Downton Abbey S1E5: The Love of a Sister

Posted on January 02, 2012

If last episode was the one where the show indulged its soap opera tendencies by introducing a bunch of running plotlines, this is the one that turned in a slightly different direction by setting all those plotlines in motion, away from each other. In other words, the world of Downton keeps expanding outward with each episode, and this was right around the time one got a full sense of the scope of the show. For all that, however, Mary remains the center of everything, to the eternal annoyance of Edith.

Lord Grantham seems to have become quite annoyed with his eldest daughter. It’s largely unstated but of course it’s because she rejected Matthew. In the context of the day, we don’t blame him. The earl and his wife are under growing pressure to get not only Mary, but all three of their daughters paired off. It speaks to the growing importance of the situation that Robert has feelings about it at all, since he’s treated it up till now like something the ladies should handle. But unlike the ladies (or at least Cora), he really doesn’t understand her reasons at all. “There will come a day when someone thinks you mean what you say,” he warns her sharply. “It can’t come soon enough for me,” she replies. It hasn’t really entered his mind that at the root of Mary’s somewhat troublesome ways is someone who wants control of her life.

Which isn’t to say that Mary is all victim in this scenario. She’s still tripped up by her own emotional immaturity, like she was when the first really good-looking man in her life paid attention to her. In this instance, she’s caught up in ridiculous sibling one-upmanship with Edith, using the men at the table as both prizes and pawns.  These are the earl’s daughters at their most vicious. “You think it’s going to be like Little Women,” said Cora, about raising daughters. “Instead they’re at each other’s throats from dawn to dusk.” Which isn’t quite fair to Sibyl, since she has wisely removed herself from any of the nonsense her older sisters engage in, being quite aware of how awful they act to each other. When Gwen mentions that Anna would never tell that she left the house for a job interview, she says, “She’s like a sister; she’d never betray me.”  Sibyl practically snorts in response: “She’s not like my sisters.” Downton is idyllic in a lot of ways, but those two young women are toxic to each other, bringing out the absolute worst behavior.

We don’t actually endorse Edith’s silly, but very dangerous, rumor-mongering, but we can certainly see what motivates her to be so aggressive toward her sister. Mary treats her with contempt, but the rest of the family largely ignores her, which is all the more hurtful. Typical middle child reaction in a lot of ways, even if spreading life-ruining stories in response is just a bit over the top.

But let’s face it: Mary was a bitch this episode, not only to Edith but to Matthew and Mr. Strallan as well. Worse (for her, at least) is how open she is with her manipulations. She went straight from making fun of him in front of all the women to throwing herself at him. That kind of behavior tends not to go unremarked-upon. Ironically, it’s her father, of all the people in the room, who noted her actions and called her a child. Cora had no idea what he was talking about. She is, like many parents, blind to some of the qualities her most favored child possesses.

Another interesting thing about Cora that we’ve not had a chance to mention is the way she can go from sweet and composed to hissing and acid-tongued when the doors are closed. Cora can come across pretty bland and saccharine at times but they make sure to give her one good snipe per episode or so. When Robert mentions his sister’s fondness for food from the estate with “She enjoys a taste of her old home,” Cora responds with a weary “She enjoys the taste of free food,” a comeback worthy of her mother-in-law. You have to figure a quarter-century of dealing with the Dowager Countess has made Cora pretty sharp, but then we recall that she was quite blase about the fact that she married Robert knowing he didn’t love her, which speaks to us of someone who really wanted that title. You can draw a line from Violet to Cora to Mary of women in the family whose ambitions have made them in some ways quite cold.

Downstairs, Mrs. Patmore is going blind and somehow it’s all poor Daisy’s fault. This was family melodrama at its most basic, with a staging and storyline that could have come right out of an episode of Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, as kindly Mr. Carson stoked the fire and held her hand as she cried over her fate. Almost retro, in a way.

O’Brien and Thomas twirl their respective moustaches and come out against Bates by trying to frame him for stealing a snuff box. We can understand why Thomas would be driven to do this, since he feared Bates knew he was stealing wine. But why on earth is O’Brien getting involved in drama between Edith and Mary? How does the knowledge of what happened with Mr. Pamuk really benefit her? These are the times when we have to roll our eyes at the character. She and Thomas can be deliciously evil and fun to hate, but their motivations don’t always make a whole lot of sense. Obviously, like a lot of antagonists, they’re tools to force the protagonists into certain positions, and Anna and Bates teaming up to give them both a taste of their own medicine allowed them to draw that much closer together, with bosom-heaving declarations of love and a sprinkling of secrets. The scene with Bates and Anna on the road was very charming in a lot of ways, but almost ruined by the heavy-handed symbolism of putting him on the back of the cart. “I mustn’t slow you down.” Dialogue thunk.

And finally, in the ongoing battle between Violet and Isobel, the latter scores a couple points. The last time that happened, a working class man’s life was saved and this time, a working class man was granted some pride and dignity through Violet learning a little humility. It’s harmless and not worth examining too deeply, but it is kind of interesting to note how their tug of war always seems to have working class people or servants in the middle of it. That’s largely because Isobel tends to choose her battles in defense of people she feels are disenfranchised, but Violet proved to her last time that her meddling wasn’t always to their benefit. It’s an entertaining back-and-forth between the two of them – Isobel’s insincerely breathless “How thrilling!” upon hearing that Violet wins the flower show every year always cracks us up –  but it also does a very good job of defining the characters and their respective class backgrounds.

[screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

    • Anonymous

      Why does Lady Mary have to shove Lady Edith’s nose to the ground and prove that she’s both prettier and more desirable than she is every chance she gets. Absolutely no reason for it , even their parents think that Edith is ugly. 
      I think Mrs. Hughes has both Mary’s and Sibyl’s numbers pretty accurately read.

      • Anonymous

        Because she’s the bossy and controlling oldest sister.

        • Anonymous

          In her zeal to hurt Edith she also tramples Matthew and Mr. Strallen.

          • Anonymous

            Better than Edith putting their entire family’s reputation at risk in an attempt to socially cripple Mary. Mary’s actions might reverberate for a week, what Edith does could have effects for the rest of their lives. Not to mention that Edith keeps bringing it upon herself to challenge Mary at every turn. Why on earth would she continue to bait Mary when she knows better than anyone in the house what Mary is capable of? What did she expect anyway? A white flag from Mary and a declaration of unending devotion from Strallan? Does she even like Strallan or is she just focused on him because he’s interested in Mary? Is that what she did with Patrick and Matthew too?

            Mary is a difficult character to be sure and she is capable of great cruelty, which she does display in this episode, but there’s no doubt that Edith brings it upon herself.

            • Anonymous

              Cora and Violet never seem to think that the “rumor ” has put the whole family in jeopardy. It’s only Mary’s reputation that is at stake.

            • Anonymous

              Cora and Violet also don’t know that it originated from Edith. They can pass it off to other people as a lie from the Turkish embassy, but if they knew that Edith was the source of the rumor, it is a far more serious matter. Not only does her choice to send the letter make Lord and Lady Grantham look ridiculous and out of control of their own household (both from Mary’s actions going unchecked and Edith’s intentionally public and sensational betrayal of what should be family secrets), but also her letter makes any chance they might have in denying the rumor impossible, in both a social and a legal setting. Should the papers get ahold of the story, all hopes of a libel suit would go out the window once Edith’s letter came to light. After all, how can anyone deny the written testimony of a sister? It would be indefensible. And let’s not forget, should anyone pry into the situation further, Cora would be implicated as well, seeing as how she helped to cart Pamuk’s body away. In originating the rumor, Edith gives it validity, and if the rumor is validated, it will not die away. Cora and Violet are not panicking because they think that if they can just brush off the rumor as false for a little while, it will go away. People will believe them and they will stop talking about it for fear of facing the wrath of a righteous and powerful family. If Cora and Violet knew that Edith was the source, their whole plan would be kaput, and you can bet they’d be in a real state of hysteria regarding the Pamuk situation. 

              And let’s face it, Cora is already trying to marry off Mary to Sir Anthony Strallan, if that’s not  panic, I don’t know what is. Mary is the young and beautiful eldest daughter of an earl, and she had entertained interest just in this season from a duke, a future earl, and a future viscount, all of whom were attractive men of her own age, and Cora now wants her to marry a man twice her age who is at best a baronet? Cora might look calm, but her actions show her to be far from complacent. She’s trying to wrap up the situation before she and her whole family land themselves in a very public scandal. 

            • Anonymous

              Yup.  It’s not exactly the Pride & Prejudice situation, in which Lydia’s “fall” would reflect on all the sisters.  

    • Anonymous

      I missed that Cora and Robert didn’t love each other when they married. How was this explained? 

      • Anonymous

        In the first episode, I believe. They were in their bedroom talking about happiness; Cora remarked that Robert didn’t fall in love with her until about a year into the marriage (he countered that it was not quite that long). 

      • Anonymous

        He married her money, she married his title.  Very common at that time for rich American girls to be hauled off to England to find a lord to wed.  It’s the them of Edith Wharton’s novel, The Buccaneers.  See, for example, Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill, or Consuelo Vanderbilt marrying the Duke of Marlborough (who needed her money to maintain Blenheim).

        • Anonymous

          Cora probably married for a title because that’s what her parents wanted.  She would have had an arranged marriage in any case & the young lord was attractive enough.  So she just went along…

          (I do wish we had met some of her family. Background helps.  Just as I wish we knew more about what made O’Brien as bitter as she was.  She obviously thinks service beneath her, but was angry when the maid hoped to become a secretary.)

        • Anonymous

          Elizabeth McGovern resembles Carla Gugino, the American actress who was in the adaptation of The Buccaneers. Gugino’s character was an American heiress who marries for a title. She didn’t fall in love with her spouse, played by James Frain.

    • http://alexinmovieland.blogspot.com/ Alex

      The flower thing was pure “Mrs Miniver” rip-off. Offensive.

      • Anonymous

        I rather thought it was a Mrs Miniver tribute, and charming.

        • http://twitter.com/bentley1530 F E B

          As I mentioned later in the thread, I also thought it was lifted from Mrs. Miniver.  And because there was no effort to give it a twist or to make it special or specific to this story I consider it more of a rip-off than a tribute.  It took me out of the episode rather than making the episode more enjoyable.  

    • Anonymous

      I have been puzzling over why O’Brien and Thomas decide to sic Edith on Mary for a while now. The best I can come up with is just a growing resentment toward the family in general and Cora in particular on O’Brien’s part. It’s pretty weak, though. Seems like they’d have nothing much to gain beyond smug satisfaction, and potentially even something to lose, if the gossip were to really ruin Mary’s reputation.

      • Anonymous

        I’m curious to know more about O’Brien and Thomas’s relationship.  Why are they in cahoots with each other?  Why is O’Brien so invested in whether Thomas moves up to valet?  It can’t be a romantic or sexual thing — it just doesn’t feel that way, and she’s a generation older than he is (which, of course, doesn’t automatically preclude romance, but this series seems to be playing it pretty conventionally that way).  Does she know he’s “not a ladies’ man”?  Does she care?

        • Anonymous

          Haven’t you ever met anyone who wanted ‘friends’ to hate who they hate to have a relationship? I have and they are much like O’Brien & Thomas: Miserable in their own lives and envious of others who have anything they don’t, to the point of stooping to lies & manipulation to bring down the people they’re jealous of – just for their own twisted amusement. That strikes me as what these two have got going.

