Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2: Choosing Sides

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

We open on the burned husk of Edith’s room, where Mrs. Hughes and Anna are tackling the cleanup. Anna discovers a baby photo under Edith’s pillow–Marigold, of course–and hands it to Mrs. Hughes, whose concerned expression out-furrows even Anna’s expressively furrowed brow. O-ho, you can hear her thinking. What have we here?

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Carsonhmphs
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Meanwhile, the War Memorial Committee is strolling the village cricket pitch, discussing the possibility of turning it into a Garden of Remembrance. Opinion seems to be split down the middle. Faction 1: Carson and Lady With Awesome Hat, pro-Garden. They think the pitch will make a peaceful spot for quiet reflection. Faction 2: Lord Grantham. “What about the cricket?” Awesome Hat Lady chides him about priorities, but I won’t be too hard on Robert just yet–he makes a non-sports-related point about the advantage of situating the memorial closer to the center of the village where people will see it more often. What’s delightful here is to see Carson butting heads with (1) his revered employer whom he (2) lobbied hard to involve in this committee. Heh.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Back at Downton, Jimmy is saying his last goodbye. His farewell to Thomas is truly moving, and sad Mr. Barrow wasn’t the only one choking back tears. “You’ve been a good friend to me,” Jimmy says earnestly, visibly moved. He wants Thomas to know how much he has valued his friendship. “I’m sad to see the back of you, I am,” he says, climbing into the wagon and rolling away, leaving Thomas standing forlornly in the brick courtyard. I loved this scene. We see so much of Thomas’s Mr. Hyde side, the Evil Under-Butler who bullies, blackmails, and sneers his way around the house. But behind the vicious schemer is an aching, lonely soul, and it’s the glimpses of this broken Dr. Jekyll that save Thomas from being a mustache-twirling melodrama villain. To be sure, he oscillates between identities when it’s convenient to the plot, but still he strikes me as a more fully realized, believable character than, well, Bates, who seems to have a different personality every season. As Mrs. Hughes keeps reminding us (she is positively oracular this season), the old world is slipping away, and when I imagine a future for these characters–beyond the 20s, the 30s, all the way to World War II–it’s Thomas I’m most curious about. Like Jimmy, I would like to see him find happiness someday, having left his vindictiveness behind along with the white gloves.

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On we go to lunch with the family, where Isobel gets the episode’s obligatory three-second mention of George out of the way. Mary smiles benignly, agreeing that her son is “rather sweet” and turning swiftly to items ranking much higher on her agenda, such as eviscerating Edith. “I do feel such an idiot,” Edith murmurs about the fire. “Maybe because you behaved like an idiot,” jabs Mary. Cora is unamused. That makes two of us. Hey Mary, remember that time you killed a houseguest with sex? Just saying.

Cora1
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora’s interest in addressing her daughters’ relationship issues, however, extends no farther than the arch of an eyebrow. She whisks on to Item 3, Household News: Charles Blake has written to introduce an art historian friend named Simon Bricker, who wants to view a famous family-heirloom painting we never knew was in the house. Mary pretends she doesn’t care whether or not Charles accompanies Simon on the visit, and Cora decides to include him.

Mary reminds everyone she’s about to trot off for a “Sketching Tour” with “Annabelle Portsmouth,” aka Tony Gillingham. Sketchy indeed, Mare. What a smooth liar she is.

For a stage-setting scene, this little family meal packs in a lot of rich material. Next we have Edith inquiring about the Memorial Committee’s progress, and Robert and Carson both being a little curt in reply. I mention it because of Tom’s line: “It’s difficult to please everyone.” Methinks Tom has some experience in that department. Of course it irritates Robert (as most peacemaking attempts are wont to do), causing him to snarl at Tom when Topic #5, Russian Refugees (Poor Devils) comes up and Tom dares to express sympathy for anyone exiled from his homeland. If there’s anything Robert hates, it’s being reminded that Tom is Irish. Or a former chauffeur. Or a former socialist. Or a person who utters sentences out loud. Come on, Tom. You need to revisit the Approved Tom Topics list. Crop rotation and grain sales, remember? And possibly the weather, as long as your opinion about it matches Robert’s.

And finally (how many courses is this meal, anyway?), Isobel, plot forwarder, introduces this episode’s Rose storyline: In Which Rose Beats Around the Bush Something Awful But Won’t Come Out and Just Ask for a Wireless. This is going to drive Robert crazy. He doesn’t want a wireless in the house. Downfall of civilization, wot wot, people “huddling around a wooden box” listening to someone “burbling inanities.” Cheer up, Robert, the future’s much brighter than that–we huddle in front of flickering screens watching you burble.

All right, everyone had enough lunch? Shall we move on?

Edith, who probably can’t get out of the house fast enough, heads to the Drewe farmhouse to enact Operation Marigold. Mr. Drewe oh so subtly broaches the idea of Edith “taking an interest” in Marigold by becoming her godmother. Never mind that the child already has a godmother, or that Mrs. Drewe is obviously distressed by the whole conversation. Earnest Mr. Drewe, you may be a genius with pigs and farms, but you’re bungling this situation in the worst way. I have to say my least favorite plot device is The Big Misunderstanding (yes, I know it’s a dramatic staple with an august history, but I still can’t stand it), and that’s where we’re heading here. Mrs. Drewe misunderstands Edith’s motives because Mr. Drewe is sworn to secrecy about Marigold’s true identity. If he could just tell his wife the real deal, she’d probably be Edith’s staunchest ally. Instead, we’re going to watch a good marriage suffer.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Now here’s Isobel at tea with Violet and Dr. Clarkson, discussing the new miracle-drug, insulin. (Foreshadowing or historical color?) Did Violet ever invite the doctor to tea before she decided she’d rather see Isobel as his wife than Lord Merton’s? I love what lengths she’s going to. Her methods are uncharacteristically clumsy, however, since her jests about Lord Merton “frisking about Isobel’s skirts” are serving more to discourage Dr. Clarkson than repel Isobel. Isobel is merely irritated, which is her most comfortable state of mind.

Anna and Mary discuss the sneak-away-with-Tony plan. Anna, who disapproves, hates being in on the secret. But not half as much as she hates what comes next: Mary wants a contraceptive, and she wants Anna to get it. She might as well ask Anna to shave her head; that’s how mortifying a prospect this errand is for Mrs. Bates. But of course Mary gets her way, because she’s Mary.

Down in the servants’ hall, Thomas vents his bitter feelings by informing Molesley of Baxter’s past. Jewelry theft, prison, the works. Molesley is dumbfounded and can’t quite hide his dismay from Thomas, who savors the moment–feeble victory though it must be, compared to the jackpot of revenge he thought he was going to get by ratting on Baxter to Lady Grantham. And Thomas’s fury at Baxter stems from his conviction that she has betrayed him by not giving him dirt on Bates. Anyone remember why he hates Bates with such a passion? Because Bates got the valet job in 1912? That’s a mighty long grudge to nurse, Mr. Hyde.

Edith announces to her parents that she plans to “be involved in the future” of the Drewes’ adopted daughter. (Edith: “I want your advice about something.” Cora: “Oh, how flattering!” Cora is totally my favorite this week.) Then, of course, Cora has next to nothing to say about Edith’s plan, and Robert tosses off a tired, “It’s your money.” Now if she’d decided to get a dog, that might have caught his interest.

And nope, Rose, still no wireless.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Carson spies the infamous Sarah Bunting in the kitchen–because this week it’s Mrs. Patmore’s turn to do some scheming. Benevolent, of course, because it’s Mrs. P. She’s got a plan to help Daisy conquer her mortal enemy, arithmetic. Carson disapproves, naturally, but not half as much as he objects to the shocking revelation that Mrs. Hughes shares Lord Grantham’s opinion of the Memorial Committee’s Garden of Remembrance. She’d rather see a memorial “at the heart of village life” where people would pass it frequently. Carson is flabbergasted. “I was disappointed in His Lordship, but I’m more disappointed in you,” he intones; but she isn’t fazed. “Every relationship has its ups and downs,” she counters, leaving him more dumbfounded still.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Anna visits the chemist’s shop and has an excruciating experience purchasing Mary’s birth control. In her mortification, she leaves without waiting for the instructions, so perhaps Mary and Edith will wind up with more in common than they know.

OH NO, THE BOOT ROOM. Run away, Baxter, run away! Molesley admits to being surprised at Baxter’s secret history. He can’t quite take it in; he’s convinced she must have had a very good reason for stealing the jewels. Aren’t we all? Just as she did with Cora, Baxter quietly refuses to shed light on her motives. She can only assure Molesley that she is not the person she used to be. Molesley is taking it all very hard. He’s a bit like Thomas in this, wanting people to stay in the role he’s cast them in. But I imagine good old Mose will come around in time.

