Mathew Crawley and his Mum, Isobel, ride in one of those gorgeous cars that had to be hand-cranked. Matthew looks cranky. He is. You, too, would be in a foul mood if you’d been told you were about to inherit a beautiful castle, a large fortune, a title, and a household of servants to wait on you hand and foot. Isobel, his momma, chides him, “There’s no legal mechanism for you to refuse it. When you inherit, you can throw it away!” What else is an inheritance for, anyway?
Things get worse as soon as they arrive. Some guy in a suit and tie comes out and introduces himself as Molesley, the butler and valet. He offers to help them with their bags. (Many years into the future, Molesley will quit this gig and invent a a nifty notebook he’ll call a Moleskin. He’ll get the idea for the name from a mohel.) While Matthew kvetches, Isobel takes to her new-found status like a duck to water and lets Molesley carry the bags. Matthew goes on a tirade about the Earl: “Let’s see what he says when he finds out his heir is a middle-class lawyer – the son of a middle-class doctor!” (Matthew, dear, there’s a magical place called the Upper West Side where this makes you practically royalty.)
After much grumbling, Isobel finally gets her son into the house. It is lovely, sun-drenched, and airy. But, of course, Matthew complains that there are too many servants. (I can’t tell if Matt is a brat or a communist.) Finally, Matthew lets out that he’s terrified that the Earl wants to change him. So the song in his heart is not “The Internationale,” it’s “I Gotta Be Me!” Plus, he exclaims, “They’re going to push one of their daughters on me!”
Enter Lady Mary. She is not amused. Matthew gazes at her, lovestruck. She sure does look striking in jodhpurs, wielding a riding crop! Lady Mary announces that they’re invited to a welcome dinner at Downton, then promptly turns on her heels and leaves. A flustered Matthew finally manages to take his foot out of his mouth so he can run after her. He apologizes, but she just gets on her horse and rides off. Welcome to Downton!
It’s fancy schmancy dinnertime. Mercifully, Isobel convinced her son not to wear his Che Guevara shirt. The entire estate greets them in a receiving line, just like at a wedding! No wonder Matthew looks nervous.
Isobel asks Violet, aka the Dowager Countess, what they should call each other. “How about Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham?” Yes, that’s much more a propos than “beeyotch”. Something tells me this is going to be a very awkward dinner.
Sure enough, everyone is rude to the newly arrived Crawleys. For shame, Downton peeps! I expected more hypocrisy out of you.
At dinner, Matthew shocks the Earl by informing him that he’s taken a job in town as a lawyer. Who’s going to take care of the estate, the Earl wants to know. Matthew will. On the weekends. “What is a weekend?” Lady Violet asks. Indeed! I prefer a month of Sundays myself.
But all the servants are too distracted by William the footman’s teensy weensy tear in his jacket to take umbrage at Lady Violet’s Marie Antoinette impression. Between courses, Carson the butler tells William, “You will mend it now and you will never again present yourself in public in a similar state of undress!” Clearly, Carson has never visited New York City in the summer, where you become acquainted with many a Brazilian, whether you want to or not. And I don’t mean Pele.
Lady Mary tells the Greek myth about Andromeda and thus has the opportunity to call Matthew a monster. She longs for Perseus to rescue her. No one has bothered to explain to Mary how the Ancient Greeks kept the population low. Matthew looks very peeved. If she keeps this up, he just might tell her. Lady Cora graciously steers the conversation to more neutral ground by mentioning that Isobel might be interested in the hospital. Phew! That was a long dinner. Please excuse me while I quaff some Alka Seltzer.
The next day, Isobel drops by the hospital. As the doctor shows her around, she notices a very ill young man. The doctor informs her that he’s a farmer suffering from dropsy of the heart. It’s a pity he’s so sick, too, because he has a wife and young children. Once he’s gone, the poor lady will have to fend for herself. But Isobel suggests a revolutionary treatment that she observed her husband perform on several occasions. The doctor turns her down.
Meanwhile, Bates sees old Carson sneaking into a house. Hmm.
Lady Violet, in the meantime, talks to her son, the Earl, about the prospect of marrying Mary off to monstrous Matthew. “I thought you didn’t like him!” puzzles the Earl. “So what? I have plenty of friends I don’t like! Why do you always have to pretend to be nicer than the rest of us?” Nice people are so annoyingly perplexing.
Downstairs, the maids Anna and Gwen gossip about the prospect of Lady Mary marrying Matthew. And no sooner are tongues wagging than Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess put the plan in motion by visiting Isobel. Poor Matthew. No wonder he won’t let Molesley dress him. He’s afraid he’ll slip him the noose. But Lady Cora and the countess make a hasty retreat, disgusted by Matthew’s insistence on serving himself.
And, downstairs in the pantry, could it be? No! Why, yes, Anna, you just saw Carson stealing food. Carson has either a secret or a tapeworm.
Isobel must’ve let Molesley do the dishes because all of a sudden she’s back in the hospital again. The farmer is on his last legs. She insists that the doctor try the treatment. He turns her down again, adding: “Don’t force me to be uncivil!” I am so totally going to use that on the subway. And then I will cuss people out.
All the servants are a-rumblin’ and grumblin’ that they will not kowtow to the Crawleys. All right, maybe not all the servants. It’s just O’Brien, who is running off at the mouth and, yay! Lady Cora happens to come down and overhear. In her inimitably polite manner, Cora cuts her down.
Upstairs, the three daughters are hanging out in Lady Mary’s room, talking about Matthew. Lady Edith, the redheaded one, says that she’d gladly marry Matthew, if Lady Mary won’t. As Lady Mary complains about Matthew’s vulgarian ways, Lady Edith sneakily reads a letter from a certain Evelyn Napier. And before you can say “Boston marriage,” let me remind you that Evelyn was originally a boy’s name. Anyway, Cora has a knack for showing up on cue, and orders her two youngest out so she can have a word with Lady Mary—who won’t let her have a word in edgewise. She’s too busy complaining about that crass lawyer. Mary, you fool, marrying a lawyer is practically like being single, except with tax benefits. You’ll never see him, he’ll be too busy reading his clients’ constant barrage of e-mails. Cora finally shouts, “For once in your life, will you please just listen?” I know! Cora shouting! But, of course, Mary won’t budge: “Marry a man who can barely hold a knife like a gentleman?” Ah, those spoiled Edwardian women actually expected their men to be trained BEFORE they married them!
The plot thickens. A dandy guy in a brown suit rings the doorbell at Downton. The two footmen are out so Bates answers the door. This guy is low-class. The brown suit’s the tip-off. Anyway, the man insists on talking to the Earl. Stupidly, Bates leaves the door ajar as he tries to gather his wits. The man barges in and sits his fanny down on the Earl’s favorite chair. Lady Sybil, the youngest daughter, who hasn’t been given a storyline yet because she’s a suffragist and was probably chained to a gate, arrives and decides to stay and watch. The man becomes more demanding. Enter the Earl. Finally, a mortified Carson appears. He confesses that he’s been housing this dubious subject in one of the vacant houses on the estate and stealing from the pantry in order to feed him. The dandy was blackmailing poor Carson, threatening to tell the Earl that they had a two-man act on the stage, The Cheerful Charlies! I’m more shocked to learn that Carson has a first name. Regardless, Carson submits his resignation, whereupon the Earl pays the other Charlie a paltry sum to get the eff out of there. Carson is to stay on as butler, because “we all have chapters we would rather keep unpublished.” Well, in the 21st Century, we refuse to let people blackmail us! We humiliate ourselves first, by posting it on Facebook.
Lady Grantham has gotten word that Isobel is trying to play doctor. She’s about to get out the smelling salts when she sees that it’s meant literally. Isobel’s pressuring the doctor to try the new procedure. Now Lady Grantham’s really appalled! The next time she hears that Isobel’s shown up at the hospital, syringe in hand, she gets on her horse to rescue the young farmer from Isobel’s meddling.
Sure enough, Isobel has persuaded the farmer’s wife that the doctor should try the new procedure on her husband. Lady Grantham arrives and tries to dissuade her. But the wife is courageous. And then, the doctor takes the syringe that Isobel offers him and, right then and there, sticks it into the farmer’s chest, in full view of everyone. Well, that shut Lady Grantham up. If the sight of the fluid draining into a vial doesn’t turn her off afternoon tea forevermore, she’s stronger than I am.
When I come to, everyone is off to see Isobel’s investiture as the first chair-lady on the hospital’s board of directors. The doctor gives a lovely little speech about how Mrs. Crawley, the first chair-lady, has graciously agreed to share her duties with the President of the Board, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. “The hospital will surely thrive with these doughty champions, united as they are by the strongest ties of all, family and friendship!” Ah, the British are ever so gracious! Who’s up for some tea and cucumber sandwiches?