          As for O’Brien’s interference between Mary & Edith in the Pamuk affair, I assumed it was just more revenge for the dressing down she’d gotten from Cora (when she walked into the servant’s dining room and heard her dissing Matthew).–GothamTomato

          • Anonymous

            I did think it was interesting that after setting up the slip n fall, O’Brien catches herself in the mirror and says something like “that’s not you” in a moment of remorse, but the accident happens before she can “take it back,” as it were.  Perhaps she’s not as inherently evil as we think.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1046681022 Paula Berman

            I agree with this. I’m sure many of us have had a gay best friend at work.  I know I do.  We gossip, help each other out, have each other’s back, etc. If he succeeds, it’s the next best thing to me succeeding. We aren’t (quite as) evil as Thomas and O’Brien, but if we were, that’s what we’d be like, out back, furiously smoking and scheming. They’re just best friends, and I doubt it’s anything much deeper than that, or needs to be.

          • Allison Drury

            I totally agree. O’Brien represents that b**ch we all work with who lives to start trouble. Some people are just bitter and nasty and get off on bringing other people down. She and Thomas bring out the worst in each other. Take this episode when O’Brien has to sew the lace on the hat because Anna is sick. When Mrs. Hughes asks her to help she says “I’m not a slave.” Hughes had that look on her face like she’s heard this all before from O’Brien, one who is never willing to do more than what’s in her job description. I wonder how she got to be a lady’s maid with that attitude. Who would promote her? 

            • Anonymous

              Perhaps Cora has always gotten a bit of a cold shoulder from the ladies in her circle.  I get the feeling that, with their happy marriage, the Granthams don’t socialize in London as much as they might–or sponsor really sumptuous house parties. As an American, she didn’t grow up around any of the ladies in her “set.”  Mostly educated by governesses, they wouldn’t have gone to school together–but there would have been visits between extended families.  

              So maybe Cora doesn’t realize what a piece of work O’Brien really is.  Although we got a flash of anger when she heard her bad-mouthing The Heir in the kitchen.

              Another detail: Brothers who went to School & then University would have made friends–possible suitors for the sisters.  Of course, the inheritance situation would have been simpler with boys in the family–but finding hubbies was still the girls’ major reason for living.  (There were upper-class women with intellectual interests–but they spent more time in London & were raised by intellectual parents.  Lord G cares about his estate & Lady G is a bit flightly.)

          • Anonymous

            That was my take on it as well.  As another poster mentioned, Brien knows knowledge can be power, the same way Thomas does.  Everything they learn could eventually be used in some way.  Opportunistic, those two are.

          • http://twitter.com/Chinamerican J Wong

            “Haters gonna hate” 

        • Anonymous

          I’ve been thinking the same thing. I have a hunch it will come out that he’s her son, or that she had a child out of wedlock as a young woman (who she had to give up) and has taken Thomas on as a sort of replacement child. I definitely think there’s some kind of family connection between the two of them that will come out. Why else would she be so invested in seeing him promoted, or fighting his battles with/for him?

          • Anonymous

            That’s an interesting hunch. It would explain a lot.

            I’ve also had the thought that if Thomas were Lord Grantham’s valet, then as Cora’s maid, O’Brien and Thomas would be on equal footing as to being privy to secrets from the man and woman of the house. This would give them more power as a team, comparing notes and stories, to wreak even more havoc and misery.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_F3HKIK7MIJMBDAQBDWEAQDTXUM theneva

            I really think it’s nothing as complicated as that. She’s just the original saddy hag who instead of living her own life gets drawn into her toxic gay bestie’s pointless battles. Most of us have or have had this duo in our social circles before (or eventually will have done). They’re both bitter and self-absorbed and in a toxic feedback loop. It’s a trope that’s occasionally seen in modern movies and tv shows, but is still rare in period dramas. I admit I love seeing it here because as any lover of history knows, if it happens now, it happened then.

          • trimellone

            Oops. I agree . . . and posted as much, above.

          • Anonymous

            I was going to suggest that Thomas was her son, but I thought that was too melodramatic. :-)

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523566011 Dawn Grimes Stough

          i think they’re kindred spirits….  i think their personalities probably naturally run toward the nastier side, but that thomas is the stronger of the two; he’s all about self-preservation.  i think o’brien feeds off of his negativity, almost like it gives her permission to be just as bad and conniving. i appreciate that o’brien has such a change of heart, telling herself that this is not the type of person she is (or something along those lines).  i think, basically, that her strength as a negative character (her actions, extreme and biting sarcasm… on such a hateful level) is dependent on the strength of negative characters around her.  surround her with positive characters and she probably wouldn’t be as bad.  not that she’d be a ray of sunshine… i don’t think that’s in her personality at all, but i think she would definitely be more civil.

        • trimellone

          I actually assumed that he was secretly her son!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

        Information is power. Since O’Brien felt her power slipping with Lady G and knows that Lady M doesn’t even know her name, she felt that Lady E is the next best thing. She also wanted to know what Daisy knew; she feels that she should be able to order around everyone below her. She wanted Daisy on her team.

    • Anonymous

      Watching interviews with Julian Fellows online, it’s interesting to note that most of the story lines came from his own experiences or stories he dug up. He actually found in a diary a story of a visiting diplomat that was shuffled back to his room by the women of the house – a story that was successfully covered up until the diary was recently read. Likewise, O’Brien was based on an overbearing, manipulative servant. He also knew of a gentleman who was pulled out of his normal life when he inherited a title – much like Matthew. As dramatic and soap operatic as these story lines might appear, it’s worthy of notice that these types of things actually did happen!

    • Rebecca Zmarzly

      I really felt sorry for Edith the first couple of episodes, but her behavio(u)r in this one made me think she deserves whatever she gets. It’s one thing to snipe over dresses or play a hearty game of one-upmanship with a sister, but Edith’s rumo(u)r mongering takes it into “crossed over the line” territory. She could have seriously and legitimately ruined her sister’s life. She knew exactly what she was doing and the probable consequences to Mary’s reputation and future prospects, so I can’t fault Mary at all for her machinations at the end with Edith’s intended. Fair play, I say.

      • Anonymous

        Not the least bit fair. The deck has always and in every way been stacked in Mary’s favor.

      • Anonymous

        Couldn’t Agree more.!!!!

      • Alisa Rivera

        Neither of them deserves much sympathy. That last episode left me feeling pretty turned off by both of them. 

      • Anonymous

        I agree – Mary has been high-handed (the actress playing Mary is so wonderful – maybe in this episode, Edith snipes at her and Mary just makes this sound of distaste and walks away) with Edith, but Edith tried to utterly destroy Mary. 

        I’ve wondered, pointlessly, what the writers intend a modern audience to make of Edith.  It wasn’t mentioned until around this episode that Edith loved the heir who died on the Titanic, whereas Mary clearly did not.  Was it reciprocated?  I can’t remember how Anna framed it in telling this to Mr. Bates, but I assume that it was only on Edith’s part — she is terribly conservative, doubtlessly in part because her parents, seeing her relative lack of beauty, have unconsciously treated her as much as a nursemaid-in-training more than a marriageable daughter.  She’s also humorless and petty, and allied with old ideas — the church tour for Matthew; the constant criticisms (weight, politics) of baby sister Sybil, whereas Mary is much more supportive of the youngest daughter.

        I want to feel for Edith but I haven’t since well before she started spreading the story.  I haven’t seen any season 2 spoilers but I can’t wait to see whether Edith’s actions are revealed to all, and if so, how Cora reacts.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

          I would have done what Lady E. Lady M has all the advantages and is always trying to make Lady E feel worse about herself. Lady M says that Lady E gets Lady M’s leftover men.

          • Anonymous

            But unfortunately – and it is a terrible situation for Edith, no doubt – what Mary said appears to be accurate.  The Titanic heir, Matthew Crawley, probably a few others.   

            I don’t get the impression that Mary is on a mission to make Edith feel worse about herself.  The smacktalking seemed to originate *with* Edith right at the beginning.  Isn’t it in episode 1, when the prospective fiance (I can’t remember his name; he had the relationship with evil Thomas, stole and burned the letters and made clear he would not propose to Mary once Grantham said he wouldn’t fight the entail) flees, when Edith approaches a dismayed Mary and smugs that the prospect ‘slipped the hook’?  It’s in response to this that Mary says ‘At least I’m not fishing with no bait.’  Things proceed accordingly. 

            • Anonymous

              Mary mocks Edith for crying at the funeral of Patrick (the heir who died on the Titanic). He was apparently Mary’s fiancé , but she is more upset at the prospect of having to dress in morning than, the loss of the young man.

            • http://twitter.com/Chinamerican J Wong

              But later on, Mary is shown trying to deal w/ her feelings.  I think it’s tragic b/c while you don’t know what the relationship between her betrothed and Mary and Edith was like (i.e. unrequited?), it was clear that they were both very much affected but that they can’t empathize with one another b/c their reactions are so different.  They’re both already hurt and they both lash out each other.  

          • Anonymous

            I have little sympathy for either, but I do think Edith’s behavior is worse.  Ruining a sister socially, when all she’s got going for her is the social position which might allow her to make a decent marriage, is, in context of what they believe their lives will be, the same as ruining her life.  Worst case, a scandal could also hurt the other sisters’ prospects.

            None of which is meant to excuse Mary’s mean-spirited and childish behavior.

        • Anonymous

          Actually, Edith’s feelings for Patrick were revealed in the first episode when she and her father held hands in front of the fireplace.  

          I still think Edith had it in her to be a good person until she finally had enough of Mary’s bitchery and then did something monumentally damaging in a fit of pique.  Both Mary and Edith have sharp tongues, but Edith has it only with her sister while Mary can be sharp with anyone, including her mother.

        • Anonymous

          Edith suggested the church tour because Matthew had expressed an interest in churches, and he did seem knowledgeable.

      • http://twitter.com/Alloyjane Alloy Jane

        My only issue with Edith’s behavior is that she isn’t just taking Mary down, who undoubtably has mistreated her for years, she’s risking the reputation of her entire family, including herself.  And they aren’t rumours, as Mary actually had a naked, dead quasi stranger in her room that she had to cart out.  Edith knows the information could totally ruin Mary’s life, but she’s willing to do so because she feels that Mary has ruined her life.  They made it very clear from episode 1 that Edith loved Patrick, even if she didn’t have him.  And Mary doesn’t care for anything but her own satisfaction.  As someone born with all the advantages of being the eldest, as well as beautiful and therefore the favorite, she can afford a little generosity to Edith, but she’s too childish and bitchy to be the better person.  

        Edith may be wrong to try to destroy her sister, but Mary is absurd in her absence of conscience.  There is nothing fair in her behavior.  Not to her sister, nor to her suitors.  Mary lies and schemes to get her way while Edith uses the truth as a weapon. Neither of them are in the right, but Mary is the worse of the two.

    • MilaXX

      Initially I thought Mary just had a huge stick up her butt in part due to all the societal expectation she has on her shoulders as the eldest female child. That may still be true, but more and more I find myself disliking her. Those pressure may all be there, but she her treatment of Edith sometimes seems necessarily mean. Violet/Isobel/Cora all seem to take turns trying to one up each other. It reads like comic relief to me so I don’t mind. I still don’t get the O’Brien/Thomas alliance. Initially I thought perhaps O’Brien was attracted to Thomas, but that doesn’t seem the case. Yet time and time again she cosigns his schemes and manipulations.
      Mr. Pantimore’s blindness was pure Little House. Once I realized that I knew she would be cured.

    • Anonymous

      Very pretty settings & photography and I love many of the actors, but it’s not a patch on the Original (and still Champion): Upstairs, Downstairs.

      • Anne Slovin

        Agreed.  When I watched the first series I thought about having an Upstairs Downstairs drinking game–where every time Downton borrowed a plotline from UD, you took a drink.

    • Anonymous

      I find it hard to feel sorry for Edith even though I should. They do bring out the worst in each other and Edith has been treated pretty shabbily. Edith seems less like an ugly duckling and more like spinster material in the eyes of her family. Actually that’s what she comes across as.

      However her actions during this episode (and forward) shows she herself is so consumed with bitterness and self-loathing that she pretty much has become a cold selfish bitch (especially when it comes to Mary) and she doesn’t care about crossing the line. If the truth were to come out it would not only completely ruin Mary’s life, the scandal could have genuinely hurt her parents’ position both socially and professionally. Her hatred clearly blinded her to the bigger picture.

      Edit: I should add I find Mary pretty frustrating at times also since as TLo stated she’s actually pretty immature for all her bravado. It is simply with that 1 action on Edith’s part, we come to a point of no return with these 2 sniping sisters

      • Anonymous

        I think the other problem with Edith is that we rarely ever see her except when she’s plotting against or giving side-eyes to Mary.  We get to see other aspects of Mary’s life/personality (ie her relationship with Matthew, helping — trying not to be too spoilery — William), so she seems more like a well-rounded character.  She has strengths and flaws.  We really never get that with Edith.  Every time the audience sees her, the only character trait she exhibits is textbook Jan Brady syndrome (“Mary, Mary, Mary”).

        • Libby Rhoman

          I totally agree.  I don’t want to like Mary, but she is more faceted than Edith so there’s more opportunities for liking her (seems the writers are following in the family’s footsteps, giving Mary so much more than they give Edith).  Though I can’t decide which sister I dislike more.  Edith is hell bent on destroying Mary’s life, but Mary is slowly destroying Edith’s spirit/soul through small every day gestures. Mary’s ultimate payback to Edith is so low, I’m curious to see if I can find myself liking her again.

          Also, why does everyone go on about Edith being so unattractive?  I guess both her sisters throw quite a shadow on her, but I think she is quite pretty and stylish, to say nothing of intelligent and well read.

          • Anonymous

            But Edith really isn’t all that intelligent; that’s what makes her so frustrating. She has no clue of how she presents herself to other people, and I think that this episode solidifies that part of her character. Her actions in sending that letter do serve her immediate purpose of potentially ruining Mary, whom she has harbored deep seated jealousy over for assumedly most of her life, but she gives no thought to how the letter reflects on her family and on herself even. 

            Does she really think she can get away with sending a letter to perfect strangers at the Turkish embassy divulging her sister’s indiscretions without it making a mockery of her own behavior? In sending that letter, she reveals herself to be exactly the petty Jan Brady figure she seems so desperate to escape comparison to. She effectively makes herself into the pathetic figure of Mary’s taunts. No one does that to her, she does it to herself, and the worst part is, she seems completely oblivious about the reverberations of her actions. She’s thoughtless and petty, and there is nothing more unattractive than that.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly! The Red Nose spoof hit the nail hilariously and heartbreakingly when they introduced Edith as “our other daughter”. As it stands, I don’t like her but it’s mostly because there hasn’t been much opportunity to like her.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t exactly feel sorry for Edith. She is more honest in her ambitions than the other two, though.
        Mary is just a fool. A fickle one too. She finally gets her chance to be rid of Edith forever, and she goes for lying , hurting and revenge instead.
        Sibyl should leave the reforming to the people who want to be reformed. Mostly they could do with out a “lady” to have to look after while their trying to get things done.

        • Anonymous

          Mary couldn’t have had that, though, because then Edith would have won. I think both sisters are equally vindictive in their own ways, but Edith’s position (growing up the homely middle sister who is either ignored or pitied) is a difficult one.

          • Anonymous

            I wonder if Mary “had” to win to keep a sense of power over Edith.  Women had so little power in those days, and so little control over their own lives, that perhaps–in addition to retaliating for a really low blow–Mary wants to make sure Edith knows that Mary is not to be f’d with.

            • Anonymous

              Yes!  They remind me of the film Raise the Red Lantern (though with concubines rather than sisters) in which the women have no power except for the male gaze turned on them, and they can be quite vicious with one another over things that anyone with a little perspective can see are not worth it.

      • Anonymous

        I’m not so sure that being treated as spinster material is being treated worse than being pimped out. Sex for money is what it is whether you’re on The Stroll or marrying for money. The only difference is only by degrees.

        –GothamTomato

        • Anonymous

          I think your comment is the root of the animosity between Mary and Edith. Edith can only see herself as being the spinster, and can only see Mary as the chosen child who disdains for all of the opportunities that Edith desires. And Mary sees Edith’s animosity and resents her for not understanding why she doesn’t want to be, as you said, “pimped out”. Mary wants more for herself than her mother’s life, and Edith can’t see that far ahead of her own disappointments to understand Mary’s.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed.  To say nothing of being pimped out and having a bitter loved one serve as peanut gallery, then town crier to your major social circle (all of eligible London) about your indiscretions.

          What’s almost the worst thing is that Edith doesn’t have an accurate read, at all, about how Mary and Kamal spent that night together – and that’s to be expected, because having any kind of focused interest from a gorgeous, manipulative and entitled cad is not something Mary was familiar with; how that would feel is much more remote for Edith.  Mary didn’t freely choose that interaction – she wasn’t forced, but she had no understanding that she was exposed to danger before Kamal knocked on her door.  *He* plotted it, involved a member of her household (Thomas) and was not receptive to being rebuffed.  Mary said something to Pamuk along the lines of, “I’d be destroyed if anyone even knew we were having this conversation.”   She appears to have been correct.

          In alerting the embassy and effectively everyone in London with whom Mary might interact, Edith ruined basically every conceivable opportunity for Mary to find a mate.  Mary’s intercession between Edith and Strallan is cruel, but it’s not on the same level to me.

    • Anonymous

      I hope Isobel and Violet unite their considerable forces in Season Two. What delicious watching that would be! Quelle dames formidables!

    • Anonymous

      It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that while I have seen the entire Season 1 at least 5 times, last night, I woke up and wondered how, given that Robert and Cora clearly share a bed, did Anna and Lady Mary manage to extract Cora from the marital bed in order to help transport the late Mr. Pamuk from Mary’s bed to his own WITHOUT waking Lord Grantham up too?

      I know I could re-watch that episode and see if I just missed some obvious explanation, but I also know that the commentariat on this site is knowledgeable and forgiving, and I’m hoping one of you could clear this conundrum up for me.  Anyone?

      • Anonymous

        LOL I was rewatching some episodes last night and had the same thought!

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

        If someone has the DVD, maybe it’s in the deleted scenes section.
        The detail is skipped.

        Go to this time (1:01) and you will see what’s missing
        http://video.pbs.org/video/1742184887/

        (I hope that you are able to see it. I wanted to see some season 2 shows from the ITv site and I couldn’t because my IP address is from the US)

        • Anonymous

          Thanks, Isabel for the suggestion and Celandine1 for the “me too!”.  Per your suggestion, I re-watched the PBS on-line version (at 1:01) several times and don’t see that the issue is addressed.  I do have the BBC DVD (I was trying to stay in sync with our beloved gay uncles so I’ve been watching each episode on-line rather than looking at the DVD) and I’ll see if Lord Grantham’s absence is explained in that version or in the deleted scenes.  

          In any case,it’s hardly a significant continuity problem, just one that has gotten stuck in my brain now.  I’ll report back if the DVD makes anything clearer.  Otherwise, thanks to the ever-agreeable group of posters and lurkers for trying to help!

          • Anonymous

            1:01 in that episode shows Lady Mary waking up Anna without waking up Gwen, who shares Anna’s room.  Presumably she used a similar method to wake up Lady Grantham without waking her husband.  It’s perfectly plausible to me.

            It’s also plausible that Lord Grantham slept in the dressing room that night if he was up late with his guests and didn’t want to disturb his wife when he came to bed.

            • Anonymous

              I think all of these suggestions/interpretations make sense, especially the sleeping-in-the-dressing room one, which requires the least amount of subterfuge and also avoids the somewhat mildly icky concept that Lady Mary plucked her her mother out of the marital bed without disturbing her father.  Thanks, all of you creative folks for chiming in and solving the mystery for me!  

      • http://twitter.com/chelwi Christine

        I was a little confused about that too. But then in the first episode, right before they introduced Cora, I thought it was being implied that they didn’t share a bed because Lord Grantham asks where the Lady is and is told she’s still in bed. I know later in the series it shows them in bed together talking, but it made me wonder if maybe they don’t always share a bed. I know of a couple that ends up in separate rooms occasionally due to snoring.

        • Anonymous

          It was, in fact, the usual thing for people of the Granthams’ time and position to have separate bedrooms. 

    • Anonymous

      This was supposed to be in reply to Frank_821.

      agree.  I don’t have sisters (tho I used to get into it with my little brother), but can’t Edith see that if she can get out of the way of Mary getting hitched, her parents should then finally turn their attention to her?

      Seeing it again, I was struck by O’Brien showing a little humanity and looking at herself in the mirror after she set up the soapy slip n fall, and saying “That isn’t you, O’Brien,” or something to that effect, but alas, too late.  Maybe she, unlike Thomas, isn’t totally evil.

    • Anonymous

      I’m so loving your thoughtful posts about this series.  I have to say that Mary’s behavior struck me as realistic in the sense that she’s adult enough to know what she probably doesn’t want, and maybe even to have a sense of what she does want, but not yet adult enough to resist the temptation to score some points at Edith’s expense because doing so will have a higher cost than the value of what she’ll gain.  Edith’s letter to the Turkish Embassy is soap opera skullduggery at its finest, but in realistic terms, a stupid thing to do.  I wondered why Mary didn’t rat Edith out to Cora, but then it occurred to me: what would she gain?  We don’t know what Edith thinks she knows, but if Mary made an “official” thing out of it, that might confirm some of Edith’s knowledge.  And how would she keep it from getting to Lord Grantham?

      I forget which episode it was in, so apologies if I’m jumping ahead of the recaps, but I was really moved by Mary’s tears when it dawned on her that Matthew was now the son Lord Grantham had always wanted.  Lord Grantham apparently has never tried to teach Mary anything about running the estate or consulted her about her ideas for its future, and why would he?  He knows she won’t inherit it in her own right, so why bother?  I don’t even think it comes from a place of unfeeling — it just wouldn’t occur to him to involve her in the management of the estate since she’ll never be in charge of it.  But she’s modern enough in her sensibilities to realize that these gendered expectations are playing out in, and distorting, her relationship with her father.  And, I suspect, her relationships with other men.

      • Anonymous

        Didn’t Mary distract Lord Strallan with a book that might be germane to concerns he’d mentioned about his own place?  How did she know about it?  I got the impression her father had tried to interest her in running things because it had been assumed for so long that she would marry Patrick.  But she was too busy being bored.  

        And, when Edith took Matthew around the old churches in the area, she kept trying to talk about his personal life.  She had a guidebook but I got the impression she knew very little about the history of her own neighborhood.  She was just using the tour as a pretext to flirt; real interest in the fascinating old churches might have actually impressed him–although it wouldn’t have distracted him from The Beautiful Mary.  

        In one scene (& I’m not sure which episode), Sybil had apparently mentioned higher education & was being discouraged.  There were women”s colleges at Cambridge & Oxford, although women couldn’t get “real” degrees.  I remember whoever was discouraging Sybil saying that sort of thing was for women of a lower class–probably women who would end up teaching rather than making brilliant marriages.  (Drat, have to watch it again.)  I do think the staff might have still included a governess–to polish up the girls’ languages, at least.  Still, actors cost money….

        Watching rich people be bored is rather boring.  Hey, here’s some fashion!  I loved the striped blouse Mary wore in one episode; I think the graphic look was “in” during the later Edwardian days.  (Which actually stretched after Edward’s death until The War; “Georgian” never caught on–perhaps because it had already been “done.”)  Here’s a stripey day dress: http://www.nzmuseums.co.nz/account/3242/object/27689/Dress;_Edwardian_day_dress#!prettyPhoto   A group from the show from that period–with Violet still reminiscing about her Victorian Heydey.  (In violet, of course!)  http://blossomgraphicdesign.blogspot.com/2011/06/trend-alert-edwardian-fashion-and-style.html

        I did rather like the semi-mourning worn by the ladies in the first episode, in which white, gray and mauve lightened up all that black….

        • Anonymous

          Maggie_Mae said: In one scene (& I’m not sure which episode), Sybil had apparently mentioned higher education & was being discouraged. There were women”s colleges at Cambridge & Oxford, although women couldn’t get “real” degrees.

          The best universities for women at the time were in the USA (FYI: Sybil has an American Grandmother).  The best finishing schools were in Europe.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child myself, but I really feel for Edith.  It’s clear she’s always been considered less pretty and less interesting than her sisters, and she’s internalized that while at the same time she’s trying to prove it wrong.  Her actions here were way over the line, but I get where they come from.  More than any of the other sisters, I hope she gets a happy ending with a chance to feel confident and beautiful.

      TLo, thanks so much for doing these reviews!  I just got into Downton Abbey in the last few weeks and I can’t wait for series 2 – or for your posts.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

        I learned a new definition for SERIES! In the US, we would call the second series – SEASON TWO. 

        When I was looking at the DA parodies and everyone was excited about series 2, I thought that a new show was going to be developed, not that the story would continue for filming for another set of shows.

      • Anonymous

        I feel for Edith too even though I’m not a middle child.  She did something very, very stupid in a fit of pique, but she’d had a lifetime of being put in her place by Mary and finally saw the chance to even the score.  She’s not the manipulator that Mary is so she didn’t think it all the way through, but I understand why she did it.  

      • Anonymous

        I get it too; my two sisters are often at each other’s throats in ways that are obviously cradle-born.  There is nothing more powerful than “Daddy loved you more than me.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1129137319 Paula Pertile

      A couple people have wondered why O’Brien and Thomas are in cahoots. I thinks its just a “birds of a feather” thing. I’ve known nasty people like that (even a ‘straight woman/gay man’ pairing) – they find each other, whether it be in an office, classroom, ‘house’, or wherever, and form a bond. They fulfill some kind of need in each other, who can say, really. 

    • Anonymous

      I just assumed O’Brien’s motivation was power and general shit disturbance. She wants to control the emotional climate and is only happy when others aren’t.

      Thanks again for these recaps. It has been fun rewatching and getting your take on things.

      • http://twitter.com/rgmx Mercy

        Yes.  My impression is that she is always looking for something to hold over someone else’s head, whether the information is immediately useful or not.  She openly feels insecure in her position there in spite of her tenure of long standing, so the writers seem to be intimating that she’s driven by her insecurities, and maybe her alliance with Thomas is part of her grasping for at least one person to rely on.  But this show being what it is, she takes all that to an unusually villainous place.  Blech.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

      Can Lady E or S get married before Lady M? Or, does Lady M have to be the first one, before her sisters can even accept a proposal?

    • http://twitter.com/rgmx Mercy

      Edith could have ruined the entire family, herself included, which is what puts her action beyond the pale for me.  

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1046681022 Paula Berman

        It was really reckless of her, which shows just how angry she is and how little perspective she has on what’s at stake.

        • Anonymous

          I agree. A sister’s fall from “grace” would have tainted the entire family and, more to the point, the marriage prospects of the remaining young women. With that move, Edith would have proved herself worthy of the disdain Mary shows her.

          • Anonymous

            Except that disdain from and older sister isn’t like a considered, objective judgement from a stranger; Mary has probably treated Edith like a second class citizen since they were toddlers.  I just don’t see Edith being a vindictive enough person to do such a thing based on an adult slight.

            • Anonymous

              Whether Edith’s motivations resulted from lifelong disdain from Mary, or middle child syndrome, she showed a reckless disregard not only for the reputation of her family, but for her own future and position in the society she obviously cares so much about. Mary’s “sin” would have been shared with her and with Sybil. And Edith would have had the disdain of all of fashionable and titled society to deal with, not just an older sister’s. I think her actions put Edith in a whole different category of vindictiveness–and foolishness. I have no sympathy for her and little liking for Mary.

            • Anonymous

              I completely agree with you about the recklessness and vindictiveness of her behavior; I was just taking a bit of exception to the “worthy of the disdain Mary shows her” in the comment I replied to, if only because it seems like putting the cart before the horse (in that I think Mary’s disdain was (one) cause of Edith’s behavior in the first place).  I sympathize with both of them, but then I have a soft spot for (Shakespeare’s) Richard III too…

            • Anonymous

              Perhaps, but I’m not as certain about which of those two young women put the cart before the horse first. I get the feeling that Edith is the kind of person who has spent most of her life in a Jan Brady snit, being resentful of what she doesn’t have, rather than taking advantage of everything she does. Being a firm believer in the reap what you sow school of thought, I think it’s altogether possible that Edith has been a vindictive little git from the get-go and has had a hand in creating the Mary we see now. (Maybe, like Richard, Edith is “determined to prove a villain” and hates the “idle pleasures” ;-)

              Actually, in the reckless disregard category, Edith is Mary’s equal, given the latter’s utter foolishness with Pamuk. In any event, I don’t think either one of them is covering herself in glory thus far. Let’s hope at least one of them has some redeeming moments in the upcoming episodes.