"I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly." Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
“I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly.” Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Violet and Isobel arrive at Lord Merton’s house (“house,” ha) for tea. Lots of loaded lines and sharp looks. Lord Merton and Isobel have compatible tastes in room decor and reading material. Violet has the dubious satisfaction at being right. This time she doesn’t want to be right; she’d rather Lord Merton were interested in anybody than Isobel. If this goes much further she’ll be throwing Cousin Rose into his path next, since the Lady Shackleton plan evidently didn’t take.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Charles Blake and Simon Bricker arrive at Downton, just in time for dinner. Mary seems to rather enjoy discovering that Blake has surmised he wasn’t her pick, but then his grave manner and resigned good wishes seem to disappoint her a little. What’s the fun in having dueling swains if they won’t duel?

Rose realizes that Sarah Bunting is still downstairs after Daisy’s math lesson and thinks they ought to invite her to stay to dinner. Cora agrees, but Robert is downright nasty about it. Boy, he does. not. like Miss Bunting. Well, Sarah’s no fool. When Tom asks her to stay, she declines, not wanting to subject everyone to another pitched battle. Tom walks her to the car–he insists she accept the ride home–and she gives him a very encouraging speech about still being the man whose forward-thinking ideals inspired Sybil Crawley to run away with the chauffeur. Molesley stands glumly alongside the car, doing his footmanly duty, too caught up in thoughts of Baxter to pay much attention to the seeds of revolution being planted right beside him. Even in tails, Tom looks more relaxed than we’ve seen in a while.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Oh dear, Tom’s having opinions again. Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

That is, until five minutes later when Robert makes a snide remark about Miss Bunting. At dinner, the tension ratchets up even more. Sarah may not be there to challenge Robert, but Tom defends her position on the Russian aristocrat-refugees Rose is collecting clothes for. Like Sarah, Tom doesn’t condone the violence of the revolutionaries who sent them running for their lives, but he sympathizes with the desire to topple an unjust regime. Robert bristles. Tom invokes King Charles I, who was beheaded by his subjects. Now Carson is bristling. Oh great, now Robert’s going to turn purple again. Cora intervenes to distract her quarrelsome menfolk; she’s sure Mr. Bricker can’t wait to view that painting, as promised. But he seems rather taken by the view of Cora herself. He’s been flirting with her all through dinner.

In the hall, Rose pounces on Robert with the news that none other than the King Himself is going to speak on the wireless–an address to the nation. Well, this takes Robert aback. And just when he’s all fired up with loyalty to the Crown! Carson doubts that His Majesty’s subjects have a duty to listen to the address, but Robert disagrees. Perhaps if they only rent a wireless for the occasion, the walls of Downton will remain intact. Carson isn’t so sure.

Down in the kitchen, Daisy is all fired up over understanding math, thanks to brilliant Miss Bunting’s brilliant tutelage. “You mean Our Lady of the Numbers?” chortles Mrs. Patmore. A Patmore chortle is a wonderful thing. Come live in my house, Mrs. Patmore.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora shows Mr. Bricker the celebrated painting, which was hustled out of France in 1789. Once again Mr. Bricker seems as taken with Cora as he is with the art treasure. Robert pokes his head in, frowns, and summons Isis away.

Baxter and Molesley have another frank conversation, in the courtyard where Thomas and Jimmy said goodbye. Boot room = broken hearts; courtyard = heart-to-hearts, got it. Molesley badly wants to believe Baxter had a noble reason for committing her crime; Baxter won’t talk about her motives at all–though she hints that perhaps there was another person involved. She seems pretty well resigned to her fate. She’s seen this moment coming for weeks.

Cora can’t let it go either; as Baxter tucks her in for the night, Cora waffles back and forth about what she ought to do. She feels like she ought to sack Baxter–“Employ a jewel thief to look after my jewels? It makes no sense”–but she doesn’t want to, for reasons she can’t explain. So she’ll just grump about it a little. You know, to Baxter, the person she can’t decide whether or not to fire.

