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Caution: Spoiler Alert. Do not proceed if you have not seen this episode. The earl feels better but he is bored. He wants to visit London and see Henry Talbot in a motor race, having been invited along with the family to Brooklands.

Racing is part of who Henry is, Mary realizes. She will have to go, despite her misgivings. Could she live happily ever after with someone of such low stature?

The two elder Crawleys wonder about that too. Cora does not think that a professional driver would make her oldest daughter happy. The earl wonder at her attraction to him. “Isn’t Mary too sensible?” he asks, forgetting that he’s had the hots for is common born (albeit filthy rich) wife these 30 years.

A Curious Wedding Invitation

Meanwhile, at the dowager cottage, Violet and Isobel discuss an invitation that Isobel received to Larry Gray’s wedding.

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Violet. Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2016 for Masterpiece

“Why would you want to be there and subject you to more insults?” asks Violet.

“But who would invite me…?” asks a perplexed Isobel.

“I’d say this is the work of Miss Cruikshank. Why don’t I pay a call to her and wink out the truth!”

When Violet talks to that young lady, she sees through her in a trice. Miss Cruikshank, it turns out, wants to fob Dickie off on Isobel, who would act as an adult day care provider for an ailing man.

Lady Violet, tired of losing her battles over the hospital, has a trip planned to the south of France, unbeknownst to her family. She gives Isobel a letter to give to her son after she is gone. “How will he know to get in touch with you?” asks her bewildered friend.

“Through Tom. He is sensible,” says Violet, confident that Sybil’s very capable husband can find her in case of an emergency.

Elsie and Charlie Prepare a Nice meal

Charlie has asked Elsie to make dinner for him on their free day when the Crawleys are all in London, and so she enlists Mrs. Patmore for help.

“Does he appreciate all you do?” Daisy says, listening in.

“Does any man?” Elsie says testily.

Mrs. Patmore, wise sage that she is, has come up with a brilliant idea and schools Elsie on how to teach Charlie a lesson.

When meal preparation time approaches, Elsie has seemingly injured her hand. A thick bandage prevents her from performing normal kitchen duties, or so she says.

Charlie is not at all pleased. “How did you come to do it?” he asks, carrying a large basket laden with food.

“I must have stumbled,” she lies. “I can’t cook! Not like this. You will have to help me.”

Since Charlie’s blood sugar drops precipitously when he’s had nothing to eat, he willingly takes on the cook’s role, as well as the role of scullery maid, footman, and butler.

Elsie guides her man though the process of making a meal, step by painful step.

“Fetch the stove wood. Prep the stove. Get the chicken in the oven, wash your hands, peel the potatoes, wash your hands, prepare the apple crumble, set the table, churn the butter, wash your hands, make the sauce, check the chicken, stir the sauce, boil the potatoes, bake the crumble, thicken the sauce, heat the plates, open the wine, pour the wine, throw out the burnt sauce and make new sauce, get more wood for the stove. Oooooooooooh! Watch the chicken! Watch the potatoes!”

Three hours later, Charlie serves burnt potatoes, forgets the apple crumble, and burns his fingers. He feels a tingling in his left arm, then falls asleep at the table with nary a bite to eat. When he wakes from his stupor, Elsie asks him to soak the dishes for the time being.

“You don’t have to wash up until the morning,” she says magnanimously.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. How many of us, gentle readers, have wondered if upper level management ever truly understood the pressures their honey bee workers are under? I believe that with Mrs. P’s sage advice, Elsie has helped Charlie to discover a new respect for cook, maid, and bottle washer. I doubt he’ll give her much trouble in the future regarding nitpicky details after requesting a quiet meal in his cottage for two.

A Day at the Races

The Crawleys arrive in London for the motor races. Edith visits the staff at her magazine. Her new co-editor, Laura, a pretty woman Edith’s age, is excited about a new column submitted by a Miss Cassandra Jones. “It’s quite amusing,” she says. “We should give her a try.” Edith invites Laura to join them at Brooklands the following day.

Dinner at Aunt Rosamund’s house is not boring, especially when Henry Talbot drops in on dinner uninvited. Lady Mary finds his moves a bit obvious – which does not deter her attraction to him a bit.

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Image: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films, 2016 for Masterpiece

At Brooklands, the Crawleys are enjoying the races and refreshments immensely. Laura, Edith’s co-editor, has caught Tom’s eye, and even Lady Mary is caught up with the excitement of watching a group of cars race past them in a blur. But the race seems endless.

“When will it be over?” she asks, as do the viewers, who are accustomed to better music and faster speeds.

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Image, Nick Briggs/Carnival Film, 2016 for Masterpiece

Round and round the cars go. Round and round. And then…..a CRASH. A plume of oily smoke rises up. And then, horror.

Henry and all the bystanders rush to the accident at the opposite side of the track. Mary fights her terror, until she discovers that Charlie Rogers has died, not Henry. She feels relief, anger, and fear at the same time. While she wants to support Henry, she is unable to. Her emotions are too raw and the accident reminds her too much of the loss and grief she experienced over Mathew’s death.

During dinner at Aunt Rosamund’s, the earl, Cora, — everyone — is deathly quiet and agree that it was a bloody awful business. A short while later, Henry rings up Mary, who breaks up with him when he is at his most vulnerable. She gives him the awful news over the phone, which is akin to breaking up via text message these days.

“I need you,” he tells her.

She realizes they are not meant to be together. “Give me up,” she tells him. “I wish you nothing but good.”

Mary is sure of her decision. Tom, after learning what she has done, reminds her that being hurt is part of being alive.

A Fine Romance

Meanwhile, Edith snuggles with Bertie’s on the sofa, discussing the sad events. She has never felt so comfortable with someone, and he feels strangely happy, even on a day like this.

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Edith and Bertie. Nick Briggs/Carnival Film, 2016 for Masterpiece

“Is it wrong?” he asks.

“No. Today has been sad and wretched and having you here has helped me, that’s all.”

“I want to marry you,” he says, unexpectedly.

“Oh.” Edith is thrilled and delighted, and rather surprised about his proposal. “I’m not the sort of girl that men are mad about.”

“I don’t have much to offer … a penniless land agent,” he counters.

“Would you like me to bring marigold with me?” