Blogging the Abbey, Episode 6
Rose: This week was a bit more tonally consistent than it’s been, no? It’s not like earlier this season, when we would have six goofball story lines, and then Anna’s rape. Now it’s Anna’s rape, Edith’s awareness of her abandonment and imminent shunning, Vacuous Dancing Cousin’s possible lack of awareness of her own imminent shunning, Violet’s dangerous illness. And then there are some thirsty pigs.
This week’s most entertaining commentary on the episode (aside from this blog, natch!) comes from a Downton Abbey recap in the New York Times, which is in the form of letters the characters might have written each other. From Rose (we know and love her on this blog as Vacuous Dancing Cousin) to Jack, new passion and oarsman in her life:
I know our romance must seem illicit and contemptible to other ignorant souls in this unenlightened world. And yet I feel compelled to pursue it. What could be the source of my continued infatuation for you during this rigidly segregated period of history? Your singing voice? Your mediocre French accent? It is as if I am guided by the unseen hand of fate, or a writer who is overcompensating for the criticism his show has taken for its lack of diverse cast members.
It is all so much to think about — so much that sometimes even I cannot remember to whom I am related in the Crawley family, or why I was delivered to Downton Abbey in the first place!
Yes. Just so.
So the Earl is off to America! Writers of Downton Abbey, I expect great things from you. I want to hearken back to traditional fictional-Americans-through-British-eyes, who are never anything but fast talkers and heavy slang users. I want an over-attention to the peerage (“You’re an Earl?! That’s just the doggonest thing! We never had any of those back in Chillicothe! Do you wear a crown?”) and an under-attention to basic forms of British politeness (e.g., straying within 3 feet of an interlocutor or an admission that one once experienced an emotion). Don’t let me down!
Why isn’t Cora accompanying the Earl? Last week, I mentioned that I missed seeing the two of them interact. It’s her morally bankrupt family on the line, after all. Does she have no desire to go back to her native land? Where orange juice at breakfast is a beloved norm, not merely a bone thrown to colonial interlopers? Is there any reason why she wouldn’t go? She doesn’t seem to take a very active role in managing the house. They can clearly afford her ticket.
Will the fact that Cora’s maiden name is Levinson be addressed? That is, can we please get Jewish-or-not confirmation? Jewish folks around the world are waiting with bated breath for this revelation. Are ladies Mary and Edith and Earl-to-be George Jewish (by Jewish law, anyway)?
Speaking of which, it strikes me now that it is perhaps a little odd, given the era and the rain of tragedies on this family, that no one has ever mentioned religion, that I can recall. Through death and disability and abandonment and impoverishment (inter alia), no one has suggested anyone seek spiritual solace, and no one has appeared to seek it. That seems a little anachronistic, no?
I also found Edith’s admission that she sometimes has “bad feelings” to Cora a little odd:
Edith: “Mama, can I ask you something? You don’t think I’m ‘bad,’ do you?”
Cora: “You can be a bit sharp-tongued every now and then, but ‘bad,’ no.”
Edith: “Sometimes I have bad feelings.”
Cora: “We all have bad feelings. It’s acting on them that makes you ‘bad.’”
Had I heard that conversation out of the story’s context, I would have taken Edith to mean something like she has uncomfortable sexual feelings or aggressive feelings. But given the story’s context, either of those seem highly unlikely. Is she talking about guilt for desiring an abortion? Certainly she has guilt about the abortion, but “[s]ometimes I have bad feelings” seems to imply an action she has an urge to commit but has not yet carried out. At this point in the story, she has already made arrangements for the abortion. Does she feel guilty for mistrusting Gregson? I mean, if a man ever earned a little distrust, it’s Gregson. Thus, I remain perplexed.
As Edith walked into the abortion clinic, I said to my husband, “It used to be a trope in so many shows that the heroine would walk into the abortion clinic and then reconsider and leave. I think they must be done with that now, though.” Annnnnnnd, I was wrong. However, I found her plight, and Rosamund’s apparent support, very moving.
Isobel, who is already is self-righteous, shoos everyone else out of the room so she, and she alone, can take the burden of nursing Violet. I find this kind of behavior extremely annoying when people do it in real life. Were we supposed to find it admirable?
Lady Mary is surrounded by an unlikely number of rich, handsome, eligible men who are in love with her, given her location amidst the desolate Yorkshire moors. (I just assume that Yorkshire is all covered in moors, since my knowledge of Yorkshire is limited to The Secret Garden and the writings of various Brontës. But the Abbey itself doesn’t look all that moor-ish, so to speak. Anyhow, they’re in the countryside.) An unlikely number, too, given that these men belong to the lost generation. According to this, somewhere around 30% of British males of military age died during the Great War. Yet she has more suitors than Penelope. She seems poised for a very merry widowhood indeed.
Someone with greater knowledge of the dissolution of the once-great estates of England please chime in here: was the problem with the estates really that the owners were unwilling to wade into pig muck? Was wading in the pig muck ever a viable option for estate-saving? Accurately or not, Lady Mary proves herself as having what it takes to save an estate to the suitor who looks vaguely like Harry Hamlin. She wades in pig muck, and thus wades into his heart. And then they get into the literal mud-slinging. It may be that I’m a bitter, twisted soul who has been married for years and haven’t felt the sweet breath of new love for too long. But could I request a moratorium on scenes where people fall in love by making each other very messy in some way or other accompanied by forced laughter? No mud, no flour, no paint. Snow is a maybe.
