I love it that even after four seasons, Downton Abbey can still surprise us, and that these long familiar characters are still being fleshed out in new and interesting ways. This week we caught a glimpse of the young Cora Levinson and saw that in some ways she is like Daisy and in some she is like Baxter. Despite the difference in their stations, these three women share commonalities in how their decisions, and the decisions that were made for them, have shaped their lives. They are each, in their own way, coming into consciousness, finding their own voices and empowering themselves. In related news, it seems that Ivy has been replaced by some vegan hippie chick named Sympathy who is refusing to butter the parsnips. Let’s begin…
Quite Contrary: She’s Gotta Have It:
Lady Mary’s eyebrows are quietly judging you. Always. This week saw them in a duel with the Dowager: It was eyebrows at ten paces. It all started innocently enough in the glow-y, disappointing aftermath of Tony the Tiger making Mary untidy in Liverpool. When she hits the snooze button on wedding plans by telling Tony that everything must be done properly (well, at least from now on) because she has been tarnished once, and as God as her witness she will not go hungry again (or something like that), we know two things: She told him the Tales of Pamuk, and she gave him something to hold over her should he get impatient with her for holding him off. Did she learn nothing from Sir Rupert? Is she playing a dangerous game? Because she is trying to hold him off until she can figure out a way to tell him it’s off altogether. Turns out Lord Lover Boy’s bright idea to seal the deal has backfired. Blake was right. But what other secret might their week of pillow talk have divulged? Anything about a certain limping serial killer? And if jinxing herself once in the first ten minutes of the episode wasn’t enough, Mary then made the mistake of saying out loud that by some miracle they hadn’t been discovered. Right on cue, Sprat stood on the sidewalk across the street and clutched his pearls. Ah, the exquisite pain: To have possession of a secret too dishy to keep to oneself, yet knowing one works for Violet Dearest. Sprat spends the entire ride back to the Dour House curled up in the fetal position. When he hints, but hems and haws, Violet holds his hand on the radiator until he spills the beans — then makes him clean them up. Next comes Mary. She will not be cowed, and goes all Samantha Jones on her shocked Granny as Sprat faints into a heap on the floor. Violet’s sage advice to her unrepentant granddaughter is that she wear a chastity belt until such time as the Estate’s Board of Directors say, “ready, set, go!” Then she should close her eyes and think of England. No sorry, no dice: Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, though she does assure the Dowager that there will be no unwanted epilogue because she’s got The Thing. In relief, Violet almost gives away the game for Edith.
Thankfully Mary can have a frank talk with Branson about what Elinor Glyn likes to write about in her novels, and about supporting his plans – whatever they may be. He may go to America, he may have a future with the annoying Miss Bunting, he may join the circus. He doesn’t know and neither do we because although his plans have been mentioned (vaguely) in passing in all three episodes so far, we haven’t actually heard him talk about them. They’re phantoms, like Madge. We suppose he’ll eventually figure it out, whatever IT is -and Mary will support him because she loves him. And speaking of it, the term ‘It’ was coined by the scandalous (for the time) but culturally influential novelist and script writer Elinor Glyn. So I suppose we’ve got to hand it to her.
Baby Love: Un-Luck Be a Lady:
And from Elinor Glyn to Eleanor Rigby, “Why don’t you show us your sketches?” Yeah, Edith can take that smug dig at Mary in front of Lord and Lady Oblivious, but as soon as the nanny trots in little George for his daily presentation it’s checkmate to Mary. She wins without even breaking a sweat, just by being… Mary. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mrs. Drewe is mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. We always knew this time-sharing baby Marigold idea was going to end in tears for Lady Edith – everything does – just not so soon. Sigh. But what recourse does she have to fight it? Was paperwork exchanged? Will Lady Edith remain at their mercy or will she decide to throw caution to the wind, reputation be damned? Will there be an epilogue to this story that is wanted or unwanted? I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes that Edith felt she could share this burden with Branson. He knows about Mary’s sketching vacation and doesn’t blink, and he’s always been on Edith’s side. And he is worried about her now, though she doesn’t know it as far as we can tell. Even if he doesn’t have an answer to Edith’s dilemma, at least he’d be able to offer non-judgmental support (something she has not gotten from Rosamund or the Dowager).
