OK kids, everything you need to know about this week’s episode is contained within this brief exchange, picked up by British Intelligence. Consider it your Cliff Notes recap:
Elsie Hughes:“I thought you’d never ask!”
Smokey Robinson: “I second that emotion!”
NASA:“World, you may resume spinning.”
Pope Francis: “Wait, what’s this about a Messiah named Bates?”
NASA: “Houston, hit the brakes!”
(Cue the piano)
Everything is Awesome: Tied Up In A Bow:
This episode was all about lessons, or rather one BIG lesson in particular: No bad news on Christmas! This was the Christmas Day episode in the UK, where they take their Christmas telly viewing very seriously. Everyone sits down to watch the Queen’s speech, followed by an assortment of the best British programs. For months leading up to the Big Festive Day there is much speculation about who will win the head-to-head ratings battles – so much so that the bookies take bets. Two years ago, Lord Fellowes was the Grinch who ruined Christmas for all of Great Britain, the Empire and all the ships at sea by having poor Matthew go splat with no warning (aside from being happy and taking his eyes off the road). This caused a ruckus so huge one would have thought Fellowes actually killed a real live person instead of an (allegedly) fictional character. Murder and mayhem (on Christmas) is what Brits expect from EastEnders, not Downton Abbey. As a result, Lord Fellowes has spent much of the last two years traveling from Zanzibar to Barclay Square, on an apology tour. Lesson learned. Season 4 and 5: Happy endings all around. Lovely! Though, as much as we all say we want our favorite characters to be happy, it’s not really as interesting, is it? ‘But it is nice once in a while. That said, one hopes somebody thought to get Lord Sinderby a copy of Marie Stopes’ book for Chanukah.’
Victor/Victoria: Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better:
Mary, Mary, Mary, just when we think you’re a lost cause, you have to go and do something noble (defending the honor of Branson) and we have to rethink. You make us love you even when we don’t wanna do it. From seething Stowell’s perspective, it’s bad enough he has to wait on Jews, but he draws the line at chauffeurs. He is being nasty to Tom and we can’t allow that. With a simple question, “Can’t Barrow do something?” Mary opens a Pandora’s box. Toxic Avenger Thomas sits right down and writes himself a letter, and makes believe it came from Mr. Daunt. Let that be a lesson to you. This is why you should never take the day off from work. Let us now take a moment to salute the evil genius that is Thomas Barrow. With only a paperclip and a used cigarette filter he can fashion the downfall of Western civilization. Or, at least, the downfall of Stowell, with some welcome collateral karma for naughty boy Sinderby. He’s a regular MacGyver of deviousness, isn’t he? But while it is handy for Mary to have an executioner at her beck and call, remember, Thomas is not like Bates whose ‘talents’ the family utilized to save the Monarchy last season. To Thomas, information is currency. Now that Mary has utilized his services, will he think she is beholden to him?
And speaking of patterns, if scowling Mary’s pattern with men follows true to form, infuriating guest Henry Talbot has just been set up to be her love interest for next season, by which time (one assumes) Blake will be back from Poland and will have changed his mind, setting in motion yet another Mary Ménage. Dashing Talbot doesn’t win her little game of Jeopardy, but Mary is impressed, “Well done you. Thank you for playing. Carson, do give him a lovely parting gift. Maybe some Rice-a-Roni and an electric wok. Or perhaps a della Francesca.” For now though, Talbot fends off Mary’s studied indifference with a dose of his own skepticism, and just like that, she’s interested. He jauntily jumps into his snappy chariot to speed away and suddenly all Mary can think about is planning her next sketching holiday with Annabelle Portsmouth, pronto. The name Henry Talbot is a curious one. The photographer in me cannot help but wonder if he is related to Henry Fox Talbot, one of the early pioneers of photography. And here’s something else that occurred to me: It’s December, when lousy lover Lord Tiger and potential serial killer Mabel Lane Fox were supposed to get married with Mary in attendance. Was I the only one expecting to see this? Will they be back next Season or is their story, insofar as how it intersects with that of the Crawleys, well and truly over? Somehow, I think not.
Going, Going, Gone: I Love How You Love Me:
So Tom really is leaving for Boston but not without an expression of love from Lord Vino, and a remembrance of dearly departed Sybil. “We are the three who should have grown old with her.” Pass the Kleenex. Sigh. When Edith took her hand, Mary looked startled into (maybe) remembering a time before they became mortal enemies and were just sisters – and we saw the carefully hidden mensch emerge. What will those battling Crawley girls do without Branson as mediator and ally – because it is interesting that both Edith and Mary have referred to him as such. Also going to America (maybe) is Atticus and Rose. He’s been offered a job in New York. I smell a spinoff! Atticus is a fiery Cuban band singer who loves cake and Rose is a wacky housewife who has always wanted to be in show business. Or maybe Rose is a lovely witch and Atticus the mere mortal who fell in love with her, and they get occasional visits from their grandmother-in-law Endora (Martha). Either way, hilarity ensues. But when it comes right down to it, will Branson actually leave for Boston? We will be very sad to see him go, but if he doesn’t get on that ship with little Sybbie he will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of his life. It will be OK. They’ll always have Downton.
This Little Priggy: What Kind of Fool Am I:
The more we see of the Sinderbys the more we see the cracks in their relationship. Last week Rachel put her foot down to keep Lord Tradition from allowing Sourpuss Susan’s antics to derail the wedding. This week, she oh so subtly keeps her distance during the house party activities (or is that just being a hostess?) I’m no relationship expert, but I’d say that taking the butler’s side in a disagreement is considered bad form. Having your bit on the side and mini-me turn up for tea, unannounced, is even worse (and, um, Diana Clark, Lord Sinderby? That does not sound like a nice Jewish girl to me). Looks like we’ve got a Maid Jane situation in aisle three. Send a cleanup crew. Yes, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t put on the gramophone and dance around in their underwear – not that I’m speaking from experience; I’m simply hypothesizing. For all his intelligence gathering, apparently Stowell missed the part about Thomas not being one to trifle with. This is a man who was willing to let the Germans use his hand for target practice to get what he wanted. Call him a stupid fool at your own peril. Go on, make his day. Forget about Hobson’s choice*, Stowell tosses restraint to the wind. He can’t resist dishing the dirt on His Dirty Fingered Lordship and he doesn’t realize who he’s dealing with.
Luckily for Lord Caught Playing Away, it’s SuperShiksa to the rescue! Rose is certainly fast on her feet. Must be all that dancing. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s (over five seasons): Births in wedlock – 2; Out of wedlock – 3. No wonder the aristocracy had trouble surviving. So Rose saves the day, and in return Lord Sinderby punishes her by inviting her parents to stay. Nice one. But now, to help Lord Sinderby she’s keeping a secret from Atticus. Will that cause problems for the newlyweds in the future?
*FYI: A Hobson’s choice is a choice where there is actually only one real option (ie; take it or leave it). The phrase is said to originate with Thomas Hobson, a 16th century livery stable owner in Cambridge, England. To rotate the use of his horses, he offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or taking none at all.
Yummy, Yummy, Yummy: Sentimental Journey:
What is a great way to keep an actor from asking for a raise? Give his character an illness. One supposes that the severity of Lord Grantham’s health problems will depend on whether or not Hugh Bonneville asks for a raise for next season. If he gets a bit too big for his britches the Producers will have Lord Grantham buried in the back yard next to Isis lickety split. Thankfully, right now, it’s just an ulcer – and it’s a wonder they don’t all have ulcers given the tension at their nightly dinner parties. Robert seems to have a rather laissez faire attitude toward all the stabbing pains, and won’t share any details with partner in crime Cora (when does he ever?), though it does prompt him to speak to Edith about Marigold. He’s OK with it. Should we make something of him going to see a doctor in York, rather than Dr. Clarkson? Was it to keep it secret? For better advice? Or maybe they just didn’t have the budget for an appearance by Dr. Clarkson. Maybe he’s the new Madge. Other than that it’s grouse shooting at Lord Sinderby’s humble little abode; ‘extremely grand’ is how Robert put it. He does like to comment on Lord Sinderby’s wealth, doesn’t he?
And there’s good news: The della Francesca sold amazingly well at Sotheby’s (note the look on Carson’s face as he stands in the background hearing that news), and this means that not only is there money to repair the cottages, but there’s even room in the budget for a new footman. So Thomas’ little friend, cockney Andy joins the gang. One hopes Andy enjoys winding clocks.
Baby, Come to Me: Mama Mia:
With Marigold finally home, Edith is in a kind of netherworld. She wants to greet her with “come to mummy,” but how can she? We don’t even know what Marigold calls her, though she does now call Robert, ‘Donk.’ Tom has already guessed. He knew quite a few Marigolds growing up. When Robert comes to speak to terrified Edith about Marigold, she fears he is going to pull a Rosamund and demand that she give her up for the good of the family, and she is prepared to stand her ground. To her relief he is more the forgiving sort. Even though Lord Grantham is OK with it, he still wants to keep it in the family (which, we all know, means it’s going to get out). But Edith doesn’t want it to go even that far; she doesn’t want Mary to know, and thinks she’s safe in that regard because Mary shows so little interest in her that she wouldn’t notice. But how long will she be able to keep from blurting it out with Mary pulling her “I’m the mother around here” rank? And why does Edith worry about Mary finding out? Is it the ridicule she fears, or is she worried Mary might do something for spite, like send a birth announcement to the Turkish Embassy? My question is, how will it be for Marigold to grow up as a ‘secret’? Is there another della Francesca they can sell to pay the therapy bills? And just like Mary seems to have met her match for next season in Henry Talbot, Edith may have met hers in Brancaster Castle’s estate agent Birdie Pelham. All Edith needs is to hear Atticus say that they all feel a bit sorry for Mr. Pelham, and she realizes she’s found a kindred spirit. If Tom really does go to America, Downton will need a new agent, and how lucky, they just happened to meet a new estate agent! What a coincidence! We don’t know why everyone feels sorry for Mr. Pelham, maybe because he’s the third cousin of the Lord of the manor, which makes him the poor relation (ie; the hired help). If he turned up at Downton next season and he and Edith start to court, how will she navigate the Marigold question? Will she keep her out-of-wedlock secret from him only to find out that the reason everyone feels sorry for him is that is his story as well? Talk about bashert! But then she has to go and respond to Pelham’s question about unfulfilled dreams with, “Today I feel very happy,” she says it out loud. Oh God. Don’t these people ever learn?
Brothgate: Let It Go:
Forget about shooting grouse; this week would have been a whole lot better if they’d just shot Denker and Sprat (is there still time?) There is no restorative broth strong enough to rescue those two from a pointless, recycled storyline about sabotaged cooking. Daisy learned that didn’t work in Season 1. Poor Sprat. What a waste of someone who (early on) showed such promise as a fabulously pissy queen. If this keeps up, next season he and Denker will invent mud wrestling. And speaking of pissy queens, that Princess Elena is just a barrel of laughs, isn’t she? Someone sign her up to be Sourpuss Susan’s Ladies Maid. All this Russian angst may be great for literature and symphonies, but sitting in the parlour for tea…not so much. This is one princess who needs to let it go already. It’s no wonder Prince Badenov didn’t want to find her. One suspects that after going all Snooki on Violet’s arse and yanking her from that ill-fated carriage, Princess Sunshine made Badenov pay for his folly every day for the last forty-odd years. In fact, I’d bet money he colluded with the Bolsheviks just to get rid of her.
For her part, Violet got over Prince Badenov rather quickly (sketching with Annabelle Portsmouth can do that for a girl!). It seems that Violet sees pretty clearly what might have been. If she had eloped with Prince Badenov all those years ago, she would have been labeled a ‘bolter’ (like Princess Diana’s mum). The elder Lord Grantham would have kept the children and she would have been a stranger to them – and in the end, like Boris and Natasha, she would have been uprooted during the Russian Revolution and spent her last years a penniless nomad. And who would have been there to rescue her from the Far East? Princess Elena? Nope. Would she have turned up at Downton, seeking charity from the son (Robert) she left behind when she bolted all those years ago? I don’t know. But, I do know that without this Dowager at the helm, the Granthams’ story would have been a very different one than what we have watched unfold these past five seasons. Are you into writing fan fiction? Have at it with that!
See Dick Run: That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be:
“If you’re going to be miserable you might as well do it in charming surroundings.” That seems to be Dickie’s motto. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that not being miserable is an option as well. Cockeyed optimist that he is, he tries to reason with Larry and get him to accept Isobel. Did he really think that would work? In response, Larry sends Isobel a poison pen letter that cements her decision to call off the wedding. She doesn’t want to spend her remaining few years with loathing and resentment which, coincidentally, are the names of Lord Merton’s other two sons, whom we haven’t met yet, but who, (one assumes), are every bit as charming as Larry and NoName. Lord Merton’s reaction to the letter shows us a flash of anger lurking beneath Dickie’s sweet exterior. One realizes he is hurt and frustrated, but no need to take it out on Isobel. The issue lies squarely with you and your monsters. But why reason with the shmucks at all? Why not just cut them off and go on your merry way? Might I suggest a meeting of Codependents Anonymous? Isobel’s choice is perfectly understandable: If she wouldn’t marry Dr. Clarkson, who has no baggage, aside from very large malpractice premiums, why would she marry Merton? Is this the end of Dickiebel? In a world full of icebergs and car crashes and bears (oh my!), can’t something horrific befall those Grey boys, leaving this too cute couple in peace? One lives in hope.
Stuck On You: This is Not a Puppy Love:
It is kind of odd for Carson to buy property, for a future away from Downton, when you think back to Season 2 when he was discussing the difficult decision to move away with Lady Mary and Sir Rupert, and said he had expected live out his days at Downton, and haunt it ever after. But things change. Unfortunately, the property magnate career of Carson and Mrs. Hughes is almost over before it begins when Mrs. Hughes has to admit she has no dosh to invest – she has spent it all taking care of her disabled sister. It was just a pipe dream. Do we all agree that she went along with it just to have an excuse to spend time with her Prince (picnic basket in tow)? I’d say so. But Mrs. Hughes’ pauper status brings to mind the real issues faced by servants when they couldn’t work any longer. With no Social Security, retirement was something to be feared rather than anticipated. The only safety net to keep them from starving to death was the kindness of their former employers. Someone at the top of the downstairs hierarchy, like Mrs. Hughes, would have had realistic notions that they could live out their years on the estate, but with the post-war economic turmoil there was a real fear that that was no longer a possibility. The same for Mrs. Patmore. She has often spoken about the changes, and recently became proactive by using her modest surprise inheritance to fund her own little safety net cottage. After all, she can’t depend on the residuals from Daisy’s future cookbook sales! And we all do want Daisy to become a big cookbook mogul (or any kind of mogul) someday, if only to make Carson regret that he once felt it an indignity to sit down to dinner with her. But in spite of his gruff self, Carson is a sweetheart. We’ve always seen that. And now he is Elsie’s sweetheart, officially. The house hunt was just an excuse for him as well. It was taking the long way around to being Mrs. Hughes sole provider. He’s just shy.
And now to The Question everyone has been waiting for since the Titanic hit the iceberg: Took you long enough, Bud! Seriously. Only twelve years! And no first date, no first kiss: Right to, “will you marry me?” And it was the house hunt that did it. Apparently New York City isn’t the only place where real estate is an aphrodisiac. Now that Mrs. Hughes is engaged to her second daddy, will Mary go all Larry Grey on her? One hopes not. May they prove worthy of the charge. Now, jump the broom, pronto, before something else goes wrong! Oh, and mazel tov!
The Sun Also Rises (in the East): Trixie Belden and the Pub Lunch Mystery:
Mary visits Anna in prison in a seriously fabulous red coat. Red. A color you wear to be seen and make a bold statement. She is not trying to hide her support for her jailbird maid/BFF even though, given what Anna said, there must be press coverage of her arrest or, at least, the Green investigation. And as she languishes in prison, we open the PollyAnna Files and start to learn a bit about her past, thanks to Scotland Yard who got there first. Hers was an abusive childhood with a sister, a desperate, widowed mother, and a predatory step-father. After being forced to defend herself with a knife, she left home to get a job as a Tweeny up north. FYI: A Tweeny is a British term for a child of approximately 8 to 14 years old who assists a cook or housemaid. But even though no charges were ever filed, there is a record of the incident and Inspector Clouseau thinks it indicates a pattern (at least, that’s what they’re telling Murray). I’m left wondering what happened to her sister after she left. I’m also wondering , now that we have heard about this long lost family, will they turn up next season to throw a monkey wrench into the works? But to get to next season, first we have to get through this season where roles are reversed. This time it is Gift of the Magi Bates who never doubts that east is east and Anna is the Sun. He cannot bear to see his Anna in prison and thinks the only option for her release is to throw himself on the grenade; and confess to the crime and go on the lam. This play works even though the witness said the shover was shorter than the shovee.
Thanks to gumshoes Baxter and Molesley, Bates now has an alibi and can return from Ireland just in time for a sweet reunion with Anna, whom the cops have suddenly backed off investigating. Was it all a ruse to begin with? Did they really think Bates did it and only arrested Anna to force him to confess – only to have their grand plan foiled by Molesley? In the words of Bates (and Scarlett O’Hara), we’ll think about that tomorrow. For now, just behold Anna and Bates, joyful and triumphant. Something else to note about their reunion: When all the carolers got to the line, “Oh come let us adore him…”, and Bates suddenly appeared, it struck me that he was being used as a metaphor for Jesus, amiright? Then again, I’m Jewish so what do I know about this stuff. We didn’t learn anything about this in Hebrew school, so I would have been doing the Remedial Caroling for Jews right along with Atticus. But I’d be interested, did anyone else see it that way as well? Anyway, Messiah or no Messiah, tune in next season when the Bates are investigated for the disappearance of Michael Gregson, the death of Isis, and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Good times ahead! God bless us everyone!
Dowager Countessdown: (Violet’s Best Zingers)
5. It’s all the answer you’ll get. Remember, we were the Edwardians.
4. Why do you always talk of me as if I were a salmon who laid my eggs in the gravel and then swam back to the sea?
3. The presence of strangers is our only guarantee of good behavior.
2. I suppose you’ll take it lying down.
1. I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man. Was I so wrong to savor it?
Fear not, Dowtonians:
This is not the end! A Season 5 recap will be posted here next week. During the off-season, check back for more posts about all things Downton, and all the other fabulous British programs brought to us by THIRTEEN)!
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