Let’s Dish about Downton

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Sunday night feels too far away. I need a Downton Abbey fix NOW. What did you think of last week’s episode? Here’s a recap–after a spoiler buffer.

Image: PBS Masterpiece

There, are we sufficiently buffered? Let’s dive in. This week’s episode was called “The Canadian Patient,” and it was full of looks. Smoldering gazes, suspicious stares, averted glances, shy smiles, narrowed eyes. Sir Richard stands at a window, watching Mary push Matthew in the wheelchair or sit companionably beside him. Sir Richard seems to have some idea of the depth of Mary’s feelings for Matthew, and before the episode is over he will make sure she knows he owns her. “Don’t ever cross me,” he warns, coldly, ominously. “Never.” This is not the way you want to enter into a marriage. Mary’s eyes telegraph her fear and fury. She’s trapped–here’s her future husband informing her he’ll be calling all the shots, always, and threatening to destroy her and her family if she doesn’t obey his wishes in all things.

It’s a terrible position for our Mary, but she’s stubborn and strong-willed enough that I have confidence she’ll find a way to make a stand. Eventually. But in the meantime, it was rather horrible to see her meekly touring the neighboring mansion, a house she clearly doesn’t want to live in, and coaxing Carson into making the move with her when the time comes–even though the thought of leaving Downton is OBVIOUSLY WRENCHING HIM APART.

But the real drama of the episode was, of course, the soap-operariffic Patrick Gordon business. As plotlines go, it was fishy from the start. A burned-beyond-recognition Canadian officer pours out a sorrowful tale to Edith. He’s really Patrick Crawley, he claims, true heir of Downton, Mary’s former fiance, the one whose death-by-Titanic launched the very first episode of the show. Edith buys the story; no one else does. Let’s face it: no one else wants to. Mary thinks the whole notion is preposterous and withers Edith with a dismissive statement about fortune-teller tricks. Edith’s indignation is understandable: no one else in the family has bothered to speak to the man–which would be a shabby way to treat a long-lost cousin, if he had turned out to be the cousin.

But come on, Edith. You’ve been so smart and capable lately, and this guy played you for a sucker. It was painful to behold. I’ve been loving Edith’s trajectory this season–gradually discovering and developing her strengths, getting some respect and recognition from others. (If not her family. Never her family. It’s all Marcia Marcia Marcia at Downton Abbey. Er, I mean Mary Mary Mary.) I hope the Patrick Gordon disappointment won’t be a setback to her progress. It’s been lovely to see her mature.

Edith wasn’t the only person being played in this episode. The Dowager Countess and Lady Cora team up to con Isobel. Crawley, whose descent into nuisance status is one of my few disappointments this season. Isobel wants to keep on running Downton as a convalescent home after the War is over, and she’s blind (willfully so?) to all of Cora’s objections, blind to the point of pushiness. Enter Violet, who knows exactly how to deal with a pushy woman. After all, she’s a master at the art.

Cora: She’s such a martyr.

Violet: Then we must tempt her with a more enticing scaffold.

Violet sees Isobel’s wounded soldiers and raises her a legion of wartorn refugees. Isobel takes the bait. She’ll go off and tend the displaced war victims, and Cora will have her empty rooms back. Well, if Carson really does wind up leaving Downton Abbey (I have high hopes that this heinous marriage-of-shacklement will never take place), Lord and Lady Grantham will be stretched to theirs limit coping with the horror of breaking in a new butler. No one could ever truly replace Carson.

Which brings us to the below-stairs drama. Strange undercurrents down there this week. Daisy’s in a private hell that no one understands. First they pressure her into being William’s sweetheart, then they guilt her into marrying him on his deathbed, and now they’re aghast that she won’t honor his dying wishes by claiming a widow’s pension. Daisy seems close to cracking under the strain of her compromised integrity.

The ripples continue to flow out from O’Brien’s bitter act of mischief in informing Bates’s wife, a couple of episodes back, of his return to Downton–and Anna. Not only did Mrs. Bates’s plan to publicize the Pamuk scandal give Sir Richard the advantage over Mary, now she’s gone and gotten herself killed, apparently, and under very suspicious conditions. Bates goes to see her and returns with a scrape on his face. The next day, a telegram announces her death. It looks bad for Bates–too bad, perhaps? I have a theory of my own, and it has to do with a troubled look on O’Brien’s face. I don’t think she’s entirely happy with how her meddling turned out. (Thomas doesn’t think so either, and he takes great satisfaction in rubbing it in.)

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes is all caught up in her private Ethel drama. She can’t help lecturing the unwed mother, but she’s smuggling food to her–a breach of trust that Cora takes completely in stride when she finds out about it. The baby’s father has died now, it turns out, and no one thinks the grandparents are likely to react favorably to the news of an illegitimate grandson with a disgraced housemaid for a mother. I say: don’t underestimate the depth of a bereaved mother’s heart. Hang in there, Ethel–those desperate eyes in your final scene have me a bit worried–and let your boy’s grandma know her own son left someone behind.

Speaking of glances that worried me–what’s with all the sheep’s eyes between Lord Grantham and the new housemaid? Do. Not. Like.

Well, I’m dying to know where things will go next. Will we have to endure a murder trial? Did Bates do it? Did Anna? Did O’Brien? Did rotten Mrs. Bates off herself in a last-gasp effort to frame her despised ex?

And then there’s Matthew…did he feel a twinge? Will he walk again (among other things)? Through his injury, he and Mary have been drawn into a companionship that is the most honest interaction we’ve seen them have yet. They’re still hiding feelings from one another, but only barely. Matthew came pretty close to candor in this episode with his “If you were not engaged to be married, I wouldn’t let you anywhere near me.” Certainly Sir Richard has a good read on the situation, which is why he nudges Cora to bring Lavinia back into the picture. Poor Lavinia. She’s always someone’s pawn.

I never watch previews so I have no idea what’s coming next week. At least–I have ideas, but no evidence. Got your own theories? I’d love to hear.

Of course, the most important question of the week is: What was Violet’s best bon mot?

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Thumbnail images via PBS Masterpiece.

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21 thoughts on “Let’s Dish about Downton

  1. I never realized it until your post – Edith is totally a Jan.

    Bates is one of my favorite characters, but I think it would be fascinating television to have him be our murderer. (I agree that the scrape on the face makes this too obvious, though, so he’s probably not.)

    And, yeah, Patrick’s a phony baloney. Though, again, it would be great TV if he’s not.

  2. Awesome awesome awesome recap!

    Don’t forget Sybil and her feelings for Branson. Looks like she’s on the verge of just dropping everything and running away with him, doesn’t it? I don’t think they revisited Mary’s knowledge of their “friendship” this past episode, but I’m hoping it all works out. Cora’s support for grass-roots causes never ceases to amaze me! I’m rooting for them!

  3. I’ve watched all the episodes in this season, cannot wait for next season to start up! >.< I hate waiting for new seasons.

  4. I enjoyed your write-up, Melissa!

    “Violet sees Isobelโ€™s wounded soldiers and raises her a legion of wartorn refugees.”

  5. One more thing, Violet commented about how Downton Abbey, the hospital version, was akin to living in a substandard hotel. That dialogue seemed to have been straight from Maggie Smith’s role as “Cousin Charlotte” in 1985’s “Room with a View”…her first lines in that movie were complaints about the crappy pensione she and Lucy were staying in. “This meat has surely been boiled for stock…it’s lost all its flavor!” The mannerisms, the looks, everything, was straight out of that role! So cool!

  6. I think Sir Richard had Mrs. Bates killed so he’d have complete control over the scandal story; he can hang it over Mary’s head forever without fear that Mrs. Bates might spill it and thus ruin his hold over Mary. Just a theory.

    Not sure about the Patrick Gordon business. They made him seem so obviously NOT the real Patrick that I wonder if they’re trying to trick us and it really IS the real Patrick. I wouldn’t put anything past this show.

    It’s so delicious! Fantastic episode!

    1. Ellen, well your theory shoots my suicide theory right out the window and good! I like your thinking! Sir Richard is one that I easily love to hate. He is just so evil and the king of selfishness, well right there with poor old horrid Thomas.

      Anyway, when I saw Mrs. Bates laying there dead on the floor the thought of suicide came to mind. Suicide made to frame Mr. Bates for murder would be her ultimate revenge, however the theory had a slight hole in it as Mrs. Bates has(well, had) such a self-preservation streak in her….however, was that streak stronger than her vengeful streak? I still very much like your idea of Sir Richard being behind it all. Ooooooooo! He is so horrid. I do not like him at all.

  7. What a great recap! I, too, am disappointed by Isobel’s position this season. And as for Edith, being the middle child sucks, or so I hear. I think she’s doing the best she can, and just wants to be loved and recognized for her own achievements.

    I love Bates, too. My love of his character in the first season pushed me to see what else he was in. That led me to North & South, and the lovely Richard Armitage!

  8. “…Itโ€™s all Marcia Marcia Marcia at Downton Abbey. Er, I mean Mary Mary Mary.)” ROFLOL! That is great! Where is the tee shirt w/Edith’s face on it captioned w/”Mary, Mary, Mary!”

    Glorious recap Melissa. I must say this last episode I was all but screaming at the screen as I painfully watched Edith let herself get taken in so pathetically.

    I agree about the doe eyes and glances between Lord Grantham and the married maid. NO. NO. NO. Besides it is way to easy and simple of a story line, not to mention undermines the Lord’s character so very much. I mean please, busy wife w/her work and responsibilities resulting in husband feeling neglected and looking elsewhere. Really? Please! That is just shallow and way too pitiful for Lord Grantham. Good grief.

  9. No no Lord Grantham didnt mean anything by the confersation. The lonely, over worked widow is the one casting meaning ful glances. I wondered whey the Peter/Patrick didnt name all this relatives to show how he knew so many family intreicacies. I predicet that he will be back.

  10. Oh goodie, I’ve been wanting to talk to people about this.

    Is anyone bothered by the age of Ethel’s baby? I mean, one week, she’s tearfully announcing she’s pregnant, and the next episode she’s carrying around a large and definitely not-just-born infant. So, what, almost a year went by in her life? While everyone else is still continuing conversations and mini-dramas that seem to span days, not months? It seems so careless of the writers.

    As for the Patrick/Peter question, I’m not sure. It does seem like they want us to think he’s an imposter. But, if he is, and he’s given up and gone away already, it seems like a really random tangent to introduce and wrap up in one episode. Surely there will be more to it.

    I’m really puzzled by Isobel this season. She seems totally oblivious to the “back off” signals, and so very very pushy. Why on earth *wouldn’t* the Crawleys be glad to get their private house back?

    I feel so bad for poor Daisy. She so wanted to do the right – honest – thing and everyone bullied her into marriage.

    I do not get O’Brien and Thomas. I don’t understand their motivations. I mean, why did he want to come back to Downton? Why did she go out of her way to help him get there? It’s almost like they have a relationship but…. that wouldn’t be his thing. It doesn’t all quite add up for me.

    I like the theory someone suggested of Sir Richard being responsible for Mrs. Bates’ death. That would be interesting.

    Can’t wait for the rest! Two more two-hour episodes!!

    1. I was bothered by the size of the baby in that it was too small! It seems like lots of time should pass (WWI was LONG!), but then the baby doesn’t grow and people apparently don’t converse during that time. I get really confused.

  11. Oh, how hard I am having to bite my tongue, knowing the answers to most of your questions! Trying not to be smug that we have already had both the whole of the second series and a feature length Christmas special this side of the Atlantic.

  12. I definitely see a comsistent failure on the part of the the producers/writers in terms of doing so much time skipping, yet not having the characters mature or move beyond the conversations and interactiosn they were having in the previous episode — maybe a year prior! The good thing, I suppose, is that this is a consistent flaw so, since this is the way it is, I am trying to accept it as ‘within the character of the show’. But it bothers me ๐Ÿ™‚

    I really love Edith and I think I am hoping for a happy ending far more for ehr than for any other character. The way her family treats her is so upsetting to me. I suppose I simply identify very well with her.

