Blogging the Abbey, Episode 7
Russell: Some things are certain. Death. Taxes. Madonna’s unceasing struggle to stay relevant. Etc.
To that list we can, with confidence, add “too-tidy plot devices on ‘Downton Abbey.'” This episode brought the end (I hope) of two different, unrelated (though mutually annoying) story lines, and either resolution or significant inflection points in two other, bigger dramas.
Let’s start with the one I have been praying would end. Is it just me, or do characters on “Downton Abbey” propose marriage with startling celerity? And on really thin grounds? Last week Ivy was marginally more conversational with Alfred, which apparently he took for a hankering to get engaged. Looks like you jumped the gun on that one, amigo! Mmmmaybe should have suggested going to the movies as a sensible next step, rather than asking her to marry you via letter. Blah blah blah rejection blah blah Daisy blah sayonara. I will say the scene where Daisy finally rediscovers that good sense the writers tried to invest her with last season, in which she bestows Alfred with a basketful of “missed your chance” farm-fresh comestibles, was the only one in the entire story arc that actually made me care even the slightest bit. (She should spend more time on that farm.)
Moving on, it seems that Lady Mary is quite an efficient fixer. We’ll get to the Evil Roadkill Rapist Valet in due course, but not only did she get him sacked, she also hastened the demise of the Jack- Lady Rose romance. In a sop to modern audiences, she did it in the most Not Actually Racist way possible. In fact, had Rose not revealed how gross her real motivations were for wanting to marry him in the first place, perhaps she would have let things go on? We’ll never know, since Vacuous Dancing Cousin did reveal how Secretly Kind of Gross she also is. I don’t care how awful your mother is, honey. Involving an innocent, gallant black man with an inconsistent accent in your psychodramas with her is pretty despicable. I wonder if the writers meant her to seem as unsympathetic as I now find her?
Protip for nefarious subsidiary characters: if the most competent major character in the series tells you to keep your mouth shut if you want to live, and renders this advice despite wanting to choke you to death with her own bare hands herself, keep your mouth shut! Do not in short order reveal in front of the husband of the woman you raped that you were wandering about during the time of said crime, nor casually mention where you live. If you do, don’t be surprised if the cobblestones in your neighborhood suddenly become precariously slippery.
I think I will leave Lady Edith and her peripatetic womb to you, Rose.
Rose: The showrunners of Downton Abbey remind me, in a way, of my six-year-old. When he tells a joke that gets a chuckle, he is thrilled and tells it over and over and over. Despite the diminishing returns of laughter with each re-tellling, he still hopes to catch the magic of that first response. Likewise, when something kinda sorta works on Downton Abbey, they’ll have another go at it. Mr. Bates is a maybe-murderer of a thoroughly unpleasant person! The incredibly irritating Isobel is romantically pursued! Those storylines worked in Season 1 (or was it 2?); they’re gonna be gold in Season 4!
I agree about Daisy’s goodbye, but it did seem to come out of nowhere, no? She’s madly in love with Alfred, spreads a blanket with her father figure, and suddenly she’s presenting him with a delicious parting Zabar’s gift basket.
Lady Mary, who has been wearing nothing but black and purple for the whole season, started this episode similarly. She had a single brief appearance in mauve before finally settling on pearl gray. Glad to see her change the wardrobe palette a bit, especially considering she’s mentioned her dear departed dreamy-eyed inamorato maybe twice in the past 6 episodes. Her social skills — well-suited to win over audiences a century hence — serve her very well while she non-racistly suggests to Jack that he should not be Marrying While Black.
But seriously, folks. Does anyone really believe she will go for Lord Lemmingsworth-Tottle over Mud-Slinging Friend of Pigs? Especially after M-SFoP holds her baby, which is more affection than we’ve seen Mary express toward him. I half expected her to murmur to baby George when he was brought in, “Have we met?” And poor dimpled, stuttering Evelyn. He just fades right into the exquisite woodwork of the Abbey’s balustrade. Unlike the other two suitors, he doesn’t even get a rejection from Mary that he asserts he will ignore.
Let’s turn now, as you suggest, to Lady Edith. Edith hits on the brilliant idea of requesting that the latest pig man, Mr. Drew, should raise her child. You should have seen his recommendation letter: “He’s so wonderful with pigs, I would trust him with my own litter!” Because no one would suspect a thing if Mr. Drew abruptly had a new baby after Edith had spent some months gaining weight and waddling. She is dissuaded from this ill-thought-out plan by Rosamund, who is certainly putting her money where her mouth his in terms of supporting her niece. Accompanying Edith to a foreign country for several months is extremely supportive indeed, especially given how tart Rosamund was on hearing that Edith managed to have one happy night in her whole damn life.
Cora’s mothering instincts, it seems, are as sharp as her interview skills. Her daughter essentially saying, “Why, yes, a couple of months after my liaison with my gentlemen friend ended, I suddenly want to go off to a different country for several months, despite no previous expressed interest in travel, simply to learn a language,” raises no alarm bells with Cora. I wish Cora had been my mom during my teenage years; I would have gotten away with so much more.
Could they not have shot a scene of the Earl in New York? The budget on this show seems not insignificant. Surely they could have shot a New-York-in-the-1920s exterior or two. Who among us wouldn’t have loved to see the Earl surrounded by crass Americans? Meeting Jay Gatsby?
Russell: Isobel has had a gentleman caller in season’s past? I’d forgotten that entirely. I kind of like this new guy. His confession that he didn’t like his late wife and didn’t really mind that she’s dead was refreshingly frank, and the look of incredulous horror on the Dowager’s face as she watched romance bloom in front of her eyes was worth the whole thing.
Speaking of forgotten story elements, didn’t Edith sign some papers for Michael Gregson before he absconded? Shouldn’t she be checking in now and then to run things in his office? No? Given how idiotic her plan to plant her love child with the New and Improved Pig Man was, maybe it’s for the best.
We haven’t even mentioned Branson, the committed socialist. Remember when he was torching Irish estates and then regretting it when he realized that the people who’d lived there were sad? He’s spent so much time upstairs now he’s numbering Cora with the proletariat because she lugged some flowers for the church bazaar. A regular Vladimir Lenin, that guy.
I wonder if Thomas’s references to how “modern” America was meant he got a little action. (And of course I agree with you. So many wasted story opportunities!) Now that he’s back at the Abbey, he’s back to plotting…. something, I guess? Baxter is totally half-assing her Reluctant Evil at this point, so if he’s got something cooking he’d better get on with it. At this rate, Molesley is dangerously close to getting some self-esteem.
The Downton writers’ penchant for recycling plots seems to include Evelyn Napier’s role as “guy who introduces much more charismatic romantic interests to Lady Mary and is then promptly forgotten.” (He makes Hugh Grant look like Steve McQueen.) But as God is my witness, if they stick Bates back in jail, I may be done. I’d rather watch Alfred mope on a train eating locally-sourced cheese than bear five more minutes of Anna visiting her husband in the clink.
Good heavens, is next week the finale already?