Downton Abbey: Bloody Hell

Posted on February 01, 2016

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Things are all a-hustle and a-bustle (whatever that means) in and around the estate this week. Mr. Mason moves into the Drewes’ old farm by promising to help with the pigs and also to not kidnap any of the children on the estate. Mrs. Patmore, flush with possibilities after helping to meticulously negotiate the circumstances of Mrs. Hughes’ virginity loss, is making eyes at Mr. Mason, which allows Daisy yet another opportunity to come across like a petulant, backwards child. Meanwhile, Andy wants to help on the farm in order to charm Daisy, but he can’t read. Thomas, of course, finds this utterly charming.

In other news, Miss Baxter screws up her courage and finally, after several episodes agonizing over it, decides to face the man who ruined her life. Julian Fellowes, master plotter, decides it’s best for this storyline to fizzle out with no conclusion. Also: Anna is still pregnant and still scolds herself every time she has a moment of happiness, like the dreary soul she is. Oh, and Carson is a total dick of a husband, but we kind of figured that, right?

But if you thought all the activity was confined to the downstairs staff, you would be WRONG, darlings. Let’s see… where to start?

Mary, in a moment so spectacularly self-involved it caused our heads to briefly light on fire, told Tom, the former servant who married her sister after a passionate love affair before losing her forever in a devastating blow that has left him emotionally crippled, that she won’t marry down. This is in reference to Mr. Henry Talbot, who appears to be a clone of Lady Mary grown in a lab somewhere and raised without a title. Mary is, of course, red hot in her loins for Mr. Talbot, but she admits she doesn’t want to concede control of her life to just any man and also she has this tiny little thing about men driving recklessly, what with the way her former beloved Matthew bled out on the road in such a vulgar fashion. Tom gently laughs and then quietly knocks her down a few pegs while basically pushing the two of them together like a fussy old aunt. It’s a tossup at this point as to who needs to get laid more desperately: Tom or Mrs. Patmore.

Edith, on the other hand, is living the fucking high life right under everyone’s noses. While Mary’s getting muddy watching her clone flirt with death and is then forced to sit in a public house amongst the rabble, Edith is off in London quietly advancing the cause of equal rights for women, entertaining adorably proper and conciliatory men in her fabulous apartment – and by “entertaining” we mean snogging – and dining and dancing all night in the finest clubs and restaurants in London. Even better, she is very wisely refraining from letting her family know too much of the details of her life, breezily informing them she’s interviewing women for the editor’s job at her magazine and waving off any questions about Bertie. As she astutely observes to him, the estate is entirely Mary’s now in all but name. There really is nothing left for her in that house and it’s becoming obvious even to her that she sees her time there as a duty and not necessarily a vital part of her life. You can tell even Mary is a little impressed with what her little sister is managing with her life. But the dynamic between the two sisters is about to dramatically change and it remains to be seen if Mary’s respect will continue to manifest in a positive manner or if her life-long enmity toward her sister will overwhelm her more decent impulses.

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Just as Edith is conceding that Downton is less and less her home, Cora is finally, after decades of keeping the peace, stepping up to claim her rightful honors as the Countess Grantham by reminding her mother-in-law of just who holds the title now. This hospital storyline has gotten quite silly – and none less so this week, what with Denker inexplicably forgetting every single thing she’s ever learned as a working ladies maid of some experience and all but attacking Dr. Clarkson in the street on behalf of the Dowager. Then there’s the indulgence in history porn (something the show has, to its credit, largely avoided in its run except for a few instances) by having animatronic Neville Chamberlain try to keep the peace at the Downton dinner table and revealing to Tom it was the Dowager that turned him into such a conciliatory man. Which is … what? Fellowes’ way of blaming the progression of World War II on the Dowager Countess?

But after weeks of suffering through the increasingly dull War of the Hospital, we think it all finally clicked into place last night. And we have to say, bravo to Sir Julian for reminding us of what Downton does astonishingly well when it wants to; the pure shock scene. Whether it’s Mr. Pamuk dying in bed (or William dying in bed or Sybil dying in bed or Lavinia dying in bed – seriously, has anyone checked the mattresses for flesh-eating bacteria or something?) or Matthew miraculously walking again, Downton Abbey has always excelled at the ridiculously dramatic shock scene and Julian Fellowes may just have saved his very best for last. We’ve exclaimed a lot of things watching this show over the years but we don’t think we’ve ever shouted “OH MY GOD!!” in unison, louder than we did when Robert stood up and an alien burst out of his chest. We briefly entertained glorious fantasies of a xenomorph slowly picking off members of the family one by one in the flickering lamplight of the devastated estate until Lady Mary is forced to face off against it with a flamethrower, but it turned out, once our initial shock wore off, that Robert was just being a big drama queen about his ulcer.

Not that the hospital storyline suddenly works because of one almost hilariously melodramatic scene (Robert all but pivoted and spewed on everyone in the room before collapsing like the big baby he is), but because Fellowes, in a smart bit of storytelling, used this big shock moment to put a lot of other simmering storylines in context while propelling one of them forward in a gasp-inducing way. First, Cora finally lays into Violet for overstepping her bounds and makes it quite clear that she’s still hasn’t gotten over the way her mother-in-law inserted herself between her and her daughter. All of this hospital stuff is about the show’s favorite topic – change – on the surface, but it’s being fueled by some very understandable human emotions. Cora simply hasn’t forgiven Violet for handling Edith’s pregnancy without consulting her and that was the straw that broke three decades of good daughter-in-law behavior. Elizabeth McGovern isn’t always the best actress to deliver what’s asked of her, but she did a great job conveying Cora’s long-simmering and righteous anger at her mother-in-law.

And when Big Things explode in the middle of a family, truths get revealed in manners deliberate, as in Cora’s confrontation with Violet and inadvertent, when Mary FINALLY pulls her head out of her ass and figures out just who Marigold is. In typical Mary fashion, she keeps this information very close to her chest, but we can’t help feeling extremely uneasy about her knowing it, given how shittily both sisters have treated each other over the years when either of them had the upper hand over the other. There are a lot of power struggles surrounding the women of Downton right now; not just Cora assuming her rightful place as the Lady of the House, but Mary stepping up and becoming, in Tom’s words, Downton’s queen, now that Robert is seemingly too delicate to deal with the running of it. Edith is wise to step away from all this push-and-pull, but if Mary has to go up against the newly empowered Cora when it comes to the running of the estate, we fear poor Edith and her perfect life will get caught in the crossfire.

 

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[Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015]

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