Those were just the highlights in the latest action and dance-packed episode of Downton Abbey, the hit British series.
We’ll get to all of that anon but first a big shout out to the episode’s most touching scene, in which three lonely people bonded in bittersweet memory over loves lost. Lady Mary and brother-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) are in the nursery, playing and cuddling with their respective offspring, baby George and toddler Sybie. In walks Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), who is Mary’s mother-in-law and little George’s paternal grandmother. Isobel tells Mary that she read in the newspaper that Lord Gillingham, who wooed Mary unsuccessfully earlier this season, is now engaged to be married. “I hope you don’t mind. I should hate for you to be unhappy,” Isobel says kindly.
“I’m not unhappy,” Mary replies. “I’m just not quite ready to be happy.”
All three Lonely Hearts Club members then recall with enthusiasm and longing the happy days when they first met and married their now dead spouses and just how head-over-heels in love they were. “Well,” Isobel asks ruefully, “aren’t we the lucky ones?”
The possible new man in Mary’s life is Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), a colleague of Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks). (The latter no longer appears to be a contender in the romantic partner for Mary race.) The Crawleys have invited the two men to stay at Downton Abbey while the pair traipses about Yorkshire on behalf of the government to prepare a report on why so many great estates are failing.
From the get-go, Charles and Mary are oil and water. Their instant aversion to each other means, as fans of romantic comedies know, that love can’t be far behind.
Their every conversation quickly turns into sniping. Mary finds Charles unsympathetic to the plight of her fellow aristocratic landowners with troubled estates. “You seem to have brought a traitor into our midst,” Mary tells Evelyn. “He’s obviously not on our side.”
The loathing is mutual. “She’s the type who demands all this as a right,” Charles tells Evelyn, taking in Downton’s impressive expanse with a gesture, “but she wants it on a plate. She won’t work for it and she won’t fight for it and that type doesn’t deserve to survive.”
Will Charles change his mind when he finds out that Mary is an active owner and that she and Tom are talking about turning Downton into a pig farm as part of their strategy for saving the estate? Here’s betting that these two antagonists will be panting breathlessly in each other’s arms within a couple episodes.
Cousin Rose’s surprise guest is a hit. While initially wary, Robert takes one look at the delighted expression on the face of wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) as Jack and his band perform and promptly whisks her into his arms and onto the dance floor. Even Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), takes his appearance in stride. When a shocked Edith asks her grandmother if it is “suitable” for Rose to have brought Jack to Downton, Violent responds tartly, “My dear, we country dwellers must be aware of being provincial.” (Proving Violet has come a long way indeed toward joining the modern age since Season One, when she took umbrage at the very notion of relaxation with her famous disapproving question, “What is a weekend?”)
Downstairs, the staff is gracious to Jack after getting over their surprise at his hue, though Carson (Jim Carter), inserting his foot into his mouth, does ask the bandleader if he wants to visit Africa. Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol), listening happily during the party to the strains of ragtime and jazz coming from upstairs, says, “Makes you want to jig about, don’t it?”
“Certainly not!” sniffs the butler.
Later that evening, after Carson has long since gone to bed–and a good thing too, given his belief in proper decorum and everyone knowing their place–Mary spots Rose and Jack kissing in the servants’ quarters. She doesn’t let on that she caught them with locked lips but looks concerned as she makes her way back upstairs.
Lady Edith receives a letter from her London doctor confirming that she is in her first trimester. She has still heard no word from the presumed father, beau Michael Gregson, who’s missing in Munich. (If this were a musical, Edith would sing “Missing in Munich” as a love ballad.) Separately, both Robert and Cora sense that something’s troubling Edith–she’s on the verge of tears for most of the episode–and try to comfort her. She confides only that no one has heard a peep from Michael and that his publishing company has hired a private detective, along with the Munich police, to look for him.
In other developments:
Say goodbye to footman Alfred Nugent (Matt Milne). He’s off to train as a cook at the Ritz hotel in London after all. Before he departs he says a private farewell to Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera), the lovelorn assistant cook. “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” he tells her. “You’re a good person and you’re going to make some man very happy some day, but I’m afraid it were never going to be me.” Daisy gets over herself enough to wish him well and mean it.
Alfred’s departure opens up the footman’s job for Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who was once Matthew Crawley’s valet but of late has been delivering groceries and working on road crews. Carson initially refuses to hire him since the butler feels that Molesley is neither humble nor grateful enough at the chance to return to service.
Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) come to Moseley’s rescue. Over a nice cuppa, they concoct a plan. Putting it into action, Molesley impresses Carson by volunteering for the most demeaning of jobs, serving the other servants. Carson capitulates, grumbling, “I give in. I can’t fight a war on every front.” Molesley is back in uniform at Downton.
John Bates (Brendan Coyle) and wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt) work at mending their marriage, though he continues to brood about finding the man who raped her. The two decide to have a night out, going to dinner at a fancy restaurant in the village. “I want to make some new good memories,” says Anna.
At the restaurant, the snooty maitre d’ claims he can’t find their reservation. Cora, who’s dining with members of some society charity group to which she belongs, sizes up the situation and makes it clear to the maitre d’ that a place should be found. As the poor man scrambles to find a table, an amused Cora says sotto voce to the couple, “Thank God he’s a snob. To be honest, I wish I could join you but I had better get back.” Later in the evening, she offers them a ride home, joking that once the maitre d’ spots them leaving with her, “that will guarantee you a table here for life.”
It’s exactly this kind of graciousness and lack of pretense on Cora’s part that has her new lady’s maid, Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), feeling reluctant to snitch about her to under butler Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). Scheming Thomas reminds Baxter that she is beholden to him for reasons yet to be revealed.
Footman Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers) takes kitchen maid Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold) to a movie starring silent film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. (“Rudolph Valentino makes me shiver all over,” Mrs. Patmore announces. Carson’s response: “What a disturbing thought.”) Afterwards, as the two kiss while sitting on a park bench, Jimmy attempts to put a hand up her dress. Ivy is having none of it. Jimmy protests that, geez, he took her to the movie. “I’ve never been that nice any girl before!” says the cad.
Ivy tells all to Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes. “He asked for things no man should ask for before the marriage,” says Ivy. She now realizes Jimmy was just sweet talking her to score. “All this time I thought he was so nice.”
Mrs. Patmore, who clearly has been around the block a time or two herself in the distant past, says, “I wonder how many women have said that since the Norman Conquest.”
Daisy shows no sympathy for Ivy’s plight. “You broke Alfred’s heart”–Alfred was carrying a torch for Ivy–“so now he’s in a city that terrifies him,” Daisy declares. “And you broke my heart by driving him away.” She stomps off.
Violet and Isobel continue their enjoyably adversarial relationship. After a letter opener and then a small ivory figurine go missing at her house, Violet fires John Pegg (Joncie Elmore), the young gardener’s assistant whom Isobel had persuaded her to take on when he needed a job. Violet had reckoned he was the thief.
When the figurine shows up–it had fallen into a maid’s cleaning bucket–Isobel gets up in the Dowager’s grill after Violet says she has no intention of saying she’s sorry to Pegg. “How you hate to be wrong!” Isobel tells her.
“I wouldn’t know,” responds Violet, smiling in her wonderfully superior manner. “I’m not familiar with the sensation.”
Isobel turns detective and, when Violet is out running errands, comes into her house on a pretext and searches high and low for the missing knife. She finds it under a couch cushion–“Eureka!” Isobel exclaims–and returns it to Violet’s butler and departs.
Convinced that Violet won’t do the right thing, Isobel returns to the Dowagers house later to confront her. Violet surprises Isobel, who’s girded for battle, by bringing young Pegg into the room. He explains that the Dowager apologized to him and rehired him. Isobel can do nothing but sputter.
Violet so has Isobel’s number: “Some people run on greed, lust, even love,” the Dowager says of Isobel. “She runs on indignation.”
What was your favorite part this Downton Abbey episode?
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