Season 2 is almost over and Isobel has finally decided to go find herself by traveling to India! With the Dowager Countess, no less! They’ve ditched those stuffy, albeit romantic, hats and are all—oh, no. Sorry. That was a trailer for a movie about a post-menopausal journey of discovery to India. I think it’s called “Eat. Pray. Schvitz.” Why, you sneaky PBS programmers, throwing us off the scent and all!
SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT!
It’s 1919 and Edith is overseeing the transformation from convalescent home back to home sweet manor. Have you all noticed that almost every episode starts out with some form of housekeeping?
The Earl goes to the drawing room to tell Cora that he is going down to the village to have a word with Travis. Ooh, if this means there’s a country and western theme to this week’s show, I can’t wait to see the Earl ride the mechanical bull. Cora, looking faboo in a rust orange shirt, asks if there are any news on “the Bates situation”. This is her way of hinting that they should fire him. The Earl will not have it, and reprimands her for being cold-hearted since Bates’ wife offed herself. (Yeah, I bet she did.) Cora smoothly segues into mentioning that the beds are now gone, which is her way of hinting that Matthew should go home. The Earl is upset about that too: “I see, you want to throw him out.” Well, really, your Lordship, who can blame Cora for wanting all the guests to go home? After all, she’s hosted what amounts to a sleepover with 200 randy, sick, and maimed men for a couple of years now. Cora rightly answers that she wants Mary to stop coddling Matthew and getting Sir Richard jealous and everyone else uncomfortable. Well, all right, she doesn’t quite say that, but that’s clearly what she means. The Earl is suspicious and he wonders if there’s something that Cora is keeping from him about Mary and Matthew. He accuses Cora of trying to protect Mary “with a ring of steel”. Is he talking about a chastity belt? Or is this some product placement for a newfangled form of contraception? But before Cora can launch into the possible side-effects at a breakneck pace, the Earl leaves in a huff. I wonder if Jane has been slipping some wacky tobacky into the Earl’s cigar box, because I’m finding the Earl a bit, well, wacked.
Or maybe Jane’s laced some apples with LSD instead. Some of those apples she drops as she is returning to Downton. And, man, the Earl is one swift-moving creature because barely a minute ago he was talking to Cora and now he’s two miles away, all dashing in his hat and riding coat while he helps Jane pick up those apples. He didn’t even break a sweat. I suppose there was that scene in between, in the library, in which Matthew and Carson briefly discuss “the return of the footman”, which sounds like an Edwardian version of the Star Wars saga. I can’t wait to see Yoda in white tie and tailcoats. Anyway, after some idle chit-chat about Jane’s son Freddie, out of the blue the Earl wonders if Jane “misses her husband very much.” Hmm. Is he implying what I think he’s implying? Maybe it’s Cora who’s been protecting herself with a “ring of steel.” Jane is all, Uh, say what? Really, what is she going to say: “I’m glad he died in combat, now I don’t have to nag him to wash the sink when he shaves in the morning?” Then the conversation turns from inappropriate to morbid as the Earl recounts the number of dead in the village. I can’t decide if the Earl has no game, or if he is playing that whole “sensitive, tortured soul” routine that some chicks always fall for. Oh, yes, it’s the latter, because Jane looks at him with moist, sympathetic eyes and leans into him as if she were going to spring into his arms. Well-played, Earl. Well-played.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Daisy wonders what Thomas will do now that the war is over and he will no longer manage the convalescent home. He gets all snippy with her, but later tells O’Brien he is going into business. Knowing Thomas it’s probably some internet scam. I could see him trolling OKCupid for lonely aging heiresses. It turns out he’s going into the black market. Anyway, he’s expecting to be wealthy just in time to learn the Charleston!
Bates helps the Earl get dressed for dinner. The Earl wonders aloud about why Mrs. Bates chose to say goodbye to this cruel cruel world when she did. Why didn’t she leave a suicide note, he asks? Bates says, a bit squirrelly, that maybe she did it on the spur of the moment. Oh, yes, that doesn’t sound suspicious at all. I understand that life must’ve been very dull before the advent of YouTube and cable TV, but surely not to the point that people might twiddle their thumbs and exclaim, “What the hell! Let’s try and see if this rope will hold my weight.” Besides, Mrs. Bates was having such a grand old time tormenting her husband. Come on, taunting a martyr like Bates is ever so diverting. The Earl poopoos the idea, utterly oblivious to Bates’ very suspicious look of discomfort. Careful he doesn’t tighten that tie too hard, my Lord. But then maybe he does notice because he asks Bates to forgive him. Or did he almost whimper in fear? Maybe it’s my cable connection.
