…an episode reminding us all the importance of “coming to bed and dreaming of ragtime.”
Are you one of three people in the world hoping for an alternate universe where Downton Abbey could cross-over with The Wire? Wouldn’t you love to see the former delve into the social structures and infrastructures of 1920s London as the latter did with the city of Baltimore? Admit it. That would be pretty cool, and in its own Downton way, that kind of sort of maybe almost a tad bit happened as black jazz singers came to Crawley manor, bringing with them an infusion of metropolitan culture that clashed so starkly against the traditions of the rural upper crust. Neat!
But in addition to jazz music livening up Robert’s birthday bash thanks to Rose, it very nearly sends Carson to an early grave. How much did you love watching him lecture the musicians and servants on British anti-slavery policies out of one side of his mouth while clearly reviling the moral looseness those same musicians seemed to stow in their trumpet cases out of the other? Carson, to borrow from JBJ, you give curmudgeons an excellent name. Thank you.
So much happens in this episode that I’m tempted to label it overcrowded. Take Isobel Crawley’s plot this week. She flies off the handle after Violent Crawley fires the gardener after a second trinket goes missing, confronts Violent about the gardener, gets pulled into a deeply philosophical argument about the tension between materialism and justice, pulls a Miss Marple and does some investigating**, locates the missing knife from last week in the chair cushion (which I can relate to because that is, honestly, where I keep all of my gifts from the King of Sweden, in addition to the pretzels that don’t want to stay in mouth), confronts Violet again and gets shamed in the process, embraces her role as grandmama and has a play date with George, and bonds with Mary and Tom over their shared fortune of having loved someone as deeply as they all had. Phew! See what I mean? I wish they hadn’t squeezed Violet’s reintegration into the Downton family in the same episode as the gardener plotline because it did major disservice to the latter, more meaningful plot. Slow it down there, Downton!
**Um, brainstorm: can Penelope Wilton get on the next season of Sherlock? Because yes please.
Speaking of slowing it down, how about Robert’s off-the-rails, crazy-train decision to allow Downton to dabble in intensive farming? I mean Tom and Mary were totes #PigFanatics in this episode, scoping out barns and getting really worked up about all things pork related. Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon as much as the next guy, but I’m starting to think that maybe Mary might need a companion to pour her energies into? Because, if we’re being honest, her obsession with pigs does not seem like the behavior of a well-adjusted woman? But fear not, Tom vows he wouldn’t even dream of leaving for America until all this pig business is put to bed. Well thank goodness for that!
Here’s one for you: what does a pig have in common with Mr. Bates? Both are eager to stick their snouts in a pile of filth! See what I did there? For Bates, his pile of filth is a tad more metaphorical, though. In case you were confused. I have to say, I could not believe my ears when Bates told Anna over dinner that he is most definitely not over what happened to her and would love an opportunity to open a fire hose of hate-orade into her attacker’s face. You see, like an ever-decomposing Steven Tyler, Bates cannot let go of the past. I really loved the excellent use of lighting predominating this strand of the narrative to give it a bit more of a symbolic heft. The bright, sunny opening shot reflects Anna’s slowly returning former disposition. As Bates and Anna meet in near-darkness to be alone, the use of shadows mirrors Anna’s refrain that they, too, are shadowed by the lingering effects of her trauma. Clever.
***Best scene of the night: Lady Cora coming to the rescue after a snobby maitre de refuses to sit Bates and Anna amidst the local upper crust. Cora is totally FTW tonight. MVP!
Grab your trombones and get ready to make that sad sound again because #SadEdith has returned. Remember that trip to the doctor from last week? Well, we all saw it coming, but she is indeed preggers. Having a child out of wedlock is one thing, but then there’s the slight Case of the Missing Gregson too. Somebody call Isobel Crawley out of retirement because home girl’s got another case to solve! But seriously, she is NOT investigating Gregson’s disappearance even though I want to write Julian Fellowes an e-mail to pitch the idea because it is absolutely the greatest idea in television history IMO. Poor #SadEdith. This might sound harsh, but for her sake, I hope Gregson died a terrible, sudden, and violent death because, at this point, she can’t take another jilting.
If we’re talking about downcast depressives, you know what time it is! It’s #MoseleyWatch time as the tennis match that is his prospective employment at Downton continues. Alfred receives good news that one of the top four candidates for the Ritz withdrew, so he–coming in at fifth–gets to step up! In a great scene, he publicly thanks the Crawleys in general for his excellent treatment and Carson in particular for being a wonderful teacher. Now I’m about to go out on a limb here, but Robert did not seem terribly comfortable with this expression of what I believe the pleebs call “feelings.” Seriously, dude has an acute case of ants-in-the-pants for real.
After saying goodbye to the downstairs staff as well****, Alfred’s vacancy seems like another chance for Moseley. Unfortunately, while Mrs. Hughes wants to give Moseley a break, Carson is being Carson. Ever the traditionalist, he found Moseley’s previous balking an affront to his sense of social propriety. Very arrogantly, he tells Moseley he does not want to hold him back from the great things he clearly wants. Haha! Good one, Carson! Have you ever considered a career in theater? Oh, right…Anyway, Mrs. Hughes eventually wins the Battle of the Moseley after she asks Moseley to come around to serve the servants tea. Carson relents, offers him the job, and squirts some lemon in a wound, reminding Moseley about the…gloves! For shame!
****Alfred’s farewell speech to Daisy, where he apologizes for being unable to love her as she loves him, is one of those vintage scenes this show pulls off, understated and honest. Also, exceptionally aggressive dough kneading– and, no, that’s not a euphemism.
Elsewhere, Jimmy gets a little too handsy for Ivy’s taste, Napier and Blake reveal the true intentions of their estate report on behalf of PM Lloyd George, Thomas and Baxter learn the sketchy details of Anna’s attack, Rose and Mr. Ross get frisky, and news of Cora’s brother Harold falling to a bad investment arrive at Downton.
The crowded plotting hurt this week’s episode for sure, but there was still an overflowing abundance of trademark humor and character flourishes that almost made up for the accelerated pace. As we gear up for the home stretch, I’m eager to see how these myriad plotlines begin to coalesce.
Snippets of Intrigue
– Bates: “Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.”
– Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong!”
Dowager Countess: “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”
– Carson: “You’re nervous because you’re intelligent, Alfred. Only stupid people are foolhardy.”
– Mrs. Patmore: “Oh, I like that Rudolph Valentino. He makes me shiver all over.”
Carson: “What a very disturbing thought.”
– Mrs. Patmore: “It does make you want to jig about though, doesn’t it?”
Carson: “Certainly not!”