by Deborah Gilbert, British TV Maven & thirteen.org contributor
Change has been the ongoing theme of Downton Abbey ever since the Titanic hit the iceberg. Sometimes that change appears in such tiny, subtle increments that one barely notices; a glance, a giggle, dining without evening gloves. Then there are other times when that change is like the reboot of a shaken snow globe – and just like that a lowly postal worker pulls rank on the M’Lord of the manor…
Tea For Three: Frisky Treats
Lord Silver Fox invites the Bickersons to tea and Violet continues her Dolly Levi on acid routine as she surprises Isobel with this news in front of Dr. Clarkson. Is she trying to spark his jealousy? And why does Merton seem to only communicate with Isobel through Violet? Is he shy? Could it be that the invitation didn’t actually come from Foxy, but rather came at Violet’s suggestion? Whatever the reason, our Dowager seems to relish playing the spoiler and blithely refuses to acknowledge her status as third wheel. For his part, Lord Foxy has clearly done some research to prepare for this tea-time conversation. Yes, he wants to impress with a discussion about the science of quarantine. How can a girl resist? But I must admit, my feelings have changed a bit since last week and now I cannot decide what the Dowager’s true intentions are here. There were moments when I thought she was definitely trying to interrupt the pair, and then there were others when I thought she was trying to annoy Isobel for the sole purpose of pushing her toward Lord Merton. What do you think, Downtonians? Whatever the answer, if we have learned one thing this week, it is why Cavenham Park is so cold: Lord Foxy likes to stand in the double doorway with it wide open. Clearly he didn’t have a shtetl-groomed grandmother who, anytime anyone went near the door, yelled about not wanting to “heat the outside. ” Though maybe I’m only thinking that because as I write this a deep freeze has fallen over Gotham and my fingers are as unfeeling as a side-eye glance from Lady Mary.
The Cheese Stands Alone: Let’s Just Kiss and Say Goodbye:
Jimmy exits stage left but not before a “See ya Hubbell” moment with Thomas (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But as much as things are changing, some things remain the same. This is brought home as we see Jimmy driven away from Downton to be left in a basket on Lady Duckface’s doorstep, with a note pinned to his jumper that says, “Nothing is as ill-bred as stealing the ‘affections’ of one’s footman. Signed, Lord Management.“ But it is how he is driven away that drives the point: No car, just the lowly, little horse cart we haven’t seen since Sybil took Gwen to her secretarial interview in Season 1. Jimmy may be fine and dandy about it but Thomas is despondent. And lonely Thomas doesn’t just sadly slip into his cave. No, he lashes out and begins to drip poison about Baxter in earnest – going so far as to broadcast why he’d brought her to Downton in the first place. If he can’t have a special friend (or any friends) then neither can Baxter, or Molesley. Anna tries reaching out to lonely Thomas, who has long since inexplicably forgotten that Bates and “her Ladyship’s soap” saved his bacon back in Season 3, and whines that nobody likes him. Sadly for Thomas, it will be another 14 years before Dale Carnegie publishes his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, but who knows, maybe we’ll find that Mr. Carnegie was inspired to write it after visiting Downton and encountering a forlorn Under Butler who complained about having no friends while seductively dressing him. Anyway, Baxter‘s stout refusal to fill in the blanks of her thiefdom is making her sound more and more like a distaff John (I Am Nothing) Bates, and is doing herself no favors with Cora or Molesley. She stole everything but a partridge in a pear tree from a respectable household but won’t say any more about it, leaving her in peril and us to ask, why?
Bohemian Rhapsody: Truly Scrumptious:
As Lady Mary prepares for her not sketchy at all ‘sketching trip’ with ‘Lady Annabelle’, she’s got a plan (and a copy of the Marie Stopes book that crazy Edna left behind) so she sends Anna on a mission. Of course, Mary must resort to such second-hand desperation because what other option is there? But poor Anna looked as if she’d just been asked to help carry another body. And Mary’s reasoning about why it should be her, “you’re married with a living husband (who just might be a homicidal maniac),” doesn’t really help. If she had thought this through, Mary would have realized that the right woman for this errand was actually Lady Oliver Rose. In fact, she could have just asked Madge to pull a few from Rose’s stash. But no, loyal Anna, who for the rest of her days will suffer from Post-Traumatic Mary Disorder, dutifully goes to the pharmacy and removes her left glove to let her wedding ring show but still gets slut shamed by the sourpuss busybody behind the counter. Only after being assured that Anna solely wants it to fill it with water and drop it off the roof did sourpuss relent and sell her the prophylactic. And here’s what: Bates is asking a lot of questions. He is clearly suspicious of Mary’s little jaunt (and we know what happens when Bates gets suspicious!). One cannot help but think that assisting Mary will once again come back to haunt Anna in some way.
