Lords and ladies,
We bid you welcome to our weekly blog, Downton Abbey Devotees. We would be remiss if we did not caution that Downton Abbey secrets, even gossip, will be revealed in the writing below. We are concerned that the revelations may trigger a splenic attack for those unfortunates who haven’t seen the new episodes. Perhaps they should depart forthwith?
Genna: And so continues Downton‘s long and storied tradition of killing off all the most interesting characters. Herein we learn that Lady Edith’s erstwhile lover Mr. Gregson did not in fact survive his encounter with supporters of “this Herr Hitler,” but perished during the Führer’s first grab for power, the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Why must the show’s creators pile every conceivable misery on Edith? Left at the altar, duped by an incompetent impostor, knocked up after just one passionate night. To top it all off, the family, who have long believed Mr. Gregson dead and don’t particularly care, decide to plan a jolly point-to-point for the upcoming weekend. Who does that? Adding insult to injury, Mary chooses the next day to make a big to-do of revealing her new flapper-inspired bob hairstyle, which causes Isobel to exclaim, “Pola Negri comes to Yorkshire!”
The quote of the episode? Lady Mary on her sister’s endless mourning of the dear departed Mr. Gregson: “Where did she think he was? Living in a tree?”
I’ll leave the strange imbroglio among the Dowager’s servants to you, Patricia. Suffice it to say that I expect more shenanigans from the new maid Denker before the season is out.
Patricia: First, can I say that the arrival of a telegram shouldn’t always bring bad news. First the Titanic sinks the original heir and spare, then Edith gets told Gregson’s lawyer is on the way (everyone get out their mourning clothes). Perhaps try the phone? There are two at Downton Abbey.
At least with the tedious Bates-Anna murder plot, it’s an anonymous letter that forces Baxter to tell the police she believes something happened while the rapist Green was at Downton. But kudos to Mrs. Hughes, who finding out about Baxter’s criminal past and, after being told the countess knows, says “We’ll speak no more of it.” Can we clone Mrs. Hughes? Or be adopted by her? Give her a superhero cape? I think the entire world would be happier, more productive and certainly know how to mend sheets and set a proper fire under her benevolent tutelage. Even Carson realizes that Mrs. Hughes is smarter than all at the abbey when he suggests they jointly buy a cottage as a retirement investment. And Genna, I’m shocked, absolutely shocked, that you would imply Carson wants to hook up with the housekeeper without a proper courtship and church wedding.
We have a new maid! With Jimmy gone, the servants’ hall was missing a vital spark. Even Thomas has neglected his nefarious duties. So I’m happy to announce, ta-da!, the arrival of Denker as the dowager countess’s lady’s maid. She looks completely ordinary until she opens her mouth and drops acid towards the dowager’s officious butler, Spratt, whose less-than-enthusiastic welcome as put his future in the cross hairs. She could be the nastiest, best, thing to happen since O’Brien was on the show. The scene when dowager deals with Spratt, enraged that Denker won’t wash the aristocrat’s unmentionables, is hilarious. I can’t wait until next week.
Genna: A very lame, very old T.V. trope reared its head in this episode: A long, agonizing conflict that could be resolved with a quick and straightforward conversation. As I predicted, somebody found Lady Mary’s secret stash of contraceptives—Chekhov’s diaphragm, if you will—in the Bates’ cottage. Mr. Bates was highly displeased when he discovered the “cunning piece of equipment,” and confronted his wife Anna about it. Instead of just fessing up and telling him that it belongs to Mary, she proceeds to pick a fight with him and get in his face about going through her things. Although we already knew that Anna is a “my body, my choice” crusader, this was just unnecessary strife. Anna and John Bates have been trying for a child for a while now, a fact that has struck me as historically anachronistic. I always thought that pre-Sexual Revolution, women usually stopped working outside the home when they married, and certainly once they had children. Turns out I was misinformed, at least when it comes to the working class: maternity leave has existed in the U.K since 1911.
Speaking of life-changing moments, Thomas seems like he might finally be on the way to accepting himself for who he is. We learn what he was trying to do with those syringes: he’s not a smack addict, he’s trying to cure his gayness. The predictable result was a serious infection that was well on its way to becoming blood poisoning by the time he finally swallows his pride and asks Miss Baxter for help.
Patricia: In non-Downton life (reality), the actor Rob James-Collier is a delightful man, and is nothing at all like the conniving Thomas he plays on the show. (He talked to me about Downton just before the season). He mentioned that Thomas would have to figure out “who he was” during this season. As the doctor says to Thomas, “My advice is to accept the burden that chance has seen fit to lay upon you.” Of course Dr. Clarkson wouldn’t judge or criticize, though his attitude is just a tad too contemporary. After all, this takes place 30 years before Alan Turing was chemically castrated after his homosexuality was revealed. (Did no one watch The Imitation Game?)
Genna: Side note: Let’s make the word “daft” happen again. Thomas uses it to describe the motivational speech Miss Baxter gives him as they’re heading back to the big house from the doctor’s office. I don’t think there’s currently a word in use that captures the simultaneous qualities of good-natured, bone-headed and silly.
Patricia: Is it just me, or is Lady Edith finally doing something that isn’t “daft.” She’s shaken off her grief and realized that with all the money she inherited from Gregson, she can finally claim their daughter, Marigold. Her aunt Rosamund may call the child “an infinite danger to your reputation,” but Lady Edith doesn’t care. She may be a social pariah, but she can eat ice cream with her daughter.
Genna: Wow, the encounter between the Dowager and her Russian prince was my favourite scene this season so far. She ventures to a rather unsavoury part of town to impart the news that Shrimpy is close to finding the missing princess. In return the 70-plus-year-old matron gets this confession: “I loved you more than I loved her. Even today. Even this afternoon.” She’s profoundly shaken by this, and stubbornly replies that he ought not to imply that she was unhappy with her choice to stay with Lord Grantham and continue living the life of a proper English aristocrat. His searing answer to that: “You think to be unhappy in a marriage is ill-bred.”
She doesn’t scold him. She knows he’s right. She stares into his eyes over a not-so-sanitary cup of tea and intones, “You do know me, Igor, that I must concede.” This season—and the last one too, come to think of it—have lacked a certain element of spice and drama, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that kept me riveted to my seat during the show’s early years. I want the Dowager to run away with him. That would snap Downton out of its postwar funk in a hurry.
P.S. I’d also just like to note that the love of my life, Atticus Aldridge, appeared once again in this episode. And Rose is already meeting the parents! Squee!
Patricia: That point-to-point race featuring the Fabulous Four (Mary, Tony, Mabel Lane Fox and Gillingham) is interesting, but seems like filler. But it sets up the next conflict, for word is out—Lord and Lady Sinderby aren’t just fabulously wealthy, but are Jewish. After a series of inter-class relationships (Lady Sybil and Tom Branson), inter-ethnic relationships (Lady Rose and Jack Ross) as well as bouts of pre-marital sex and illegitimate children, so it was about time that religion became an issue.
Next time: I think we all know what’s happening next time. It may not involve a telegram, but oh dear, I fear we will need hankies. Yup, this is a red-flag Old Yeller alert for Isis, the dog who “won’t perk up.” For those wondering about her name and its relationship to a terrorist organization, Maclean’s did a piece about that too.)