Numbers Game: Doubting Thomas:
Daisy wants to take her final exams in math, then maybe go on to get an advanced degree (maybe engineering or quantum physics). Even though Mr. Carson thinks this is yet another change that he simply cannot abide, that her place in the scheme of things is to be chained to the kitchen sink for life, he is overruled by Mrs. Hughes who says, “Oh no, you go girl!” as she throws shade on him with a flounce. Let’s give Carson the benefit of the doubt here; maybe his real reason for discouraging Daisy is simply because he sees the way things are going nowadays that downstairs staff who leave are no longer being replaced. And another piece of Daisy’s puzzle is revealed when she mentions she only went to school until she was 11 years old. That is really all we know about Daisy’s past. That, and she was never special to anyone but William, which in the past led me to conclude that she was an orphan (because it was common at that time for girls to go from orphanages into service). One wonders if we’ll ever find out more. Elsewhere, Lord Suddenly Concerned gets a taste of his own medicine as Carson doesn’t want him to worry his pretty little head over the details of Mrs. Patmore’s mood or request. And more’s the pity I say because, if you recall, Robert was very sympathetic towards Mrs. Patmore and her nephew Archie. I bet he’d say to put him on the memorial. Perhaps that is why Carson is pulling a page out of his Lordship’s book and keeping him out of the loop. Meanwhile, Thomas is up to something. True, he always is, but this particular something involves going to London under false pretenses to answer a mysterious magazine advertisement for some scheme called ‘Choose Your Own Path’, which sounds like it could be either a self-improvement course or a cult of some sort. If he returns next week with a shaved head and playing the tambourine we’ll know which one it was.
It’s Like Déjà vu All Over Again: Witness For the Persecution:
If the death of Mr. Green was a crime, one would have thought it was the perfect one. There was no smoking pastry, just a busy street and a clumsy sociopath. Oops! What more could a karma seeking valet want? But now a witness has come forward. She saw nothing but heard Green say, “Why have you come?” before going splat. Kinda weird, don’t you think? And not much to build a case on unless you are Sherlock Holmes. Yet this witness and the police detective on the case are driving Pokerface Hughes to distraction. If she can’t pull it together, eventually someone is going to notice that she can only speak to them when facing the wall and it will be curtains for Bates. And what about Mary? She and Mrs. Hughes have been running interference all along (and possibly destroying evidence?) and all the while poor PollyAnna, who has become Mary’s birth control mule, is worried about being made to pay for her part in aiding and abetting Mary’s sketching holiday. But if it all crumbles, might Mrs. Hughes and Mary be the ones who get charged with aiding and abetting? While Anna doesn’t think Mary will give her away, what might she have said to Tony over scrumptious dinners in Liverpool? And what did Tony already know or suspect? He was clearly already uncomfortable having Bates dress him. Information is currency, possibly the only currency Lord Broke has; might Tony use that information if push comes to shoving Mary down the aisle? Will she sacrifice to keep this secret the way Bates sacrificed to keep Vera from blabbing about Pamuk? And by the way, has anyone else noticed how Bates’ limp has improved over time, ever so slowly, so that it is now barely noticeable? In fact, he probably doesn’t even need that cane at all anymore. I bet it’s just a shiv. Be prepared, that’s his motto.
I Know Why the Caged Magpie Sings: You Are My Special Angel:
Brits may not serve ice in their drinks, but Downton serves up a round of marriage on the rocks as Lord Dim Bulb continues to dismiss Lady Cora out of hand at every available opportunity. And she is taking her own turn at having a midlife crisis. Everyone has things to do and places to go but Cora is barely converting oxygen into CO2, and waxing nostalgic for the good old days of WWI when she and Thomas were the Wayland Flowers and Madame of the Army Officer’s Rehab. She misses those days when her opinion mattered. Of course it doesn’t help that Lord Hubby reminds her she’s an American, an outsider, every chance he gets. Come to think of it Mary and Robert tag team in that regard, don’t they? So naturally, when unnaturally bronzed Mr. Bricker shows her a bit of reverence (in other words, he simply listens to her) she sings like a Magpie. In Mr. Bricker’s presence she is the girlish Cora Levinson chattering away about her hopes, her fears, her family (for the first time she utters the J-word and mentions that her Father was Jewish) and how she was struck dumb and made silent in wonder by her first arrival in London society. Turns out she’s originally from Cincinnati (who knew?) and that it was her Mother who was eager for her to catch a titled catch in London. Funny that; Miss Martha always makes much of not believing in all that stuff, doesn’t she? Either the reality of marrying into a titled family wore the bloom off that rose, or she doth protest too much. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Lord Mercurial decides to surprise Cora in London and gets a surprise of his own – and proceeds to get his panties in a bunch when it doesn’t go as he had planned. One is reminded of Lord Grantham’s own words about Mary’s treatment of Matthew in Season 1, “She thinks that if you put a toy down, it will still be sitting there when you want to play with it again.” Pot, meet kettle. And what does Lord Indignant have to be so angry about anyway? Cora and Bricker only went to the museum, not sketching with Annabelle Portsmouth.
