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Downton Dish – Episode 3

Downton Abbey Season 2, Episode 3 (Aired Sunday, January 22)

While listening to everyone, except the Dowager Countess, sing ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World’, (a song that was first published in 1916 and was a big hit during The Great War), I had a thought: Exactly how did a song become such a big hit that everyone knew the words before even radio came along? Back then, the only thing that went viral was influenza, so it’s a mystery to me.

5. Egregiously Overlooked: Cousin Isobel Runs Away From Home

I’m leaving! I mean it! You’ll never see me again! I’m going now! Last chance to stop me! Here I go! I’m serious! And just like that, she’s gone. Poor cousin Isobel; recipient of an unsuccessful personality transplant since last season, she’s lost the sympathy of virtually everyone. But in her defense, it has to be beyond frustrating to have earned all these qualifications and yet be summarily dismissed by the men in charge – and then, adding insult to injury, passed over for someone who has never earned anything at all (with an unseen assist from O’Brien and Thomas, let’s not forget). One can understand why she’s gone round the twist and run away to wartime France with the Red Cross. On the other side of the coin, there is Sybil: She is asked (again) to run away by Branson, but she stays put. Walking back across the lawn, she stops and gazes at the grandeur of this immense house that has always been her home and one wonders what she’s thinking. Is she thinking about the safe life it represents? Or is she thinking it’s a trap? Is she thinking that all this revolution stuff was better as a hobby one could set aside before one dressed for dinner? At the beginning, it couldn’t have been anything but an abstract concept to someone living in a luxury that is supported by servants. But now, she’s spent time below stairs and understands more of what it means. Has she come face to face with the reality that this new egalitarian world, that Branson wants to take her to live in, would require her to move from upstairs to down, and she’s realizing that when push comes to shove, she doesn’t want to give up that easy life she’s always known? And should she even take that step for an angry man who dismisses her work as ‘bringing tea to randy officers’? Girl needs a sit down on that last count for sure.

4. Soup Kitchen Nazi: O’Brien’s Attempts at World Domination Thwarted Once Again

O’Brien & Thomas have officially become the Burns & Hoolihan of Downton’s MASH unit, but without the sex to distract them, they have more time for mischief. Just how they keep track of all their plotting without an Excel spreadsheet is beyond me. But isn’t it creepy how O’Brien always appears, like an apparition, all in black? I’m wondering how many Masterpiece viewers wake bolt upright in bed, on Sundays nights, after that image appears in their dreams. But when that apparition followed Daisy and Mrs. Patmore to Crawley House, O’Brien thought it was her chance to show them all who’s boss. Sadly for her, once out in the fresh air, Cora slipped out from under her spell and when she realized that they were all (except O’Brien) just trying to help downtrodden soldiers, she offered to help instead of doing O’Brien’s bidding. Curses, foiled again! And by the way, can anyone recall O’Brien being called by anything other than ‘O’Brien’? Ever a Miss or Mrs in front of her name? I can’t. Why is that? Is there a story there? And why didn’t Daisy and Mrs. Patmore hear her following behind them? And am I the only one who thinks Moseley is kinda creepy?

3. Lost & Found: Mickey & Judy Put On a Show and All the Kids Come

Even though Matthew and William are missing in action, the house decides to smile through the pain as Edith decides to put on a show to entertain the troops. Come showtime, Bob Hope isn’t available, so the main attraction is a song by Edith and Mary, who call themselves ‘The Crawley Sisters’ (though I’m thinking they should have used ‘The Aristocrats’). The reaction shots of the audience during Mary’s song were reminiscent of a classic soap wedding: From Branson gazing at Sybil to our heroes’ surprising entrance to interrupt the proceedings. And that priceless look on Mary’s face, standing next to Matthew as they sang! Can’t you see she’s in love with you, you putz?! Though, I suppose that Mary signing her letters to Matthew, ‘Your Affectionate Cousin’ isn’t really much of a turn-on, is it? Someone needs to school the girl. I realize that the royals did tend to marry their cousins for generations (which is why they have those funny-shaped heads) before — thankfully, Princess Diana came along, adding shoulders to the Windsor gene pool (for which, I’ve always believed, she deserves a posthumous Nobel Prize), but still. Back to our heroes: When Matthew and William walked in, the romantic part of me went ‘awww’ and the cynical New Yorker part of me went ‘ugh, seriously?’ A bit saccharine yes, but it won me over in the end. It always does. Sigh.

2. An Officer, Not a Gentleman: Ethel & Major Bryant Get Busy

We knew that new girl Ethel was trouble right from the start. Same for the mustachioed Major Bryant. But, unless they lied to us in Health Class, I’m not exactly sure how it was possible for Ethel to get pregnant since it seemed that she and Major Bryant were each oddly wrapped in their own separate blankets when Mrs. Hughes burst in — making them look less in flagrante delicto than in enchilada delicto. But now that Ethel has fallen pregnant (the British phrase — which sounds rather painful for both parties) what will happen? Will Sybil ask her father to borrow money for Ethel to secretly meet up with a doctor coming through Ripon while she covers for her by learning to Mambo with Branson for the next talent show? And by the way, Bryant sure jumped up and ran pretty fast, so why is he in a convalescent hospital? And didn’t anyone notice him running through the house almost naked? And don’t forget, it was Thomas who showed him the main stairs (a couple of episodes ago), so what is the connection there? Quite frankly, I think the quote of the week came from Mrs. Hughes, “I may not be a woman of the world, but I don’t live in a sack!” I don’t live in a sack? What the heck does that mean??? It’s driving me a little bit crazy trying to figure that one out, I don’t mind telling you.

1. You Had Me at Hello: Mr. Bates Returns

Unable to dress himself, Lord Grantham goes looking for Bates, to apologize and ask him to return to Downton. And once again we have a member of the Crawley family pouring their heart out to a servant. These poor servants; they live dreary lives waiting on these people hand and foot from dawn til long after dark, and yet these clueless Lords and Ladies complain to them about their problems (while they, to their credit, patiently listen). What must they be thinking? (Maybe, ‘You think you’ve got problems? Try walking in my round-heeled shoes!’) And how funny is it that, once again, Lord Grantham asks what the Big Secret is and Bates won’t tell him! And he accepts that. At this rate, I expect he will be the last person on the Continent to hear about Pamuk. But forget about that: Bates is back baby! Odd though, before Lord Grantham came into the pub, we saw Bates walk across the room with no cane, but now that he’s back at Downton, so is the cane. What other secrets is he keeping? Yet Anna, not understanding the concept of baggage, is once again looking at him starry-eyed, telling him, “Now we must get used to being happy and trust it.” Sigh. We really need to stage a happiness pronouncement intervention with these two. You know what’s coming: All the camera has to do is pan a little to the left and there they are, lurking in the shadows, plotting their next move.

Attention Downtonians: This week, I am giving you homework. Your assignment is to complain to someone that you are being ‘wantonly disregarded.’ (Such as, “Why was my request that you take out the garbage so wantonly disregarded?” or “I asked for pepperoni on my pizza, why was this so wantonly disregarded?”) Come up with your own complaint and report back the responses you get by posting them in the comments section below. Godspeed Downtonians.

Dowager Countessdown

Violet had fewer zingers this week, as she was a bit more on the introspective side in warning her granddaughters on the perils of forgetting one’s place. And with the house full of injured soldiers, she was lacking her usual targets. Hard to have a duel of wits when there’s no opponent.

5. “It’s a little like living in a 2nd rate hotel where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave.”

4. “And you can dance on the grave of a fallen family.”

3. “War breaks down barriers and when peacetime re-erects them, it’s very easy to find oneself on the wrong side.”

2. “I’m a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”

1. “God knows who the next heir will be. Probably a chimney sweep from Surrey.”

Did that last one make anyone else picture Dick Van Dyke arriving at the front of the house to a full compliment? He has done some of his best work with Marys, so I say let’s have at it!

Downton Dish is written by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper.

For more on the world of Downton Abbey, visit PBS Masterpiece online.

  • Laurie

    Sheet music for all the popular songs was widely available, and maybe player piano rolls…that might answer the first question…

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    Hi all,

    If you’ve read The Downton Dish the first two weeks, you’ve probably noticed a new format for the page (to make it easier to navigate). Unfortunately, the format change caused some of the comments and all of the Facebook “LIKES” to disappear from the first two columns (I am convinced that O’Brien had something to do with it). If your comment or LIKE was one that disappeared, don’t fret! Please just join back in. Cheers!

  • Tony D

    Answering the first question regarding the song. “If you were the only girl…..” is from the show “The Byng Boys are Here”. “The Byng Boys” was the hit of the season in London in 1916. It played at the Alhambra Theatre right through the Battle of the Somme. It starred Violet Lorraine and George Robey and was seen by thousands of men before they embarked for France. It is said that men would go from the theatre to Trafalgar Square where they could hear the bombardment over the channel.

    During the run of the show George and Violet made a gramophone record of the hit song which, I am sure, would have been in the Downton collection. Also, as Laurie pointed out, the sheet music would be flying off the shelves. Sheet music was the most important way to circulate the hits of the day. Here is that recording:

  • Louis

    Your recaps started out great, and are just getting better and better!! Well done, you!!

    More later, but a quick link regarding the music:
    http://edwardianpromenade.com/music/popular-songs-of-wwi/.

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    Thanks for the great explanations Downtonians (even though the viral thing was just a joke, your comments help flesh things out.) Cheers!