Well…there were so many delightfully awful and just plain delightful moments in this episode it’s hard to know where to begin. My emotions ranged from amazement at the show’s stupidity to amazement that it can make me want to weep at the characters’ plight. So either I’m a basket case or the writer of this show is a basket case or (most likely) we both are basket cases. Which is why we just carry on our romance, Downton Abbey and I. Two crazies who can’t stay away from each other. Like Rose and whoever it is she is currently snuggling with under bridges and the cover of darkness, Downton Abbey and I cling together through the critical morass and weird plot lines that this show endures, no matter how much I try to tell myself that it will never, ever work between us. It doesn’t make sense. But then, love rarely does.
Mr. Carson. Another week of harumphing and honking at everyone around him, usually at Mrs. Hughes (and never at his beloved ginger, Alfred) about the indignities that he has to endure in running Downton. I’m no fan of recreational imbibing, but I think the time has come for Hughes ‘n’ Patmore to slip him a little something in his tea to calm him down.
Mrs. Hughes. I thought she might have the week off from making things right for everyone in the house, but no, she still had a great deal of work to do: she had to tell Mary that Bates can’t leave Anna in her fragile state, that Alfred can’t upset the delicate emotional balance of Daisy-Ivy or the cakes would be spoiled for days, and finally, she had to shake her fist, metaphorically-speaking, at Lord G the Younger’s valet to let him know that she is onto him. But why a person with her good sense would shut herself up in a room with such an animal before telling him that she was the only other person in the world who knows that he was the one who had attacked Anna is beyond me. No, she says, I haven’t mentioned a thing to Bates about you being the one who viciously assaulted his beloved wife, so…now that we’ve got this cleared up, see you around downstairs! ‘Bye! When I saw the dark look Lord G the Younger’s valet gave her in response I wanted to shout Run Mrs. Hughes Run! If the powers-that-be kill or maim Mrs. Hughes, the show is over for me (really!), since everything both upstairs and downstairs depends on Mrs. Hughes as the voice of reason.
Mrs. Patmore. Things are going well for her. A little too well. It’s time to get her revved up again. Maybe another dinner party for 20 or an electrical deep freezer or a trip to London to get her bunions removed. We like our Mrs. Patmore to be slightly hysterical with a side of screeching. Who is this measured, tea-drinking lady of the kitchen? We know her not.
Thomas Barrow. Off to the New World, which will be a bummer for him, as it has nothing to offer his particular skill set. Americans are able to dress themselves, thank you very much. Lord Grantham is going to be amazed at how easy it is, once he gets to New York and sees all those fellows putting on their own cuff links. He might start getting ideas and the next thing you know, Thomas Barrow, Valet is out of a job. The upside of the trip to America is that we’ll get to see Lord G in a different environment, one in which he might actually be respected for a change. The downside is that we have to see Shirley MacLaine again, dropping nasty comments left and right without the benefit of the charms of the Dowager Countess. As far as Barrow is concerned, we still don’t know what hold he has (or what information he expects to get) from Baxter, but hearing him tell her that he “expects a full report” on his return to Downton while she barely manages to keep a straight face was truly entertaining.
Mr. Molesley. This week’s episode was big for him, as he said the only interesting thing he has ever said in his whole life. During the staff meal, Molesley turned to Baxter and asked: “What did Mr. Barrow mean when he told you that he expected a full report?” Of course she gives him a withering look that completely shuts him down, but still, even if if Molesley was too exhausted by the effort to continue the line of inquiry, it showed pluck and real human curiosity for Molesley to ask her such a question in the first place. He is really coming along.
Daisy-Ivy-Jimmy-Alfred. Alfred stopped by for a visit against the best-laid plans of Patmore-Hughes-Carson. Daisy and Ivy fought over Alfred again. What a catch! Jimmy was glum, since Ivy has a sense of moral dignity. Someone needs to clue him in that if it’s a good time he wants, Rose is just a few flights of stairs away.
Lady Grantham. This week her job was to look especially stunning. She was able to accomplish this while sitting at her desk with a pen perched in her fingers, while wandering through the house and while hugging Edith, her three main tasks. Lady G is just so darn cute, cocking her head like a little bird each time someone brings her news of the outside world, responding in her own special way and with her own special diction. Nothing can get her down: not the Woes of Edith, not Robert’s hasty trip to New York, not even Granny’s illness, which she tells Mary about with gentle exasperation. Granny’s got brawnk-eye-tus, she informs Mary with a little twinkle in her eye. She proceeds with Mary to the Dowager’s near-death bed, where they stand for a period staring at Granny as she murmurs in her delirium, their arms dangling at their sides, a bemused expression on their faces. Oh dear. Granny’s sick and the pigs are coming and there’s so much to be done! Isobel sees their confusion and takes charge. “I’ll take care of the Dowager Countess, day and night and day and night,” says Isobel. “You just go home and wait for the pigs to come.” “Okay!” Lady G and Mary answer. “‘Bye! Let us know if she dies!”
Lord Grantham. Lord G has been summoned to America by his mother-in-law, and since no one has ever informed him that he doesn’t have to obey every single woman who utters a command, he packs up and goes. He takes Barrow with him instead of Bates, a change-up which prompts a joke from Mary. Once again, the roles are reversed, as Lord G scolds her for being vulgar, a scolding that befits his place in the family as chief representative of the fairer sex. Mary smiles at him indulgently. If only you knew what I’ve been up to, Dad, she thinks. But Lord G.’s real reluctance in going to America is not about a goofy brother-in-law or Barrow vs. Bates or Shirley MacLaine. The real problem Lord G has with going at this point in time is that the pigs are coming and he wants to be at Downton to greet them. The pigs are coming, and it’s gonna be great. When the family lines up to say goodbye to him before he loads himself into the car, Mary is distracted, looking off into the distance, totally disinterested in the fact that her father is steaming across the world on a big ship with only Thomas Barrow for company. It turns out that she is preoccupied with thinking about the pigs, who will be arriving at Downton that same day. Her father understands. “Good luck with the pigs.” he says lovingly.
