless of denomination, makes him an outcast amongst his peers, especially when he invites a Catholic priest to a meeting to decide how to best help their people. But he puts his people in front of his personal aspirations, painting a gloomy picture for Victoria upon his arrival to London. As he describes people staggering, as if drunk, but too hungry to stand, the juxtaposition of his journey through a London street market full of food is particularly telling of how dire the situation is.

Traill’s arrival at Buckingham Palace also brings out the best, and worst, in some of Victoria’s cast. Mr. Francatelli, who had been acting suspicious with an American woman earlier in the episode, bestows a gift to Miss Cleary in order to help her starving family. Even Sir Robert Peel, who begins the episode vocally opposing any assistance towards Ireland, goes against party by the end of the hour. But it’s Mr. Penge who proves to be the disappointment, as his prejudice against Catholics gets him into hot water with the downstairs staff as Mr. Francatelli, Mrs. Skerritt, and most of his staff jump to defend Miss Cleary from his anti-Catholic rants.

Victoria implores that Sir Robert Peel consider voting against his party in the best interest of her people. Photo courtesy of @masterpiecepbs on Twitter

And while Victoria, in the end, is able to send financial support to Ireland, it comes too late: at the end of the episode, we learned that over 1 million people died in the famine and 2 million emigrated for a better life. Even Dr. Traill, who tirelessly worked to help his people even at the expense of his marriage, is shown to have died of Typhus soon after his trip to Buckingham Palace, his dreams of Dublin never realized.

Hope arriving too late also rings true for Ernest as well. As Harriet’s husband, the Duke of Sutherland, dies in a hunting accident, what should bring hope for Ernest turns into a marriage that, most likely, can never be. He’s shown using a pseudonym to visit the doctor to be treated for a disease, most likely Syphilis due to the mercury added to the powder and steam treatments, which had no cure. While his secret is kept safe with his valet, Harriet has returned to Buckingham Palace but remains ignorant of his condition. The future doesn’t look bright for our favorite royal court lovers.

After this episode, it seems like everyone could use a vacation. Victoria and her court head to Scotland for some rest & relaxation, at least for Victoria and Albert. A new episode of Victoria airs Sunday, February 11th at 9 p.m.