Down in the hall, Sir Richard stops Anna and asks her to come into his room. Oh, dear. I wonder if he wants to exercise his droits du seigneur. After all, he hasn’t even gotten them out of the package, what with his title being so new and all. Anna evidently wonders the same thing because she does not want to go into that room to do Sir Richard “a favor”. And it’s not just because it’s swathed in a very suggestive shade of pink. Sir Richard then has an awfully good time teasing Anna about how he would be “very willing to increase her stipend.” Oh, God. I am this close to getting NOW on the horn. Then he makes it sound like wants to hire her. But no, it’s not that, either. Really, Carlisle, you sure are taking your sweet-ass time getting to brass tacks, aintcha? Then he goes all sociological on Anna and discusses the strange customs in their country. Oh, for goodness’ sake, who are you, Margaret Mead? Why, no, it turns out that all Sir Richard really wants is to make Lady Mary happy by having Anna spy on her. Yes, nothing warms the cockles of a woman’s heart like surveillance. Chocolate, roses, candlelit dinners. Booooo-ring. Hiring a P.I. is what turns us to butter. Seriously, Mary, when it comes to bad matches, you’ve outdone yourself. Creepy bastard.
Meanwhile, in the drawing room, everyone laughs when the Earl jokes that he nearly came down in “a dinner jacket.” Evidently this was very a casual outfit, on the order of, oh, overalls. Isobel being the hippie that she is mentions that she likes the new fashions: “The old style is much better if you want to spend the day in a chaise longue, but if you want to get anything done, the new clothes are much better.” Lady Vi and I will “stick to the chaise longue.” I get more writing done when I’m reclining, just like Mark Twain. Sybil asks the Earl’s opinion about going back to the old life and he says, “Before the war, I supposed my life had value. I should like to feel that again.” Before the war, we considered you good company, my Lord. Now you’re a total buzzkill. Cora takes the opportunity to lighten the atmosphere by mentioning an actual dead person, Major Bryant, Ethel’s cad. He’s dead now and his parents would like to visit Downton.
Finally, a little romance! I am writing this on Valentine’s Day, after all. Sybil and Branson are having a rendezvous in the garage. Branson compliments her on looking very “fine” and she is all, “What, this ole schmatte? It’s from before the war.” Talking about fashion, those jodhpurs do nothing to hide your saddlebags, Branson. Not to get catty or anything, but really, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t tell you so? Anyway, then Branson gives Sybil a completely and utterly cheeky once-over. I am shocked. I would even say he looked down her cleavage, except that her neckline is barely 1/2 an inch below her neck. Sybil has come down because dinner reminded her of how boring her life is, after the rush of war. Well, yes. I suppose things must be dull now that there are no hemorrhages to stanch, or limbs to amputate. Anyway: upshot. She is almost finally just about ready to elope with him! But not quite. Sybil and Sir Richard have obviously been reading the same How To String Things Along manual. Then she caresses Branson’s cheek with one gloved hand. Ooh, wow, that was so arousing I am now going to go file my nails. Seriously, Fellowes, you got two adorable young actors and this is what you give us? I’ve gotten more sparks by rubbing two soaking wet sticks together. And I’m not even a Boy Scout.
You want passion? Take a load of Carson gossiping about the renovation abominations that Sir Richard’s perpetrating over at Haxby. The bathrooms are like something out of a film with Theda Bara! See, now I’m confused because I thought Theda Bara was the first movie sex symbol, but from the way Carson talks it sounds like she hosted a home remodeling show. The Vamp Boudoir Revamp. At a nickelodeon near you. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t buy the reference either, but she lets it slide because what she really wants to know is if Carson will be happy there. He admits that he won’t be, but he needs to take care of Mary. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t understand the attachment, since Mary “is an uppity minx who is the author of her own misfortunes!” Has Mrs. Hughes been reading my LinkedIn profile? Because Uppity Minx and Author of Her Own Misfortunes are my official job descriptions. Anna shows up before I get a chance to take this up with Mrs. Hughes. She announces that Sir Richard has come to her with “a very unusual request.” And you can tell that Mrs. Hughes and Carson are on the brink of a heart attack. I don’t blame them. Anna makes it sound like something from the back pages of the Village Voice.
We cut to Bates putting Matthew in bed, upon which the latter exclaims, “Oh, you’ve done this before.” Then he wants to know what Bates thinks he should do if he were to feel some “tingling”. Oh, you filthy cows! He meant the tingling in his legs. Just because he paused significantly before completing the sentence doesn’t mean anything untoward was about to happen. Bates dampens the atmosphere by asking, very reasonably, if he’s told Dr. Clarkson. Matthew says that he has and Dr. Clarkson attributes the tingling to “an illusion.” Oh, I am no fortuneteller, Dr. Clarkson, but I see a malpractice suit in your future. Bates advises that “if something is changing it will make itself known.” Probably upon first waking. And then Matthew pauses dramatically and begs Bates not to tell anyone. Good Lord. We could all use a cold shower now.
We see Mrs. Hughes carrying a suitcase as she waits for a bright red trolley and ominous music plays on the soundtrack. Oh, don’t worry. Fellowes has not worked in a “lady serial killer” plot line. She’s just visiting Ethel who does live in a scary hovel indeed. Mrs. Hughes is doing a great job of feeding her and little Charlie because that kid has the fattest cheeks I’ve seen. Anyway, Mrs. Hughes has also come to tell Ethel that the Bryants will be visiting Downton. Where does Ethel get the money to pay the rent on her hovel? And if Daisy doesn’t want her widow’s pension, couldn’t she donate it to Ethel instead? My inner little old lady just hates seeing things go to waste. Why, yes, not only do I have an inner child, I also have an inner old lady. That accounts for all the voices in my head. By the way, doesn’t anyone know how to knit well enough to make Little Charlie a proper cap? That thing on his head looks like some grandma’s underwear. As much as I admire the repurposing, DIY movement, even a baby deserves some dignity.
Thomas shows off his new merchandise to O’Brien. He has a little shed where he’s keeping all the black market stuff. Okay. So he has enough money to rent a shed, but he can’t find a place to crash at? As evil as Thomas might be, he’s always been crafty and resourceful. O’Brien suggests Mrs. Patmore as his first client.
Now that Carson has gotten wind of just what a louse Sir Richard is, he does not want to work for him anymore. Okay, see, I would’ve thought that would be all the more reason to want to move to Haxby, so that he could protect Lady Mary. But I guess he thought that Lady Mary would break off the engagement after he told her. Mary is upset that Carson is abandoning her and also that Anna didn’t go to her with the news first. Then Sir Richard shows up and Mary tells him the news. She gives Carson the stabby eyes. I think I even saw an actual laser beams shoot out of her retinas, didn’t you? Sir Richard says he is disappointed and Mary gets a vicious dig at Carson: “Not really. Butlers will be two a penny now that they’re all back from the war.” Bitchay, Mary. And no, that’s not French.
The Earl happens to be looking for Carson and, would you believe he runs into Jane instead? No, wait, he’s not looking for Carson, he’s looking for wine. No, wait, I got that wrong, he’s not looking for Carson or wine. He’s looking for tongue. And not the kind you get at a good kosher deli. His excuse: “I’m a foolish man who’s lost his way and doesn’t know how to find it again.” Oh, yes, the “little lost lamb” excuse. Bah.
Lavinia and Matthew are hanging at the library, when Lavi notices that the servants have left a tray behind. Boy, the help this day sure is slack. Lavinia decides to clear the tray herself. Unused as she is to such physical labors, she trips, oh, so very conveniently, on a footstool. As she is about to kiss the dirt, Matthew gallantly stands up to break her fall. Wait. Did I just say “stand up”? Why, yes. Matthew can walk! Do you see, oh, men of New York? The man is so chivalrous he overcomes paralysis – there’s no excuse for not offering a lady your seat on the A train. Lavinia tells the Earl, who makes a big ruckus and gathers everyone in the library to behold the miracle. Wouldn’t it have rocked if Matthew had done a tap routine to the tune of The Entertainer? Is it really that improbable?
“But,” I hear you protest, “how could you gloss over Matthew’s miraculous recovery? There must be an explanation!” Maybe it was all in his head. Maybe it was all in our heads. Mass delusion, if you will. He’d been walking all along and yet we saw him in a wheelchair because we were all hallucinating. Together. No? Well, why don’t we just get Dr. Clarkson to explain. Here he is. Dr. Clarkson? “Basically? Oops. My bad.” Well, that’s that. Carry on. I must say, Matthew is taking all this rather well. Especially for a lawyer.
Bates interrupts this joyful occasion to let Anna know that he was the one who bought the rat poison with which Vera Bates murdered herself. Anna thinks Bates should tell the police that he bought the rat poison, just in case they find out and he gets in trouble. Hmm. I’m wondering why the police haven’t shown up at Downton already.
But, hey, all this excitement is making me hungry. Lucky for me it’s time for dinner. Lady Vi, who has been quite sedate this episode, asks Sir Richard how the renovations are going at Haxby. Sir Richard explains in his inimitable gangster fashion that he is now fining the workers if they don’t get it done on time. I bet if they’re really late, he just puts some cement shoes on them and throws them in the Thames. Then he hints that it might not suit he and Mary to be “so close to Downton.” Really, Mary, do you not see the neon sign above his head flashing “Abusive Husband”? Matthew reads that sign and decides it’s the perfect time to announce that he and Lavi are getting married after all. And the wedding will take place at Downton. Isn’t that ever so excellent? Isn’t it, Mary?
Sybil takes the opportunity to go see her amour, who is always fiddling with the motor. And never gets greasy! She’s made up her mind! She’s ready to travel and Branson is her ticket. Why? Does he have a cousin with the Passport Agency or something? Anyway, I’m not a man, but that has got to be the least romantic acceptance to a wedding proposal I’ve ever heard a woman utter. He asks if she won’t mind “burning her br—”, uh, “bridges”. Not her bra. Bran’s a revolutionary but he’s not feminist. Then she tells him that he may kiss her. And I feel nothing here. Bates and Matthew deliver more frisson, frankly.
Cora rightly chides the Earl for saying yes to Matthew without consulting her. Now that he will be getting married, they will have to push Mary’s wedding back. The Earl thinks that Cora is selfish. Methinks the Earl is having a midlife crisis.
Mr. And Mrs. Bryant finally make it to luncheon. Good God, is Mr. Bryant obnoxious! Even the Earl is put off. Mrs. Hughes does not get a chance to talk to Mrs. Bryant about Little Charlie. She has to tell Ethel that she must go back to her hovel and feed Little Charlie dirt for dinner. Or whatever it is that makes his cheeks so full. Ethel understandably will not go away and determinedly erupts into the dining room, baby Charlie in her arms. I know it’s so 1995 to say this, but, You go, girl! Mr. Bryant refuses to believe that Little Charlie is the issue of his caddish son’s loins. This is all a horrible trick so that Ethel can get her mitts on their fortune. And then he and Mrs. Bryant leave in a huff. But don’t worry, my pets. This plot line is not wrapped up yet.
Daisy wants to make the wedding cake. It’s going to be a horrible cake, I’ll just break it to you. But that won’t be Daisy’s fault, it’s Thomas’ fault. He confused plaster with flour. Come on, we’ve all done it, particularly when we’ve bought it in the black market.
And guess who shows up at Cousin Matthew’s boudoir? Why, Lady Violet! My, this is rather unorthodox, isn’t it, for a lady to sneak into a man’s chambers? She just wanted to be alone with him undisturbed. Poor Matthew warbles: Well, umm. And I bet he wishes he was fully recovered so that he could run away. Where are my smelling salts? Oh, wait, she just wants to tell him that Mary is still in love with him. Phew. That was awkward. But Matthew is too much of a gentleman to break up with Lavinia now that he can walk, so he can take up with Mary. Instead, he sweeps Mary into his arms when no one’s looking, cuts the rug with her, and then necks with her. Does he sneak into a closet and lock the door to do this so that no one catches them? Why, no, of course, he just does it at the foot of the staircase. And of course Lavi catches them, in between breaks from her bout with the Spanish flu. But that comes later.
