Downton Abbey S1E3: Something About Mary

Posted on December 30, 2011

As the title of this post indicates, this episode presented a defining moment for the character of Lady Mary, one that was pretty shocking to the viewer the first time they saw it. We knew Mary was intelligent and bold; we knew that she chafed under the rigid social mores of the time, but we really didn’t think she had it in her to flout such deeply held conventions and violate the moral code she was raised under. When she accepted Mr. Pamuk into her bed, it was the series’ first real shocking moment. It was then followed up immediately by the series’ second really shocking moment (and probably among the most shocking developments the show’s ever depicted): the revelation that he died in bed with her. This was the first time we looked at Mary and understood that there were depths to her we hadn’t even realized and that under her bluster and bitchery, she is, like any young woman of her time and station would be, keenly aware of what happens to women who don’t do as they’re told and deathly afraid of winding up in that state. “I’m not the rebel you and my parents think I am,” she protests to Mr. Pamuk as he makes his move, and it’s the first really insightful thing Mary’s had to say about herself; a moment of self-truth blurted out in an effort to keep her pursuer – and herself – in check.

Before we get accused of pearl-clutching and moral scolding here, we should say our gay 21st Century selves were initially cheering Mary on, even if we were a bit shocked. “Girl, you go and get yourself some of that delicious pouty-lipped man!” we shouted at the TV. But the truth of the matter is, she was doing something outrageously dangerous that could have life-long consequences for her. In short: a young woman of her station who sleeps with a man outside of marriage could expect to have the decisions of where to live, with whom to socialize and who to marry (if she even gets the opportunity at all) completely taken away from her, leaving her at the whim of kindly family members or shipped off to the continent to marry someone willing to take on such damaged goods. And those are the best case scenarios.

Prior to her “fall from grace” (so to speak), Mary was presented as something of a one-dimensional character. Put bluntly, she was a cold, sharp-tongued bitch right from her first scenes; barely willing to acknowledge her cousin and fiance’s death and commenting rather coldly on it to family members who were in true mourning, and subjecting her younger sister Edith (and occasionally her mother) to some pretty vicious comments. She’s not really shown to be nasty at all toward the servants, her father, or her sister Sibyl. It’s her mother and Edith that receive the brunt of her tongue-lashings and there are, of course, good and obvious reasons for that: they are the two people in the family who most meddle in and comment on her romantic prospects. Yes, her grandmother has a lot of opinions on the matter, but, true to her class, she almost never voices them in front of Mary. Edith and Cora, on the other hand, pretty much keep up a running commentary on every young man who sets foot on the estate and whether or not Mary can snag him as a husband. Worse, she’s got Edith running around right behind her trying desperately to pick up her discarded scraps. To Mary, her mother and younger sister are the human faces on all the pressure she’s felt in her life since Day One; pressure she’s just now pushing against, albeit in the worst manner possible. Of course she would reserve her bitchiest comments for the two of them.

But it’s all mostly show, as she herself admitted. She was certainly no temptress here; no wanton woman deliciously throwing caution to the wind. She was a scared and inexperienced girl who somewhat foolishly threw herself at a very good-looking man (in the sense that her attraction to him was obvious to anyone in the room) and then let her hormones get the better of her (helped, in great part, by his “seduction” technique, which seemed to stop just short of forcing himself on her). No, for all Mary’s intelligence and boldness, she was, for all intents and purposes, a young girl in way over her head. There’s a telling moment in the dining scene when Pamuk gently chides the English for being so caught up in other people’s lives. Right after that, while making small talk about (of all things) dentistry, Mary eagerly offered to him, “You know how the English are…” which is something a 14-year-old girl would do while clumsily trying to flirt with a boy; she’d say to him what she thinks he wants to hear from her. When it comes to the question of men, Mary is both distrustful (after a lifetime of having her romantic prospects be the center of the family’s attention) and very inexperienced. Witness her pleas to her mother to help her out of her mess; they are the cries of a very scared young girl who can’t even explain what she did or why she did it. This, for us, is the moment when Mary became fascinating. It will play out over the course of the series, but this was the episode that set her character in stone and revealed that she is both inexperienced with romance and already just a little damaged by the ways she’s been treated like a chess piece by her family. She’s very smart and very naive at the same time, which puts her in a somewhat frightening spot, given the time and place. Cora could marry a man she knew didn’t love her and Edith would be eager to do the same thing, but poor Mary is cursed with the persistent idea that she is her own person and that whatever decisions she makes should be for her own benefit and no one else’s. It’s simply not a school of thought that most women would indulge in at that time. It’s quite literally dangerous for her.

It also tends to blind her to the quality men around her. Of course, only someone far more experienced than she could understand what a cad Pamuk really was, but it was still a bit frustrating to watch her not only ignore Matthew and Mr. Napier, but to be downright rude to them at times. Still, she is, as we said, just an inexperienced girl when it comes to romance, so it’s to be expected that she’d make more than her share of bad choices. It’s the fact that she insists on making choices at all that get her into trouble. And it’s not a coincidence that she ditched the two most appropriate choices for a romantic partner for the one man in the room she’d never be allowed to have. Maybe she’s a bit more of a rebel than she thinks.

Meanwhile, downstairs, O’Brien got a hilariously revealing line when she showed Gwen’s typewriter to Carson: “They were hiding it, so I knew it must be wrong.” You couldn’t ask for a better way to define her narrow-minded bitchery. Funny how, after complaining about her right to express herself downstairs, she doesn’t seem to think the rest of the staff should have any expectation of privacy or personal space.

Gwen’s story is another way for the writers to define the family as benevolent aristocrats. Not only do they find the attempts of a housemaid to better herself to make for wonderful dinner conversation, but Sibyl goes out of her way to help her get a job. We don’t object to any of this, nor do we find it to be inaccurate historically, but as we said in previous posts, there’s a definite stacking of the deck here to make the family look as un-aristocratic in attitude as possible in order to make them more palatable to a modern audience.

Speaking of accuracy, does anyone else find Sibyl’s affect to be too modern? She talks and carries herself like a girl her age in 2011 would. We don’t think we’re imagining it because the Red Nose Day spoof went out of its way to make that exact same joke. She’s a decent actress and a beautiful young woman, but every time she opens her mouth we find ourselves wishing she’d gotten just a little training to mimic the way her character should most likely speak.

Mr. Bates is dealing with his own pain and making his own stupid mistakes, much like Lady Mary. This storyline, while minor and pretty much settled by episode’s end, gave us more insight into Bates, his infuriating reticence and secret-keeping, as well as the intense drive to overcome that which is pretty much impossible to overcome. It also gave Mrs. Hughes a lovely moment or two. She’ll get her time to shine soon, but for now, it was nice to see her defined a little bit more, especially in light of how well defined Carson is at this point. She’s fussy, stern, and straight-laced, but very kind and considers the servants her responsibility in every way; a combination of mother and Mother Superior.

Bates could course-correct from his self-loathing and learn to accept his fate, but it’s not that easy for Mary. She can’t just cast off her social shackles and toss them into the pond like Bates’ brace. As we’ll see, her actions here ripple outward in ways she can’t predict, helped in no small part by (once again) O’Brien and Thomas. Interesting how often the evil gay footman keeps inserting himself into Mary’s romantic life and then screwing it up for her.

Poor Mary. She needs a good gay in her life.

Watch Downton Abbey, Season 1: Ep. 3 on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

[Screencaps: – Video Credit:]

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  • Anonymous

    Love it.  I’ll bet you guys won prizes in school for your insightful writing. 

  • I still wonder what exactly transpired between Mary and Mr. Pamuk. I rewatched this episode last week on PBS and he says to her that he would leave her a virgin for her husband.   So I take that is that they did not have sex in the traditional sense?
     Mary’s subsequent statements seem to make it appear as if she is no longer a virgin. I know that no matter how far things went, she is still compromised and her reputation would be damaged but I’m still unsure exactly how far things went.

    • Anonymous

      Agree. In subsequent episodes, even Mary refers to Mr. Pamuk as her ‘lover’. But I still keep thinking about him saying…’leave you a virgin for your husband’. I think they’re leaving it vague enough to let you know SOMETHING happened, but perhaps not full intercourse – as that might harden the viewer against Mary. Of course, in her world – does it make a difference? I think him dying in her bed is enough to damage her…..

      • Anonymous

        I wouldn’t read too much into the word “lover.”  I remember being taken aback when, in “A Room With a View” (set in the same time period), Lucy says, “The hero and heroine make love” to describe just a kiss (albeit a long kiss, not a peck, but nothing near intercourse).  In this context, a lover is merely an object of romance, not a sex partner.  As for how far things went, based on the blocking of the scene, I’m guessing oral sex.

        • Viator16

          I think it must have been anal sex. She would remain a “virgin” and it was “safe.” I don’t know what else it could be.

      • Enough must have happened to give him a heart attack! Whew. 

      • I’ve heard that a deleted snippet featured Kemal Pamuk discussing the use of chicken blood on her wedding night.

        • Viator16

          I would be very interested to view that snippet. Frankly, I don’t know the method for using chicken blood. What would Mary do? I can’t imagine her saying stop before penetration and pour out some chicken blood. Maybe I have a lack of imagination.

    • The thing is, she may not know herself just how far things went. As TLo pointed out, Mary is still pretty naive. She may not have the depth of sexual knowledge a modern young woman does.

    • Um. My assumption was that they had an… alternative form of intercourse. Hopefully involving a good lubricant.

      • Anonymous

        That seems pretty unlikely.  I tend to agree with jenno1013 above.

      • Anonymous

        That was my assumption, but I was never sure.

    • Anonymous

      This episode is old fashioned in the sense that it implies rather than shows what happened. An audience watching the same thing in the 1950’s would have understood that they had intercourse. And I believe it’s clear that he died during intercourse itself. She refers to how he cried out and then died, and she also tells Anna that she could barely move him, with a horror in her face that made it clear to me that she was trapped underneath him when he died. The fact that some viewers want to soften in their minds the nature of what transpired is exactly why movies used to be made this way.

      • Anonymous

        Could it perhaps have been intercrural sex?

        • Anonymous

          I wondered about that, too.  “You can still be a virgin for your husband.”  Funny, I associate intercrural sex with men.

    • I thought he just meant that her husband wouldn’t ever have to know the truth. That she could lie to him and there were ways to “trick” him into believing she was a virgin, as the commenter said below about chicken blood.

    • 2ranma75

      I think it’s intended to be vague just to show how exotic and experienced Pamuk was..

  • Anonymous

    I agree that Sybil is a little too modern, but if you had grown up in a family of three girls their relationships would seem very familiar. As youngest, Sybil has no responsibility to make a heroic marriage and she has no need to compete with the oldest the way the middle sister does. I don’t recall if their ages were mentioned, but I would be willing to bet that Mary and Edith are a year apart and Sybil is several years younger. As a child she would have been a pretty amusement for everyone around her, and her parents would have allowed her much more latitude than her sisters because their parenting skills have already been demonstrated. The audience for her cuteness would be wider than for the sisters because it would include the sisters themselves. She would have been indulged in her playfulness and creativity, believing in her lovableness while hovering outside the negative interactions of her siblings. So she might seem modern, but as one of three sisters I can tell you that the family interactions at Downton are very realistic.

    • Tom and Lorenzo should invite you for some sort of Downton Round Table.

    • Anonymous

      As of 1912: Mary is 20, Edith is 18, Sybil is 15 and Cora is 46. 

      Wikipedia gives their birth dates: See Downton Abbey: Characters on Wikipedia.

  • foodycat

    “In short: a young woman of her station who sleeps with a man outside of marriage could expect to have the decisions of where to live, with whom to socialize and who to marry (if she even gets the opportunity at all) completely taken away from her” – I’m not entirely sure about that. It’s definitely the impression they want to convey, but I suspect it was more about the appearance of virginity than the reality of it. In one of Nancy Mitford’s novels (fractionally younger, same social class) a character comments that British women always have sex before they are married and is surprised that a French woman wouldn’t.

    • I wondered about this, too. One in four English women of Mary’s generation lost their virginity before marriage, and while the expectations for an aristocrat wouldn’t be the same as those for a farmer’s daughter, the reality is that a reasonable percentage of women did have sex before they got married. As to the Mitford novel, the next generation of women (those born between 1910 and 1920) would be engaging in premarital sex at a ratio of seven in ten, so even a fractional difference in time period makes a huge difference when you’re talking about this particular time period.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, but. I can’t stand on numbers, because this came from some oral histories I’ve read – which are, of course, completely anecdotal even if I could now remember the citations – but a significant number of the pre-marital sexual partners were the men the women eventually married, or expected at the time to marry.  

        • Anonymous

          I also wonder whether standards would be higher in this family, because of the American mother, who has probably spent her entire marriage proving to the English aristocracy that she can act (and raise her daughters) correctly.  In a way, much like Isobel.

          • Anonymous

            I hadn’t thought of that, but it seems very plausible.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly.  In the upper class, such contacts probably would have been restricted to men to whom they were engaged.  

      • .

        You have to remember, this time period is just before the First World War, social attitudes including attitudes towards relationships completely changed during the Roaring Twenties that followed. In the early 10’s, Victorian morals were still going strong.

    • Anonymous

      Even if it was about the appearance of virginity – among the upper classes, living in households crawling with servants and expected to marry, even as late as the ’20s, from among a relatively small, socially acceptable strata of society – maintaining appearances had to be a rigorous task. Parents anxious to preserve the reputation of a daughter whose behavior elicited gossip must have been tempted to further limit the [by our standards] little freedom a young woman had.

    • I agree. Even the Dowager Countess mentioned something about the past & mistakes and British women, and she included herself. 

    • French girls wouldn’t have any opportunity to engage in premarital sex–they were so much more sheltered than English girls of their same (aristocratic and upper middle class) station. Granted, by the post-war period, young English women had tested the waters, but you have to remember that they were still mentally sheltered, despite having scads of opportunity to indulge, so they most likely would not jeopardize their reputation or self-respect by letting a guy go all the way. Plus, in the Edwardian world, married women (who provided male heirs) had all of the fun.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for articulating what I found grating about Sybil. She just does not fit at all! 

    Mary started out as my least favorite character, and now I love her (I’ve seen both seasons). The actress who plays her is wonderful.

    • Anonymous

      I like the actress, but I’ve always found the character to be a bit of a sop to the modern audience, as is the atypicality of pater familias.  But Hugh Bonneville is a good actor, and Maggie Smith’s character is annoyed that he acts as if he’s nicer than they are.  

      But I have no idea how a spirited and indulged, young woman of that class would have acted back then.  They have a house in London, of course, but she’s not really a city girl and is not really in society, although I think she has been presented.

  • MilaXX

    This episode made me look at Mary in a new light as well. My thoughts were quite as deep as TLo’s. My mental shorthand just said that this was the first time Mary didn’t look like such a stick in the mud. Also BIG points to mom for helping her. I think the actress who plays Sybil’s modern style of speaking is why I knew who she was immediately when I saw her on Misfits. Speaking of spot the actress, I just recognized who the actress who plays Anna is. If I’m recalling this correctly she was also on an episode of Doctor Who playing the mother who kills those underground people.

    I wondered about Mr. Pamuck and Thomas. I mean it seems to me he was taking a pretty big chance hitting on another man at all much less a guest in his employers home. Was Pamuck so eager to get into Mary’s pants that he was willing to brush it off without a thought or did the dying interfere with his reporting the infraction?

    • Anonymous

      I was frankly hoping that Thomas and Mr. Pamuk would, you know, get it on, because even though Thomas is evil, he’s still pretty (as, I gather, was expected in a footman).  I’ll be disappointed if, over the life of this series, Thomas has to play the role of the evil, repressed gay character who never finds love.  

      • Anonymous

        Thomas has to play the role of the evil, repressed gay character who never finds love.

        In the context of the times, he is far from “repressed”.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have hit on Mr. Pamuk.

      • Anonymous

        Or, if not love, at least some satisfying sex with someone who treats him as a human being!

      • Anonymous

        oh hear hear.  

      • Anonymous

        I had a sense that the family doctor might be gay.  And they’re both going off to war in the same regiment…

        • Anonymous

          I hadn’t thought of that, but you could be right.

      • Anonymous

        I’m not gay, but I was talking about the character of Thomas with a gay man who was a little concerned that Thomas was being treated in a stereotypical way. I said I thought that Thomas was a fairly subtle character:  He’s evil, possibly a a sociopath (I’m basing this on a comment he makes in the last episode of the first series, I won’t say what, because I don’t want to spoil anything).  BUT HIS MEANNESS HAS NO DIRECT RELATIONSHIP TO HIS BEING GAY.

        In addition, I said that Thomas was very understandable.  He’s unhappy with his place in the world and understands that the world may be changing and offer him new opportunities.  He wants to travel and see the world, not live and die at Downtown Abbey.  It’s the manner in which he meets his challenges and his completely narcissistic view that make him scary-mean.

      • Anonymous

        I’m not gay, but I was talking about the character of Thomas with a gay man who was a little concerned that Thomas was being treated in a stereotypical way. I said I thought that Thomas was a fairly subtle character:  He’s evil, possibly a a sociopath (I’m basing this on a comment he makes in the last episode of the first series, I won’t say what, because I don’t want to spoil anything).  BUT HIS MEANNESS HAS NO DIRECT RELATIONSHIP TO HIS BEING GAY.

        In addition, I said that Thomas was very understandable.  He’s unhappy with his place in the world and understands that the world may be changing and offer him new opportunities.  He wants to travel and see the world, not live and die at Downtown Abbey.  It’s the manner in which he meets his challenges and his completely narcissistic view that make him scary-mean.

    • Anonymous

      There was an explicit trade-off.  Thomas took Pamuk (rather, “Kemal,” which was the character’s first name, I don’t want to inadvertently “Otherize” him) to Mary’s room in exchange for Kemal’s not reporting Thomas’s behavior.

      • MilaXX

        ah yes. Of course. How could I miss that.

  • Bates’ suffering in this episode made me cry.  He tries so hard to do the right thing, to live up to all the expectations of him, esp. his own.

