Downton Abbey: Season 5, Episode 1 Recap

Deborah Gilbert | January 4, 2015

OK, Downtonians, let Season 5 commence! Everyone take a deep breath, and let’s begin…

Once upon a time, a Yankee troubadour named for a Welsh poet sang, “the times, they are a-changin’,” and it is the effect of the changing times on the ancient English class system that has been the over-arching theme of Downton Abbey ever since that ominous telegraph first tapped out the bad news that kicked off the pilot episode. Toasters aside, all of these richly drawn characters struggle with the changing world, as well as themselves. They battle with basic human nature being tightly corseted by an unforgiving social order that determines so much of their fate, never more so than with the female characters. It is women kicking against society’s limited menu of acceptable choices for them that drive the story of Downton Abbey. Forget about the Benjamins; this is truly the most consistent struggle here. The world may change, but what can you do to change your own fate? And if you don’t try to change that fate, will someone else try to change it for you?

Bad Donk a Donk: I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet:

 The talk both upstairs and down is all about the new Labour Government, and this was something new. Recently elected Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, from a working class background, was Britain’s first ever Labour Prime Minister. Ten members of his cabinet came from working class backgrounds as well. This was a seismic shift in British life and history. To celebrate, the village people storm the Abbey demanding Carson as their Lord, and milk in their tea. Or, at least Carson as the head of their war memorial committee, which is quite the flux you to Lord Dangerfield, thank you very much. And it doesn’t help that Mary finds the idea lovely as well. Even little Sybbie can’t remember his name anymore. Carson isn’t too happy about this turn of events either, but then Carson and Robert have always been kindred spirits in propriety. However, Robert has bigger red herrings for Mrs. Patmore to fry; he wants to celebrate 34 years with Cora and inspire Lord Gillingham with thoughts of marriage. Not sure what is so inspiring about the way he dismisses his wife’s questions and thoughts so easily, telling her she doesn’t need to know about things that clearly concern her. Then again, Cora is ever agreeable with her lot, and always seems to simply give him one of those knowing, June Cleaver looks that, were this a sitcom, would be accompanied by a medium-size chuckle from the laugh track. Might one suggest a more appropriate response? The next time Lord Dim Bulb dismisses Lady Cora as if she were a child, then turns on his heel to exit, she should not smile patiently, but instead shoot him in the arse with a tranquilizer dart. How’s that? It’s OK, Mary can pick up. Not to worry; as much as Robert ignores Cora, Carson seems to pay rapt attention to Mrs. Hughes. He proves this by pulling one of her signature Vulcan Mind Meld moves on both the committee and Lord I Believes What I Want, making his Lordship the committee’s patron (which I think gives him the honor of footing the bill). And thus the natural order of things is restored — for now.

The Lady Vanishes:

 Madge, the phantom maid finally appears, ever so briefly, exiting Edith’s room. We were starting to think that, like a vampire, the oft mentioned yet never seen Madge had a visage that simply didn’t appear on film. Where else has she been? On that busy street near Piccadilly? Hanging with a conveniently bandaged Canadian mummy friend? Giving Vera a new pastry recipe? I wouldn’t put it past her. Not any of it. You know, it’s always the quiet ones…

Four Valentines and a Booty Call: Jimmy We Hardly Knew Ye:

Madge isn’t the only phantom character to finally make an appearance on our screens. Single, white female cougar, Lady Anstruther is in need of Jimmy James’ stud services and she won’t be ignored. Though we are quite sure that Cora had no idea she was taking a booty call when Lady Duckface invited herself to tea. That first glance up at Jimmy when he entered the room said it all; that was the face of a bunny boiler if ever I saw one. Yep. Clearly she was tired of the rattle, rattle, rattle of her old husband and looking for more of the bang, bang, bang of a young, naughty boy. (And not for nothing, but that word ‘naughty’ sounds completely different when a Brit uses it, does it not? Americans simply cannot carry it off in the same way, and mores the pity, I say.) Anyway, in a pre-historic version of sexting, Lady Duckface passes Jimmy (what we assume was) a saucy note. It was rather bold and crazy to pass a note directly into Jimmy’s trouser pocket in full view of everyone at the dining table, was it not? The fact that she did it right there and then rather than when alone in the hall, says either she likes to live dangerously or she was trying to get him fired so he can return to her manor. Jimmy has done quite a lot of complaining to his new GBFF Thomas about the Lady’s letters, but we always thought he doth protest too much, didn’t we? Thomas was hoping for something else with unrequited love Jimmy and didn’t have the option, so he looks rather wistful as he delivers Jimmy safely into the clutches of Lady Duckface, letting out a sigh when he enters her room. But Thomas couldn’t save him from discovery. Who gets busy without locking the bedroom door? Then again, unlocked bedroom doors have been a consistent issue for these people since 1912, leaving us to wonder, did Lord Grantham hock all the locks to pay the bills and not tell anyone? Anyway, it seems like this will be the end of Jimmy at Downton. Say what you will about Jimmy; while he never really did become as three-dimensional as most of the other characters we love, we must acknowledge: He went out with a bang, not a whimper.

Three’s a Crowd: What Happens in Ripon, Stays in Ripon:

 And speaking of musical rooms and indecent proposals, when last we saw the Mary Ménage, battle had commenced, but now it seems as if Charles Blake is MIA and Lord Gillingham is working overtime to seal the deal. Why is no one in the family looking at why Gillingham might be pushing Mary so hard? Doesn’t it seem that he’s just another fortune hunter? Let’s break it down, shall we? He no longer lives in the big house on his estate; he rents it out. He has no valet; he has simplified his life. (Um, yeah, that’s posh for he’s broke!) If Lord Gillingham married Mary, because of the antiquated (i.e. sexist) property laws of the day, how much of her fortune would land under his control? A married couple was considered to be a single entity with all the rights going to the husband. Would he get all of what Matthew left to her? How is Lord Gillingham different than broke Lord Hepworth who pursued Lady Rosamund in Season 2? How do we know he isn’t keeping Mabel Lane Fox on the side? And when he casually asks Tom about his American plans we are left to wonder, is that because he wants rid of him? Thereby leaving ‘helpless female’ Mary to turn to he alone for support in dealing with Dumb Daddy Grantham, so that Gillingham might take over Downton? Is this the evil plan hiding behind that pretty face of his? Why am I the only one who sees these red flags here? If Suze Orman were here she would say to Mary, “girlfriend, forget about getting to know him in the biblical sense. Check his FICO score! Hello!” Unfortunately, Suze is not around, and so Tony the Tiger, thinking he’s the most recent winner of the Lady Mary Sweepstakes, suggests they go away for a well bred dirty weekend in order to convince her to marry him. He doesn’t think much of himself, does he? And clearly, he is blissfully unaware of what happened to the last two guys Mary shagged in her cold and unfeeling way. If anything happens to Lord Gillingham, sleeping with Mary just might become a violation of the Geneva Convention. Come to think of it, Mary and Bates are even on that score (not the shagging part but, you know). Poor Anna, she’s surrounded by serial killers! Given what Mary’s confided to Anna, of course she is going to accept Tony’s invitation, although she does say, “No one must ever find out”, which we all know means (hello!) that everyone will. It’s just a matter of time and twist. Listen for that stable bell, kids! Late-breaking news at 11: Mary ascends stairs and removes hat.

