The women of Downton, both upstairs and down, are increasingly speaking up. Even Mrs. Hughes: When Carson says to her, ‘I never thought of you as a woman with no standards!’, she exhibits a rather snarkily satisfied body language as she flounces out the door. We usually think of women of that era as unempowered, but in their own ways many of them, even those who didn’t chain themselves to the barricades, began to push against the old ways long before Gloria Steinem picked up the baton, and we daughter’s daughters do adore them!
Hearts and Bones: Crawley vs. Crawley
In reality, the death of a child is something that very often causes, or just lays bare, the rifts in a marriage, and this rift between Lord and Lady Grantham is making everyone uncomfortable. Even though it eventually grew into a love match, when they were twirled into one, their relationship did start as a simple business arrangement – but now she can barely tolerate the sight of him. Cora may have been willing to trade her inheritance for a piece of the aristocracy though, one supposes, being an American she didn’t have the entitlement in her bones the way Robert does. When she refers to the ‘nonsense’ of Sir Philip’s title, one wonders if that was the first time she said that out loud. We know Sybil felt that way. Did she get that from Cora or has Cora picked up Sybil’s torch? Because, when she refers to Lord Grantham’s reverence of, and adherence too, titles and peerage as ‘nonsense’, she really dismisses his whole life as being nonsense as well. Is that what finally brings him to tears or are the tears for Sybil? Violet makes it clear that the arc of a marriage, for their kind of people, cannot end unhappily (afterall, it would require them to divvy up the money), so she sets about to create an alternative reality with reluctant Dr. Clarkson, to crazy glue this teacup back together. As Cora and Robert embrace, Violet turns her back and steadies herself on the mantle. Is it to turn away from the couple’s embrace, to offer them privacy or to avoid the shock of seeing the PDA? Or, is it so they don’t see her own feelings? So brilliant is Maggie Smith that there is more story and expression in the posture of her back and gesture than a page of dialogue. We can see Violet’s grief from behind. We see her doing battle with it and in that moment, maybe we also see why the only outward expression of grief we’ve seen from Lord Grantham were his secret tears in the hallway. Now that Cora and Robert have made up, the question is, will she go back to being the complacent wifey who let his word stand as the law of the manor? Or has this shaken her out of her complacency in a way that has changed her for good?
Rock-a-bye Your Baby: Left On!
Lord Grantham thinks it is completely unreasonable that Tom wants the same thing he wants: For his child to be like him. It’s ironic that the treasures of King Tut’s tomb were discovered by the former Lord of Highclere Castle, the estate where Downton Abbey is filmed, because This Lord, (i.e.; Grantham), seems to live his whole life along the banks of Da Nile. Though in his defense, we don’t actually know the reason he is upset that his grand daughter will be a left-footer: Is it because he is anti-Catholic or is he just disappointed it will lessen her chances to play for Manchester United? In any event, it was fun to see the Crawley girls playing Zone Defense to stick up for Tom (and Sybil really) against Travis and their Father. Mary is being true to her word to Sybil, that she would fight her corner. And it was also nice to see Matthew and Mary stop bickering long enough to share a tender moment and declare their love. Maybe Sybil did know something; maybe a premonition? Whatever the reason, she implored Mary and Cora to stand by Tom, and they are – and so is Matthew. In fact, so many people were disagreeing with His Lordship that this week was almost A Comedy Of Errors for him: He was accused of bad management, his wife and daughters were served by an ex-hooker, and his wife still has him relegated to sleeping in the closet. Mary was right when she said things weren’t going his way.
Lady Daisy: An Old Cow Hand From the House Grand
I tell you, when this thing ends at the end of Season 5, Daisy will be the only one with any money left and will be running the whole joint. Mark my words. William’s elfin father invites Daisy to come live in his hollow tree and bake cookies (is this how Mrs. Entenmann got started?) It is clear that Mrs. Patmore would be sad to see her go. It really wasn’t until we saw her reaction to the news that we realized Daisy has been like a daughter to her – and that we have two childless people for whom orphan Daisy is the surrogate child. Will there be a custody battle? Will Daisy go run the farm and be an heiress and baking mogul? She’s thinking about it (where’s the Ouija board when you need it?). Though I suppose the bigger question might be what is holding her at the Big House? She might want to live and work somewhere where she won’t be admonished for getting footloose. And there is no romance to hold her there either: Mrs. Patmore was right when she said, ‘the trouble with you lot, you’re all in love with the wrong people!’ And speaking of the wrong people, O’Brien continues to steer the bus towards Thomas, but is she making a strategic mistake by pushing ahead with this vendetta against him? Given what he knows, with just a few words, he could take her down, and then where would she be? Or is she playing three-dimensional chess, trying to cut him loose by creating a situation where Thomas is outed and discredited so that what he knows about her won’t be believed if he ever does blab? She is already indirectly responsible for putting Bates in jail, might she now do the same to Thomas? Homosexuality was still illegal in the 1920′s, so Jimmy’s threat to go to the police is serious. If he follows through on that threat, O’Brien’s trap on Thomas might snap shut. Til then, without his former playmate, lonely Thomas is befriending former foe Anna. Might he just let slip (pun intended) that it was O’Brien who brought Vera back into their lives, leading Bates to jail, or something worse?
The Circle Game: Chasing the Wild Goose
All the prison yard walking in circles could be a metaphor for the story of Anna and Mr. Bates this season. But now finally, after a game of seesaw – I saw, you saw, he saw, she saw – with Vera’s friend, it seems the court has got enough evidence to vacate the verdict. But don’t pop those champagne corks just yet. Forgive cynical New Yorker me if I think this is but another tease and something else will come up to prevent Bates from getting out (because it’s going to take a few weeks for the formalities, and if you watch Downton Abbey you know that A LOT can happen in a few weeks!). And what happens if and when Mr. Bates does get out? We’ve seen another side of him while he’s been in jail; there have been flashes of a violent anger. Is the pious side that we first came to know and love just an act and this is the real Mr. Bates — the Bates he represses and has kept hidden? Or has prison-induced desperation changed him. One supposes that time will tell. But the turn the other cheek noble man who would never even defend himself in the slightest, even when obviously wronged, couldn’t be the same man who pulled a shiv on a cellmate, could it? If he gets out, will he pull a shiv on Thomas or O’Brien at the first sign of trouble? Because there is going to be trouble, or at least a power struggle, when he gets back: Who will be Lord Grantham’s valet? Will Thomas be demoted back to footman? And will either JimmyJames or Alfred O’Brien have to then be laid off? And what does the prison Bates 2.0 portend for his relationship with Anna? At their meeting with Murray, Anna dropped the last veil and said flat out, ‘don’t do anything stupid’ – not a sugar-coated platitude from her Mum or a mousey request covered in meek and mild Pollyanna sweetness, but a direct and (maybe) weary, ‘don’t do anything stupid, you putz’ – and in front of Murray (and it didn’t look like Bates liked it). Sounds like a bit of Lady Mary is finally rubbing off on her. Bates ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when (over a year), and in that time Anna has grown and matured; how will Bates take this new Anna?
Bad Girls: Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves
Isobel invites the ladies to get together for some consciousness-raising over Charlotte Russe. Well, actually her instruction to culinary-impaired Ethel was to run to KFC and fetch a bucket, but she wants to do more. Working in Crawley House has helped Ethel regain her dignity and recover some of her old ambitious self (though why Isobel couldn’t have offered her that sooner and saved her from having to give up baby Charlie I don’t know, but I digress). Sister by sister, they all eventually stand up for Ethel, possibly because they are being forbidden to do so, as if they are children. It starts with Mrs. Patmore who gives Ethel the Daisy treatment. Then when Carson (in his fetching bowler hat again) spies her and tries to send her to the naughty chair, Mrs. Hughes stands up for them both. But he demands to know who’s coming to this luncheon at Mrs. Crawley’s Den of Disrepute, and once he finds out he storms off to tattle. Lord Grantham then, indignant, barges in ranting about Ethel and her bastard child (has he forgotten about saying naughty words when Mummy is present)? And not for nothing, but if things had continued along the track last season, maid Jane might have ended up doing the very same thing with Lord Hypocrisy – though one supposes his side of the transgression would have been dismissed as a youthful indiscretion. But on this day his demands are all for naught; he was up against a table full of women who have lived under the rules of an oppressive patriarchal society. Some have benefitted from the patriarchy and some have suffered from it (and some, possibly both), but maybe living under that thumb and the limitations it has imposed on their own lives, they understand the limited choices Ethel had available to her, more than His Lordship ever could. And Cora was having none of it: The warning of scandal rang hollow. What is the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen already has: Sybil has died. Maybe the loss of a child and sister, in childbirth, helped put things in perspective. After the initial shock, they stand up for Ethel, or rather, they remain seated in solidarity for Ethel’s pudding. Maybe they were only pushed to their support of Ethel by Lord Grantham’s demand they obey. But Bill Cosby was right, a good pudding can change your life! Later, when fresh from her success, Ethel confidently walks into the servant’s hall looking to thank Mrs. Patmore, Carson clutches his pearls and looks as if he’s seen an electric toaster. Then he sings ’I Am What I Am’ as Molesley looks confused.
While still grieving, our favorite Edwardian good time girl was back in fine fettle. Though I have to say, Mrs. Hughes is suddenly giving her a run for her money in the one-liner department! But here are the Dowager’s Top 5:
5. ‘People like us are never unhappily married.’
4. ‘In these moments, a couple is unable to see as much of each other as they would like.’
3. ‘I suppose she has an appropriate costume for every activity.’
2. ‘It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.’
1. ‘Lie is so unmusical a word.’
Did any bells go off when you heard #4? How many times have we heard someone in the media say almost exactly that about their spouse and themselves and thought they were just saying they really were too busy with their career? I think I’ll hear something different next time that phrase is expressed. How about you, Downtonians?
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.
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