Bates sure has a way of doling out incriminating details. He always does it between courses, as Anna’s rushing about. Anyway, it turns out that he’s found that Vera wrote her friends a letter informing them of his terrible, hair-trigger temper and that she fears for her life. Ah, of course. Can’t you see what’s going on here? Vera killed herself in order to set up Bates. I hate when people do that.
Anyway, dinner’s on! Sybil can’t come because she’s eloping with – sorry, sorry. She’s just not feeling well. Mary’s not buying it. She finds out that Sybil’s on her way to Gretna Green, which must’ve been where people got quickie weddings in those days. She and Edith take the second motor and run off to stop those two crazy kids! Suspenseful music plays on the soundtrack as they rush to get there before it’s too late. They burst into Sybil and Branson’s room! Oh, my God, cover your eyes! This is apt to get – oh, why, they’re still dressed. Mary sighs in relief. “Thank God, nothing’s happened!” Of course not, Mary, these two are barely out of their teens, but they have the libidos of nonagenarians. They were probably all set for an exciting evening playing pinochle. Mary and Edith talk some sense into Sybil, while giving snide looks to Branson. Sybil agrees to return to Downton to inform her parents of her plans.
This is a perfect moment for a commercial break. To advertise Thomas’ blackmarket goods, of course. Here he is now, in the middle of his market, about to peddle his wares. And, uh, wait a minute. He’s flown into a fit of rage. He’s destroying everything! My, this is a novel marketing strategy. Oh, yes, he’s pitching a hissy fit because he’s been cheated. His purveyor has sold him plaster powder instead of flour, which makes for cakes that can set bones yet are inedible. He’s been had! He’s invested all he had in the business! Now there’s no way he’ll leave Downton. Darn it.
Three months go by. Preparations for Matthew and Lavi’s wedding are underway. That’s also plenty of time for the Bryants to rethink the whole position on their late son’s bas—issu—baby. They write to Mrs. Hughes because they want another meeting with Ethel and Little Charlie. Mr. Bryant was such a bully, everyone’s quaking. It’s also plenty of time for Sybil to finally make up her mind to break the news to her parents. Mary and Edith keep buying time, but she won’t have it. Given their own misguided efforts at love, I’m not surprised Sybil’s not taking their advice seriously. Besides, Bran’s a journalist now! Despite Gwen’s travails in finding a secretarial position, Bran’s gig just fell on his lap. Luck of the Irish, I guess.
The whole gang’s in the drawing room when Branson makes his entrance. He looks rather disheveled in a white suit, I must say. As the Earl questions his presence there, Branson looks at Sybil and she hems and haws, but there’s no going back. The Earl is outraged! Lady Vi finally brings some decorum to the situation by asking Sybil what she wants. Lady Vi’s transition into modernity is going smoother than her son’s. Sybil says that she will move to Dublin to live with Branson’s mother, get a job as a nurse, and then they’ll get married. The Earl erupts. She is throwing away her life! Have you looked at nurses’ salaries, my Lord? They’re the only ones getting jobs in this economy. I’m just upset Branson’s turned out to be such a sexist bore. Lady Vi thinks it will all end in tears. Edith opines that the tears won’t be Sybil’s, to which Lady Vi replies: “I used to think Mary’s beau was a misalliance, but compared to this, he is practically a Hapsburg!” Well, Lady Vi, at least Branson’s not part of the Brighton Beach mob. Lady Vi consoles Edith that her turn will come, to which Edith replies that she wonders if she’ll just end up being the maiden aunt. “Don’t be defeatist, Edith. It’s very middle-class!”
Downstairs, Carson’s been struck with the flu. The Spanish flu, which is not a malady in which people are seized by a mad urge to dance flamenco and put flowers in their hair, but rather a mortal disease. Ever the professional, Carson insists that Molesley sub for him. There’s no excuse for sloppy presentation! Cora is also not feeling herself. She argues with the Earl that maybe they’ve overlooked who Sybil really is. She’s turning all American on the Earl! Is this yet another illness? Well, he won’t wait to find out, for he’s going downstairs. All these maladies named after nations. By dessert, Isobel will declare, “I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so!”
