We come to episode 4 of season 6, which has its moments, but also serves as a bridge to Episode 5. As you will see, much of this week’s action occurs over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The story lines intersect or are continued. Warning! Spoiler Alert. Continue reading at your own risk.
At the end of Episode 3, Tom crashes Elsie and Charlie’s wedding, because it was unfair to keep Sybbie from her family in Downton. Frankly, I think he returned because the viewers set up a hue and cry last season when he departed for the colonies. Thus, the writers wisely thought to bring him back. Lady Mary immediately asks Tom to become a joint agent, but he sees something larger for himself in the future.
“This will do for the time being, he says, not wanting to disappoint her.
“Whatever,” says Lady Mary, “But no more Miss Buntings, if you have any pity.”
For once I agree with Lady Mary.
Carson and his lady love are honeymooning in Scarborough, a popular seaside and spa resort during the Regency era, where, until the late 19th century, men would take a boat out to sea to spartle sans clothes in the waters out of the eyesight of delicate ladies. Scarborough was no longer a fashionable resort in the 1920s, as it had been a century or two before. More and more working class people were able to take a train to areas that were once available only to the rich, who went on to find more expensive waters. At breakfast, Lady Mary sniffs at the choice of honeymoon location, saying they could have managed something nicer. We can only hope that Elsie’s honeymoon with Charlie was blissful and unforgettable.
Downstairs, Thomas reigns as temporary butler, barking orders and demanding respect, which he does not receive. As Mrs. Patmore points out, his tenure will last a mere five minutes, until Mr. Carson gets back.
Thomas pays no heed, and wastes little time reminding one and all that his veneer of niceness these past three episodes was very thin. He’s back to acting like his old insufferable self and lording it over the servants, who are keeping score for Carson.
Hospital Wars, Ad Infinitum Boredom
Lady Violet enlists her dear friend, the dowager Lady Prudence Shackleton, to champion her fight in the hospital wars. Since that lady knows next to nothing about everything, she is the perfect candidate to join a losing battle – that of opposing change and persuading Lady Cora to join them in their backward thinking. (If you recall, Lady Shackelton, aka Harriet Walter, played that nasty Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, 1995. She was one of the best Fannies ever, to my way of thinking.)
The two friends meet over a nice pot of tea at the Dowager house.
“But what’s this about the hospitals?” Lady Shackleford asks, bewildered, and not understanding she’s supposed to parrot Lady Violet’s POV. “I really don’t see anything wrong…”
“Are you here to help or irritate?”
“To help, of course, and to bring my nephew Henry and his racing cars to the attention of Lady…”
“Well, then, there’s nothing more to be said. Just follow my lead.”
‘We’ll see,’ thinks Lady Prudence, determined to place Henry across Lady Mary’s path as often as possible during her visit.
Another Fine Dinner at Downton
Henry Talbot arrives with his aunt for dinner, surprising Lady Mary.
“Golly,” says she. “Nobody told me the nephew was you.”
“One must be allowed to keep some secrets,” Henry says, wondering if there is molten lava under her glacial crust.
As the assembled guests wait for the food to be served, Lady Prudence and Lady Violet embark on an important economic discussion regarding Henry.
“What sort of Talbot is he?” asks Lady Violet, trying to recall all 4,700 pages of Burke’s Peerage.
“A Shrewsbury,” Lady Shackleford sighs. ” Adequate prospects but not overwhelming. He’s nowhere near the earldom. Forty strong men would have to drop dead…”
“Well, nothing is impossible,” says Violet optimistically.
The earl, listening in, remarks, “Honestly!”
“Mary needs more than a handsome smile and a hand on the gear stick,” retorts the dowager.
” I’m surprised you know what a gear stick is,” he rejoins.
Before Lady Violet can list all the prominent gear sticks in her life, the dining room doors swing open and Barrow announces dinner.
While the group munches on a delicious meal of calf’s brain with black butter and deep fried tripe, Isobel states her case for the Yorkshire Hospital’s takeover of Downton’s little clinic. “I’m all for PROGRESS,” she concludes.
Lady Violet won’t hear of anything concerning growth, improvements, advancements, or breakthroughs since the 13th century.
“You are making a grave mistake!” She turns to her enlistee.”PRUDENCE, tell them!”
“I, uh, well, uh. Uhm. I expect there’s a great deal to be said on both sides, or all sides, or the side that matters, or no side at all!”
“D O N ‘ T B E S O F E E B L E!”
“How can I present myself as an expert when I don’t know the facts?” Prudence whines.
“Well, that’s never stopped me!”
More chit chat about the hospitals ensues, when Lady Edith remarks, “I suppose Cousin Isobel is entitled to put up an argument.”
“Of course she is,” declares Lady Violet, “She’s just not entitled to WIN it.”
The discussion goes on and on, with Isobel smiling and Lady Violet sending out dagger looks, until dinner mercifully ends and the viewers can stop folding laundry or checking their emails.
Henry Talbot escorts Lady Mary from the dining room.
“Do you ever make it up to London?” he asks.
“Would you think it terribly common if I gave you my card?”
