A lot happened in this episode. I don’t think anyone sat down the entire time. The housemaids actually had to clean the couches since the dust was accumulating for the first time since the end of the war, which only made their burden greater and Miz Bunting’s beliefs about the proletariat stronger.
“Well I probably shouldn’t, but I guess I will.” Lady Grantham delivers one of the most telling lines in Downton history, summarizing the motivation of every single one of these confused souls in pretty much everything they have ever undertaken. Speaking of Lady Grantham, her character offered the most dramatic developments in this episode. We were able to watch Lady G, known as Cora in American terms, emerge from decades of being smothered by brocade, heavy jewelry, tea parties and terrifying life choices and show some real spark. Unfortunately, she only came alive due to the gently emotive ministrations of Lord Toothy Brickman, Art Expert. She was inspired by those dumb magpies (her words, not mine) in an old painting. She was happy until Lord G the Elder, also known as Old Donk, managed to muck things up in his usual fashion, insulting everyone from his wife to Miz Bunting.
Miz Bunting, however, deserves all the insults that anyone could dream up. Where is Granny Grantham when you need her? Miz Bunting is truly detestable, and makes the aristocracy seem more deserving of their place in the scheme of things each and every time she shows up. And why anyone, even Our Rose (not the brightest of bulbs), thinks it would be a good idea to have this raving socialist in the room with a bunch of czarist Russians who lost everything they ever had, including family members, to raving socialists, is a puzzle. For once Old Donk is right: put Miz Bunting out of the house, pronto. And what’s all this about Miz Bunting guiding Daisy to a better life through math? According to Miz Bunting, if only Daisy could do algebra, oh the possibilities! She could leave the kitchen and do equations on her own terms, as a free, unfettered woman.
Full confession: in the spirit of the first season of Downton Abbey, I was teary-eyed at two moments in this episode: the first came about when the Dowager was looking, with all those sad, formerly rich Russians, at the artifacts of her excursion to Russia in 1874 when she was a pre-Dowager, and the other came with Poor Edith’s realization that she could not see little Marigold. That was very sad, and in a show with so little pathos, I was caught off guard. Thank you, Downton Abbey, for making me feel again. Really, this Edith plot line is just awful. And it feels awful in a very true way, meaning, she is really in a dilemma. Someone’s gonna get hurt. Mrs. Pigman, Edith, Baby Marigold — there is no ideal outcome here.
Unlike Mary, whose dilemma is of her own making. Has any protagonist ever been less sympathetic? Just marry Blake and be done with it, Mary, but first let Lord G the Younger off the hook. You got what you wanted out of Tony. Why buy the bull when you get the milk for free? Or something like that.
“I learned a great deal, more than I ever knew before”, Mary said in response to Spratt’s inquiry about her trip. Indeed. She continues to emasculate Matthew long after his departure. Honestly, I find her frightening, and keep waiting for her face to crack into a thousand bits should a teacup hit it the wrong way when she brings it to her icy lips. Porcelain meets porcelain. But who am I kidding? The only thing that would break in such an encounter is the teacup. Speaking of Spratt, what a guy. He’s my new favorite, filling the servile snob role now that Carson has gone soft. Did you see how horrified and sort of delighted he was at discovering Mary’s indiscretion? But then Granny Grantham put him in his place and all was right with the world again. Seriously, she is just incredibly wonderful, and is the only person, besides Mrs. Hughes, with a grasp of reality among the lot of them. It’s like she’s in a different show altogether. Great, nuanced lines, real acting, real emotion and substance. Why can’t the whole show be more like Granny? One of the great questions of this or any age.
In summary: The kids came out of the nursery for a moment of circulated air and a brief greeting, Scheming Thomas went away for another (better) acting gig and the opportunity to get addicted to heroin, Patmore is devastated over her deserting nephew’s impending exclusion from the War Memorial (apparently all the downstairs folk are savvy regarding the effects of PTSD in 1924), Carson is generally flummoxed, Mrs. Hughes is generally sick of ’em all, Bates is generally building a rock-solid alibi that will be destroyed by a brilliant detective with a nose for solving cold cases involving dead valets, Baxter is still employed, since it turns out she was under the influence of a handsome footman during her jewel heist. A handsome footman who I think will turn out to be one Mister Green, supposedly murdered but maybe not. Maybe she murdered him. Maybe she and Bates murdered him together. Maybe he’s not really murdered but hiding out with Thomas, shooting up in a cowshed somewhere, blissed out on opiates. I don’t know. Anything is possible on this show, really.
One thing that will happen for sure though, is that Bates will discover Mary’s Top Secret Baby-stopper Package, when he’s looking for somewhere to hide one of his murder weapons and stumbles upon the package instead. (Mary: “Oh, Anna, quit whining and stash this somewhere in your tiny little yeoman’s cottage. You must have at least a million unused corners and cupboards. Heaven knows there is no place in one of the 150 rooms at Downton to hide this! And don’t forget to take along this scandalous book packed with shocking information and upsetting sketches depicting things you never knew existed!”). Bates will glower and stew and feel betrayed and probably kill somebody as a result of this little misunderstanding.
See you next week, when Poor Edith is foiled again in another disastrous plan to raise Baby Marigold, Tom is further schooled by Miz Bunting in the ways of being a raving socialist and making everyone detest you, Grandma Grantham puts Prince so-and-so in his place (they may have had a moment in 1874 but get real, sir), Mary dumps Lord G the Younger, Cora dumps Lord G the Elder, Lord Toothy Brickman shows up to con Cora just long enough to steal the Della Francesca out from under her nose, and Daisy aces Algebra II just in time for Trigonometry.