Sybil’s marriage plans are ruining a perfectly fine dinner. Oh, and so is the Spanish flu. Cora excuses herself from the table.
In between courses is the only time Anna and Bates have a chance to discuss their future. All this marrying has gone to Anna’s head. She’s decided that she and Bates are going to get married asap. After all, if the police are going to drag him away in handcuffs, she wants to stand by his side. If you’re getting as tired of all this sacrifice and nobility, as I am, hold on. This is only the beginning. Anyway, Molesley is now down for the count as well. Is it the Spanish flu? Why, no, he’s only overdosed on claret. Looks like Thomas will have to take his place after all. As the Earl remarks that this bug seems to be spreading quite fast, Lavinia is struck ill as well. If the Earl had kept his mouth shut maybe she’d still be alive. Oh, sorry! I’ve ruined the suspense. Lavi dies, you see, but not before she valiantly sacrifices her own happiness by stepping out of the way so that Matthew and Mary can be together. Only then does she conveniently expires. I think I’m going to be sick. Don’t worry, it’s not the Spanish flu. I just can’t stand the whole helpless, sacrificial lamb act that everyone pulls. No jealous fits, no underhanded manipulative tactics to win someone’s love, or take down a rival. Just a very demure and polite stepping aside. It’s disgusting, really.
All right, dear hearts. My carpal tunnel is acting up and so I will take a page from Fellowes and wrap this all up rather hurriedly. My apologies. These two-hour specials are murder on my wrists.
Cora and Carson survive unscathed. Freddie gets into Ripon Grammar. The Earl and Jane steal some more kisses, and are on the verge of getting past first base when Bates interrupts them. Thank God for Bates! I did not like this plot point one little bit. Thankfully, Jane goes the sacrificial route as well and will leave her only source of income so that she doesn’t have to break up the Crawleys’ marriage. Thomas finagles a permanent job at Downton. The horrible Bryants want to take little Charlie and raise him on his own but only if Ethel disappears. If ever the sacrificial martyr option made sense, surely this was it: As horrid as Bryant is, at least the child will be fed. But Ethel refuses to give him up. I hope this means that Bryant will catch the Spanish flu and be one of the few old farts to die from it.
The Earl tries to bribe Branson into giving up Sybil, but he won’t. Finally! A man with some balls in this series. The Earl comes around after it dawns on him that all this carrying on with a maid while he sneers at Branson is very hypocritical. He gives Sybil and Branson his blessing in the end. Lady Vi rolls with the punches, as all veteran warriors must learn to do. She accepts the Sybil and Branson match. After all, now that he’s a journalist, she can work with that. Oh, really, Your Ladyship? How do you feel about bloggers?
We still don’t know how Mary will get rid of Sir Richard, but hopefully, he will succumb to the curse Mary casts on all her beaus, and will meet an unfortunate, yet timely, end. Let us hope. The Brits are so polite, what with their willingness to die just when you need them to, and without so much as being asked. Why won’t despotic Third World dictators take a page from them?
Oh! Anna and Bates finally marry! Lady Mary arranges for them to spend their wedding night in one of the most isolated rooms in the house. I found the sight of their post-coital afterglow icky, did you? But, hey, at least someone else lost her virginity!
At Lavinia’s funeral, Matthew tells Mary about Lavi’s valiant sacrifice in the name of their love. Being the neurotic we’ve all come to love or at least roll our eyes at, instead of blaming a virulent global pandemic for her death, he blames himself and Mary. They broke Lavi’s heart by snogging on the stairway. Good Lord. I don’t know what’s worse, all this martyred posturing or the improbably easy plot resolutions. Can someone please kick the next noble martyr in the tuchus for me?
Lastly, Scotland Yard finally shows up to take Bates away. It took them long enough, but there must’ve been a backlog of homicides that year. Come on. All crime shows aficionados know that where there’s foul play, you always suspect the spouse first. They clap handcuffs on our man and take him away.
I bid you adieu, dear hearts! Until next episode, I shall stick to my chaise longue!