Sum Kipper: War, Huh, What Is It Good For?:

 Cousin Oliver Rose sure has become the tamed wild child, hasn’t she? She’s gone from a spoiled, petulant brat whose only goal was making mummy’s face crumble, to a Grande Dame of the county, handing out awards at the school, all in a trice. But tonight she proved she’s still good for setting the cat amongst the pigeons by bringing annoying Miss Bunting back to the Abbey. Yes, that annoying Miss Bunting, whose pushiness (last season) gave Thomas the ammunition to express his ‘concerns’ about Branson to gullible Lord Grantham. This season she doesn’t understand the concept of polite dinner conversation and thus gets served a stout foot-in-mouth for desert by Carson.  After not getting the hint, she has to prove she is oh-so-much better than the other swells in the drawing room by going downstairs after the party to patronizingly greet the servants as if they were exhibits in the zoo. Must poor Branson always be at the mercy of these predatory females? While he does seem to go for strong women, let’s not forget that, despite his enlightened liberal inclinations, he did minimize Sybil’s career by referring to it as just “serving tea to randy officers”, and told her she was being too “free with her musts.” So just like his father-in-law, he has his limits in that regard. Nevertheless for now it might be good to have a school teacher visiting Downton on occasion because something is driving Miss Daisy to better herself and she’s getting only discouragement from Carson and Mrs. Patmore. Suppose Miss Bunting could teach Daisy mathematics? Suppose she’s actually a latent business genius who only needs a few lessons to get going? Suppose she only uses her new math skills to keep count of how many people are suspicious of Bates? It would still be a good thing.

Truth or Consequences: No Play For Mr. Grey:

 Oh, Molesley. We are not sure exactly what possessed Mr. Molesley to go to York and start livin’ La Vida Loca, as a Latin/Italian Penguin, he is the wacky neighbor gift that keeps on giving. When Carson demanded he wash out his hair, for one brief shining moment in the bathroom, one thought Molesley was about to have a mishap that caused him to wander into the house party and inspire one of the guests to write The Jazz Singer, but it was not to be and that’s just as well because Baxter needed him. To Baxter he is more than comic relief: He is her knight in shining shoe polish. And tonight she really needed an ally as Thomas did his evil best to intimidate her into telling him what she knows about Bates, pressing in on her and menacingly whispering in her ear, “I can’t wait forever for those shoes! This is how much longer you have to be alive, and it’s not long!” Now, thanks to the tag team of Thomas’ bullying and Molesley’s gentle coaxing, we are finally starting to unravel the Big Secret that Thomas is holding over her. Baxter is a jewelry thief? Really? Where did the jewelry go? Why couldn’t she return it? Who did she give it to? Hard to believe she would have thought that up all on her own. Who is she protecting? Cora is right, there’s a lot of information missing here. (Lord Fellowes isn’t going to drop the last veil right at the top of the season.) I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. Tonight it was enough just to see Thomas almost pee his pants as Cora turned the tables on him. It is a great testament to both the writing and the performance of Rob James-Collier that Thomas is so multi-layered you can hate him one minute and feel genuine sympathy for him the next. Anyway, our accidental hero lives to plot another day and poor Isis is happy she didn’t have to spend the night in a shed again for that to happen.

Matchmaker, Matchbreaker: Throw Back My Catch:

 As much as Isobel says she’s not interested in Lord Merton like that, we sense she is – and so does the ever formidable Dowager. If Lady Shackleton is Mrs. Bennett then Violet is Caroline Bingley, trying her gleeful best to block any romance between the very eligible Lord Merton and frenemy Isobel, by tossing assorted senior singletons into their path like so many grenades. Violet has been peeved at the thought of this relationship ever since Lord Merton sent flowers to both women last season – and Isobel’s arrangement was bigger than hers. But there was a truce in the relationship between these two women while Isobel was mourning Matthew, though one wonders if Violet only wanted to nudge her back into the land of the living so she’d return to being her equal sparring partner. And what is it that worries Violet most? Cora thinks it’s that a marriage to Lord Merton would give Isobel a higher position in the county, but I wonder, is Violet worried that Isobel is going to take Lord Merton away from her? Or is she really worried that Lord Merton is going to take Isobel away from her? Either way, if Cora had a thought bubble over her head at Robert’s denial it would have said simply, ‘Putz’. And one hopes this is all settled soon if only because the deliciously psychotic Sprat’s nerves can’t take the pressure.

Baby Love: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Pigman-in-the-Moon’s Marigold:

 Forget everything else that happened; this episode begins and ends with the tragedy of Lady Edith. Like Ethel before her, Lady Edith is still dealing with an unmarried pregnancy in a society where that was a shame could ruin you for life, in different ways, for women of different stations. While for working class Ethel, the struggle was for her very physical survival, for Edith it is her emotional survival (as well as her position) that is at stake. Still, it is a secret that must be kept. The irony in all this is, right now in 1924, while Edith and Ethel live with the consequences of the men who loved them and left them, this new British Prime Minister MacDonald was, in fact, himself the illegitimate child of a housemaid and a farm laborer. The times they were a-changin’ – just not quickly enough for Ethel and Edith. When Lady Edith first proposed the idea of adopting her baby to Farmer Drewe, I think we all suspected he knew the real reason. You could see it in his face. And now we have confirmation that he does know. Unfortunately the only thing his wife knows (or thinks she knows) is that, “she’s got a soft spot for you.” And on top of that, while Edith is cuddling Marigold, the other little Drewes are sitting at the other end of the table with thought bubbles over their heads that say, “what the….?” And remember, Edith has a history with farmers — and farmer’s wives. Can we assume those farmer’s wives from the estate all get together to play Mah Jongg and have a chin wag once in a while? Because if they do, you can bet that a certain Mrs. Drake will have a few things to say to Mrs. Drewe about not letting Lady Edith anywhere near her husband. “You’re letting Lady Edith visit your man? Uh, uh, oh no, girl!” Farmer Drewe is playing a dangerous game as well; keeping another woman’s secret from his wife. And when Mrs. Drewe discovers that secret of who Marigold’s Mum is, will she believe the actual truth of her paternity, or will she assume that the real reason her husband was keeping the secret is because he’s the father? They are both playing with fire.

When Drewe says, “We need a way for you to live the truth without telling the truth,” I thought, isn’t what they’ve all kinda been doing since we met them? Can this work or will it mean only more heartbreak for Edith? Moreover, there’s the irony; Editor Charming goes missing in Germany after supposedly being set upon by Brown Shirts and Edith, in moving from sadness to anger, has an accidental book burning of his German Primer – along with much of her room. In came the Downton fire brigade and Captain Drewe, all puzzlingly dressed like Roman chariot drivers, to save the day again. But what did Edith lose in that fire? Did she lose the baby picture of Marigold that she slept with under her pillow? Or is it still intact and will someone cleaning up the mess find it and start asking questions? And what else might Lady Edith have lost in the fire? Did she have important paperwork she might need to prove something later on? And now Mrs. Hughes knows. Did you see her face when she came around the front of the fire truck as Edith spoke with Farmer Drewe? We know that face! And we all know how well she keeps a secret under pressure (even under no pressure). This fire is not out, not by a long shot!

What’s In a Name: That’s the Only Rule That is Contrary:

 And now let’s talk about the name Marigold. Why did Edith name her daughter Marigold? Marigold was an aristocratic name, and in this time period Sir Winston Churchill and his wife Lady Clementine had a daughter named Marigold, born in 1918, who only lived until the age of three, so it must have been in the news. Marigold is also a derivative of Mary, meaning ‘Mary’s gold’, so why would Edith name her daughter after the sister she seems to despise so? Could unlucky Edith be hoping that some of Mary’s luck would rub off on her daughter? Or does she simply like the name? With Julian Fellowes there are always multiple layers of meaning, so we must assume there was a reason for the choice. We’ll have to wait and see what the implications are.

Anyone care for a flutter?:

 And by the way, anyone else want to bet that, thanks to Downton, ‘Marigold’ becomes a hot baby name in 2015? I’d say the odds (in this one respect) are in Lady Edith’s favor (and no, Lord Grantham, that does not mean you should bet the farm on it!)

The Dowager Countessdown (Violet’s Best Zingers):

6. There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test.

5. I was referring to companionship, as I hope you were.

4. Your Father always told the village what they wanted.

3. You sound like Mrs. Bennett.

2. They’ve cast the net wide tonight.

1. Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.