…an episode reminding us all the importance of “not having the brain of a kipper.”
How have you been, fellow Downtonites? Have you used the hiatus between seasons to rinse the taste of disappointment in your mouth left behind by last year’s middling effort? Feeling minty fresh? Well, I hope so because there’s something wonderfully comforting about starting a new year off with a fresh installment of television’s best soapy satire of British exceptionalism, regardless of last season’s spotty track record. Besides, it seems like showrunner Julian Fellowes used his time off to commune with the devil or sacrifice virgins or something because holy cow, you guys, I think he might have righted the ship? I mean, this episode flew by, and I loved every minute of it.
A sense of liberation pervaded this opening hour and imbued the characters we’ve grown to love with a renewed sense of purpose. Downton has been beating the drums of change for years now, but after seasons of thematic musings on tradition versus modernity, it seems like payoffs are afoot. If Robert Crawley is to be believed, the bandleader is none other than Labor Party Prime Minister MacDonald, whose shakeup of Britain’s government has trickled down to the humble Downton estate on the eve of Cora and Robert’s thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. And, while my hopes of an extended montage featuring Mrs. Padmore, dusted in flour, baking an epic cake to the tune of “Everybody’s Working For the Weekend” were dashed, I still loved this episode’s insistence on change. Go figure!
I mean, take Lady Mary, for instance. Girl, you makin’ me clutch my pearls and blush like a hot-house tomato with your dirty mind!*** Turns out, in light of her recent love triangle she’s been sharing with #BlaketheSnake and #Gillinghammer, the little lady’s been turning to Lady Cunnard for tips. Like no pants dance tips that induced near fainting. After a pleasant stroll through the Downton estate during which Mary admits to loving #Gillinghammer in her own cold, unfeeling way (her words, not mine, but preach!), he flouts with convention, busts up into her room after hours and straight up proposes fireside sexin’ like the horn dog he is, and Mary’s all, “Gillinghammer my nails, Bob Villa!” Girl, you bad!
***To be fair, Mary alone cannot shoulder the burden of randiness. Mr. Bates, ever the saucy rascal, just comes out and tells Anna he wouldn’t mind making kids the old-fashioned way. Meanwhile, Jimmy takes an express train to Cougar Town, next stop Lady Anstruther, caving into his carnal needs in a move that seems like it will spell his exit from the show, but more on that later. My goodness, is it getting hot in here, or is it just me? Oh, no, never mind–Moseley just set a tablecloth on fire. Classic Moseley!
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly traditionalist, Mr. Carson, finds himself unwittingly caught up in the tidal wave of change when a committee planning to construct a memorial to local soldiers killed in the Great War elects him as chairman. Flummoxed, the head butler cannot fathom a world in which he would be selected over Robert Crawley (Or should I call him Donk?), but even the Earl concedes that change is coming whether they like it or not, and the answer for both is not. Definitely not. For Robert, it’s enough tumult to make a man wax poetic about the simpler times when people relied on and needed Grandpappy Crawley***; still it’s tough toenails for the two, and Carson uses his new authority to manipulate the committee into giving Robert a position as patron. You learn quickly, Mr. Carson. Next stop Parliament? (Oh God, please let that be Carson’s arc next season…)
***For a brief, awkward moment, I swore Mary’s sex-addled brain had caused irreversible damage when she leaned in to comfort Robert and said, “I want you.” *Insert record scratch.* Um, girl? You and I need to have a quick li’l chat on the importance of phrasing, okay?
If there’s one character free to do whatever the hell she wants, then it’s Violet Crawley, and she was a hoot this episode, and not just because she throws what is, without hyperbole, the GREATEST. LUNCHEON. EVER. Dicky Merton still has the hots for Isobel Crawley, though she refuses to pay him any mind. Enter the Dowager, who invites the eternally-on-the-prowl Lady Shackleton and Dr. Clarkson, the erstwhile unrequited love puppet of Isobel, to shake things up because she’s jealous of Isobel’s possible happiness? Threatened? Bored? Regardless, there ain’t no party like a Crawley tea party, and things get off to a spicy start when Lady Shackleton walks up to Merton to ask him how his lovely garden is doing, which I frankly found a bit forward. But maybe Violet’s machinations are backfiring because, though pleased with the social smoke bomb at first, didn’t I detect a whiff of jealousy baking off Isobel later on?
Okay, okay. Enough is enough. I’ve managed to contain my excitement, but I no longer can. Grab your hair dye because it’s time for #MoseleyWatch. You guys, I loved this plot so much my heart feels like it’s going to explode. Seriously, has anything greater happened in your life than watching Moseley dye his hair black and strut around to see how many people would notice? (Though, if we’re being honest with each other, I think the only person he hopes will notice is Ms. Baxter.) From Robert insisting Moseley is looking “very Latin all of a sudden” to Carson’s put-upon look of disdain as he stares at Moseley’s dome, this was Downton at its comedic best, featuring an all-time classic punchline: Robert demanding Moseley be stripped of his serving duties and kept downstairs until his hair stops turning blue. I laughed, I cried, I thanked all the deities in the heavens for bestowing the gloriousness of this plotline upon us. More of this always forever.
Speaking of the inability to outrun the person you truly are, Branson is still around apparently and doing his Branson thing of talking to Robert about how much life at Downton has changed him and making us yawn and check our watches (do people still wear watches?) in the meantime. Seriously, this plot hasn’t advanced since Sybil’s death, and I’m growing tired of it. Fortunately, hope seems to have appeared on the narrative horizon! After Rose conspires to invite his #hotforteacher crush, Sarah Bunting, to Cora and Robert’s anniversary celebration, the teacher’s presence at dinner makes for an epic clashing of belief systems.***
***Fortunately, before dinner, #Gillinghammer, atwitter with incomprehensible excitement, inquires Mary and Branson about the status of the pigs. Seriously, Downton? Is this bizarre fetishizing of pig farming just never going to disappear from this show? Because I’m starting to feel like we’re in it for the long haul with this one…
Following Robert’s unexpectedly genuine toast of Cora, Sarah, uncomfortable with the opulence of Downton and not shy about expressing it, climbs atop her soapbox and begins spouting off about the pointlessness of war. You know, perfect getting-to-know you conversation starters. Well, this really chaps Robert’s rump, but Isobel intervenes and gets all crunchy-granola about the conviction of youth, which just further pickles Robert’s onions, and let’s just say things got…weird. Salud! Family dinners, am I right?
All this talk of freedom makes me think of the one character still confined by the societal norms of the time. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, cue the sad trombone because it’s time to catch up with #SadEdith. We first meet up with the saddest sack of Crawley pedaling over to the Drewe’s house to go creeping on her daughter, Marigold. Apparently, she’s been coming around a hell of a lot lately to spread her sad-sack misery all over, leading Mrs. Drewe to suspect Edith has designs on her husband. Mr. Drewe wants to assuage his wife’s suspicions while also allowing Edith to see Marigold regularly, so he devises a plan, the particulars of which, it seems (if the Next On segment proves an indication), we’ll learn next week.
But the trials and tribulations of #SadEdith do not end there. Early on in the episode, Edith receives a copy of a book from the possibly-beaten-to-death-by-a-group-of-Nazis Mr. Gregson. In a fit of despondency that even has Mary telling Edith to cheer up (thanks, girl!), she does what any rational person would do: toss the book into a fireplace and send the place up in flames. Ha! Typical Edith…
Thomas, skulking around to serve as Jimmy’s lookout while he’s doing naked cha-cha with Lady Anstruther, rushes in to save Edith from the conflagration.*** Robert rushes from room to room, barging in on Jimmy, who should be, ya know, helping his employers in this time of crisis, mid-thrust at other business. The confluence of the episode’s many overlapping plotlines during this well staged sequence was a great button on the end of the episode, replete with #sillyfiremen in ridiculous hats, and I don’t just mean any old ridiculous hats but THE most ridiculous hats. You’ll be in awe of them is my point. #hatpuns
***A fortunate turning of events for our beloved lecherous footman, as his threatening of Baxter backfires (he’s still trying to get to the bottom of the Bates/Anna situation, just ugh) when she confesses to her crime of stealing to Lady Cora, who directs her rage more at Thomas than Baxter for his recommendation to hire her. However, nothing helps clear up a kerfuffle in the workplace like saving one’s daughter from burning to death in a fire, so live and let live, sayeth Lady Cora!
But wait, the surprises don’t end there! Turns out Mr. Drewe ain’t just your average farmer but a jack-of-all-trades; yup, that’s him lurking under one of those majestic hats, and he has news for Edith: an idea to secure her place in Marigold’s life while not upsetting his marriage. But before he can reveal the deets, Mrs. Hughes, keeper of all Downton’s secrets, stumbles into the conversation. Oh snap! Looks like when homegirl’s not sipping sherry with Mr. Carson and the person on the planet I most want to get drunk with, Mrs. Padmore, she’s blowing up truthbombs all over the Downton estate.
Elsewhere, Daisy explores her options post-Downton by sneaking maths problems at the kitchen table, Bates prods #Gillinghammer, who still needs a new not-dead valet, about the late Mr. Green, Rose hands out awards at a school assembly because reasons, and Isis continues to have the most unfortunate name of any pet on television.
Until next time, Downtonites!
Snippets of Intrigue
– Violet: “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. It’s avoiding one’s friends that’s the true test.”
– Carson: “If you can both tear yourselves away from your smutty deliberations, you’re needed upstairs.”
– Carson: “I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on.”
– Carson: “The nature of life is not permanence but flux.”
– Robert: “Moseley, you’re looking very Latin all of a sudden.”
– Violet: “Principles are like prayers: noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”
– Carson: “Is everything all right, my lord?”
Robert: “No, it certainly isn’t. And can you please keep Moseley in the kitchen until his hair stops turning blue?”