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.
First, let’s just get this out of the way: this show is awful. Bad writing and a terrible plot have conspired to ruin what, during the first season anyway, was once a beacon of televised goodness across a crowded wasteland. But as every season brings new awfulness and I’ve lowered my expectations, I’ve learned to enjoy the Downton Abbey we have, not the one we want. And watching it is (slightly) less guilt-inducing than watching any of the Real Housewives, though many of the elements are the same: attractive vacant-eyed people throwing their money around in between arguments at dinnertime, unlikely love affairs and random stints in prison. But I do want to say that in spite of the atrociousness of DA: at least the actors are holding up their end of the bargain by trying to take this stuff seriously, so that’s worth something. And in the spirit of full disclosure: I plan on watching this thing until the show breathes its last, miserable gasp. Which might happen at any time, if the story lines are any indication.
Carson: We don’t want to hear about Alice anymore, unless it turns out she’s NOT dead and living in Yorkshire and ready to love again. And this time, she means business. The business of love.
Mrs. Hughes: Apparently the only one left with any semblance of good sense and decency, which is why nearly everyone runs into Mrs. Hughes room to share their problems. She should start charging a shilling for her services. Or a ha’penny. Or a sixpence (whatever — it’s all the same to me). And she should start sharing a few of those secrets too. Why did she have no problem digging Mr. Carson’s personal correspondence out of the trash a few episodes ago “for his own good” but can’t find her way clear to inform Lord G that his guest, the other Lord G, has an animal for a valet? Strange priorities. Someone should be sounding the alarm (discreetly, by tinkling one of those little bells) that a violent rapist has entered the house. When discussing this troubling matter with my sister, she mentioned that what is the point of the class system, really, if two aristocrats can’t rain all kinds of special aristocratic justice down on a valet for raping and beating someone right in one of those giant houses they claim to be in charge of? Do the police even need to be brought into it? At least Mrs. Hughes got rid of Braithwaite, though that’s no doubt not the last we’ll see of her. And why doesn’t Hughes enlighten that dimbulb Lady Grantham about Braithwaite’s character? She wouldn’t have to go into details. Just something like, “Trust me Lady G, Braithwaite is a terrible, terrible person and you’re lucky to be rid of her.”
Lord Grantham: Pathetic, out-of-touch and irrelevant. Why is he still around? I forget. Oh yes, so Mary has someone to undermine and Bates has someone to help get dressed.
Lady Grantham: Slightly less pathetic. Very slightly. And why does she talk as though she is holding a grape between her lips? At least she got rid of that awful Nanny a few episodes ago. You know, the Nanny for the children. But I’m afraid she might have accidentally gotten rid of the children too, since none of us have seen them since Nanny left. Someone might want to track down little Sybil and little George…
Tom: Oh Tom. Tom spent the entire house party, which seemed to go on forever, moping around for no clear reason, his big Eyeore eyes so, so sad. Even though he said, again and again and again, that he just didn’t fit in, it was hard to find a cause for the level of his despair, because not a single soul there drew attention to his newly-acquired status. As far as I could tell all the guests treated him well and he used all the right forks at dinner. It would have made more sense if he expressed unease for political reasons, because he’s clearly left his activism far behind him. How exciting would it have been if an Irish separatist had dashed into the after-dinner-cigar-and-brandy-room, shaking his fist in Tom’s face and accusing him of betraying the cause? If in the ensuing melee a brandy snifter was knocked out of Lord Grantham’s puffy hands and the business end of his cigar burned a hole the carpet? But nothing even remotely like this happened. Instead, Tom was just so super down in the dumps because, in his now highly developed social sensitivity, he just couldn’t believe that he called so-and-so Your Grace instead of Duchess. It was enough to send him into a tailspin. Enough to make him question everything he had ever thought about himself. About his own abilities. About who he was. Tom sat on the bench in the hallway in a self-imposed time out, thinking about how stupid he was and wishing that he would have just rented the dinner clothes instead of buying them. It was now all so clear: he would never wear them again. What a waste of a pound and sixpence. Or two pounds and a shilling. Or a shilling and a ha’penny. Then Brathewaite comes in swirling whiskey around, as transparent as water and Tom is so distraught at making a fool of himself in front of exactly no one (how could he not KNOW that Your Grace should have been referred to as Duchess? How could he not KNOW that?!). He is putty in Braithwaite’s hands. Or so we are left to surmise. As far as Braithwaite goes, her strategy with Tom has me suspecting that she was a lot less clever than we had been led to believe. What woman would consider it a Master Plan to ply a man with whiskey to the point of incapacitation before demanding, just a few hours into the next morning, that he marry her? He’s not even sure what happened between you. That is not exactly a successful seduction. And the answer is: no woman, that’s who. That is just a dumb plan and it would never, ever work.
Lord Gillingham: Another dimbulb who has an animal for a valet and demands that a widow of six months commit to marry him. Right now. Or it will be too late. Oh, she doesn’t have to marry him right now, he will wait a decade for that, no problem. She just has to swear to marry him at some point. Right now. Swear right now, on the spot, to marry him in the distant future. Sorry Mary, you lost your chance at happiness with that gem. But we viewers are not worried, if the past is any indication, Ms. Finch-Fox-Ardegarde-Castleberry, his intended, will die of the flu, or just from general malaise at not being the love of Lord Gillingham’s life (why on earth is Mary repeatedly the object of such devotion?) approximately 15 minutes to eight hours before their wedding day, and you will have a second chance at love with Lord G, the Younger.
Anna & Bates: Nothing to see here folks, except a train wreck. And for no reason other than the show writer’s malicious desire to undermine the happiness of his characters. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth are coming our way, and someone’s gonna pay.
Edith: Watch out, Edith! Your man is becoming a German citizen (for the sake of your love, cough cough) in the 1920s! Your fellow may lose the baggage of his first wife in the process, but he will gain a dictator and a fervent belief in National Socialism, so all will not be lost.
Rose: Rose? Who is that? What? Oh that’s right. She’s a character on the show. And she might be breaking all sorts of taboos by falling in love with a fella who sings like a tiny girl. Is he black? I didn’t notice. Too busy wondering why in the world he was singing like a tiny girl.
Alfred-Ivy-Jimmy-Daisy: Hopefully Alfred will learn to cook and so will Ivy and so will Daisy. I can’t wait to find out which one will learn to cook the best! Then they will all have a cooking competition and Jimmy can marry the winner. Mrs. Padmore will be the Judge. If she doesn’t die of the pressure of being a Kitchen Maid Footman Cook-off Judge first.
Thomas: Thomas is looking better and better these days. I hope Lord Grantham secretly adopts him and that he (surprise!) inherits the estate after Lord G. kicks the bucket. He can open up Thomas Barrow’s Retirement Home for Disaffected Former & Preferably Gay Valets. There’s plenty of room at the Abbey!
That’s all folks, until next week: Downton Abbey, Season 4, Episode 5! And I can’t wait.