Downton Abbey Devotees: On friends, platonic and otherwise

Our weekly panel analyzes the country-house soap opera: season 5, episode 3


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 below writing. 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?

“An unlucky friend is tiresome enough, an unlucky acquaintance is intolerable”
– The dowager countess

Patricia: Now that we are nearly one-third through the fifth season—sniff—Julian Fellowes is ramping up the tension and pushing new plot lines at a dizzying pace. Genna, my fellow Downton Abbey Devotee, and I are a tad obsessed with Downton Abbey (Oh, if I only had a smaller head to wear those amazing feats of millinery excess) and have noticed that each episode has a theme. Or perhaps we are watching so intently that we’re reading themes into the series. This week is friendship, of all sort and shapes. So let’s indulge.

Genna: Miss Baxter and Mr. Moseley broke my heart in this episode. We get the barest sketch of Miss Baxter’s backstory , extorted out of her under threat of termination from her ladyship. As suspected, there’s more to Miss Baxter’s past life as a jewel thief than the lady’s maid wanted to divulge. An abusive man had crushed her under his thumb, manipulating her into stealing and letting her take the fall. In her words, “He was nasty. And he made me nasty.”

Moseley has been crushing on Miss Baxter this whole season — one must be very in love to wish to darken one’s greying hair with shoe polish — but now their relationship has taken a fantastically interesting turn. Now it’s a deep, trusting friendship, in addition to a (potential) romance.

Moseley is not a hapless has-been; or at least not only that. He doggedly insists on seeing the best in Baxter , but doesn’t press her for details about her misdeeds. The scene where the two of them are outside chatting as Moseley gets the car ready was absolutely devastating. Baxter is considering telling her story to Cora, but she’s so ashamed of it that she wants it “buried and back in the ground” as soon as humanly possible. So Moseley says, “Make that your condition. She can make conditions, so can you.” While Baxter’s evil ex-beau bent her to his will, Moseley encourages her to take control of her life and exercise her own power. Kevin Doyle’s acting is so subtle, but so effective. His features are so open and relaxed when he talks to Baxter. He actually looks younger. Friendship is good for the soul!

Patricia: Since colleague Genna is working on several stories for the next issue of Maclean’s, I’m taking over a lot of this blog post. So get a nice cup of tea, and sit down for my opinions, beginning with a grumble about the Baxter-Moseley romance. Sure, Genna likes how it’s slowly evolving, and I know this is a soap opera that stretches every juicy plot line over several episodes, but would it really take so long for Cora to decide whether to keep a convicted jewel thief as her personal maid? Puh-leeeeze.

Lady Mary and Gillingham: When I heard Gillingham talk of the “rites and routines” that will govern their lives, I knew that relationship was foundering. Lady Mary doesn’t do “routines.” Cue Lady Mary looking unhappy. The “week away” experiment hasn’t worked out the way he hoped. Methinks she’s going to try the old “can we just be friends” gambit to end their romantic relationship. That’s confirmed when she talks to Tom. They have little in common, yet perhaps that’s why they can talk so freely — he saw right through her faux sketching trip. “I’ll back you up if you support me,” Tom says. Awww.

Diversion: Is there a bigger snob than the dowager countess? Yes, her butler, Spratt. He sees Mary and Gillingham leaving the Liverpool hotel and goes from A to B to H, for hanky-panky. He sniffingly disapproves and makes it known to his boss. Cue the dowager countess, who avoids a scandal by effortlessly making up a story about a conference of northern landowners.

Mrs. Hughes and, well, everyone: The housekeeper is protecting Anna, lying to everyone about whether Green caused problems when he visited Downton, then helping Mrs. Patmore get her nephew Archie’s name on a war memorial (the shell-shocked lad was shot for desertion). She knows how Carson would react — “Add the name of a coward to our memorial? Are you quite well?” — yet tried anyway. “Sympathy butters no parsnips,” was Mrs. Patmore’s disappointed response to Carson’s rejection of the idea.

(Genna: I’m stealing that one. Mrs. Patmore can coin all my catchphrases from now on. Oh, and by the way, why does Mrs. Patmore ask Mrs. Hughes to beseech Carson on her behalf? Because:” Everyone knows you can twist him round your little finger.” Has everyone downstairs seen what Downton’s two solid, longest-serving servants do not?)

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. ((C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE)

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. ((C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE)

Cora and Mr. Bricker, the boring art historian: She should have doubled up on her fitting with the famous designer Molyneux. Of course, Robert plans to surprise his wife in London with a night out, but the unknowing Cora spends the evening dining with Bricker. Cue a fight completely lacking in tension.

Anna and Bates: The other, “will it ever end” plot is the whole Anna and Bates murder inquiry. “Why have you come?” was the last thing Green said before being thrown into traffic.”Do you ever wonder what it would be like to move to a place where no one knows us?” Anna asks her husband. Shakes of foreboding. Cue the tragic violin music.

(Genna: I confess! I did it! I killed Mr. Green! Arrest me, constable! Serve and protect the Downton-viewing public from this interminable plot!)

Looking forward: One plot line that will certainly continue is plight of the White Russian exiles. The look on the dowager countess’s face when she sees Prince Igor Kuragin is wondrous, a distillation of surprise, longing and regrets. “Granny has a past,” says Lady Mary. Cue the dowager countess unsuccessfully trying to stomp down on family gossip.

And with whom was Thomas conversing on the phone about an advertisement for “Choose your own path”? We know Thomas doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. He might be just the kind of person who could fall in with some kind of cult.  

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.