“Fairly common, but I’ll take it anyway.”
“Telephone me. We’ll have lunch, or a drink……….or something.”
Mary lifts an eyebrow, intrigued by the something. “You know I couldn’t be less interested in cars if I took a pill to achieve it.”
“Mmmm,” Henry murmurs, thinking to impress her with his strong engine.
Mr. and Mrs. John Harding Arrive for Lunch
Lady Rosamund Painswick, as trustee of Hillcroft College, an establishment for clever women of modest backgrounds, invites Mr. and Mrs. John Harding to lunch to meet her family and to entice Lady Edith to become a trustee. He is the College’s treasurer, a self-made man, clever, and successful; Gwen, his wife, is one of those women with a modest background who made something of herself and married a man of means. She was, as you recall, dear viewers, a hard-working house maid at the Abbey and sweet Sybil’s former protégé.
As Thomas opens the door, he does not recognize Gwen all washed clean in her pretty outfit with her respectable husband. Anna recognizes Gwen right away.
Lady Mary is not sure. “Forgive me, have we met?”
“Not exactly, says Gwen, thinking, ‘I used to carry your chamber pots down the back stairs. Would that count?’
Gwen, under the impression they were to visit Lady Rosamund Painswick, did not know she was coming to the Abbey until it was too late to let the servants know, a non-move she regrets. This failure to alert them of her visit does not sit well with Barrow. At his false prompting, the servants think her a stuck up prig with no sense of loyalty. “We gave her her start up in life, what with carrying dozens of pails of water up the stairs, cleaning the floors on her hands and knees, and clearing 95 fireplaces of ashes. How ungrateful!”
“Darn right,” says Daisy, who is mad, and has been as mad as a mosquito trapped in a vampire’s vault at Lady Cora for not instantly installing her Mr. Mason into Yew Tree Farm.
Unaware of the servants’ displeasure with Gwen Harding, the luncheon group embark on neutral pre-lunch chit chat. The writers have found an interesting and entertaining way to discuss the changing role for women in this scene without sounding too preachy and maintaining the entertainment level.
Isobel addresses Gwen, wanting to know more about the Hardings’ story.
“The telephone company changed everything for me. I was a secretary before that…”
For some reason, Gwen suffers from selective amnesia and forgets the ‘I was in service’ part.
“She moved into local government and then met me,” her husband adds succinctly.
“I might have gone further if I’d had more education,” says Gwen. “We can’t afford to waste working women by not educating them.”
The group is then asked to sit down to a luncheon of vermicelli soufflé and asparagus ice.
“It’s too bad Carson isn’t here,” says Lady Mary, referring to Gwen’s last statement, for our favorite butler thinks an education is wasted on young women.
“You recall Carson, Madam, surely,” says Barrow, outing Gwen and demolishing weeks of hard-won sainthood for the sake of a moment’s empty victory.
The room grows glacially silent.
“What do you mean, Barrow?” asks Lady Cora.
“Mrs. Harding used to work here,” says Barrow, as cool as a Survivor contestant throwing one of his tribe under the bus.
Gwen, having worked alongside this insufferable prig for many a moon, interrupts him.
“Thank you, Mr. Barrow, I can tell it.”
As Barrow leaves, all eyes turn to her, none too friendly, except for Isobel, who will always champion an underdog, especially a female with a 20th-century story.
Gwen lobs a bomb in the center of the table.
“I used to be a housemaid here for a couple of years after the war.”
“Here? Why didn’t you say?” says the earl with a polite but tight smile.
” I don’t know,” says Gwen, thinking that she was dreading being shown the servant’s entrance.
“Well, you had every opportunity,” Lady Mary says, trying to adjust to the idea of sitting opposite a PERSON who had seen her dirty undies.
“I feel stupid for not recognizing you,” adds Cora.
“Why should you? We never spoke. But Lady Sybil spoke to me.”
“Sybil?” All eyes turn to her, inquiring.
“I didn’t want to be in service all my life. Lady Sybil found the job. She did everything. Looked out for the jobs, made the calls, drove me to the interviews. One time the horse went lame and we both got stuck in the mud…”
Cora, her face soft with the memory of her daughter, says, “We were so worried, but she never said a thing about you.”
“It was our secret pact. One day she cornered the man who was installing the telephone here, and that’s how I got me first job in business.”
“She wouldn’t let me in the library while you met him,” says the earl slowly, reminiscing. “So that was you…”
“Her kindness changed me life.”
All eyes are wet – those at the Abbey and those who are watching this scene. This was a lovely way to remember Sybil and include her in the last season – through the kindness that she bestowed a simple house maid.
Mary looks up at Thomas and says pointedly, “Thank you, Barrow, for reminding us of Mrs. Harding’s time here.”
“My pleasure, my lady,” says Barrow, his face twitching. ‘Why do things never go according to plan?’ he thinks, hoping in some way to salvage his economically active status at the Abbey.
As Gwen leaves the Abbey, she whispers to Thomas in her silky Ygritte voice: “You know nothing, Mr. Barrow.”
The earl later corrals him to talk about his lack of generosity. “Carson is a kind man, that is why people are loyal to him.”