Mary and Charles are alone in the library. Charles, ever the gentleman, wants to call it a night, but Mary’s going to need a little more knife-twisting before she can sleep well. “But I hope you’ll be happy for me,” she says, apropos of nothing, “if it is Tony, in the end.” You mean Tony, the guy you’re running off to spend a week with in a quiet hotel? That Tony? And Charles, sounding already weary of a conversation they haven’t begun yet, makes the most beautiful counter-attack. “Please be absolutely sure before you decide,” he cautions Mary, knocking the complacent smile right off her face. “You’re cleverer than he is.”

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

A hit, a most palpable hit! Mary’s been preoccupied lately on the question of physical compatibility, but she’s very susceptible on this point too. She knows she’s got brains. She tries to rally, insisting Tony is “quite as clever” as she is, but now Charles has her doubting. “You aren’t being fair,” she pouts. Charles knows he’s hit a nerve and leaves her to simmer in her doubt. Well played, Mr. Blake.

In the bedroom, Robert is grumbling over Tom’s behavior–all that awful Miss Bunting’s fault, of course. Cora disagrees; she suspects Sarah’s friendship is simply giving Tom encouragement to speak what he really thinks. Robert’s in no mood to listen to a defense of Tom’s contrary viewpoints. He’s terribly worried that Tom is going to take Sybbie away to America–and I’d have more sympathy with him on this point if we ever, ever saw him displaying any real affection for Sybbie. He’s already declared he’s not much interested in talking to her until she’s older. So what he’s really upset about losing is the Idea of Sybbie, not the actual little girl. She’s one more piece of the past that these wretched, future-minded people around him are trying to take away. The King speaking on the wireless; a Labour government; a village committee headed by his own butler–it’s cats and dogs sleeping together. Speaking of dogs, Mr. Bricker had better stop flirting with Isis, Robert snarls. With Isis! Oh Robert. That’s just sad.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

The next day, Carson and Robert head to the village to consider an alternate site for the Memorial. Carson remains opposed to the idea of a central location; he worries that the statue will become trivialized–or worse, invisible–by being in so busy and common a spot. But he has said that he’d rather be convinced than defeated, and convinced he is, by a chance conversation with a village woman whose son is taking a moment to visit the grave of his father–a war casualty–across the lane from the site Robert wants for the Memorial. The Garden of Remembrance is out.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Much excitement in the house as the wireless is being set up. Carson’s just about fed up–too many concessions in one day–but everyone else is humming with excitement. And when the entire household is gathered before the contraption and the King’s voice comes across the wire, it’s quite a moving moment. It is the Dowager Countess who rises to her feet first, acknowledging that wireless has brought them into the King’s presence, in a way. The whole company follows her lead. Look, there are Sybbie and George, who would be in their nineties now, in 2015–present at the dawn of radio.

Also, look! There are Sybbie and George. They exist!

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

“Well, you have heard the voice of His Majesty, King George V,” announces Robert, sounding quite won over to the virtues of the machine. Isobel likes how human it makes the king seem, hearing his voice like that, but Violet is uncomfortable with the idea of stripping the myth from the monarchy. The conversation is a little tired after the palpable thrill of the event. The Everything Is Changing theme has been hit pretty hard this week. And last.

Afterward, Anna shares a nice moment with Thomas in the servants’ hall. He’s feeling more isolated than ever, missing Jimmy. Taking his revenge on Baxter doesn’t seem to have brought him much satisfaction. Anna extends some sympathy and he almost warms for a moment, but then Bates comes in and Thomas is back in glare mode, breathing smoke like a dragon in case we failed to pick up on the hostility.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mary has missed the great wireless event: she’s off to Liverpool for her liaison with Tony. He impresses her with adjoining rooms, and they take pains to spell out their plans in very clear terms. These two always sound like business partners agreeing on a strategy. Once again we’re checking off items on an agenda. Yawn. You know, I think I came into this season leaning toward Team Tony, but I like it better when Mary has a sparring partner. Charles’s behavior in the library–classy but frank–earned him some points with me this week.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Back at Downton, Carson is pleased to be back on the same page with Mrs. Hughes re the Memorial. She is pleased that he’s pleased. And then: enter the policeman. Nothing to be alarmed about, just a routine inquiry about the late Mr. Green, who visited this house shortly before his death. Sure, that was months ago, but it seems..dun dun DUN…there was a witness. Not just a traffic accident after all. Which we all knew. Since I no longer believe Bates was the culprit, I’ve got a new suspect in mind. You?

Oh hey, and Rose, you can keep the wireless! The end.

 Missed last week’s recap? Catch up here

My Season 4 recaps are at Here in the Bonny Glen.

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