And finally there’s Mr. Green. Who took the trouble of ascertaining that Mr. Bates did not know he raped Anna, and then seemed to go out of his way to mention where he was during that fateful concert. Is he deliberately provoking Bates? What’s the deal there? Will Anna really not be able to convince Bates that her life will become a much bigger mess if he kills Green?
Russell: I need to back things up way to the beginning of the episode, because I have Questions.
Namely, what the hell kind of trouble could the Earl’s brother-in-law be in that will be somehow mitigated by the Earl’s presence? Perhaps we’ll get an explanation of why they needed to have him leave the estate while leaving Cora behind one of these days, but are we really expected to believe that the presence of a peer of the realm is going to make a whit of difference to some legal trouble in the US? Hell, it didn’t do Bates a damn bit of good last season, and that was in England!
I apologize for the use of all-caps in the next section. I regret that it cannot be helped.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, “DOWNTON ABBEY” SHOWRUNNERS!! WE DO NOT NOW AND HAVE NEVER CARED ABOUT THE DAISY-IVY-ALFRED LOVE TRIANGLE. WE WERE GLAD WHEN YOU SEEMED TO HAVE DRAWN A CLOSE TO THAT TIRESOME PLOTLINE BY SHIPPING HIM OFF TO COOKING SCHOOL LAST EPISODE. WHY IS HE BACK?!?!?!? HOW MANY JOKES ABOUT FALLING ASLEEP AM I FORCED TO MAKE? STOP TRYING TO MAKE FETCH HAPPEN!!!!
Thank you for bearing with me.
You know who’s one lucky woman? That Mabel lady. Lord Squishysquashy’s fiancee? The one who makes his face fall when she comes up in conversation? What a humdinger of a wedding night she’s in for. Nothing makes a new bride melt like the resigned indifference of her husband. He seems like a real stand-up chap now that he’s apparently consigned himself to marry her.
I found the segue from “we hired a highly-recommended pig man!” to “the pigs are dying of dehydration!” hilariously abrupt. They must have used the same rigorous interview technique that landed them the Evil Cackling Lady’s Maid.
Do I get a point for totally calling the abortion storyline? And I agree with you that the scenes with Edith and Rosamund (who I’ve come to like rather a lot) were very moving.
In answer to your question about Isobel — we are meant to find her deeply annoying and self-important behavior admirable.
And finally, there was Mr. Green, the Evil Rapist Valet. The Evil, Stupid Rapist Valet. After a profoundly satisfying scene, in which Mrs. Hughes could barely choke out her hate-laden, contempt-filled advice to him to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to stay alive (and Phyllis Logan’s acidic delivery of that particular line was worth rewinding to watch over and over), he essentially says in front of Bates “I was totally wandering around when your wife got raped!”
Things are going to get stabby.
Rose: I predict (or hope) that although things are slouching toward stabbiness, some voice of reason, whether embodied by Mrs. Hughes or Anna or Mary (hell, we’ll take Ivy or Molesley) intervenes. This plot-line, I assume, is why Bates did not accompany the Earl to New York. The notion that a husband must remain to provide emotional support for his traumatized wife does not seem true to 1920s psychological beliefs.
I was, however, very touched by Mary’s reaching out to Anna. Perhaps we didn’t need the trajectory of her character as explicitly laid out for her as it was earlier in the season (“I have returned to my former brittle self-absorbed persona after the death of my gorgeous, throbbing-with-sex-appeal husband, and I shall never be the caring woman I was with him.”). But it is nice to see that she has retained her wit and perspicacity, yet has plausibly become more kind-hearted and engaged with the world. I think you mentioned once that you weren’t all that fond of Mary. I have always been very fond of her. Indeed, I am shocked at what a finely drawn and plausible character she is. So many of the other characters are either indiscernibles or caricatures. Still others are subject to whiplash quick changes, seemingly in regard to audience criticisms (“The Earl is the most upstanding man ever known!” “No wait, he’s a crotchety buffoon!”).
May I propose a name for this latter phenomenon, also manifested in the Rose/Jack liaison? That is, the implausible change of character or trajectory of show that is clearly in response to audience criticism? I would like to call it a ‘Columbus Day Parade.’ This is in reference to a godawful episode of The Sopranos that provided a supposed meditation on the many manifestations of Italian-American identity clearly in response to Italian-Americans who criticized the show. (This was before Jersey Shore, after which Italian-Americans threw up their hands and said to the media, “There’s no longer anything we can do. Have your way with us.”)
Downton Abbey does have a problem with its hiring, no? We’ve had three (at least) scheming sociopaths, a cruel nanny, an absent pig man, and a Reluctantly Evil Lady’s Maid who started off rather cheerfully, but now walks around looking like Whistler’s mother eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Carson is giving Molesely a hard time merely because he expresses some reluctance.
What does a pig man recommendation letter look like? “I am writing to recommend very highly this pig man. He is in the top 5% of all the pig men I have worked with. I had an opportunity to see his work many times as we waded in the pig muck together. The pigs seemed very fond of him, and they always had enough water. If you have any further questions about this pig man, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”
Poor Mabel indeed. Traditionally, the advice to “close one’s eyes and think of England” is given to the female partner in a heterosexual coupling.
Anyhow, let’s look forward to next week. Predictions: we shall see that Cora, at least, accepts Edith’s pregnancy supportively, that Vacuous Dancing Cousin enrages the family with her 21st century thinking, and the pigs! The pigs will thrive!