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?
It’s only the second episode, but the overall trend of the season is coming into focus: Think a big satin bow, elegantly affixed to the top of the series, tying up every loose end. Downton Abbey isn’t going the way of Lost or The Sopranos—there’s not the faintest possibility of 10 seconds of silence while viewers howl at their televisions.
The tying of the glorious package that is Downton Abbey picked up steam with its second episode. Yet, after a dizzying array of plots in the first episode, this one’s more sedate pace was a relief.
1. “My goddaughter, a pig breeder.” Lord Merton’s description of Lady Mary emphasizes her full-time job as as the estate’s agent, the job once held by Tom Branson (in what is a classic case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”—I’ve always liked the character, but never more so than now, now that he’s not in the series). It’s a “new era,” she says, and she’s jumped in with both feet ensconced in wellies. She ditches her fine wools and silks for practical earth-toned tweeds (and possibly the most feminine tie ever) to oversee the entry of Downton’s pigs to a late-season farming show. Naturally, Downton takes top prize.
Mary can be a domineering aristocrat, but there are times when her forceful personality can be useful. When Anna breaks down, explaining can’t carry a pregnancy beyond the first few months, Mary immediately orders them to London–“you’ve earned it fair and square”–so her own doctor can examine Anna. I feared for another depressive plot line, but apparently her condition has a simple solution, one with no sign of murder or intrigue.
2. Edith strikes out on her own. Nothing comes easily for Edith but this episode clearly sets out her future. With lots of money and a gorgeous London flat, she’s girding herself for the inevitable: firing that obnoxious editor and running the magazine herself. Was anyone else surprised that she and her aunt dressed to the nines for a quiet dinner in London? Apparently everyone, even students at elite boarding schools, wore evening clothes in the evening. It’s reported that Queen Mary even wore a tiara when she dined with her husband, George V, at home. Impressive, but not relaxing.
Oh right, back to Edith. All she needs is (her unacknowledged daughter) Marigold. And even that gets an all-to-neat solution as Mrs. Drewe snaps upon seeing the child at the farming show and snatches her back to their tenant farm without anyone noticing. Oops. Not even the kind Mr. Drewe can hide how unbalanced she is.
In a sign of the power held by the Crawleys over their estate and staff, the earl decides that’s the end of the Drewes at Downton. The family may be friendly to their staff, but don’t assume that implies genuine friendship in all but a few exceptional circumstances. He’ll help them find somewhere to live, but they are to leave, immediately. “We made a plan,” Mr. Drewe says to the earl, “but we forgot about emotions, and they will trip you up every time.”
3. Civil war, upstairs version. It seems the furor over who should run the hospital (the dowager countess and the doctor or the larger hospital in York, supported by Mrs. Crawley) is still humming along. Does anyone really care? I can’t quite remember where the earl and countess line up in this feud. It’s just background so Mrs. Crawley and the dowager countess can hit quips back and forth across linen-draped tables, as if they’re playing at Wimbledon.
4. Civil war, downstairs version. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are having a tiff over where to hold the wedding reception. He’d like it to be at Downton but his fiancee lays down the law. “It would all be very splendid, but it isn’t who we are,” Mrs. Hughes says. “I don’t want to be a servant on my wedding day.” When he tries to explain that to the Crawleys, Mary’s domineering ways tip over into bullying as she brushes away Carson’s delicate wording and insists on a Downton reception.
There’s a showdown coming between “the blessed Mary” and Mrs. Hughes. In that fight, I’m taking 8-1 odds on Mrs. Hughes, who’s got more than a touch of a street fighter in her. “The wedding day is mine.”
Subplot of the week: Thomas Barrow is slowly, inexorably being forced out of a job. So, before he’s fired, he goes for job interview near Ripon. The advertisement calls for an “assistant butler” but the reality is a far more prosaic sign of the times: a combination of footman, butler, chauffeur, valet. Even worse, he didn’t get it. Barrow, who hates not being in control, can feel the walls closing in, and can’t figure a way out.
Bonus: Molesley and Baxter have snatched the “sweetest couple” award from Anna and Mr. Bates, and have no intention of giving it back. Not content to sit on last year’s laurels (when they spent months establishing Mr. Bates’ alibi for Green’s murder), they are extending bounty to others in the servants’ hall. Baxter tries to help her curmudgeon of a cousin, Barrow, while Molesley gets old exams and answers for Daisy.