Downton Abbey – Season 3, Episode 5: Dancing Queen

 Posted by on February 6, 2013 at 7:00 am  Downton Abbey
Feb 062013

Viking River Cruises, one of the PBS sponsors, wants us to know that there’s a “feeling that only a river can give you.” Can the Thames really compete with young Albert Finney? Because, damn, does he give me the feelings in Tom Jones.


After Sybil’s funeral, Matthew tries to comfort Tom, but there’s nothing he can say. While Lady Vi advises Cora, “Now that it’s over, try to get some rest.” To which Cora says, “When one loses a child is it ever really over?”

Downstairs, there are two new maids I’ve never seen before who giggle when Long Al says, “I must say, the funeral gave them a good appetite.” This prompts Carson to complain to Mrs. Hughes about how ill-prepared young maids are nowadays. “In the old days, their mothers used to train them at least in the basics,” snorts Carson. Mrs. Hughes remarks that maybe their mothers might have higher ambitions for them. Carson says, “What are they supposed to do, become bankers and lawyers?” Don’t tell me Carson’s gonna show up at an Occupy Wall Street rally. Thomas is even more grief-stricken than Branson. “I’d say your grief speaks well for her,” says sweet Jimmy. And Thomas thanks him and squeezes his inner thigh. Yes, nothing says gratitude like copping a feel.

Isobel is having second thoughts about hiring Ethel. Or at least her digestive system is. Nevertheless, she’d like to host a luncheon for Cora and the girls. Ethel perks up and exclaims that she can cook something special. The very thought terrifies Isobel who says that they don’t have to decide that right now. Oh, Ethel, here’s a secret from a New Yorker: Order take-out and serve it in your best china. Good guests know it’s atrocious manners to point out the white cartons sticking out of the trash.

Back at Mary’s boudoir, Anna tells her about her sleuthing breakthrough but confides that she’s still unsure if Mrs. Bartlett will repeat her testimony under oath. “She must be made to repeat then,” says Mary. I bet Mare invented water-boarding. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Anna is moved that, in this case at least, Mary wasn’t deploying the royal “we”.

The Earl wants to know if Cora “will have” him in her chambers again. But no, Cora is still on conjugal rights strike. Robert finally says what’s really eating her: his supporting Sir Philip. Cora then blurts out that the only reason Robert listened to Sir Philip is because he’s from the privileged classes. And she finds it so hard to forgive that he put status ahead of Sybil’s life. Man, Downton is totally ripe for an insurrection. “Do you think I miss her any less?” he asks. “I should think you miss her more. Since you blocked the last chance we had to prevent her death,” answers Cora. Ouch. Back to the doghouse he goes with his tail between his legs.

Breakfast is tense and awkward, but Edith takes a stab at conversation anyway, asking after maman and then bringing up the idea of a nurse for the baby. Branson cuts her off. He’s only staying until he finds a job. Oh, yes, jobs! I’ve often heard of them and wondered why people chose them over sinecures. Anyway, Edith then brings up the christening, thereby inadvertently revving up the tension when Branson announces he’s raising the baby Catholic. Poor Edith. She just can’t win. I can see her turning green from acid reflux. Robert takes this rather well, all things considered.

In town, Ethel runs into Mrs. Patmore and asks her to help her cook the special luncheon for Cora and the girls. Mrs. P lets her know that Carson forbids anyone from Downton to visit the Crawley house for fear Ethel will corrupt then. Well, if you ask me, Carson has been streaming way too much internet porn.

Meanwhile back in the big house, Craig, Bates’ nasty cellmate, taunts him about being downcast all of a sudden. And then Bates goes all gangster, pulls Craig over to a dark alley, and threatens him, shiv to his cheek. My, that was exciting! I much prefer evil, unpredictable Bates over bland, saintly Bates. Saintly Bates is better than a laxative because he bores me shitless.

And there must be something in the air, because Robert is pissed too. He tells Mary that Branson wants baby Sybil to be “left-footed.” What, Branson wants the baby to be a cop? Isn’t that a stereotypical job for an Irish—oh, wait. Apparently “left-footed” means “Catholic” in England. “The only chance that child has of achieving anything in life is because of the blood of her mother,” intones Robert. He also thinks it is “ghoulish” to name the child after her mother. This from a guy who just mentioned blood and how it could help a kid. Well, I think Mary’s low-waisted, black outfits are ghoulish. She looks straight out of those Chas. Addams’ animated credits on Mystery!