    And Mary, while I don’t like Sir Richard **at all**, I suppose I feel that she made her bed. I simply don’t see her as a simpathetic character at all, and that hasn’t changed over these two seasons. I do wonder if they will sctually get married? It seems odd to me, and a little out of keeping with historical accuaracy that neither they or Mathew and Lavinia have managed to get married yet even though they’ve been together for years now, and surely Matthew and Lavinia at least truly ought to have married at some point during the war when he was on one of his (many! frequent!) leaves.

    It seems like I am only complaining! I do love the show and eagerly await each new installment. I tend to puzzle more over these sorts of things.

    If Lord Grantham and the maid … Oh dear. Well, we’ll see won’t we? I guess I wonder about the Spanish flu to come and she has a son, and maybe if Cora dies of the flu he’ll marry the maid in some wild fit of middle aged widowerhood! And make is stepson his heir! I almost feel like anything could happen on this show!

    As far as Mrs Bates, well it really doesn’t look good for Mr Bates and it just seems so unlikely that Mrs Bates would have killed herself?! She seemed so full of life! So, that’s another big worry for me.

  13. This entire series has already aired, since it is a BBC show…you can get all of Season 2 and The Christmas Special (Which was AMAZING) without waiting for them to air on PBS

  14. I’m late to the party but it’s never really too late to dish Downton. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don’t think Bates killed Vera but I think he’ll be arrested for it. Lord Grantham may have to testify that Bates said something to him about how he’d be better off if she were “the late Mrs. Bates.” (He muttered something along those lines while he was with Lord G.) I’m not sure who killed her, but there are several possibilities. I wouldn’t, however, put it past Vera to have killed herself in a final spiteful action. Wretched woman!

    I DON’T like the little looks and hints between Jane the maid and Lord Grantham. Not sure what’s going on there. At first I thought it may be “an Ethel situation” — that she’s not really a war widow, and she felt caught in a lie. Lord G. clearly remembers something about her son (or was he just referring to what was said when he first met her? And she was impressed that he would pay any attention at all to her, a mere servant?) He and Cora seemed genuinely happy in the first season, and I’d hate to see that changed just for the sake of soap drama.

    I do wish that Bates and Anna had been able to resolve things at the beginning of this season and move on. There’s plenty of other drama, and I think it might be more interesting to see the two of them unfold/develop as married characters, and how that fits into the household.

    I don’t think the Patrick character is really Patrick, but poor Edith! She’s grown up, and is so caring now but she’s usually still treated badly by Mary and ignored or dismissed by everyone else. Poor middle child! (I sympathize with you, poor, dear Edith!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    Poor Mary, too! Her life is just a mess now. Carlisle is a snake. I boo and hiss in his general direction.

    And Sybil. Well, her feelings for Branson have seemed, to me, confused. She likes him, but does she love him? Enough to throw over her entire way of life? Hmmm. I’m not sure. She is, perhaps, the only one of the three daughters, however, who has acted as a young woman of that time period and social status might have acted, in terms of being more restrained and prudent in her actions with the opposite sex, even a man she’s attracted to.

    I had to laugh when Matthew was sitting outside talking with Mary and his left knee bounced up and down a little as he spoke to her. Just a tiny bit. I didn’t think it was the character, I thought it was the actor, who’s rather animated when he speaks, and just didn’t realize he was moving it, and no one else noticed. But then, later, when he clearly felt a twinge of something, I wondered if maybe that tiny (reflexive?) action had been deliberate!

    I think it was Charlotte (here in the comments) who said she was disappointed in the way they’ve changed Isobel’s character. I agree. She started out as a smart and capable opponent for the Dowager Countess. Are the writers tired of the sparring, or feel it’s going nowhere and that’s why they’re bringing Shirley Maclaine in?

    I do think there’s a different, far more soap operish feel to this season, but that’s okay. I’m still enjoying it immensely. There were farfetched things in Season 1, too (Young, healthy Pamuk just dies?! Cora miscarries after a fall? Too-convenient plot devices ….)

    1. Im wondering if anyone knows the trajectory of this series? Is it going to go on 1 more year, 2 more ? Just trying to figure out in which direction things might be moving. You KNOW Mary and Matthew will get together, I am just wondering how long we will be tortured by Sir Richard Carlisle. I am with you, Karen, spitting in his general direction. What a creep.

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