“Look, I’m as unhappy about this storyline as you are.”
So here we are at episode 5—that’s episode 6 by UK reckoning, or if you’re watching via Amazon—more than halfway through the season. And if I have realized anything during these past few weeks, it’s that I would pay good money to watch a show featuring Isobel Crawley as a village sleuth—a sort of “indigation-fueled ” Miss Marple (to borrow Violet’s excellent phrase) minus the knitting—solving local crimes in between rounds of barbed exchanges with her crotchety relation. The whole Young Peg plot was a predictable throwaway, really—he’s a thief! no wait, I’ve been sitting on the paper-knife this whole time—but it allowed for some of the most amusing dialogue and face-making of the season. (And some champion bell-ringing on Violet’s part.) Game, set, match to the Dowager, indeed. Did you catch the stink-eye Isobel shot the good doctor at that remark? Coming to take his staunch loyalty for granted, are we?
As for the rest of them, there’s a lot of stasis going on. Edith keeps getting caught crying in corners, and Robert and Cora express much sympathy but then immediately turn their thoughts to other topics. The conversation between the two of them in the bedroom that one night was amazing. They each uttered one sentence about “poor Edith” and then swept immediately on to Cora’s brother Harold’s mysterious predicament.
Of course, if they knew what Edith was really crying about, they’d be talking of nothing else. Our predictions about last week’s doctor visit in London were confirmed: Edith is expecting. Now what? And still no news of Michael.
Speaking of Uncle Harold, Robert’s had bad news of him in a letter, some scandal he’s involved with; seems Harold is “in a fine fix” and has “backed a lame horse” and when Robert starts trotting out strings of clichés I always want to hug him. Life’s brisk changes are endlessly perplexing to him and he takes such comfort in well-worn phrases, poor dear.
And now the Downton aristocrat-farmers are going to try their hand at pigs! Oh, I do hope one of them breaks loose and wanders into Violet’s house, and Isobel has to solve The Mystery of the Mud on the Carpets.
Thomas continues to badger Baxter for upstairs secrets. She picks up a whiff of Rose’s birthday plans for Robert, but not the specifics, only that a secret exists. This, of course, drives Thomas to immediately suspect all manner of diabolical deeds brewing in the minds of his employers. The most diabolical of all, apparently, being possible layoffs. He’s so far off-base, so needlessly dramatic, that it would be comical if it didn’t seem a rather hamhanded attempt to inject some tension into a house that is actually running pretty smoothly at the moment.
Having been tipped off that Mrs. Hughes is in on the secret, he tries to pry it out of her, and she has so much private entertainment in stringing him along (“I’m a woman of mystery if ever there was one”) that I’ve decided to cast her in my No. 1 Downton Ladies’ Detective Agency show. I’m thinking an 80s-style montage for the opening credits, what do you think?
Anyway. Big news in the kitchen: Alfred gets a letter of acceptance to the cooking school, after all. Daisy, whose glee at his having been rejected spurred her to break servants-hall protocol and (gasp) serve him the first scone, is once more downcast, and bitterly angry at Ivy (as usual). But it was nice to see Daisy rally, there at the end, and give Alfred a genuinely sweet goodbye. Also, that was a lovely pie crust she was rolling out.
Jimmy takes Ivy on another date—to see Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik—and then tries to get fresh with her afterward. Ivy’s having none of it. Back in the kitchen, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs Hughes console Ivy, and then Daisy bites her head off again, and Mrs. Hughes says Ivy had it coming. Rough night for Ivy.
Anna and Bates are each struggling, one tearful, one sinister and brooding, to cope with life after Anna’s rape. I’m fed up with Bates; he’s being just awful. If you must brood, do it where she can’t see you, for Pete’s sake. In an attempt to “make new memories,” they go out to dinner at a hotel, where they meet the maître d’ from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Snooty? Snotty.) Fortunately, Cora (the Sausage King of Downton Abbey) comes to their rescue, effortlessly tying the mortified host in knots. That was enjoyable. It was nice to see Cora have something to do, for once.
(Tangent: I’m dying to know what books she’s been reading all season. She reads constantly. Are they books from the Downton library? Are they new and popular novels from town? It’s killing me.)
Of course, one fancy dinner can’t erase the pain Anna and Bates are in. Whisperings of their unknown troubles reach Baxter’s ears, who relates them to Thomas reluctantly and for no good reason. I mean, I know that Thomas is holding some kind of leverage over Baxter, but that doesn’t mean she had to tell him that specific scrap of gossip if she didn’t want to. I assume the tension between them is going to boil over soon, and perhaps we’ll find out what dark secret Thomas is wielding. But Baxter doesn’t seem terrified; really she just comes off as weary of the whole game. Which must be frustrating as all get-out for Thomas.
Lovely moment between Mary, Tom, and Isobel in the nursery, reminiscing about how they all fell crazy in love with their lost spouses. It was touching and sweet, and Isobel is so wonderful when she lets her soft side show: “Well, aren’t we the lucky ones.” Beautiful.
Though I did want to pinch her a little when she declined the chance to hold baby George because he wouldn’t know who “this funny old lady was.” See, you have to actually interact with babies once in a while if you want them to know you are, Grandmama.
(I’m wondering how Cora will feel about being assigned “Granny.”)
Molesley, upon learning that Alfred is leaving after all, reappears with hope in his heart—that footman position may be beneath him, but it’s better than digging roads—and Carson smacks him down quite ruthlessly. Doesn’t matter if you’re scrubbing toilets at Downton, you’d jolly well better be excited about it. So off slumps poor old Mose once more, but Mrs. Hughes intercepts him and before you can say “One lump or two,” she’s got the whole matter sorted. (Proving again that the housekeeper holds the keys to everything at Downton, including Carson’s heart.) She hires Molesley to serve tea to the servants. The Dowager Countess accepted the news that her grandaughter ran off with the chauffeur more calmly than Carson reacted to the sight of Molesley in a kitchen apron. OH FINE, you can be a footman.
Robert, upon realizing propriety says he should call Molesley “Joseph” now, suffers a minor heart attack at his own birthday dinner. Fortunately his mother is there to breeze right over it. Molesley he is, and Molesley he shall remain. Which is a pity, because his name is surprisingly hard to type.
But before we get to the birthday dinner, we must meet Mary’s new sparring partner. Evelyn Napier has arrived with his boss, the handsome Charles Blake, who lands immediately on Mary’s bad side. (Which is generally where Mary prefers her love interests to be.) Charles, it seems, has been dispatched by Lloyd George’s government to survey failing estates—not with an eye toward assisting their struggling owners, as Mary had assumed, but in order to assess the likelihood of food shortages. So: Mary dislikes Charles, Charles dislikes Mary, Napier is seated way at the opposite end of the table, and I’m thinking it’s just as well Tony Gillingham went ahead and proposed to poor old Mabel.
Well, Rose’s big birthday surprise has the desired effect: the Downton crowd both upstairs and down are staggered by the jazz band, especially its African-American singer, Mr. Ross. But they rally quickly, make a few earnestly patronizing statements about what a decent fellow Ross seems to be, and the upstairs crowd demonstrates some genuine enthusiasm during the dancing. Isobel, never one to miss an opportunity to moralize, points out to Tom (who has spent the episode continuing to ponder emigration to America) that if jazz can happen at Downton, why, anything can, and so he oughtn’t to give up on the family quite yet. Tom smiles at her with that sweet expression of his that says, “I’m way too polite to argue with you, but seriously, you don’t really think they’re going to let me date anyone here, do you?”
There’s one more surprise in store for Mary, who catches Rose making out with Jack Ross downstairs after the party. Mary, who abhors a scene, backs quietly up the stairs and calls out a warning to give the lovebirds a chance to jump apart, and then politely ignores the guilt written all over Rose’s face during the ensuing conversation about the band’s bill. Mary walks back up the stairs looking troubled, and there’s our Melrose Abbey exit music.
Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go set fire to the abbey and dance round it painted with woad and howling.