  • Anonymous

    We just hooked up Netflix to the 12 year old’s Christmas Present (Playstation III).  Oh. My. God.  I found this series last night and watched EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM.  We were up until two in the morning.  I am assuming that the – seven I think – shows comprise the entire series for year one.  Because the last show suggested that the saga would continue.  But the Netflix thing said 2010 as the year of production.  When I got up this morning it was showing on PBS, same show, and it said “2011” on it.  Is this the same thing?  

    I am completely addicted.  I love and hate Mary.  I hate Edith but pity her.  I am frustrated with Sybil because her ideals at times get others into trouble.  I adore Bates.  The whole house loves him.  And every time she comes onto the screen, someone hollers “It’s that Bitch O’Brian” who is just as interesting a character as I have seen in some time.  

    Love love love.  LOVE.

    • Anonymous

      It aired in 2010 in Britain and in early 2011 here, so it’s the same series 🙂

    • Pennymac

      My local PBS station has been replaying it on Sundays. I marathoned it last week and intend to do the same this Sunday as well. I am completely addicted as well!!!

  • Jessica Goldstein

    I’m going to guess that during this era having sex with your fiance was a world apart than doing so with a random romantic prospect. Also, the word “lover” covered a broader range of activity in this era, so we can’t read too much into Mary’s using it. But what I really came here to post was about Mary’s options. As TLo said, Pamuk’s “seduction” very nearly crossed a line into force. But let’s say she fought him off. Wouldn’t that have risked others hearing? I have to wonder at this era if her being discovered alone in a room with a man wouldn’t have ruined her regardless of what happened. Only Pamuk’s being foreign gave her much of a chance of being believed, but her flirting with him earlier might have removed even that benefit of the doubt. I think Mary was in deep trouble the minute Pamuk arrived in her room.

    • She’d be ruined. Not only was she with a man, he was a non- Anglo foreigner. As an upper class Turk and an attache to the ambassador he would be acceptable socially, but unacceptable otherwise. If she’d have married him she’d have had to live in a virtual exile.

    • Anonymous

      I thought Mary’s predicament was extremely credible.  She was in real danger of being compromised forever.  Although he was a cad, Theo James was the handsomest,  most beguiling cad I’ve ever seen on any screen.

      I did love it when Mary is a bit shocked when Pamuk informs her that she wouldn’t be considered an acceptable match either.

      Napier’s character was extremely well done, too.  It’s rare to see a sensitive, good guy who’s not the hero on film. The coded discussion the character has with Elizabeth McGovern’s character about his prospects with Mary is a masterpiece of tact.

      Edith’s extreme meanness is a little hard for me to understand, even taking into account her resentment at being ignored.  But maybe she’s just vicious.

      • Anonymous

        I see a note “(Edited by a moderator)”.  What does that mean?

        • I think T Lo are editing out spoilers

          • Anonymous

            Oh. Thank you, Eric.  

        • It means we edited out the spoilers in your comment.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry about that.  I didn’t see the usual “Spoiler Alerts” (I don’t think) and I’ve seen the series so many times I’ve lost track of what would be giving away the story.  Will be more careful in the future.

  • Anonymous

    I am completely addicted…Nobody believes but my neighbor’s step-aunt makes $87 an hour on the computer. She has been fired for 9 months but last month her check was USD8525 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site…

  • I have to say that I enjoyed Michelle Dockery’s protryal of Mary.The arc of the character in the writing and the performance makes you both love her and loathe her throughout the series. I last saw Michelle dockery in the Red Riding trilogy where her character has some steamy scenes with Andrew Garfield while getting out of a silly ’70’s sweater, but also sporting a really, really bad perm in the 1983 cap to the series. Thankfully this series is a bit kinder in the wardrobe dept.  

  • Anne Slovin

    I agree that Sybil’s accent is too contemporary, but at the same time, it’s sort of nice contrast to the cut glass of everyone else.  (Although now that I know that Joanne Froggatt does a “period Yorkshire” accent, I feel like Jessica Brown-Findlay could put in a little more effort.)  And I love Mrs. Hughes.  I’ve already seen series two, and she was one of the real highlights of it for me.

  • Anonymous

    Thomas and Lady Edith are my favorite characters, I can understand the reasons for their plotting and cruelty better than I can some of the others. 
    I don’t care for Lady Mary at all. I don’t even get why she wants to inherit the manor. She could just marry some old geezer with a town home in London and wait a few years for him to kick the bucket.

    I loathe Lady Sybil, she toys with the maid at helping her. But if she lost her position in the house the girl could do nothing to help her. She reminds me of “Mary” in Richard Wright’s  Native Son.

    • Because if she doesn’t inherit the manor, the rest of her family has no rights to it!

      • Anonymous

        I should think that the reason her own father is not trying to secure her as the inheritor of the estate is that he realizes that she would sell it without a thought to anyone else  before he was even cold in his grave. And maybe she should.

        • Anonymous

          I thought the way the estate is legally entailed was, until British law changed, pretty much ironclad. The Dowager Countess certainly had the lawyers try to find a loophole. I interpreted the father’s actions as accepting the reality, more than as reluctance to have Mary inherit. The legal owner could sell or mortgage the property while living but the entailed portion of his property went to the next male heir on his death. Period.

          And I think that what Mary would have done had she inherited the property is less predictable. In the post-war world and with the advent of death duties, she might have been more amenable to selling than some others, but not knowing what that time would be like, she might find, if ever in possession of the property, that her responsibility to tenants as well as the emotion she felt for the family home were stronger than expected.

          It’s easier to rebel against something that you know is not going anywhere than to abandon it forever.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t believe that’s it at all.  First of all, he believes in English law, and the entail is designed to keep real property intact as it passes down through generations.  He’s spent his entire life protecting the estate, including marrying an heiress who was required to merge her considerable dowry into the estate.

          And I don’t think he would be trying to make her the inheritor of the property; he would be trying to restore her mother’s money to Mary. The property would still pass to Crowley.

      • Anonymous

        She would not be inheriting the manor; she would be marrying the inheritor.  She would have rights as the wife, but it would not be her property.  I assume her male offspring would inherit.  When her husband died, her eldest son would live in the big house, and she’d be in the “Dowager” house, like Maggie Smith’s character.  

        If the entail were broken, she would get her mother’s dowry, not the property itself.  The whole point of the marriage was to provide cash flow to D.A., but Hugh Bonneville’s and Elizabeth McGovern’s characters eventually fell in love. McGovern’s character was forced to give up her money.

        This past year, England changed the law on royal succession; women can inherit the throne without having to wait for all men to be out of the line.  A similar law would have had to have been passed or the entail would have had to have been specially drafted for Mary to inherit the property.

        You may remember there was a similar problem in Pride and Prejudice.  The Bennet parents had no son, after five tries and five daughters, so the property  was to be inherited by Mr. Collins, who was Mr. Bennet’s nephew.  Mrs. Bennet presumably didn’t bring much money to the marriage and she wasn’t forced to to merge her dowry with the estate, as happened in D.A.  Just as in P & P, McGovern’s character assumed she’d have a son so her money would be inherited by her own family.

        • So the English succession laws did change, then? Wow. I thought they were still under debate and hadn’t heard about this.

  • Well, I’ll differ here on Sibyl, because there are a ton of contemporary pieces of fiction and non-ficton that portray a younger sister the same way; you only have to go as far back as Galsworthy to find them. A younger sister had more options (though not necessarily good ones) than an older sister, who was expected to marry well. The younger sisters were often more free-spirited than their siblings were allowed to be. I think this is Sibyl’s way of expressing herself, rather than chafe against type, like her sisters, she is generally left be to find her own way. There’s no law that says a free spirit can’t be from an entitled family; they have to come from *somewhere*! This leads her to…. [insert spoiler here!]
    Every time I see Thomas, I just want to bitch-slap him into oblivion. 

  • Anonymous

    Oh, Tom and Lorenzo, I am always so happy to read your insightful recaps. 🙂 

    But is there anyone else out there who wonders if Thomas could have poisoned Mr. Pamuk? He certainly had a motive, and it would add meaning to the scene in episode 1 when Daisy almost sends poison to the table instead of chopped eggs. And I’m still not sure I’m convinced Thomas is gay. I think he’s antisocial, and just uses his considerable attractiveness to get what he wants.

    • But – he did have an affair with the Duke.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, but he wanted something from him — a better job.

        • Anonymous

          It was my impression that Thomas loved the Duke, in a way. He did want to improve is position  in life too make no mistake about that. But he didn’t try to blackmail him until he has been put in his place. He may have even been saving the letters because they meant  something to him.

          • Anonymous

            When the character [in the context of the times] has no acceptable outlet for expressing feelings – and here there is the transgression of class boundaries as well as gender norms – it’s hard to tell exactly what the feelings are. Sometimes even for the participants.

          • MilaXX

            I’m torn between him saving the letters as love letters and saving them as a back up contingency plan for blackmail. I’m not sure I see it as him being in love with the Duke as much as being in like and finding a way to improve his stature in life as a bonus.

          • Anonymous

            I’m not convinced the two (love & blackmail) are mutually exclusive. Love that has utterly no future can turn to bitterness. 

    • Anonymous

      Remember being gay could get you thrown in prison at that time, so not something a footman would gamble with. And given that he wants to progress to being a valet, any slight question mark over him would damage his prospects. I’m actually surprised he took the risk with Pamuk.

      • Anonymous

        I thought his advance to Pamuk was another indication of how Pamuk (as a foreigner, and a dark-skinned one, at that) was at the fringes of, if not completely outside, the social milieu. He was accepted as a foreign dignitary of respectable rank in his own country, but he wasn’t really part of English society. See also: Eric Scheirer Stott’s comments earlier about Pamuk.

        • Anonymous

          Oh yes, I think that was his mistake. He made assumptions. But that was remarkably stupid for Thomas when he knew Pamuk was there with Evelyn Napier who was very much part of the society who employ him. But then Thomas isn’t as clever as he thinks he is 🙂

      • trimellone

        I took Pamuk’s ambivalent encouragement as being *his* strategy for leading Thomas into a gesture that Pamuk knew he could use to blackmail Thomas into leading Pamuk to Lady Mary’s room.

        • Anonymous

          I didn’t really see Pamuk as intentionally encouraging him though. The gentleman/valet relationship is pretty intimate anyway then on top of that you have a foreigner with a slightly different approach to servants and to personal space. I just though Thomas took it that way because he was attracted to him. Had Pamuk not had the opportunity presented to him to blackmail Thomas into showing him the route I think he would just have bribed him with cash or found another way round it. But I could be wrong, next time I watch it I’ll keep that in mind and see how it views.

    • Anonymous

      I think Thomas is gay.  The affair with the Duke, the pass at Pamuk, which was pretty risky, just to further oneself, the Cook’s concern about Daisy’s crush on him; she knows Daisy will get hurt.  I also think the family doctor might be gay. Don’t know why; TV gaydar.

      I enjoyed the scenes with Duke because it’s easy to forget, as a modern viewer, that class and money trumped everything. Just because two men were in love didn’t mean that their social positions wouldn’t allow them to be manipulated in different ways.  The Duke uses Thomas and Thomas tries to use the Duke by threatening to blackmail him.

  • Anonymous

    I took Sibyl’s interest in Gwen to be indicative of the great class shift that was beginning to happen.  I also thought it could be influenced by the suffragette movement of the time.  I only watched Downton Abbey the first time, though.  Now I want to watch this episode again.
    Certainly the upper class mourned the loss of the servant class, scattered to war and the munitions factories, but I could see a well meaning girl like Sibyl doing this.