    • Anonymous

      deleted, double post

    • Aiste Griciute

      I just love that you are doing Downton Abbey recaps. I watched the first season last year and the second one this fall as the while wishing someone did a good review on every single episode. British press does a write a little about it, but mostly about how boring this show is. Please, there are countless of BBC period dramas of the same wavelength and boredom level, but just because they are usually adapted after Dickens of Gaskell they get good publicity. I just wanted to say thanks for blogging about it as I wanted to get a kind of neutral perspective. 

      • Anonymous

        For great recaps with lots of snark, check out the Lipp Sisters.  They recapped all of Season One  last year.  There comments are true priceless snark.

    • Ellen Davies

      How can there be an Episode 5 when everything I’ve read says there are only 4 episodes in Season 1? 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

        Netflick broadcasts might be different from PBS showings.

        • Anonymous

          Right.  It’s the same material, just split up differently.

    • Anonymous

      obsessed with this show in no small part thanks to this site. currently on my second viewing and so happy that TLo is deconstructing each ep so for a deeper understanding. though i am surprised that there aren’t any comments about clothes the characters wear. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351920623 Anthony Duh

      Might be a stretch, but I accept the “Lady E destroying her family thing” because she really does seem to dislike the people in her family. Sibyl is Daddy’s favorite, Mary is Cora’s favorite. They clearly think she’s not marriageable, the maids prefer the other sisters etc. And she’s not an agreeable person either, so I doubt she was at the top of the list for any relatives and governess’ either. In the sheltered world she grew up in, I don’t think she would have recognized the implications. And even if it destroyed her family, she would have been in the same place – the money wasn’t going anywhere.

    • Anonymous

      1:01 shows Lady Mary waking up Anna, who shares a room with Gwen, but they don’t wake Gwen up.  Presumably therefore they were able to wake up Lady Grantham without waking up her husband.  It’s perfectly plausible to me.  

      It’s also plausible that Lord Grantham slept in the dressing room that night if he was up late with his guests and did not want to disturb his wife when he came to bed.

      • Anonymous

        One of the (few) things that was cut in the American showing was the Snuffbox Incident.

    • MilaXX

      Thomas has been stealing wine and is worries that Bates will report him so they concoct the story that Bates ^ the snuff box

    • MilaXX

      I blame the high def and will freely admit I don’t know that much about cosmetics back then, but I the find highlighter and bronzer so clearly apparent on the ladies faces a bit too modern and at times distracting. It’s very pretty but doesn’t strike me as correct for the time period.

    • Lattis

      You know, I am the youngest of 3 sisters. My two sisters are 18 months apart and I’m 7 years younger than they are. I never would have thought that there was anything resembling the dynamic of the DA sisters between my sisters. But, recently the middle sister in our family has started writing her life story. All of her writing so far is about what a perfect angel-child she was and how terribly she was treated by our eldest sister. My sisters are in their early 60’s. EARLY 60’s!  As the youngest sister, like Sybil, I was far enough removed from them to be pretty oblivious. Still, in retrospect, it explains some things.

      On the DA Sisters:  Edith is like Newt Gingrich – an out-in-the-open bomb thrower who doesn’t think through the consequences. Mary is like Carl Rove – calculating, shadowy, never leaving any identifying finger prints. 

    • Anonymous

      One of the things I enjoy about DA is that most of the characters have both good and not so good aspects to them.  The good ones (Lord Grantham, Lady Grantham (Cora), Sybil, Anna, Bates, etc.) are shown to have their not so admirable moments while the baddies (we all know who they are) are shown to have their good moments.  Thomas may be the exception because I’m not sure he’s shown even one redeeming quality, but even O’Brien has had a moment or two where she’s okay.  People are a combination of things and showing that makes it so much more interesting and so much closer to real life.  

    • Anne Slovin

      Cora obviously didn’t read Little Women that closely–Amy and Jo practically beat each other up in that chapter when Amy burned Jo’s book!

      Also, I love that flower show storyline.  Brilliant.

      • http://twitter.com/bentley1530 F E B

        The flower storyline seemed to be lifted from “Mrs. Miniver”.  One of the things that stops me from enjoying this show as much as I would like is that a lot of the stories seem to be pulled from other well known shows and movies and the story mashups do not always seem to belong together in the same show.  

    • http://twitter.com/cornekopia Shawn EH

      Coldly motivated or not, Cora and Robert do love each other now. So they both sort of lucked out despite their initial financial/social situation. And how about how Cora backed down from asking for the new dessert, realizing just how stressed Patmore became?

    • http://twitter.com/SparklyCasanova UglyCasanova

      You know arranged marriages  involve people who learn to love one another as oppose to marrying out of love.  Funnily enough, the statistics goes that there are less divorces in arranged marriages than marriages out of personal choice.  

      Also there is a misnomer about arranged marriages, yes, they pick one’s partner beforehand but ultimately one can decline the other, for some cultures, at least in modern times.

    • http://twitter.com/Chinamerican J Wong

      I think what might contribute to it is the sense of duty/responsibility – one is already resigned to the fate so why not make the best of it?  I know it’s anecdotal but I come from a large immigrant family (extended) where only a few people married for love and not convenience.  My parents were the minority and even though they did have a long [family-approved] courtship, I do know my mother in some ways married my father out of convenience but they’re very responsible people and I think it’s why it ultimately worked.  The uncles and aunts that didn’t range from unfulfilled to extremely unhappy and tend to be bitter and somewhat selfish people.  We don’t divorce in my family and men take mistresses and spousal abuse is accepted but not openly talked about even though there have been interventions by family members.  I can’t imagine what growing up like my cousins must have been like but after realising how messed up their parents were/are, no matter what sort of marriage one ends up in, if one becomes a parent, the children should be put before everything.  

      There are different types of “arranged” marriages but I think what is currently considered arranged marriage is more like a hybrid of arranged and free choice: two people are introduced through family members with the mutual objective being marriage.  It’s a lot easier when the objectives are set out from the beginning and there are fewer pretenses but I can see how that can cause some tunnel vision.