Brendan Patricks and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey, on PBS.
The Abbey and its surrounding environs were a buzzing beehive of activity this episode, with show writer Julian Fellowes’ main goal apparently being, “Let’s give everyone a good line or scene this episode.” Upstairs, Mary got sharper by the second, her post-mourning period having left her tongue even more acid than it was before, even as an array of suitors once again presents itself to her. Edith’s life just got a whole hell of a lot bleaker. Rose’s life just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting to Mary. The Dowager and Isobel locked horns once again over the aristocracy vs. the working class (signaling the latter’s complete return to form, having found her way out of her grief). Robert and Cora were as useless as they usually are, although he had a birthday and she managed to get the Bateses a table at a restaurant through the power of her intimidating crazy eyes.
Downstairs, even more went on. The ventriloquism team of Baxter & Barrow continue to have mysterious, clenched-jaw conversations in dark corners of the servants’ hall. Carson is big ol’ dick to Molesley. As we all knew he would, Bates made Anna’s rape all about himself, and she wound up expending a grotesque amount of emotional energy worrying about his feelings and subsequently her worth to him. “Your husband’s a brooder.” To hell with that. Anna, your husband’s a self-absorbed maniac. In other news, Ivy goes out with Jimmy, who proves to be exactly the shitheel everyone but Ivy knew he was. Alfred gets called up to the Ritz and says his goodbyes, prompting Daisy to blast Ivy in the face with her tiny fury. Mrs. Patmore is horny and doesn’t care who knows it. Mrs. Hughes remains amused and above it all, except when she manipulates Mr. Carson into hiring Molesley on as a footman. It’s astonishing, looking back at it, just how much plot rocketed along in this hour. It was fun, but also a bit worrying. Fellowes is horrible when it comes to pacing and we wonder if he hasn’t pushed out a major portion of this season’s plot in one episode. He’s done this before and we wound up having to sit through some really boring and slow episodes until he managed to pick up the pace again.
But that’s complaining about something that hasn’t happened, so we’ll leave it at that. This was, as we said, a pretty fun episode. Edith’s pregnancy reveal was a perfectly gasp-worthy moment. And are we awful for thinking Cora’s kind of a bad mother for not seeing what’s going on right in front of her? She needs to stop being so obsessed with Mary. Rose’s dalliance with Mr. Ross is obviously not going to end well for either of them should they pursue it, but Mary’s not going to let that information go by without intervening. We like Rose. We didn’t think we’d ever say that, but she’s fun and seems pretty much without guile. Her worst attribute is that she’s immature, but she’s still a teenager, right? Or not much older. If Downton has to have a wild child, we’re glad it’s someone who doesn’t seem to have a nasty bone in her body. Besides, we think she drives Mary and Edith nuts for making them both feel old. That’s all kinds of fun.
As for Mary’s receiving line of suitors … whatEVER. While it’s always fun to see a guy come along and fluster her to the point of becoming just a bit too obviously sharp, we simply aren’t as fascinated by Mary’s love life as Julian Fellowes (and every single character on the show). The scene in the nursery with Mary, Isobel and Tom was easily the best scene any of them have had all season. It was surprisingly tender and a lovely way to bind the three of them together without being too maudlin about it. “Well. Aren’t we the lucky ones?” We admit, we got a bit teary at that. We want Tom to take Sybbie and move into Crawley House with Isobel. That way he’s still on the estate (but out of the Abbey, where he doesn’t belong), he gets help raising his child, she gets a new role and a surrogate family, and they can top off the deal by giving Molesly his old job back as butler for the expanded household. It would be the perfect solution but we doubt it’d ever happen. Soap operas become deadly dull when everyone’s happy. Thankfully, everyone had their claws out this episode, to keep things from getting too saccharine. Mary tried to fillet a man who didn’t pay her the proper respect as an aristocrat, but he wound up filleting her instead. Daisy unloaded on Ivy. Carson humiliated Molesley. Thomas keeps threatening the mysterious Baxter. Jimmy’s a dick.
Fellowes seemed to want to make some sort of point about race with the introduction of Mr. Ross to the house, but defaulted to a “everyone’s momentarily taken aback by a person of color but they all accept him without issue” route, which is both a little boring and a little ahistorical. For some reason, he had Edith be the only person in the house to mouth anything that came close to being racially narrow-minded. Fellowes never wants to see his main characters act too badly so he shies away from making them seem entirely real. A family of aristocrats in Yorkshire in the early 1920s and not one of them has a racist bone in their body? A downstairs full of servants, most of whom have lived in servitude their whole lives, have very little formal education, and never left Yorkshire but they’re all racially tolerant? Please.
Still, it was a fun episode overall. The hour flew by and we can’t say there was one scene we didn’t enjoy or one subplot we’re not curious to see play out. We just wish Hughes & Patmore would team up, corner Bates and hit him repeatedly over the head with frying pans until he promises to get the hell over himself.
[Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE]