THE DOWNTON ABBEY DISH – Downton Abbey Season 4 Recap: Episode 5 (aired 02/02/14)

I heard a rumor that there was (allegedly) some sort of sporting event going on this evening, across the river, on the Jersey side, but with all the fuss they were making over that misshapen ball, one would have thought The House was playing The Village! I’d say the PBS Drama Bowl was time better spent…

Lady Yin and Mrs. Yang: You Sunk My Ladyship!:

Just like he did earlier this season with both Thomas and Lady Mary, Lord Fellowes has hit the reset button with Isobel and Violet, as the battle lines are drawn over the fate of poor Square Peg and a certain Japanese knick-knack. We feared the Dowager had gone soft, and then just like that, gone is the compassion and the nurturing friendship, and back come the sparring partners. They’re like any great rivalry: Each needs the other at their best. Violet helped bring Isobel back to life, but was it just because she needed a worthy opponent? And who is really the cause of all this mishegas in the Dower House? It seems to be Violet’s paranoid butler, Norma Desmond. First Molesley and now Peg: Miss Sprat simply cannot have some nobodies traipsing over the carpets and competing for Her Ladyship’s favor. Is he merely a dedicated servant driven to fits of ennui by working for the Dowager (who looks like she just might keep a riding crop under the sofa cushion and use it on random servants)? Or is he just a bully who chooses hapless victims for fun? Either way, it seems that both the knife and the knick-knack got the old Sprat switcheroo, giving Isobel a needed boost back up onto her high horse. But while Isobel can snoop with the best of them, Violet can do a switcheroo of her own, gleefully beating Isobel to the punch with a grateful but shoeless Peg. How many more of those wonderful people out there in the dark will go Sprat before this little reign of terror is over? Oh, the humanity!

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother: Makin’ Bacon:
So Lord Grantham always thought Cora’s mysterious brother was rather good at business? That doesn’t bode well. Given that they are discussing Uncle Harold in the same breath as oil leases and Senator Fall, it seems obvious that Harold is somehow mixed up in the Teapot Dome scandal; that huge political bribery scandal from back in those halcyon days when political malfeasance was grounds for conviction instead of anti-hero status from talk radio blowhards whining about the lamestream media. And depending on how deep Harold was mixed up in it, this could mean he was called to testify before a Congressional committee, or prison, or it could just mean he was merely an innocent (and dumb) investor and this was his Canadian Railroad. We’ll have to wait and see, but I hope he’s not dumb enough be asking Robert for financial advice. And speaking of business, Branson and Mary are going into the pig business, and given their unsuitability to modern farming methods and close to extinct status, the choice of Tamworths are the perfect metaphor for the age of the crumbling landed estate. If you’re keeping score, that’s a sawmill and a pig farm that Mary and Branson have added to the Abbey’s portfolio. Next up: A tractor that runs on indignation.

Eat This!: Danke Schoen:
Anna and The Brooder try to take their minds off their recent troubles with a date night at a fancy shmancy hotel, but their plans hit a snag when they encounter a snooty little maitre d’ who looks them up and down and tells them he just gave the last table to Abe Froman. Luckily, The Countess of Grantham is dining nearby, sees them, and comes to their aid – out snobbing the snob with a finsky and a smile. Of course, when the sweating maitre d’ asks for understanding, Bates responds, “Don’t think twice. It’s understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself” as he quietly seethes and Anna hides the knives. Cora’s kindness extends to her offering the Bateses a ride home afterwards (I wonder if they had to ride in the front or if she let them ride in the back with her), but upon approach she hears a snippet of conversation which she relays to Mary out of concern, and Baxter relays to Thomas out of whatever it is that is making her answer to him. Baxter looks more reluctant to do Thomas’ bidding everyday, which begs the musical question, what exactly is he holding over her?  So now Thomas knows something about this secret hurt to Anna, that Bates couldn’t protect her from. What will he do with it? Even though he says she’s not an enemy, he had no qualms about framing her to save Crazy Edna. One cannot imagine this leads nowhere. But will it lead to something that hurts or helps her?


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Quite Contrary Mary: The Lucky Ones:
Mary is back on her side of the bed, signaling ever-so-slightly that Matthew is a just bit farther away in the rear view mirror. Even so, when she, Tom and Isobel reminisce over good times, she says she isn’t quite ready to be happy yet – and just as Evelyn Napier comes to visit.  I could be wrong (though I am not familiar with the sensation), but Lady Mary has a pattern: If a man enters stage left and she starts arguing with him right from the jump, she is eventually going to fall for him. In a different time she would have sought help for this destructive relationship pattern on Oprah (giving Carson a stroke). But in the absence of that resource, Mary is likely not aware of said pattern and thus, some sort of romance with Blake the Traitor is telegraphed from the moment they first speak and she is quickly peeved. Has anyone got a #DramaBowlPBS pool out there where we can bet on how much time it takes for these two to shift from vinegar to honey? If so, I’d like to put my money down. For his part, Blake is non-plussed and reads her as entitled (yes, right); someone who thinks they deserve everything on a plate (wrong!) Not on a plate, Bud: On a silver tray and don’t you forget it! And let that be a lesson to you Mr. Napier: If you want Mary to take charge of you, don’t be so agreeable!

The Secret of My Success: Ain’t Too Proud To Beg:
Elsie Hughes, Woman of Mystery knows how to keep a secret, that’s why everyone confides in her. It’s a quality that makes her the Road Runner to Thomas’ Wile E. Coyote; a quality that is going to keep him very busy for the foreseeable future with the instruction manual for his ACME Double-Agent Ladies Maid Kit. Luckily, one of Mrs. Hughes’ biggest secrets is the whereabouts of the Mr. Carson instruction manual – and she knows how to use it. And that, of course, is how poor Mr. Molesley gets Alfred’s old job. It were fate. And now there were three: Of course, Molesley’s opportunity came at the expense of lovelorn Daisy, who lost the unrequited object of her affection, Alfred, as he took his leave of the Abbey, moving on to The Ritz cooking school (though not before a little condescending face pulling from the family in the drawing room), because the unrequited object of his affection prefers the slithery Jimmy. Last season when Poison Ivy went out to the pictures with Alfred, she took two extras as chaperones. But for some reason she didn’t think she needed them when she and Jimmy went out to see Rudolph Valentino and Jimmy takes the opportunity to cash in his chips and get fresh, causing Ivy to storm off back to the house lamenting the late, great Alfred E. Nugent, and getting a well deserved scold from Daisy and no sympathy from Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore in return. Could Ivy be as dumb as she seems? Well, no matter, now she only has to count to three: The quadrangle is now a triangle.

Society’s Child: Guess Who’s Coming to Downton:
Like I said before, Cousin Oliver is down with the swirl! And so selfless is our Rose that she pulls off a surprise that scares the farm animals when, to celebrate Robert’s birthday, jazz singer Jack Bart walks into the servants hall and says, ‘excuse me while I whip this out’, causing Mrs. Patmore (and the maids) to shiver all over and Carson Bunker to clutch his pearls. But he quickly recovers in time to ask Mr. Ross if he might be more comfortable in the next room, or in Africa, before jumping up on the table and singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. There is a similar response upstairs when the music starts to play. Irony alert: Edith standing there pregnant with a married man’s baby and questioning if it is suitable to have ‘this man’ in the house. Oh Edith, you never disappoint! But forget that. After everyone scraped their chins off the floor, they all got jiggy with it. And once again Branson is left to dance with one of the oldies, but in this case, it’s for the best as Isobel, in her way, slaps him and yells, “snap out of it!” (which is not easy to do in time to the music). A good time was had by all and when all is said and done, Cora tells Robert, “come to bed and dream of Ragtime – and that hot topless scene I did before I met you!” (Hey, wait a minute! Maybe Cora can get Harry K. Thaw to shoot Green! Genius! Problem solved!) But there just might be another problem brewing downstairs. It’s Cousin Oliver Rose and Jack, who get caught by Mary who, while stunned, is as polite as her breeding demands while offering her thanks followed by her trademark oh-so-subtle-blink-and-you-can-almost-miss-it-but-you-don’t withering stare as slowly she turns, step by step… Ruh-roh! You can always tell when Mary is upset about something: She ascends the stairs in slow motion. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! But they are not going to run. This is a couple named Rose and Jack, which can mean only two things: This ship is going down and she’s not going to let go. The real life person that Jack Ross is loosely based on, Leslie Hutchinson, lived in two separate worlds because of the societal prejudice of the time: He romanced the society ladies but was not allowed to share the stage with a white woman; his fans included royalty (including King Edward VIII), but when he entertained at their lavish parties he had to go in through the servant’s entrance; he was one of the biggest and highest paid stars in the UK in the 20’s and 30’s, and made millions, but after a tabloid ran a blind item about his relationship with Edwina Mountbatten in 1932, it seems that (outwardly at least) he was the only one who paid the price. He lost royal favor, theater bookings and his BBC Radio jobs. After a long slide, he died years later virtually penniless and reportedly only 42 people attended his funeral. He was like maid Ethel in that way: When a wave of scandal hits the aristocracy they get the lifeboats while the outsiders in steerage go down with the ship. Will that happen to this Jack? Will there be a scandal that makes Rose say, “I can’t see you anymore, baby”, or will she get the cover of distraction from another scandal…

The Fugitive: Rockabye Your Baby: 
It is a worst case scenario for poor Edith: She just got word that the rabbit died, and love ’em and leave ’em Gregson has gone missing in Germany. Detectives from his office are on the case, so that must mean that he’s left them high and dry as well – though, at least, not up the duff (as far as we know). And this just might be the worst thing about this situation for Edith: How long did it take Mary to get pregnant? Edith finally did something better and easier than her nemesister and she cannot say a thing about it; there will be no witty come back in the drawing room from this. That surely must irk her. All we know is that Gregson went to Munich and then disappeared into thin air. Did he plan to disappear or did something happen to him? Given his location and the fact that every historical event since 1912 has been connected to Lord and Lady Zelig in some way, one wonders if Editor Charming was somehow involved in the Munich Putsch. But back to bread and butter issues: It has to be slowly dawning on Edith that she has been taken – or rather, left. Again. I’m sure quite a few Downtonians had a chuckle when Lord Grantham came barreling into the room and, seeing her sobbing in front of the fire, exclaimed, ‘Edith, my most darling girl…’ To her credit, Edith calls him out on it, and in that moment we see the raw vulnerability of Lady Edith. She is long past ready to travel and she thought Editor Charming was her ticket. She keeps trying to fly this fancy, loveless coop but keeps getting her wings clipped. Her quest for love and belonging continues. Edith was defined for us in broad strokes, in the very beginning, when Lord Grantham remarked that the thought of Edith taking care of he and Cora in their old age as a ghastly one and Cora described her as not having the advantages (i.e.; looks) of Mary or Sybil. That was the short story, but in the long run I think this has made her a more interesting character as Edith defines herself and her voyage of discovery and invention has made her more relatable to contemporary women. But at the end of the day, she is always Edith and so there is always an anvil hovering, waiting to fall out of the sky. And what is she to do now? Being a baby mama in 1923 was no lark; pregnant and single there are no good choices. And she has no Anna, so who can she talk too? Who can she confide in who isn’t going to judge her and ruin her? No, as always, the cheese stands alone.

Dowager Countessdown (Madam Dowager’s best zingers from each episode):

5. I wonder why you don’t just set fire to the Abbey and dance around it, painted with woad and howling.

4. I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.

3. If you wish to understand things, you need to come out from behind your prejudice and listen.

2. My dear, we country dwellers must beware of being too provincial. Try and let your time in London rub off on you a little more.

1. Oh, is that what it is? Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?

I have to say though, that my favorite part of tonight’s Drama Bowl was the halftime show when The Dowager sang Proud Mary.

New word: ‘nemesister’. I never heard it before and thought I had made it up, but it turns out I didn’t. Oh well. I think it is quite good anyway: It is a cross between nemesis and sister. Perfect, I think, to describe Marcia and Jan or Mary and Edith. And we just might be able to make it go viral and become the new ‘frenemy’.  Your assignment, Downtonians, should you choose to accept it, is to use ‘nemesister’ at least once this week (and report back). Today the Downton Abbey Dish: Tomorrow Merriam-Webster! Excelsior!

Now on to the second half of the Drama Bowl: Sherlock, and the Sherlockian Synopsis.

New episodes of Downton Abbey Season 4 air Sundays at 9pm through February 23. Find out all the ways you can watch new and old episodes.

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