…an episode reminding us all the importance of “living in the twentieth century.”
Well, that happened!
I suppose it was only a matter of time before misery reintroduced itself to the lovely Mrs. Anna Bates. For such a lovable, kind, and genuine character, she seems to find herself in one horrible situation after another. But having her wallow in fear and doubt while awaiting news on her husband’s bogus murder charge was one thing; subjecting her to a brutal rape at the hands of Lord Gillingham’s servant is quite another**.
**Call me old-fashioned, but I hate it when a show uses an assault against a woman as the basis for plot. Still, I have to admit the sequence’s staging, with the blissful family and staff of Downton gathered for a private concert upstairs, was chilling.
For all its attention to period details and nuance of character, Downton Abbey is no stranger to melodrama, but this felt over-the-top even by those standards, a sure-fire method to shock and accomplish little else. Having said that, I’m interested in where Fellowes and company will take this plot and hope it steers away from the overwrought predictability that such an event can elicit in a television series. I am also going on the record in support of a Bates/Taken crossover when he inevitably gets the truth out of Mrs. Hughes or Anna or both. Because, let’s be honest: Bates will find him, and he will kill him. Let’s initiate the Kickstarter campaign!
Now that we have that soul-crushing development out of the way, let’s move on, shall we? Because, with the exception of Anna’s attack, the remainder of this third episode brimmed with interesting character flourishes and biting humor, two staples of a quality Downton installment.
When the episode begins, the Downton estate is abuzz with activity as the Crawleys prepare to host a house party for a number of guests, including the Gillinghams, a card shark named Samson, and some dude named Bullock that keeps having his name bandied about but might not actually exist. The influx of visitors brings an optimistic sort of chaos to the abbey, with the downstairs staff receiving newcomers as well (including the creepy Gillingham who immediately set his sights on Anna).
While even Lady Mary joins in the fun, poor Branson flounders in this world. The former chauffeur has never felt completely at ease with the upper-crust customs that went along with his marriage to Sibyl and now, without her, he’s even more adrift. His idea of small talk with a Duchess includes riveting conversations on barley production. Whoa there, buddy! Save some excitement for your second meeting, would you? What’s more, his critical misunderstanding of the social expectations during such a gathering leads Branson to make a critical faux pas, referring to the Duchess as Your Grace.***
***While the Dowager’s correction of Branson is priceless and features hilarious jabs at the British upper class, the best part of this sequence has to be Carson, in the 1920s version of a photobomb, scowling at Branson from the background. His look of utter disgust epitomizes everything that is so wonderful about the head butler.
Despite a surprisingly touching admission from Robert that he belongs to this world, Branson still struggles. Naturally, Edna (ugh) bumps into Branson at his lowest point, bringing him Scotch, come-hither glances, and perhaps a misinterpreted midnight booty call? I don’t want to get confrontational, but I hope the next time Jimmy throws a jar in the air to show off for Ivy or Daisy, it lands on Edna’s head.
Meanwhile, Mary finds herself clicking with Lord Gillingham (not to be confused with Gillingham the Rapist), a familiar figure from her childhood who’s grown up positively bursting with smolder. I found it interesting that Mary seems to grow more attached to him after he mentions being “close to marriage,” as if that somehow makes it safer to befriend this man and less of a betrayal of Matthew. The Lady Mary even invites Gillingham to accompany her on a horseback ride, claiming she is (BLATANT METAPHOR WARNING) ready to get back in the saddle. You see what she did there?
Naturally, Rose has to ruin everything by breaking out the gramophone, pumping the volume up to eleven and getting some booties out on the dance floor to the well-mannered equivalent of “Get Lucky.” Mary accepts Gillingham’s invitation to dance, but quickly flees when she realizes the gramophone in question belonged to Matthew. Feeling perhaps deceitful or guilty for her happiness (or perhaps both), she leaves Gillingham to do the worm by himself.
Elsewhere, Edith and Mr. Gregson face successive brush-offs from Robert. He declines an invitation to walk with them, cuts short a captivating discussion on his extensive library, and even—most egregiously—refuses to laugh at Gregson’s “poker face” pun! In the middle of a poker game! What else does a brother have to do to get some respect?****
****As it turns out, the answer is simple: swindle Samson, the card shark who’s been swindling the male guests at Downton. Easy peasy lemon squeezy! You go Gregson! Your love is still likely doomed, but celebrate the victories as they come!
It’s time for #MoseleyWatch! For the second consecutive week, he stole the show for me. After Jimmy sprains his wrist with all the grace of a tranquilized elephant, a desperate Carson seeks out Moseley to replace him as footman. Beggars unable to choose, Moseley accepts the lowly position but about has a stroke when Carson holds up a pair of white gloves. OH THE HUMANITY!!!!
Moseley’s reversing career serves as a great metaphor for the many references to the perpetual forward march of modernity in this episode; after all, the rigidity of the class divisions and traditions that define Downton must inevitably backslide to accommodate the changing times. Change, both personal and historical, is afoot!
Amidst all this, Mrs. Patmore has an anxiety attack over vegetables and sauces (but, unfortunately, not over a new kitchen appliance) while Dr. Clarkson and Isobel Crawley continue to be #Adorbs. Oh, and Alfred wants to be Downton’s version of Gordon Ramsay, minus the screaming but very much plus the beanpole gawkiness.
In the end, apart from an abruptly dark and violent shift in the narrative during the episode’s closing minutes, there is a great deal to adore here, and adore it I did! I’m not sold on the direction of Anna’s plot yet, but if I learned one thing from watching Downton Abbey, it’s this: the show’s at its most compelling when its goings-on are fraught with discontent.
Until next weekend, Downtonites!
Snippets of Intrigue
– Moseley: “I have no pride left.” [Holds up gloves.]
– Moseley: “I’ve done my career backwards.”
– Robert [to Carson]: “Why? Do you fear the corrupting influence of opera?”
– Mrs. Patmore calling Jimmy “Mr. Clever Clogs” LOL!
– The Dowager Countess: “If I were to search for logic, I should not look for it among the British upper class.”
– The Dowager Countess: “Tom’s small talk is very small indeed.”
Robert: “Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde.”
The Dowager Countess: “Well, that’s a relief.”