The Dowager Countess and Isobel. Really, these two are last remaining bastion of greatness in the whole show. Their encounters always manage to bring fresh surprises. Touching, well-written, beautifully-acted and funny: what more could a viewer ask of the scenes and situations that take place between these two powerhouses? Maybe they should have their own spinoff (with the doctor too, of course). I would watch it faithfully. It could even handle a laugh track — that’s how amusing the Dowager truly is.
Bates ‘n’ Anna. Finally, Bates knows who to kill. I can’t wait until he brings that grinning, evil snake of a valet to justice. And if Bates has to go to prison, Lord G will get him out, because Mary will tell him to go fetch Bates from prison. And he will do it.
Tom. In this episode Tom remembers that he was once a socialist and doesn’t once bring up moving to America. Maybe he realizes that he can indeed be a farm manager without compromising who he is. Maybe he sees that he doesn’t have to take young Sibby to America to be a socialist (America loves socialists!). Also, in this episode he and Isobel go for a drive, he and Edith talk for a few seconds and he meets a young woman at a political rally. From all accounts Tom is also very excited about the pigs coming.
Edith. Things go from bad to worse with Edith then to not-so-bad as the episode ends on the optimistic note of her not killing her baby and not refusing to have any thing to do with young Sybil and young George as a result of her pain. Another positive: Edith has received more affection in the last few episodes than in all of the previous ones combined. Everyone (except Mary) is hugging her and offering love, even if she usually responds by ignoring them, since she doesn’t believe they are actually serious, since they’ve spent the last decade ignoring her.
Rose. Who cares? Something happened, and then something else. At which point she flung her arms open wide, threw her head back and laughed. Or stamped her foot in frustration. I can’t remember which.
Aunt Rosamund. She deserves a mention for being so kind to Edith, for seeing Rose for the mess she is, and for saying préoccuppé instead of preoccupied.
Mary. Mary is covered with suitors. Covered with suitors like stink on pigs, though again, the laws of attraction are a mystery here. It would seem that at least half of the living, eligible war veterans in England are vying for her love. But of all the potential Mary-mates, only Charles Blake stands out from the crowd, and that is because he engages like a champ in Mary’s usual pre-courting ritual, which involves dozens of versions of the same conversation.
Mary: You think rich people are useless.
Suitor: Not really. They just need to understand that we now live in modern times.
Mary: A time to which you, no doubt, are better suited than I.
Suitor: You said it, not me.
Mary: Alright, that’s enough. Now let’s go take a walk.
Suitor: I’m already in love with you, now I just need to learn to like you.
And now we come to my favorite part of the episode — of the entire series, actually — the part where Mary takes an after-dinner stroll down to the pigpen to see the pigs with Mr. Blake. Both of them are wearing their formal dinner clothes, but that doesn’t stop our heroes from springing into action when Mr. Blake espies an ailing pig. “He’s dehydrated!” Mr. Blake shouts in a panic. “Oh no!” Mary answers before crying out in despair, “Where in heaven’s name is the Pigman?” “No time!” gasps Mr. Blake, “Every single pig will be dead before he gets here! We CANNOT wait for the Pigman!” Mary nods — she understands completely — and kneels in the mud, leaning in (I think this is what happened) to resuscitate the pig by placing her aristocratic, perfectly formed lips against its little grubby snout — anything to save Downton Abbey! But Mr. Blake stops her just in time. “No, you dummy!” he shouts. “They need water, not air! Rich people are so stupid!” Mr. Blake changes his mind about how stupid rich people are, however, after he sees Mary slipping and sliding through pig mud on her way back and forth to the watering hole with buckets. She may not be the brightest bulb when it comes to pigs, and she does have a lot of money — so there’s that for him to overcome — but here she is, so hearty, yet so delicate, her spindly legs splaying this way and that as she works to save the pigs from certain destruction.
Both Mary and Mr. Blake race around for a while like they are putting out a fire. The pigs must be saved! If the pigs are lost, all is lost! There is not a moment to lose! After a great deal of water-lugging, it seems that the pigs are all fully hydrated (although there’s no way for the viewer to be sure) and Mary and Mr. Blake are able to take a breather, whereupon Mr. Blake offers Mary his filthy dinner jacket in a post-pig apocalypse act of chivalry. She accepts it regally and they sit there in the mud on overturned buckets, the experience bonding them in the way that only saving pigs can. After a moment Mr. Blake realizes that he really does like Mary, quite a lot actually. He decides to make this clear to her by playfully hurling a chunk of pig mud at her face. There is a pause, during which I’m hoping she’ll punch him in the mouth, but instead she awkwardly scoops up mud to do the same to him. Part II of their mating ritual. Then I heard a sound, a strange gutteral noise, like an old door squeaking back and forth on a rusty hinge, and I thought one of the pigs was relapsing. But it turns out that it was only Mary, laughing.
End of scene.
There was more action in this scene than in any on the show since World War I. Actually, there was more action in that pigpen that fateful night than in all the war years put together, at least as depicted on the show. It was just an awesome spectacle. Like Mary, it’s been a while since I laughed that much. Thank you for that, Downton Abbey. Thank you. And until next week, you crazy show, I remain, as ever, faithfully yours.