Let's Dish about Downton

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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