For an American audience, this week’s episode was bewildering. Not only did we think that Jazz and Flappers were ours, damn it, but we don’t understand Cricket. It’s like baseball, I guess, except incomprehensible. Adding to our confusion was the fact that this episode seemed very long and it was. With two episodes jammed into one, we’ve got a lot to cover.
So let’s get on with it…
- Hallelujah! Mr. Bates is finally out of prison. Yes, we loved seeing Mr. Bates back at Downton Abbey. We loved his cozy new cottage with Ana and their happy domesticity. We loved seeing him get a little frisky. But more than anything, we love that the pie crust prison storyline is finally at an end!
- Bromance. The Country-Solicitor-turned-heir-to-the-Earldom and the Jumped-Up-Chauffeur were not the son-in-laws that the Earl of Grantham hoped for, but the ladies love them. And not just the ladies of Downton Abbey. Those are some fine looking brother-in-laws. Watching Matthew and Tom bond over their plans for the estate fills us with optimism for the future, and watching them become good friends is genuinely heart-warming. It also warms us up a little south of the heart, but I digress…
- Ethel’s Pudding Must Have Sucked. Last episode, the Dowager Countess of Grantham refused to leave a luncheon prepared by a former prostitute on the grounds that it would be a pity to miss a good pudding. Well, this week Violet has made it her life’s ambition to get rid of Ethel. She does it in the nicest possible way, of course: by finding her a new job near her son. The lesson we learn? Never serve a bad pudding to the Machiavellian Dowager Countess nor underestimate her ability to get her way…
- It’s Better to be Gay than Catholic. At long last, Thomas Barrow, the evil gay valet, gets his comeuppance–but it comes about in such a way that makes us feel terribly sorry for him. O’Brien’s plan comes to fruition when she goads Mr. Barrow to take a chance with the second footman. He is, of course, cruelly rebuffed. But things only get worse when Mr. Carson learns what happened and decides to dismiss Barrow from service. Carson says that Mr. Barrow has been twisted by nature into something foul, but is surprisingly sympathetic. Barrow denies that he’s foul. (You are, Thomas Barrow, but not because you’re gay.) Anyway, Carson feels compassion for him and says he’ll give him an adequate reference. We know that Carson is a big teddy bear, so this doesn’t surprise us. The Earl of Grantham’s casual reaction, however, is stunning. He was more outraged by the idea that his granddaughter would be Catholic than to find out that the man who dresses him has a penchant for sneaking into the bedrooms of unwilling men. Then we find out that if the Earl had shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss him at Eton he’d have gone hoarse in a month. Whaaaaaat?
- Branson Finally Does Something Right. The Jumped up Chauffeur has served as an unexpected linchpin in the story of how class differences began to blur after the Great War. But one thing we learn in this episode is that Branson, the fiery Irish Revolutionary, is actually the mild-mannered one in his family. We meet his brother, who rudely refuses to come upstairs at Downton Abbey because he’d rather make jokes with the staff. (Who all find him hilarious.) But Branson–who has done his own share of rude and hilarious things–isn’t having it. ”My mother-in-law has been kind enough to offer you someplace to stay and dine and I’ll not let you snub her. Now get a move on.” Carson wanted to cheer him. And, frankly, so did we. But the real shining moment came when it’s Branson who makes the speech about how everyone in the family needs to use their talents to make Downton Abbey a success. It’s the first time he’s shown genuine tact and compassion for the aging Earl, who laps up any sign of love from his son-in-law with eagerness. And again, frankly, so do we.
- And That’s the End of That. One thing that makes Downton Abbey a guilty pleasure is that, after its first season, it shallowed out, but we still watch it for the clothes and the predictable moments of humor. Conflicts run only as long as the show wants them to–with the exception of the prison storyline which went on for-bloody-ever. Lavinia conveniently dies. Matthew conveniently learns to walk again and then conveniently inherits the money that will save the estate. Cora conveniently learns that Sibyl would have died anyway, so she needs to stop blaming the Earl. This time, we only get two episodes to feel sorry for Thomas Barrow and see him struggle. Then the Earl solves all his problems. Thomas could have blackmailed O’Brien himself–but it’s Bates who does it, for no apparent logical reason. And we’re not at all pleased with the way Carson seems to have completely lost control of the downstairs staff, allowing all sorts of shenanigans and rebellions he’d never have tolerated in the old days. Still, we applaud Downton Abbey for finally making it clear that the evil gay valet is just evil because he’s evil, not because he’s gay.
- The Heartless Capitalist Isn’t The Earl. How is it that the women–and even the Marxist Chauffeur–team up with Matthew and get on board for his apparently heartless plan to increase burdens on the tenants of the estate to make it profitable? The Earl is the only one not willing to sign on to a new and harsher way of doing business. (Downton Abbey is wise enough not to get into too many details here about Matthew’s plan to throw people into the cold.) I’m not buying it! It’d be one thing if it were a generational split in the house. Or gender based. But can the Earl really be the only person at Downton Abbey who feels a genuine sense of responsibility and compassion for his tenants?
- A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell Sweeter. We meet a new character in this episode of Downton Abbey. A flighty girl who is somehow related to the Crawley sisters. She is having an affair with a married man and must be rescued from a Jazz Club where we see skin, and black musicians, and close dancing, kissing, flapper fathers, and gowns! Matthew compares it to an outer ring of hell. This vignette is to give us the impression of the decade–something also impressed upon us by the dropped waistlines and raised hemlines of the gorgeous dresses our ladies are wearing throughout the episode. And in this diversion, we get to see Matthew be quite assertive and dashing as he explains to Rose how married men who want to seduce young girls always have horrible wives. In spite of all the swoon-worthy moments surrounding this storyline, Rose’s actress is totally out of her league. Her amateur theatrics are so out of place we cringe to see her share any screen time with the incomparable Maggie Smith! We want Rose packed off and sent into the country never to return.
- Always a Bridesmaid. We’re thrilled for Lady Edith when she takes the job as a columnist, working for a handsome newspaper man who fancies her. But before we can even sigh with a fluttering heart at their romance, it is revealed that he is a married man with a wife in an asylum, who he can never ever divorce. Seriously, Downton Abbey? And so, we are forced to forgive Edith for being a terrible chaperone to Rose and for failing to do Mary the favor of keeping Matthew off the train, and all the other snotty things she does and says because she is apparently doomed to spinsterhood.
- Bates is Charlie Brown. And Thomas Barrow is apparently Lucy with the football. Like the sucker he is, Bates’ first order of business is to stand up for Barrow, who has been the bane of his existence for years. But little does Bates know that homosexuality is apparently the one social subject on earth about which the Earl of Grantham is not an old-fashioned douche. The Earl not only goes to bat for Barrow, defending him from the police, but gives him a promotion over Bates because…because…because the show needs to create new tensions between them in the future, I guess. Either that, or we’re about to learn something new and interesting about which side of the crumpet the Earl really likes his butter…
That’s it for this week, folks, but while I have your attention, I encourage you to check out my recent historical erotic romance novel in three parts, IT STINGS SO SWEET, set in the same period as Downton Abbey.