Nasty Boys: There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute:
Baxter seems to spend quite a bit of time standing around holding Cora’s jewelry box while asking for a verdict, like she just might sprint out the door with it if the answer is no. Maybe because of Cora’s own frame of mind right now, she recognizes something of herself in Baxter – another woman who was struck dumb and made silent, though in this case, in wondering, rather than in wonder. She was taken in and then taken for a ride by a man who promised her the moon but left her high and dry holding the (empty) bag – after she had changed herself for him. Baxter doesn’t want to revisit this episode in her life but she’s given no choice by Lady Grantham, who demands the rest of the story and plays Oprah as she listens (she’s got the nodding head tilt thing down). Baxter makes clear to her and to Molesley (whose hair has changed to a lovely shade of autumn heather, signaling the change of season) that once she speaks of this man she wants the whole business to be buried in the ground (drama queen!) This kinda makes me think it won’t be. And his name, Coyle, is the same name as Brendan Coyle, who plays Bates. Of all the names, in all the towns, in all the world, Fellowes walks into that one. It probably means nothing, but I just thought I’d point it out. Anyway, Judge Cora gives her decision: Baxter can stay. Now she is completely free from Thomas’ grip – unless he comes back from that Choose Your Own Path thing selling Amway or something. Then no one is safe.
The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!: The Bridges of Downton County
OK, so now we know where Violet learned how to interrogate Sprat so expertly — from the KGB! She is such a terror with that bell that even Isobel jumps at the Pavlovian sound of it. But forget that, let’s get right to it: It turns out young Violet went sketching with Lady Lady Annabelle Portsmouth herself! Quelle surprise! She likes a man of mystery after all, Prince Kuragin.
Cousin Oliver Rose has become quite the philanthropist, adopting a gaggle of Russian aristocrats displaced by the fall of the Czar and inviting them to tea. Then, just as the party was almost derailed by annoying Miss Buttinsky, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to lecture this new group of aristos, Cora steps in to save the day by suggesting they move into the next room to commune with the souvenirs the Dowager and her late hubby brought back from the wedding of Grand Duchess Maria to Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred. Rose’s Russians enjoy these souvenirs by sobbing uncontrollably (pretty much what everyone does when they’re at a party and someone brings out the wedding pictures). As Violet lights up reminiscing about the long-ago party in the warm-as-the-tropics Winter Palace, her blue velvet dress and her long lost fan, out from the shadows steps Prince Kuragin to remind her that it was he who had gifted her with the memento and she’d hid it in her handbag so her husband wouldn’t see (the meaning of which goes sledding over Robert’s head as Mummy introduces them). So what is Lord Fellowes’ reason for naming Violet’s old beau after a character from Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Does he just like the name, or might he be hinting that this character is going to be around for a long, long, long time? What was the deal with their relationship, and what does it say about Violet’s relationship with her late husband? And thank you, Mary, for pinch hitting for Daisy, and doing the math! You just know that if Mary hadn’t followed that revelation with an impertinent inventory of Violet’s offspring, everyone would be speculating right now – everyone except Lord Oblivious.
The Dowager Countessdown (Violet’s Best Zingers):
5. Yes, but preferably only on their days off.
4. You’re testing me, Sprat. And I warn you, being tested does not bring out the best in me.
3. Nothing vulgar, I hope. Nothing beneath the dignity of a butler of this house.
2. An unlucky friend is tiresome enough. An unlucky acquaintance is intolerable.
1. In my day a Lady was incapable of feeling physical attraction until she’d been instructed to do so by her mama.