As a final nail in his employment coffin, Baxter reminds Thomas, “You are your own worst enemy.”
And so the servants vote once again:
A Hasty Trip to London
Anna feels pains and worries that she’s having another miscarriage. She tells Lady Mary and reminds her, “I don’t want Bates to know!” Lady Mary coolly tells her, “We’ll just say I need to see a doctor, double quick.” For a two night stay at Belgrave Square, Mary has Anna pack two heavy suitcases with an assortment of items, including books and chocolates, that she cannot live without for 48 hours. Normally, our tiny Anna can haul such luggage with ease down the stairs, swinging both of them on her back, but this time Lady Mary asks Bates to carry them. He looks at this cane and starts to wonder…
“Never mind,” says Anna hastily, forgetting the pains in her womb. “I’ll just carry them down one at a time.”
Lady Mary is relieved to no end when Anna has her stitch successfully stitched, but the operation means that they must stay for one or two extra days at Aunt Rosamund’s place in Belgrave Square.
‘What’s a single woman to do while glamping in her stodgy aunt’s London apartment?’ Mary wonders. Why, whip out the card she accepted from Henry Talbot, of course, and give him a ring. He’s there in a trice and takes her to an RAC (Royal Automobile Club) diner, a rather plush place for a mere driver, but no great shakes for a great lady.
“I look shabby. I brought no clothes,” she says, forgetting her mounds of luggage, “and so had to rifle through Aunt Rosamund’s ghastly closets.”
He eyes her up and down and sideways and says in a caressing voice, “You are anything but shabby.”
Once at the table, he asks, “What is your enthusiasm?” thinking she will say “clothes, children, horses, and irritating Lady Edith,” but she says instead, “I work. I function as an agent. I want to leave my little George as the master of a modern going concern.”
“So am I, but what I truly hope is that you’re boiling up to make a pass.”
“Probably.” Both stare at their menus wondering how the other will look without a stitch on. “But will you accept?”
Mary, secure in her femme fatale record, replies, “No. I just enjoy the process enormously.”
Henry is beginning to think that he’ll need more than one lariat to rope in this filly.
Daisy loves Lady Cora. Daisy hates Lady Cora. Daisy doesn’t know what to think, but she thinks she might love Lady Cora again when she learns that Mr. Mason will have Yew Tree Farm. He’s glad to have a place to rest his bones. Daisy’s glad he’s glad.
End of story.
The Honeymooners Return
The Carsons return from their honeymoon all white and pasty from a week at a seaside resort near a very cold ocean. “Home again at last, I feel as if I’ve been away for months,” says Carson, glad to be in service again. His loving bride aims a well-timed kick at his shin. ‘What? What did I say?’ thinks Carson, unaware that as a newly wed bride, his Elsie would find his joyful outburst at returning to work somewhat unflattering.
Meanwhile, the downstairs folk have planned a party for the newlyweds, to which the Crawleys have been invited.
” I haven’t been in the kitchens for at least 20 years,” observes Lady Violet. “I will need Ariadne’s thread to find my way out again!”
“Have you got your passport?” asks Isobel, not in the least sympathetic.
During the merry making, Edith lets out that she wants to find a woman editor.
Violet harrumps at the thought.
Mary says sensibly, “Well, it IS a magazine for women.”
“That was nice of you to praise Edith’s plan,” Aunt Rosamund tells Mary.
Lest anyone thinks she has a soft heart for her sister, Mary retorts, “A monkey will type out the bible if you leave it alone long enough.”
Indeed, and a monkey could have typed out this review as well.
Fiddle Dee Dee
After having watched her carry only one suitcase down the stairs at a time, Bates approaches Anna at the party. “I know what you’re hiding.”
“What I’m hiding is very happy.”
“I am, and was saved by a stitch in time.”
Both smile and hug and kissy face. Cue the fiddlers for a happy dance, please.
Whatever Name You Choose, Just Make it Easy On Us, Will Ya?
Upstairs the conversation has taken its usual banal turn. The group just can’t get their tongues around Mr. Carson and Mrs. Carson. It is so much easier to say Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes than the Carsons, isn’t it? This situation is worse than Jane Eyre wishing to be called Mrs. Rochester! Or Charlotte Lucas being called Mrs. Collins. (The abomination!) None of us will get used to it! Why can’t they just remain Carson and Mrs. Hughes!
As it so happens, Mr. and Mrs. Carson wish to remain named as they were before their union was sanctified.
“Hallelujah! You’ve made me a happy man!” says the earl, clutching his abdomen and thinking, ‘Must’ve been the deep fried tripe that upset my stomach, or perhaps the alcohol. Will remind myself to lay off the port.’
And so another episode has ended, gentle viewers, which I give 3 out of 5 stars, simply because most of the story lines just twirled and swirled – in a delightful way, to be sure, but this is Downton Abbey, after all, and the show has set STANDARDS.
Please join me in an informal poll: Which of the following, in your opinion, is easier to say? Carson and Mrs. Carson, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, or “Hey You?” Uninformed minds want to know.
My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews: