This was the episode where Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, seemed as if he was doing his best to win the Upper Class Twit Award that was once handed out in an old Monty Python routine. While he has been proving himself an objectionable jerk for much of this season, his privileged boorishness reached new heights in last night’s episode.
As the show opened, everyone both upstairs and down is grieving over the sudden death after childbirth of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay, who wanted out to pursue other career options, series writer-creator Julian Fellowes told People magazine). The Crawley clan, all clad in black, is gathered at Downton Abbey immediately after Sybil’s funeral. The servants are in mourning, too, sporting black armbands.
Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Robert (Hugh Bonneville) are still at odds over his having supported Sir Philip Tapsell, the snooty society doc who failed to note that Sybil was showing signs of pre-eclampsia late in her pregnancy, symptoms the local family physician, Dr. Clarkson (David Robb), had picked up on. When Robert broaches moving back into their bedroom – per Cora’s request, he has been sleeping in the dressing room since Sybil’s death – Cora gives him the big N-O. “You believed Tapsell because he’s fashionable and knighted and has a practice on Harley Street. You let all that weigh more than saving our daughter’s life,” she says reproachfully.
Over breakfast the next morning, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the radical chauffer-turned-son-in-law announces that he’s going to name his motherless baby after Sybil and raise her in his own faith. “My daughter is Irish and she’ll be Catholic like her father,” he says. Robert has a near heart attack.
Later Robert huffs, “There hasn’t been a Catholic Crawley since the Reformation.” Mary (Michelle Dockery) sticks up for Tom, saying of baby Sybil, “She’s not a Crawley, she’s a Branson.”
The local Anglican minister, Reverend Travis (Michael Cochrane), pops over for dinner at Downton Abbey. He, like Robert, craps on Catholicism, referring to it as a “pagan religion.” Edith (Laura Carmichael), Mary, Matthew (Dan Stevens) and his mother, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), all mock the minister for his prejudice. Even Violet (Maggie Smith), the Dowager Countess, chimes in with: “The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk is a dear friend and she’s more Roman than the Pope.”
Then Mary drops a bomb. She says that on the very day that Sybil died, she told Mary that she loved Tom and wanted the baby raised as a Catholic. Tom is thrilled at this message from the grave. Robert’s reaction? “I’m flabbergasted!”
Cora looks at her husband witheringly. “You’re always flabbergasted by the unconventional,” she says. “Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s.” (Debrett’s was and is a publishing house famous for its guides to etiquette and a who’s who of the British aristocracy.)
Violet summons Dr. Clarkson to her home. She confides to him that the question of whether Sybil could have been saved is hurting Robert and Cora’s marriage.
“You’ve created a division between my son and his wife when the only way they can conceivably bear their grief is if they face it together,” she tells him.
“So you want me to lie to them?” the doctor asks, still believing the Cesarean he had suggested might have saved Sybil’s life.
“Lie is so unmusical a word,” responds Violet, instructing him to “review the evidence [on eclampsia deaths], honestly and without bias.”
Robert’s worst behavior in the episode comes when he barges into a ladies’ lunch that Isobel is throwing for Cora, Edith, Mary and Violet. Ethel (Amy Nuttall), the former Downton maid turned unwed mother turned prostitute turned Isobel’s cook, has overcome her woeful lack of culinary skills and whipped up a delicious spread thanks to tutoring and encouragement from Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). (“Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon mousse,” Coach Patmore assures Ethel.)
All present praise Ethel’s fancy fare. Edith volunteers that she sometimes wonders if she shouldn’t learn to cook.
Mary, truly puzzled, asks, “Why?”
Edith tells the ladies that she hasn’t decided how to respond to the London magazine editor who wants her to write for him, but that her father has made his objections clear.
“Robert frequently makes decisions based on values that have no relevance anymore,” Cora says. Mary, her father’s chief sympathizer, looks anxious at her mother’s blatant diss.
It’s at this point that the object of Cora’s loathing comes charging through the door.
“Do you know who prepared this meal for you?” he demands, ordering that his wife, daughters and mother all vacate the premises at once. Cora protests, saying that Ethel has rebuilt her life after giving birth to an illegitimate child, but then Isobel lets the cat out of the bag about Ethel having sold her favors since leaving Downton.
The Dowager’s response to this shocking revelation? “These days servants are very hard to find,” says Violet.
Ethel comes into the dining room carrying dessert.
“Is that Charlotte Russe? How delicious,” purrs Cora, totally ignoring Robert, who by now has steam rising from the top of his head.
“Is anyone coming?” Robert asks angrily.
The women sit tight and dig into dessert. “Seems a pity to miss a good pudding,” says Violet. Robert storms out. Good riddance.
Then, just as we’re about to write Robert off for good as a clueless aristo, he starts acting human again. Later that day, he movingly tells Mary that he keeps wanting to show or tell something to Sybil only to be grief-stricken anew upon remembering that she is gone. Mary, getting all Dr. Phil on him, urges her father to share his feelings with Cora.
Violet, in her newly adopted role as marriage counselor, orders Cora and Robert to call upon her. She has invited Dr. Clarkson as well. Robert begins to apologize to Dr. Clarkson for ignoring his medical advice on the night of Sybil’s death when the good doctor, at Violet’s urging, tells the couple he has come to believe that a last-minute Caesarian wouldn’t have saved their daughter from eclampsia. “When everything is weighed in the balance, I believe that Lady Sybil was going to die,” he says.
Now able to put recriminations behind them, Cora and Robert move into each other’s arms. United in grief, she weeps and he comforts her. The episode ends with the two locked in a tight embrace and Violet looking on sympathetically.
In other developments during the episode:
• In a swoony romantic scene sure to end up in fan appreciation videos on YouTube, Mary and Matthew shared pillow talk in bed.
“We must never take us for granted. Who knows what’s coming,” says Mary.
“I have to take one thing for granted: that I will love you until the last breath leaves my body,” Matthew responds.
“Oh, my darling, me too,” coos Mary.
• Meanwhile, new investor Matthew is planning to restructure the business practices of Downton Abbey after Robert’s laissez-faire regime. Walking the property with Tom, Matthew points to improvements he hopes to make. Tom has a suggestion or two of his own. It turns out that his grandfather was a sheep farmer back in Ireland. “So there’s a country boy inside the revolutionary,” Matthew teases.
• Below stairs, the romantic roundelay between the kids of the kitchen – that would be Daisy (Sophie McShera), Ivy (Cara Theobold), Alfred (Matt Milne) and Jimmy (Ed Speleers) – continues as unreciprocated crushes abound. Daisy is sweet on Alfred; Alfred is panting for Ivy; Ivy is making eyes at Jimmy (as is Thomas, played by Rob James-Collier); while Jimmy seems sweet on, well, himself. Watching all this with a mixture of amusement and annoyance is Mrs. Patmore, who sagely chides, “The trouble with you lot is you’re all in love with the wrong people.”
• Daisy spends her day off visiting with her kindly father-in-law at his farm. (She was briefly married in season two to William, a footman turned soldier, who died shortly after the bedside wedding.) The older man tells Daisy it’s his fondest hope that she’ll move to the farm to live with him and take it over upon his death. “Do you think these great houses like Downton Abbey are going to go on another 40 years, because I don’t,” he says, using a highlighter to underline this season’s big theme. Daisy says she’ll mull over his kind offer.
• Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) makes like a downstairs version of Robert for most of the episode, acting all stuffy and antediluvian. He denounces Catholics, scolds Jimmy for larking about, and reprimands Mrs. Patmore for having helped Ethel.
“You’ve allowed a woman of the streets to wait the table on members of our family. I’m speechless!” he says.
“I guess he won’t stay speechless for long,” cracks Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who is fast becoming the wittiest character on the show.
• Thomas keeps laying hands on Jimmy, never quite inappropriately but enough so that, if the show was set in the present day, Jimmy might make a justified complaint of sexual harassment. Thomas’ new nemesis, Sarah O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran), continues to watch this development and, we have to assume, wait for her chance somehow to use her ex-partner-in-crime’s crush on Jimmy to her own advantage.
• And, finally, Mrs. Bartlett, the woman who earlier told Downton maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) information that could have exonerated her wrongfully imprisoned husband, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), changes her story. Bates figures out that his evil cellmate and the nasty guard with whom the cellmate is collaborating must have threatened Mrs. Bartlett. He puts a shiv to his cellmates’ neck and tells him he better get Mrs. Bartlett to tell the truth, or else. The end result: a joyful Anna comes running across the lawn at Downton Abbey to give Mary, who has been warmly supportive of Anna all season, the happy news that, “Mr. Bates is coming home!”
Does this mean we can all now finally stop wearing our “Free Bates” t-shirts?
What was your favorite part of this episode?