Downton Abbey 04:04 & 04:05

Gentle readers, after a week lost due to to illness (more on that later), I am thrilled to return to the chronicles of Downton Giftshop

I’m sorry, I meant Downton Abbey. And what a time to return as things are starting to get juicy what with hidden revelations, shocking liaisons, and more haunting the Crazy Crawley Clan.

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First off, the moment we all knew would happen has happened last week; Bates finally learns the truth about Anna’s rape, and it seems that they’re on the road to recovery as a couple (complete with dinner at the local inn this week). But the question remains: will they go there and have Bates kill Mr. Green? Bates’s violent tendencies have colored every storyline about him since episode 1 of the series. Would he actually go through and do the unthinkable? Given that this is Anna we’re talking about it could be. On the one hand, this could be an exciting story to watch, but we have just had two seasons of Bates in jail and it was dreadfully boring to watch.

Meanwhile, the “good deeds” club gains a new member in Robert. After one of the tenant-farmers is late on his rent, Robert pays it for him secretly and moves towards partnership with the farmers (in a surprisingly modern move that’s more of a surprise to Tom and Mary). This is a surprisingly modern move by Robert but once again it’s his way of trying to preserve some traditions at Downton, so it’s modernity but on his terms.

Speaking of modernity on their terms, Mrs. Patmore is having none of it with the new lady’s maid Baxter’s new electric sewing machine and Cora herself having to convince Mrs. Hughes to accept the new refrigerator coming in lieu of the icebox. I said it earlier in the season but I’ll say it again; i would happily watch a spinoff of Mrs. Patmore interacting with modern appliances thanks to the verve that Leslie Nicol brings to the role. (For another example, check out how she handles her new-found lust for Rudolph Valentino.) And while we’re on the subject of cooks and cooking, <yawn> the Alfred / Jimmy / Daisy / Ivy love quadrangle </yawn> finally reaches a conclusion as Alfred leaves, having been accepted at the Ritz London’s cooking program under the legendary chef Auguste Escoffier (who I mentioned in passing back in Episode 2). While it was a sweet exit or Alfred, it’s more of a relief to break up this stagnant little gathering downstairs, and here’s hoping that we won’t have to go back to this well again.

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Meanwhile, upstairs, Mary and Tom are trying their best to move on from widowhood; she by running into men and flirting with them, and he by contemplating a move to America. In her case, it can seem that it’s too soon; after all widows at the time were expected to take a full year off for morning before reemerging in polite society, but in Mary’s case she’s not actively pursuing them – they’re coming to her. Lord Gillingham, Evelyn Napier, and now Charles Blake are all swept under Mary’s spell. Of the three, I’m a little more drawn towards Mr. Blake; his blatant refusal of Mary’s beliefs and his socialism means that he can give Mary a good argument now and again. As for poor Tom, he is really trapped in a no-man’s land socially speaking; the former Irish revolutionary turned gentry widower is in a situation where he has no one on his side that he can relate to (not even among the family who have gone out of their way to make him feel a part of it but can’t relate). My hope is that he still stays with the family for two reasons; (1) for the sake of little Sybbie, and (2) more importantly, for the sake of the estate which could easily go back into chaos if Robert is left to his own devices.

Elsewhere, Isobel and Violet are sparring again about who has the moral upper hand. The whole gardener business was amusing if only to watch Violet and Isobel spar, which in the hands of Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton is a joyous thing to watch.

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Meanwhile, the family gathers to celebrate Robert’s birthday and Rose has brought in everyone’s favorite African-American (!) jazz band leader (!!) Jack Ross. The one thing that I found shocking (and no, it wasn’t Rose and Jack making out – anyone could see that coming from miles away), was how polite everything was. Everyone, upstairs and down, referred to the whole thing as “odd,” which felt neutered at best and anachronistic at worst. To put things in perspective, we are still three years away story wise before Josephine Baker would become the toast of all of Europe in “La Revue Nègre” in Paris, and people of African descent were still being viewed in less-than-polite terms. I understand that time and time again, show runner Julian Fellowes has repeatedly made changes in history to show the characters in the best possible light, but the anachronism in this case takes us out of the story. (Side note: the song Jack sings, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” was from the hugely popular and groundbreaking American musical Shuffle Along. Click the link to find out why it’s so important.)

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But we can not end this massive recap without dealing with the elephant in the room; the sudden ending of Edith Crawley’s “Look At All The Fucks I Give” Tour due to her being knocked up! I hate to be a spoil sport but we the audience (and of course Aunt Rosamund) all saw this coming. From the results of her pregnancy test (apparently for good families in England, a pregnancy test is sitting on a chair and having the results delivered to you on a solver tray) we have to ask the question: what is she going to do? As boorish as it is to contemplate, it is a very real concern; Edith is a “fallen woman” by the mores of the time and the thought of her having a baby would be a very bad thing indeed (banishment from the family, living in squalor, etc.).

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But let us end on a happy note (or in this case a bitchy one) with the wit and wisdom of Violet, the Dowager Countess:

– I wonder your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara ’round the clock.

– The only poet-peer I’m familiar with is Lord Byron and I presume we all know how that ended.

– Wars have been waged with less fervor.

– Nobody cares about anything as much as you do.

– I wonder you don’t set fire to the Abbey and dance ’round it.

– I wouldn’t know (about being wrong). I’m not familiar with the sensation.

– Some people run on greed, lust, even love. She runs on indignation.

– (Regarding the jazz musicians) Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?

Photo Credits: Masterpiece / PBS, ITV

Originally published 3 February 2014 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my column for l’étoile magazine.

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