  • Anonymous

    I’m actually not finding Lord Grantham’s aristocratic benevolence all that unbelievable.  Remember, this is hardly the golden age of aristocracy, when all that privilege was tidily bolstered by a hackneyed philosophy that it was all divinely ordained.  By now there had been decades of near-revolution, labor movements, the burgeoning of various socialist and liberal schools of thought.  Grantham was an educated man.  He would have been more than familiar with all the social critics who had addressed the effects of the Industrial Revolution.  No doubt his library included volumes of Rousseau, Kant, Mill, and he was at least familiar with Marx.  He may have roundly rejected socialist philosophy, but I suspect he had at least grappled with it on some level (Sibyl will be far more amenable).  Remember his comment when Carson’s former stage partner said something to the effect that all you lot have had their day.  Totally paraphrasing, he said something like, You may well be right, but…

    And I think one way of grappling with all of that was to try to prove, at least to himself, that the exercise of his privilege was not so morally indefensible, and even beneficial to his “charges.”  At least he wasn’t an industrialist (though clearly not beyond, as much of the landed gentry, getting an infusion of that industrialist cash in exchange for a title).  He may very well have even felt morally smug that whatever miseries resulted from servitude to his kind, they were nothing like the new miseries of the Industrial Revolution.  When he talked about those “poor blokes in steerage,” he was talking about the new underclass created by the new wealth, those greedy upstarts who spent more time making money and less time in their libraries.  Unlike them, he IS something of a thinker.

    Not to say that there was any kind of egalitarianism behind any of this.  I’m sure he had read, and misapplied, his Darwin as well, and had all kinds of theories about “breeding.”  But still, I’m sure he was kind to his horses and his hounds, and he would have found it both prudent and morally right to be kind to his servants and tenants as well.

  • Anonymous

    Cora could marry a man she knew didn’t love her and Edith would be eager to do the same thing, but poor Mary is cursed with the persistent idea that she is her own person and that whatever decisions she makes should be for her own benefit and no one else’s.

    I don’t think Edith’s motivations are that far removed from Mary’s. She wants to be someone with some power to make decisions for her own benefit as well. The only way for her to do that is to be married and have her own household. So she’ll happily take almost any man that gives her that opportunity.

    there’s a definite stacking of the deck here to make the family look as un-aristocratic in attitude as possible

    I don’t think moderns sensibilities are the concern here. I think the stacking of the deck is more to highlight the difference between the more ‘modern’ generations raised in the late Victorian/Early Edwardian eras — when there was a lot of progressive reform tumult happening — and the hidebound Victorian sensibilities of the Dowager.

    • Anonymous

      I think Edith in many ways represents an aggressively traditional approach to the whole marriage question.  She is seeking the right marriage in as single-minded and scheming a way as her mother, looking to get her daughters well “settled”(and she is really resentful of the fact that her more careless older sister has more natural abilities in this area).  Sibyl, of course, a budding feminist, is at the opposite extreme.  But Mary’s defining characteristic is that of profound ambivalence.  Ambivalence I think is what makes her behavior surprising and unpredictable, yet explainable.

      And, yes, I also think the aristocratic attitudes on display here have a lot to do with the “progressive reform tumult” of the age.  The very concept of an aristocracy was an idea on the defense.  And anyway, they were no longer the ones with the real money.  The duke, like Grantham had done, was looking for an infusion of cash to maintain his aristocratic ideal.  The young duke’s ideal may have been decadence, while Grantham’s was far more sentimental. but both involved the freedom from having to earn one’s living, in sharp contrast to the modern Matthew, who found self-worth in his profession.  But the Dowager’s idea that an aristocratic class was merely the right order of the universe had gone the way of the dodo.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not as fascinated with Mary as you are, T Lo.  I think she’s a contrarian rather than a rebel which is quite different.  She doesn’t want to do what’s expected of her, not because it’s fundamentally wrong, but because it’s what’s expected.  Sybil is the true rebel, wanting to shake things up because the world needs to be better, not because she wants to do the opposite of what her family wants.  Sybil is more like Isobel Crawley in that way. 

    I also think some of Mary’s bitchery comes from her own character and is not entirely a reaction to her parents.  She is the classic “have her cake and eat it too” person.  She doesn’t want Matthew Crawley, but she doesn’t want Edith or anyone else to have him, the estate or the money.  She wants the lifestyle, but not what goes with it.  She likes being the prettier, older daughter and wants to marry well, but doesn’t want to make the compromises that go with it.  She’s embarrassed that her parents sleep in the same bed, she’s embarrassed by her mother’s American heritage, she’s happy with the status quo except her own. She wants change for herself, but not for others.  She has her nice moments as with sending William home to see his mother, but they are too few and far between to make her a good person, at least at this point.  I don’t know what Carson sees in her. 

    Edith, I think, can be both nice and empathetic, but has been shaped into a not-so-nice person by the behavior of Mary.  Without Mary’s withering attitude and competitive nature, Edith could have been a perfectly pleasant person, and certainly wouldn’t have sent the letter if Mary hadn’t spent years putting her down.  I find Sybil delightful, and don’t think she comes across as too modern.  And her accent, at least to my ear, is the poshest of all.  I have great hopes for Sybil and am glad she hasn’t taken sides in the war between the sisters.  

    I can’t stand O’Brien – she’s mostly a nasty piece of work – but I can’t help hearing the BBC spoof line of “I think it’s because my hair’s just knitting” and chuckle every time I see her character now.   Bates is just a straight-up good man, and I hope he and Anna get together.  

  • Anonymous

    As for Mary, she’s got some interesting Elizabeth Bennett literary DNA going on here (and Lily Bart comes to mind too):  an intelligent, spirited woman whose whole future quality of life hinges on the right marriage, whose ambivalence and willful pride just might sabotage her from finding the ideal life mate who is right under her nose.  Even the sisters serve as kind of foils, the way they do in P&P.  But unlike Liz and Lily, it’s Mary who is the aristocrat, looking to retain a position, not gain one.  She would actually be the female Darcy, if inheritance rules didn’t prevent her from being the female Darcy.  Sucks.

  • Anonymous

    “Of course, only someone far more experienced than she could understand what a cad Pamuk really was”

    Can I just say here how thrilled I am that you used the word “cad” rather than “douchebag” or “asshole” or “jerkmo” or something similarly 21st Century? Love your commentary, love your analysis of this series (which I also LOVE).

    xox and Happy New Year to all my fellow Bitter Kittens!

