Episode 7 was a veritable Valentine’s Day Whitman’s Sampler of Delights. Where to start: Rose’s shenanigans? Bates-es field trip to “York”? Mary’s move from mauve to champagne-colored dresses? The fact that all those costly-looking dresses are shaped like grain sacks? Or that we finally, after weeks and weeks, caught a brief, enticing glimpse of Nanny?
The truth is, there is only one place to start. And that’s with the pigs. So we begin with Mary and Tom and Edith (Edith has joined the pig parade! Hurrah for Edith!) as they walk past Downton’s pigs over to their favorite tenant’s pigs. After much grave discussion with their tenant — and a mutual agreement that the whole mess with Downton’s pigs was nobody’s fault really, since no one could have known that those pigs would kick over their own water — the three Downton-ites turn to their favorite tenant to anoint him as Downton Abbey’s very own Pigman. The tenant lifts his cap to scratch his head. Wow. It is a big moment, because, with all that they’ve been through, everyone present (except Edith, who has been otherwise occupied) realizes that it is a big responsibility. The most important job on the whole place. More important even than taking care of baby Sybil and baby George, because pigs are Downton’s future. Everyone knows that the children, with their hearty appetites and and expensive clothes, will only drain capital from the estate, while the pigs will make money. Piles of it. The pigs are where it’s at. The Pigman nods, I will accept the job, he says. There is a joyful, if sober, exchange of glances. Let word go out throughout the land! We have a Pigman!
Carson: A boring week for Carson. There was nothing much for him to do besides criticize Jimmy, who deserves it. Poor Jimmy has two tasks: one is being a footman and the other is whining.
Mrs. Hughes: She turned her job in Advice Corner over to Mary, who took it on with aplomb and without wrinkling her alabaster brow, dispensing justice to Rose and looking out for Anna, even if she was slow as molasses to do so in the latter case. (Why didn’t she just tell Lord Gillingham straightaway: your valet is a violent rapist and I don’t want him under my roof? Lord Gillingham didn’t even like his valet, so it’s not like it would have been an uphill battle.) But no one can really replace Mrs. Hughes in Advice Corner, especially not Mary, who is a little too self-absorbed to see what Must Be Done in the same way that Mrs. Hughes can so clearly see it. At least we got to watch Mrs. H. sit across from Mr. Green — that most disgusting specimen of men — and give him the evil eye while angrily clutching cutlery, so that was sort of satisfying.
Daisy’s Dead Husband’s Father: What a guy! But where did this suave picnic-toting, farmer sage-man character come from? He’s always been a nice fellow, but more along the lines of a cap-twisting, head-down, toe-scuffling-through-the-dirt kind of way. He did take a shine to Daisy after his son died, but still, it was kind of weird to see him lean back on one elbow and pour her a drink, all while smiling at her indulgently, consulting on her love life like a girlfriend. I can’t imagine any old farmer I know heading out for an afternoon picnic on a busy spring work day with…well, anyone. Let alone with a young girl who was married to his son for approximately 20 minutes. But if that’s what’s happening now with him, okay. I’ll just go with it and like Daisy’s dead husband’s father, wish her well. I’ll even agree with him for the sake of harmony. Daisy (I’d say to her) when a love comes along like yours for Alfred, you have to be all in. Don’t look back. Jump in with both feet. Live like there’s no tomorrow. Dance like nobody’s watching. And so forth.
Daisy-Ivy-Alfred-Jimmy: Alfred’s dad died, and he was devastated. Not really, but it did provide an opportunity for him to stop by the ol’ workplace and harass Ivy again. Ivy said No (again) and then Alfred on his way out the door suddenly had an epiphany — maybe it was the basket stuffed with awesome farm delights that Daisy’s dead husband’s father packed for him (which confused everybody else who was in the kitchen at the time: why would Daisy’s dead husband’s father pack a basket for Alfred? Does he even know Alfred? And even if he knows Alfred, why is he packing all that expensive Dean & DeLuca food for him?) that helped him see the what he’d been missing — Daisy was the one! Alfred announced this to her, in the exact same flat expressionless way he has ever uttered every boring thing he has ever uttered. Alfred said that he had been blind until that very moment, that Daisy had always been so good to him, etc. etc. But then Daisy, out of nowhere and after pining for his big red face for years, says no thanks! I’m over you! I did love you until two seconds ago, but not any longer. At least we’ll be friends 4ever. So, ‘bye! And here’s some jam for the road!
Mrs. Patmore: Double points to Mrs. P. for character development. She has gone from random burst of artery-popping bouts of rage to gently taking on the emotional care of Ivy and Daisy like a mother hen, queen of the barnyard. All those other kitchen maids scurrying around in the background are as nothing to her, so focused is she on her favorite chicks Daisy and Ivy (especially Daisy). And who are those other people anyway? There’s a whole workforce of girls in the kitchen that we know nothing about. But if Mrs. Patmore has no time for them, neither do we. It was very touching to see her pat Daisy on the shoulder like that and tell her she was proud of her. We’re proud of her too, Mrs. P. We’re not sure why, but we’re proud of her too.
Thomas Barrow, Travel Valet: Wow. The powers-that-be that run this show must really have it in for the actor who plays Thomas. They give him less than nothing to do. And when he finally gets a scene, they make him look as ridiculous as possible. So at the bazaar he comes up to Baxter to have a word for the first time since he’s been back, but instead of facing her like a human being — because that’s how we talk — the director has him sidle up to her and murmur in her ear while lighting up a cigarette, like some sort of vaudeville villain. From staging point of view, it seems to me (and I’m no expert at this stuff — not that this will keep me from forming an opinion) that the only reason you would have characters speak to each other in low voices without looking at each other, is if neither character wants anyone else to notice them talking. But since Thomas and Baxter were out in the open air during daylight hours with Molesley inches away and the entire household and village milling about, clandestine conversation wasn’t even a possibility. Yet there was Thomas, staring away from Baxter while he muttered in menacing tones about how he would find out if something had happened while he was gone, whether she told him or not (huh?), all while exhaling clouds of smoke and squinting into the sun. Dear Thomas. We would all love it if something had happened while you were gone. But believe all of us, from Baxter on up: not a single thing of interest has happened. Unless you count the Great Pig Fiasco of 1922. No wonder O’Brien left Downton Abbey: how many of these conversations could she take? This stuff is just stupid. And I really think that the woman playing Baxter looks like she is suppressing laughter during all of her scenes with Thomas. She probably trained at the Royal Academy and now her acting chops have been reduced to giving the same dude the side eye several times an episode. That, or sitting hunched over the sewing machine fending off Molesley for hours every day. (And what is Lady Grantham doing to her clothes anyway? Mountains of her stuff seems to need repair.) That actress was probably so psyched to get a role on Downton Abbey, but after she actually came on set, read the script and saw what was what, she probably called her agent up to give him a piece of her mind.
Mr. Molesley: Extra double triple points for character development for Our Molesley. Who is this man charming Baxter with coffee, telling Thomas to take a hike, slamming down the sledge hammer like a boss, just generally showing an interest in life ? Old Molesley is on his game for the first time, ever! But never fear, this can’t last, because if there’s one thing that the folks who make Downton Abbey like to do, it is kick around the same characters over and over again. It will no doubt turn out that Baxter will deliver the death blow to Molesley’s fragile, embryonic ego by threatening him some dark night below-stairs, demanding that he give her dirt on someone — anyone — to pass on to Thomas or she’ll sew his sad Eeyore face to the kitchen table.
Bates ‘n’ Anna. Our once-beloved Bates is apparently officially a homicidal rage-a-holic, while Anna is caught between a rock and a hard place. Between a man suffering from murderous impulses who she loves and a violent rapist who she fears. Poor Anna. Somehow Bates has shifted this whole dynamic so that he’s the one who can’t be left alone, not Anna. She can’t even take a day trip to London without him stomping off to do something nefarious. Or so we are led to believe. And then to add insult to injury, Bates says something petty to Anna, asking her in a wounded baby-man voice why she no longer seems to like Mr. Green. If Bates really thought that Green was the rapist, saying such a thing would be inexcusably awful. What has happened to Bates? I’m genuinely sad about this. Relatively genuinely sad (because sometimes I remember that these characters aren’t real). Bates was my favorite, back in 1918 or so, and his decline is a loss for all of us.
Lady Grantham: She simpered with the best of ’em this episode. More posturing, giggling, sighing and generally being goofy. I love how all the Downtonians clapped for her at the end of the bazaar, the way you clap for a child who has just successfully played a potato in the elementary school play on nutrition. Go Lady Grantham! You did so well! No tents fell down, all the sack races went off without a hitch and Bates didn’t kill anybody on the property! Good job, Lady G! clap clap clap. Now go get some rest. Really, though, the best part about the bazaar, besides the fun of seeing such homemade entertainments taking place, was in the flurry of preparations, both downstairs and upstairs. My favorite pre-bazaar moment came Mrs. Hughes uttered this line and then this (sort of) happened:
Tom: Tom came alive this week, fixing a broken-down vehicle, making pig pronouncements, telling a romantic prospect that his life is more complicated than she knows, that life itself is more complicated than she knows, and driving Isobel Crawley around again. Those two are now BFFs, which is fine by me, as on the spectrum of sanity, they have the edge on nearly everyone else around.
The Dowager and Isobel: These two gals are still going through the motions of arguing before sort of getting along for a while before not getting along after that before realizing there is mutual regard between them. Isobel’s friend, the doctor and the Dowager’s doctor, the doctor, was pushed aside this week by the attentions of another, less-sensitive fellow, who nobody at Downton seems to like for a reasons I missed. Isobel, as ever, is immune to the effect she has on earnest men over 70, but her obtuseness is part of her charm, I guess. This guy really thought she was a peach, and sent her a giant bowl of beautiful flowers to clue her in. Which won’t work. He’ll need to be very, very clear if he wants to woo Isobel, as the Doctor has discovered. As far as the Dowager goes, there is and has been for a while a bit of overkill when it comes to her one-liners, but I never mind her remarks, as they are a welcome change to the tone of the rest of the show, even if there are a quite a few of them. The look on the Dowager’s face when Charles Blake snatched up Mary’s son before waving the baby back and forth in an awkward effort to soothe him while the baby continued to wail is just awesome. That’s how all of us felt, watching the man behave like that while Mary looked on, her eyes glowing with happy surprise, the words Charles Blake Would Make a Splendid Step-father! appearing over her head in a thought bubble. At that scene, the Dowager stood up and insisted on going home, disgusted at Blake’s obnoxiousness. We hear ya, Granny.
Lord Grantham: Absent in body, absent in spirit. Usually he’s just absent in spirit, so this episode was a real departure. He showed up at the end of the episode to roll his eyes at his goofy American in-laws and put Bates back to work, pronto. Take my coat off Bates, he said to him without having to say a word, because nobody does it like you, especially not Thomas Barrow. I was disappointed that Lord G. did not take his visit to America as a real opportunity to learn how to put his own coat on and then take it off again.
Edith & Lady Rosamund: These two are now a team, a conspiracy of two. I’m so glad Edith finally has someone who cares about her, who phones ahead and tells the family that Edith, after all these years, needs some cherishin’. Clearly, this is too much for Granny, who smells a rat. No one has ever, at any time, told anyone else in that family to that any other member of that family should be cherished. Now Granny is brought into the circle of love and there is a conspiracy of three. With the Dowager in the picture things are going to get done! This baby is gonna get itself born! All will be well, at least until he/she is ripped from Edith’s arms and given to some family in Switzerland. Or to the Pigman. He has proven himself to be so reliable, so absolutely aces with those pigs, that Edith would like to give him her child to raise. Granny and Aunt Rosamund won’t hear of it. What if the Pigman’s adopted child resembles Edith? Oh dear. This prospect is just too much. I have an idea that might satisfy all concerned. Edith can go away, have the baby, come back to Downton, drop the baby off with the alleged Nanny, where he/she can be raised in the company of baby George and baby Sybil. No one will ever be the wiser, since no one goes to the nursery besides the Nanny, and when the cousins all grow up there will be such general confusion as to who is who that no questions will be asked. Look at Rose for example. Is anyone one hundred percent clear on where she came from?
Lady Mary and her Posse of Men: Oh boy. Lord Gilligham dumped Lady Fox-Finchley-Barrington-Hotchkiss, otherwise known as Mabel, to wait and hope for Mary and shoot dagger eyes at his old war buddy, Charles Blake. Meanwhile Evelyn Napier claims to have a thing for Mary too, though he is well out of the running, except when it comes to looking decorative at dinner and asking more important characters leading questions that they can then answer and reveal more about their fascinating selves. Such as: What are your plans for today, Rose? (When a character is in a scene does nothing more than ask Rose a question, than that character is sadly expendable.) Yet I find myself more interested in Napier and less interested in the other two goofballs with each passing episode. What is his deal? Why does he keep coming around, claiming to find Mary ravishing but clearly not really making a play for her? Is he some sort of socialist spy? A writer, gathering material for a comic novel? I think we should have spin-off show with Isobel, the Dowager Countess and Napier. They could solve crimes together. Meanwhile Charles Blake shows up again and again and again, and the prospects of him being a hard sell when it comes to Mary’s alleged charms — wasn’t their sparring supposed to go one for a while and build tension? — are now nil. Now he too, is consigned to coming to Downton to stare at Mary’s shockingly smooth, pale face, grinning at her like a fool while imagining their future together. A future filled with pigs. And maybe another baby. But mostly pigs. For her part Mary, who is now officially out of half-mourning and able to stop with the purple dresses, showed great spunk in this episode in visiting Rose’s fella, Jack Ross, at his place of work in some out-of-the-way watering hole for overrated singers. After listening to him warble through his warm-up, and refraining from telling him that, no matter how much he practiced, he would always be a horrible singer (there was really no polite way to say this), she basically told him to get lost, but he informed her that he already planned to get lost, so no big deal. She let him know that it was nothing personal, but that Rose didn’t really love him and was just using him to spite her Mummy. He responded with great dignity, intoning that someday they would live in a better world, where he would be free to love and cherish an idiotic rich white girl without anyone standing in his way. Yes, Mary nods. Someday those walls will be broken down, the marriage pool will be made deep and wide, and you’ll be free to ruin your life by yoking yourself to the idiot of your choice, the banquet of idiots across every race and gender will be made available to you. Some glorious day! And really, the most unbelievable moment of this whole encounter came when Jack Ross told Mary that he loved Rose. He may not be able to sing, but he was clearly way too smart to really, actually love a non-starter like Rose.
Rose. I just truly don’t have anything to say about this character, other that I wish she was going to Switzerland to work on her French. And not just for four months, but for forever and ever. Daisy has some swell jam she could take with her.