And there’s another wrinkle: Suddenly Charles Blake phones and turns up with an art history pal from Boodles.* When Blake arrives, there is a chilly shift in attitude. The last time we saw him would he have looked Mary up and down in that dismissive and familiar way? Something has changed. She doesn’t notice, but he knows. He says something told him he was not the winner in the Lady Mary Derby, but was it something or someone? Could it be the little weekend plan was too scrumptious a secret for Lord Gillingham to keep to himself? Did he tell Blake to mark his territory and warn him off? And did Tony tell only Blake, or is it braggadocio that’s now all over Boodles? But back to Lady Mary and the Pamukian reputation that proceeds her…
While PollyAnna’s mission is accomplished, she is very nervous and her tacit disapproval/mazel tov gives Mary pause. So does Blake’s off-hand advice about Lord Not-So-Clever and the Sex vs. Love debate (which wipes the smug look right off her face). Regardless, Mama Mia she will not let him go, and goes anyway. To the Liverpool Grand Hotel. There’s a knock at the adjoining room door and Mary opens it, then backs away like Dorothy, opening the door of Auntie Em’s house and seeing her first glimpse of Oz. Who does that? Of course, this might be the first time in her life that she ever answered the door by herself, so we’ll let it slide. Then again, the sight she saw might have something to do with it: It’s the lithe and supple figure of Tony the Tiger standing there posing for the Sears Catalogue. Lord Sting smoothly gives her the itinerary — a scrumptious dinner followed by an all night long dessert. Easy, Tiger. Too bad Anna didn’t get that baker’s dozen. Or maybe not. What better way to seal the deal than get Mary up the duff with him as her only paddle? And this is the line that may be the biggest clue yet that Tony the Tiger is not what he seems, “Always make a lie as truthful as possible.” RED FLAG! Hello! Let him go! If that gives Lady Mary no second thoughts, and she will not let him go, then she is truly, hopelessly, her father’s daughter.
To Miss, With Love: Carrying Pictures of Chairman Mao:
Branson is continuing to be bitch-slapped up, down and all around. Lord Donk seems intent on making digs at Downton’s resident upstairs proletariat every chance he gets, forcing Branson to provide an alibi for the murders of both the Romanovs and King Charles I, causing a dimly lit bulb to go on over Robert’s head as he exclaims, “I say, where was Bates on that day?” It’s gotten so bad, Branson may move to America where the people live in sewers. And Miss Bunting continues to press him about not belonging at Downton, saying he’s stayed too long at the fair and needs to get away from their prejudice and narrow thinking — ironically unaware of her own prejudice and narrow thinking. She does make quite a lot of assumptions, doesn’t she? Thanks to Mrs. Patmore’s kindness, and her shelling out 5 shillings a week (about $8 in today’s money), Miss Bunting is going to be around to do that Branson-slapping on a regular basis. She is serving one useful purpose: Teaching Daisy mathematics, whichis a good thing. After Daisy’s miscalculations with Thomas, William and Alfred, it is painfully obvious that she does need to improve her math skills, if only so she can learn to put 2 + 2 together. And even though Ms. Bunting turned down the invitation to dinner, we know that this relationship will continue. How? By the Branson and Sybil music that was playing in the background as Miss Bunting said goodbye and was driven away. Yes, things are tough for these estates. Gone are the days when a new storyline would mean new background music; they are not only losing their servants, they are losing their composers as well. But, you know, it’s gonna be alright.
Don’t You Want Somebody to Love: The Impossible Dream:
Just as we thought, as the work begins to clean up Edith’s room Anna and Mrs. Hughes (who excel in putting 2 + 2 together) find the picture of baby Marigold under Edith’s pillow, and from the looks on their faces they did the math in their heads. One would have thought Edith considered that picture so precious she would have sprinted back in there to retrieve it the first chance she got,, but nope. Now Edith is back at Casa Drewe with a familiar knock.Farmer Drewe (who does a good acting job of acting bad acting) springs his grand plan for foundling Marigold on her and his exasperated wife (who doesn’t understand why she is being forced to time share their new daughter with this interloper). Yes, Edith can be her her fairy Godmother who teaches her to dream (before it all turns into a nightmare). Running the concept by Cora and Robert, the always supportive Lord warns Edith that she can’t just give the child up when she gets bored with it. No, you have the nannies take it upstairs. If looks were magic wands, Mrs. Drewe would have turned this fairy Godmother into a pumpkin right on the spot. Then againthe clock hasn’t struck midnight yet so there’s still time. Mrs. Drewe get ready, there just might be another Crawley girl looking to make a deposit to your foundling B&B.
The Art of Seduction: How Much is That Doggie in the Window?:
Another day, another electric gadget to strike fear in the heart of Carbert (Carson & Robert). This one, a wireless, is a kind of thief of life that encourages the huddled masses to waste hours sitting around a wooden box and who knows where that might lead? Suppose they end up listening to dramas about an ancient English family of Lords and Ladies that’s down on their luck (relatively speaking), and the faithful servants who love them and plot against them. Edith needs something to do; she could write it. Then again, if Edith had written the story of Downton Abbey, Mary would have been on the Titanic. No, one must agree with Lord Alarmist, this wireless thing is a fad. It won’t last. Not like the Canadian Railroad. But for now it’s bringing King George into the house, and that’s a good thing (except to Violet who fears the downfall of the monarchy and the impending apocalypse). But there’s something else in the house that’s even more disturbing: Mr. Simon Bricker, a Renaissance man visiting Downton to check out one of their Renaissance paintings. Mr. Bricker is tan, rested and ready – and quite the flirt – the della Francesca isn’t the only little beauty that catches his eye. And his eye is caught right back by a certain lady who is just happy someone, anyone, is listening to her for once. Incensed, Lord Youngman, who is (admittedly) not good at abroad, or with broads, thinks it’s perfectly fine if Bricker can take his wife, please. But he draws the line at his dog! And Isis you little tramp, you better not be flirting back! Woof. Woof.
On a SeeSaw: What Do You Mean ‘We’ Kemosabe?:
Robert losing the attentions of Cora and Isis is one thing, but Carson? Theirs is a bromance for the ages. Like so many conversations with Lord Euphemism, the exchange with Carson about the King on the wireless) was about something else entirely. Carson and Robert have always dug in their heels at the mere thought of change. Yet whether he realizes it or not, Carson has embraced change in a very big way by publicly disagreeing with Lord Grantham, who was startled at the slight from his faithful companion. In the old days that simply wouldn’t have been cricket. While Carson can take the disappointment of disagreeing with his Lord, what he (sweetly) cannot abide is being on a different side as Mrs. Hughes. That hurts. Fortunately the natural order of things soon returns and all is rosy in their garden again – until the Police puzzingly show up for tea to ask only if Carson remembers a man named Alex Green visiting. (As if he said, “no, we don’t remember him”, they would have dropped the whole thing.) It seems a witness has turned up, the news of which causes Mrs. Poker Face to almost give the game away right then and there. But what did the witness see? And what if that ticket Mary dropped into the fire would have actually been Bates’ alibi somehow? And uh-oh, I just had another thought: Suppose this becomes a scandal? Suppose Bates is accused of throwing Green under the bus, and Anna has to defend him by coming forward to say what Green had done to her? And then suppose the prosecution tries to discredit her account? That is where Anna’s errand for Lady Mary could come back to haunt her – when Miss Busy-body from the Duane Reade comes forward to say the shameless floozie was in her shop buying you know what. OMG, I’m as nervous as Anna is right now! I expect it will all lead to more…tea! And lastly, while the Dowager always get the best lines, I have to say that my favorite line in this episode was Carson’s, “Get away with you”, and the bashful little exchange with Mrs. Hughes that went with it. Simply scrumptious! Who can say fairer than that?
The Dowager Countessdown (Violet’s Best Zingers):
5. Mrs. Crawley is never happier than when she has a chance to use her guiding hand.
4. Mrs. Crawley has been distracted lately with Lord Merton frisking around her skirts and getting in the way.
3. I’m glad to see your old interests reasserting themselves.
2. Lord Grantham said it was the coldest house in Yorkshire.
1. I may be older than I was but I can still tell when a man is interested.
*Boodle-oodle-oo: Downtonians will note that Lord Fellowes has decided to give ‘The Club’ in London a name: Boodles. Boodles was, and still is, a very old and prestigious gentleman’s club for the Aristocratic and political set, and it is said to be Ian Flemming’s inspiration for the Blades Club in his James Bond novels.