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad we’ve gotten to this episode so that I can say how amusing I find it that some Brits would think issues like “entails” would be far above an American audience, and yet the whole Mary/Kemal Pamuk episode was as soapy as something you’d see on General Hospital. I mean, really. I love the show dearly and the acting is superb, but I found that story line really jarring. From the idea that Mary could suddenly forget everything about herself and chuck it all for a near-rapist (I was not charmed AT ALL by Pamuk’s behavior) to the idea that this previously healthy young man would drop dead after an orgasm or whatever.  All that is needed to place this firmly in soap-opera land is for someone to get amnesia after falling down the stairs…and we get a plot line akin to that as the show continues.

    So, yes, I did not have a good idea of what an entail was before Laura Linney explained it to me. But Downton Abbey definitely has its silly moments.

    • Anonymous

      “the idea that this previously healthy young man would drop dead after an orgasm or whatever. ”
      I’m putting this out there again — perhaps Thomas poisoned Pamuk. (That would be “All My Children” territory, but still . . .)

      • Anonymous

        I don’t think that happened, because the show didn’t present any clues to let us know that might be the case. We never saw Thomas hovering over Pamuk’s food, or slipping something in his wine. We haven’t seen a hint of guilt from Thomas afterwords, or even a clue that he might have had access to poisonous substances. And if Thomas had a hand in Pamuk’s death, why would be be encouraging the other servants to keep thinking about how suspicious and fishy the death was? You’d think he’d want everyone to just move forward and stop talking about it, but he keeps digging at Daisy and trying to stir up trouble.

        I like this program, it shows a lot of subtlety, but the subtlety is coming from interactions among the actors, not the plot. The plot lines are fairly straightforward.

        • anodyne1


          While everyone was socializing after dinner Thomas brought a glass (of wine I suppose) to Pamouk and as Pamouk takes the glass Thomas gets that slimy little grin on his face.  (And there’s only one glass on the tray, and he takes it right to Pamouk.)   And, as Thomas shows Pamouk to Mary’s room he also has an “I know what’s going to happen to you” look on his face.  Watch the episode again and you’ll see.

          (Unless Pamouk had an underlying health problem, he would not just drop dead after a little sex.)The next morning Thomas brings the usual morning fare to Pamouk’s room because that’s what he’s expected to do.  And then we see the look of surprise on Thomas’ face.  At first we assume Thomas is shocked to find Pamouk dead.  But now I believe Thomas is shocked to find that Pamouk is in his room.  

          And since Pamouk wasn’t found dead in Mary’s room, or since Mary didn’t cause a scene, Thomas then had to go to Plan B to raise suspicious about the death.

          I agree with you about “liking this program, it shows a lot of subtlety, but the subtlety is coming from interactions among the actors, not the plot. The plot lines are fairly straightforward.”  I love the humor.  The sly comments and raised eyebrows and innuendo – it’s hilarious at times.

          But anyway.  Thomas killed Pamouk.

    • Anonymous

      So glad to hear someone else felt the way I did–I groaned aloud at this ridiculous storyline with Mary/Pamuk.  After all the hype I’ve been really underwhelmed with this series so far.

    • Anonymous

      In an interview, Julian Fellowes said that the dead man in a young lady’s room who is then carried the length of the house to avoid scandal was based on a true story during that period.  The only way anyone found out the truth was to read the woman’s diary many years later and everyone was shocked.   

    • Except the Pamuk/Mary storyline was a true story. Julian Fellowes has mentioned it many times, and I even found a similar story in Rosa Lewis’s memoirs published in the 1920s. However, I groan whenever people complain about the soap opera-ness of the show–it is a period drama, with emphasis on the word “drama.” I’m guessing that people hold this to the same standards as Austen adaptations or Dickens, which is something I find illogical since Downton Abbey is an original story, not a story bound by its time period as an adaptation of a “classic” novel would be.

      • Anonymous

        I am sure that people really do fall down the stairs and lose their memory, too, and that there are people out in the world who have “evil twins.” But such plot lines are generally accepted as kind of soapy.

        I don’t watch Gossip Girl or Desperate Housewives, so you may be right that I have an aversion to certain types of plot twists. The Mary/Pamuk situation didn’t make me start hating Downton Abbey. But *that particular plot line* introduced a level of campiness to the proceedings, for me.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, crazy and dramatic plot twists abound in “high literature.”  Look at Shakespeare.  What soap opera writer today would, say, dress up a woman in men’s clothing and have us believe she went unrecognized by her own brother?  But realistic plots were not the standard, and different eras have different expectations as far as realism in any art.  To me the standard that counts is character realism.  Are the characters being twisted to suit the plot?  Give me complex, interesting characters and throw any crazy thing at them you want (well, within reason).  Just let me believe that that’s just how they’d behave under the circumstances.

    • Alisa Rivera

      Thank you!! I enjoy the show but it’s Dynasty with better clothes. I’m surprised that TLo are recapping it so reverently because it isn’t that deep. Beautiful to look at and very entertaining, but shallow as a sheet of paper. Thomas and O’Brien are so ridiculous in their villainy that they may as well have mustaches to twirl as they’re plotting. And does no one have a problem with the gay character being so unrelentingly evil? It’s as if his gayness is meant to emphasize his perversity.

      • Anonymous

        I have much more regard for the show than you (I found Dynasty unwatchable), but I agree it’s not all that complex.  TLo’s comparison with Mad Men was interesting.  The characterization in Mad Men is much more subtle than in D.A., which has pretty clear heroes and villains. In Mad Men, everyone is a real person, with a real person’s flaws and it’s the best exposition of the American working world I’ve seen. 

         I think that Mad Men’s themes might seem more pronounced to TLo because they are a little fresher than those of D.A. As a result, they can still surprise. By contrast, how many times have class issues been explored in a British pre-1914 drama?  

        Still, in these times of 1%s and 99%s the discussion is still relevant.

    • Anonymous

      I watched the DVD comments and according to Julian Fellowes this storyline was based on an actual incident in a great English house.

  • Poor Mr. Pamuk!

  • DONNA T Mallard

    I do agree that Lord Grantham and his family come off as  “benevolent aristocrats,” but their concern over the servants also reminds me of a phrase that I haven’t had to consider since college – noblesse oblige. Grantham is not just an employer; he truly feels responsible for his staff,  both by keeping up the social order and by making sure that everyone has a livelihood. It’s an interesting way of, perhaps, justifying a person’s role and/or place, but it’s also why noblemen went to battle along with the common folk. Isn’t that how Grantham and Bates know each other?