Poor Isobel is so traumatized by Ethel’s cooking that she jumps with fear whenever she sees her in the kitchen. She suggests ham and a light salad as refreshments for her special luncheon. Isobel is obviously not Jewish and it’s not cause of the ham. It’s cause she’s not comforting mourners by stuffing them with food. But Ethel would like to make more of an effort. “It’s a nice idea, Ethel, but I’d like to keep it safe,” says Isobel. And it’s obvious she means “safe” literally. Yes, food poisoning is no way to treat to a grieving mother.

Lady Vi asks Robert, “What is your plan for the child?” Is she suggesting an abduction? Come on, tell me you didn’t think the same thing. You know the European nobles are all barbarians at heart. But, no, Lady Vi only wants Robert to think about the child’s future and wonders what Cora thinks. This is how the Dowager Duchess discovers the Earl’s marital woes. She is shocked that Cora is still blaming him: “Robert, people like us are never unhappily married!” I want to say the same thing but replace “unhappily married” with “too fat in the bottom”. But it just doesn’t have the same ring. Anyway, the duchess advises a trip to make the heart grow fonder. But to get back to baby Sybil, what are they to do? Robert says he has asked Travis to dinner to talk to Branson about it. Will Randy Travis serenade Branson with his folksy country tunes? Or was the Earl alluding to Travis Bickle? “I can’t say that I have much faith in Mr. Travis’ powers of persuasion,” says Lady Vi, leaving the Travis in question shrouded in mystery.

Enough implied violence. Let’s have some sex! Okay, let’s repress some sex. This is the downstairs folk we’re talking about. Al keeps flirting with Ivy and Daisy keeps honing her cock-blocking chops. She kills the non-existent flirty mood by reminding Ivy that she is to do Daisy’s job the next day on top of her own. Al and Jimmy ask if she’s going to see “the rich farmer” and comment on how nice it’d be to be your own boss. Oh, if they only knew how neurotic little Daisy is about success! Couldn’t some kind soul refer her to Gabriel Byrne? Daisy screams, “Who says he’s his own boss? He takes his orders from the sun and the snow and the wind and the rain!!” This would be the perfect new slogan for the U.S. Postal service if they didn’t mind sounding slightly batshit crazy. Mrs. Patmore rolls her eyes in a way that says, “You’re going all manic pixie nightmare girl, love.” But instead she tells them she’s going out and will be back before the dinner bell. There’s only so many hormones a lady her age can deal with, know what I mean? All those pheromones flying around have got O’Brien inspired to reach new heights of bitchery. Commenting on how Al and Jimmy are bothering Ivy, she asks Jimmy if she rings his bell or somesuch. When Jimmy says she’s not his type, her gaydar starts blaring. She skips over to Thomas to dish. What a sexual harassment instigator this lady is, huh?

Cut to Mrs. Patmore handing Ethel a list of ingredients. Ethel gets intimidated all of a sudden and wonders if she can pull it off. “Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon moose,” retorts Mrs. P. Well, if that doesn’t boost anyone’s confidence, I don’t know what does. Anyway, Ethel’s still unsure so Mrs. P tells her to just serve them some bread and cheese then. Ethel being Ethel you know she’s thinking cheese in a can.

Isobel pops into Downton to invite Cora and the girls to luncheon. Lady Vi appears from out of nowhere and asks if she counts as “one of the girls” and Isobel answers, “Of course!” But her face says otherwise. But Cora gets all self-pitying, “I’m afraid I’ll only bring my troubles with me!” Why is everyone acting like they’re supposed to recover from Sybil’s death on the double? She’s recently buried. These things take time. Anyway, the Grantham gang invite Isobel to stay for dinner even though she’s not dressed. Come on now, Isobel. You know you need a break from Ethel’s disastrous cuisine.

In the kitchen, Al asks Daisy if she’s looking forward to her outing with her father-in-law and Ivy suggests he go with her. But he turns it all around and says that he’d rather go out with her. All this unrequited love and googly eyes are making Mrs. P cran-kay: “The trouble with you lot is that you’re all in love with the wrong people!” I think she’s talking to me. Anyway, Ivy wants to go out with Jimmy who is very mysterious about what he’s doing on his day off. From the way O’Brien greets the news, you can tell she’s thinking he’s moonlighting as a go-go boy at a gay disco. Oh, and did you know that Jimmy tickles the ivories? I’m placing my bets on him playing ragtime at the local brothel.

At dinner, everyone gangs up on Mr. Travis who turns out to be a priest. Disappointing, I know. A very annoying religious debate ensues. Do these people not know that one is never to discuss religion or politics at the table? How, pray tell, did the Granthams devolve into such chavs? The Earl gets all pissy about no one standing up for Sybil and Mary lets him know that Sybil wanted her baby to be raised Catholic. That was her deathbed wish.

Downstairs, the servants take up the debate. Carson is flummoxed at how anyone could be a Catholic and still be loyal to the crown. The man has a long memory. Wasn’t the Reformation 400 years before? Jimmy expresses his open-minded opinion that there’s nothing wrong with being different. To which O’Brien wiggles her eyebrows at Thomas, who is delighted. Man, Groucho Marx had nothing on O’Brien when it comes to perverted brow-wiggling. Everything Jimmy says brings out Thomas’ happy hands. If he keeps this up, you can all guess what else it’ll bring out. Sure enough, Thomas kneads the knots on Jimmy’s neck when the latter plays the piano. He skips happily away, giving Jimmy the chance to complain to O’Brien about how Thomas gives him the creepy crawlies. What Jimmy needs to do is stop confiding in Bitchface and take it up with HR, I mean, Carson. Despite all this, evil O’Brien tells Thomas that Jimmy was “purring” when Thomas massaged him while playing the piano. I think this is her way of encouraging Thomas to humiliate himself and get himself fired.

In a corner of London’s East End, Murray has a conference with Mrs. Bartlett who, sure enough, has changed her story. Bates is gonna have to kick some ass back in the big house if he wants to get out. I can’t wait.

Daisy’s sweet father-in-law thinks she should inherit the farm, open up a kitchen and start her own company to sell jams and pies at fairs. She tells him Alfred’s not into her, and Mr. Mason calls him a fool who’s “seen a diamond and has chosen glass.” Mr. Mason is always so sweet. I wish Daisy’d get her ass down to see him more often, I always enjoy their scenes.

The Dowager Countess is going into marriage counseling and has called Dr. Clarkson for a tete a tete. By which I mean that she wants him to lie to Cora about Sybil’s chances of survival had she undergone the cesarean he pushed for. “Lie,” says Lady Vi. “Is so unmusical a word.” Isn’t it, though?

Last week we discussed this in the comments and I think we all came to a general agreement that at the time either option entailed grave trouble for Sybil. Sir Philip’s arrogance notwithstanding, it was a tough medical call. Anyway, you all know how this will turn out, right? Lady Vi always gets her way. She’s more dangerous than the Brighton Beach mob. On the other hand, she’s totally out-philled Dr. Phil cuz Cora forgives Robert on the spot.

Matthew shows Branson how badly run the estate is. They’re on the same page since Branson’s a country boy. Yes, I can almost see him slap his knee and belt out, “Thank God, I’m a country boy!” Matthew asks what he plans to do and Branson sounds undecided. He suggests that he live baby Sybil at Downton for the Grantham gang to raise, but Branson balks. Wherever he goes, she goes. Regardless, maybe Matthew needs someone on his side to persuade the Earl to stop leaking money into the ground.

Back to this season’s Worst Cooks in the U.K., starring Ethel and Mrs. Patmore as Bobby Flay. Mrs. P wishes her luck and tells her she’s done well. Then she leaves and Carson spots her! For shame! She was probably cooking some aphrodisiac for the whore of Babylon to imbibe between bouts of lusting and dusting! You all know how much Mrs. P loves to spend her time “frolicking with prostitutes,” as Carson puts it.

Bates’ bullying Craig pays off and Mrs. Bartlett agrees to testify. Too bad. I was hoping for more blood and violence. Anyway, he’ll be freed in a few weeks.

Let’s wrap this up, shall we? Ethel does, in fact, redeem herself during the luncheon, but who should burst in but the Earl, intent on salvaging his ladies’ honor from that dirty slut. And all this before Ethel brings out the Charlotte Russe, which just so happens to be Cora’s favorite dessert. Funny, I thought it was a teenybopper shop. She and the hubs have a row and she accuses him of being an elitist. Then she refuses to leave. And that’s that. “Robert frequently makes decisions based on values that aren’t relevant anymore,” Cora remarks as a way of supporting Edith’s bid as a newspaper columnist.

Everyone is against Robert! Why doesn’t he take up golf? Or set up a woodshop in the basement? Obviously “he needs to do something,” which is the rallying cry at Downton these days. Well, if there’s ever a rallying cry for indecisive, passive layabouts, I guess that’s as good as any.

Cheerio, you feckless frolickers! If you ask Ivy nicely she just might teach you to foxtrot!


  20 Responses to “Downton Abbey – Season 3, Episode 5: Dancing Queen”

  1. Again – thanks for this! Truly a smile-inducer!

  2. It’s worth noting that Mr. Travis is a Protestant reverend. A priest is who Branson might have invited to dinner.

  3. “Priest” is a term used in the English Church/Anglican…it works.

  4. “Well, if you ask me, Carson has been streaming way too much internet porn.”

    Thank you for the mental image. Now kindly excuse me while I go soak my brain in bleach.

  5. Thanks ever so much for your review of this week’s episode. Your insights are always humorous.

    I especially appreciate this week’s review because it revealed that I’m not seeing the entirety of the episodes on the Blu-ray Discs I received two weeks ago. I got them because I was tired of reading spoilers and rumors and teasers from people who’d seen the whole series, and I wanted to see the last half of the season relatively unspoiled. I thought I had, but it appears parts of several scenes are missing from the UK version I received on disc. Darnit, I’m calling PBS and demanding my pledge back!

    I guess I shouldn’t complain since I now have a new incentive to watch the weekly episodes on PBS and then compare them to the disc version to find the “pickety bits” that were missing. Just another excuse to watch more Downton Abbey!

  6. BTW, let’s give credit where credit is due. The excellent animated sequence used to introduce the PBS import “Mystery!” was done by the late Edward Gorey, not Chas. Addams, who died in 1988. Addams’ cartoons, long a staple of The New Yorker magazine, still make me laugh. There was an exhibition of his more ghoulish work in the New York Public Library about 7-8 years ago, and I found myself chortling, yes, chortling, as I walked past the displays. Gorey was quite an eccentric in New York, often roaming the streets in full-length fur coats and basketball sneakers, but he was from Chicago, and only left this country once, apparently to visit the Scottish Hebrides.

    • Edward Gorey! Of course. Thanks for the correction. And thanks for the neat tidbit about Gorey’s eccentricities.

  7. i thought branson was from Dublin, which would not make him a country boy. But Branson seems to be rewritten every week so who knows.

    • Good point about Branson’s inconsistent character. The quote that I remember off the top of my head (and bear in mind that I have the memory of a gnat and Nemo is further wreaking havoc with my IQ) is of Matthew saying something along the lines of Branson being a country boy. He certainly seemed to have a lot of knowledge about sheep and farming, which is what prompted Matthew’s comment.

      • He said his uncle or grandpa (or someone) had a sheep farm, so that’s how he knows about farming.

        • I noticed what I THINK is a sloppy bit of writing. As Matthew walks with Branson on the farm, he says, “I’ve been on a very steep learning curve”. That comment struck me as modern lingo, not 1920’s language. While the learning curve was first described by a German psychologist in 1884, I seriously doubt the term would have entered the popular culture by 1920. It just sounded wrong.

          • Era-appropriate slang and idioms often trip up writers, probably because it’s difficult to put an exact date on when certain usages are adopted by the general public. Although I agree with you that it can totally take the viewer out of the story. I don’t know how we could check this.

          • I’d be lay odds that “learning curve” is NOT period-correct for 1920.

            I don’t have either of my OED’s at hand (1971 and early 90s) but wonder that term appears in either.

            I’m fairly sure I first heard the term as an adult in the 80s. Now I’m curious to see if the term shows up in the latter but not the former OED.

            It occurs that an OED – or the more expensive online account should be de rigeur for writers of period pieces. I recall that Pryce’s office was dressed with the OED, so I wonder if the Mad Men staff don’t use it as an anachronism vaccine.

        • Yes, I remember he mentioned his grandfather owning blackfeet sheep. Or some such.

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