    One of the things I love about this series is how it looks at a time when there were so many social, political and ideological changes. The concept of noblesse oblige, like the aristocracy, is going by the wayside (Remind me, just how many members of Congress had children who served in Iraq and Afghanistan?), and it’s interesting and amusing to watch his character deal with how the world is changing around him.

  • Anonymous

    So Happy Tlo have decided to recap.  Your insights and those of your minions make it that much better (agree or not).  I Love this show and watched it first on PBS and then later on netflix. Am now watching again due to TLO  Blog.  It is amusing that Brits think that everything has to be dumb..ed down for an American audience.  Not all  Americans find American TV and Movies to their liking these days and find good TV and Movies as hard to find as good book. 

    I find the interaction between the girls , not only amusing , but so true to life. Aristocracy or not  (not) and Edwardian or not (not) as the oldest of four sisters some things  don’t change. So , of course, I adore Mary ( every side of her right and wrong) …can’t stand Edith ( Always scheming and subversive) and find Sybil right in character as the youngest who is taming her parents for the next generation.  Ouch already. K?

    All I will say about Thomas and our now dead Turkish Aristocrat is that Thomas….. was well aware of what our Turkish Aristocrat was about.

    Of course Bates and Anna are the romance line of the show….. ( For God’s sake’s Bate’s do it already) …totally american (LOL) take on it .

    O’Brian be dammed. Can’t show enough guilt for me to care.

    Carson and Hugh’ s ,  Good parents are hard to find. I hope your children reward you.

  • I just wished they’d had a little more between Pamuk and Thomas … damn.  

    I can’t say I’m with you completely about Sibyl.  If we look at her interests, they are fairly modern, relatively speaking.  As to how one behaves in aristocracy during that time, who’s to say, really?  Her story line for being more progressive than the family does not disturb the portrayal of Sybil out of context from the rest.  It also goes in line with what you guys had mentioned, that Mary is carrying the weight of the family which allows Sibyl to be less conformed, as seen per usual for the youngest.  

    As for Mr. Bates, I want to like him but his insufferable need to be zealous can be infuriating … “JUST SAY IT!” I keep yelling.  Not that I want to change anything about the character, it makes for great drama — I suppose I’m just deep into it.

    Great review TLo.  Sometimes I wonder, at some of your posts, whether you guys tend to intellectualize subjects that do not warrant such criticisms but in this case it’s very fitting and I sip it like a well brewed tea.  

  • Anonymous

    Shoutout to Carson for his lovely scene with Mary, which manages to do what scenes with Lord Grantham do not in terms of forging a connection between the upstairs and downstairs characters. Their bond manages to be both believable and touching, particularly in light of Mary’s obvious struggle to reconcile her family’s expectations of her with her own desires.
    I was also strangely moved by O’Brien’s promise to keep Thomas’s secret at the end of the episode after he presumably spills the whole story about his dealings with Mr. Pamuk. They may be evil schemers, but they are probably the most loyal characters on the show.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, sure. This is basically Masterpiece Soap, but that’s what I love about it. And I also agree the first episode was overemphatic (It’s 1912, so some of the characters lived before electricity was widely available *shock*), but then again, I found myself having to explain why it was so vital that Lizzie marry well in a recent adaptation of p&p to a friend of mine, so I guess people unfamiliar with classic fiction need that.

  • Anonymous

    Bates is still too Lark Rise to Candleford for me . he was irritatingly sanctimonious to me on that show, and as Bates, his noble suffering puts me off in the same way.

    i was very confused about the pamuk thing. like, why is it even necessary as a plot device.

    the american mother’s face distracts me, when she smiles she looks like the comedy theatre mask (the other one being tragedy).

  • maya gamble

    Are you going to talk about the clothes in Downton Abbey?  I thought episode 3 had some of the most beautiful costumes; I especially love Mary’s black and white striped shirt.

  • Anonymous

    Mary is Lily Bart with money, and probably a happier future, whether or not she marries the inheritor of D.A.

  • Lattis

    I’m so happy that you guys are blogging this series. I love reading your recaps and comments and all the opinions of the commentariat – there’s always something that surprises me. Like, Sewing Siren not liking Mary at all and loathing Sybil! 

    Lord Grantham’s position in relation to the estate is kind of touching to me, and infuriating at the same time. His comments to Mary about being the caretaker not owner of DA, and that if only he’d made an independent fortune he’d be in a position to help her and more importantly free her. It would be an odd kind of impotence to have so much wealth and so few choices. He and Mary are in the same boat that way. There is a part of me that would like them all to throw up their arms and say “Fuck it! I’m out of here!”

  • Anonymous

    Curse you TLo! I’m in the midst of watching the E2 and I’m hooked!

  • @Lattis:disqus ………my roomate’s mother makes $70/hour on the computer. She has been fired from work for 5 months but last month her pay was $7232 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site

  • Anonymous

    I may be wrong, but I remember Mr. P saying to Mary that she CAN  still be a virgin for her husband.  I took that to mean that she needn’t ever tell him about the two of them getting it on, and can always playact at being a virgin.  For a young woman as naive as Mary, that may have helped tip the balance in Mr. P’s favor.  I don’t really think there’s any question but that they had sex…

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I believe that was a sly reference to anal sex.  He says there is a way for to still be a virgin, she looks puzzled and then says “OH! But won’t that hurt?”.  And anal sex is very big in Turkey.  See, if she did have a gay in her life, he could totally have helped out here….

  • Is it just me, but could that scene with Pamuk be construed as rape? She said no, he told her that was nothing she could really do about it, then he ended up in her bed…even if she ‘gave in’ there was nothing she could do about it without ruining her reputation. Just food for thought. 

  • Viator16

    I just started watching Downton Abbey, and I’ve seen seasons 1 & 2. I, too, wondered about what sort of sex Mary and Pamuk had. He said that she would still be a virgin for her husband. She asked if it was safe (I understood this to mean pregnancy), and he said it would, “Trust me.” The only thing that comes to mind is anal sex. What else is there that would met both criteria?

  • While Mary and her Edwardian peers may not have recognized rape, you should have.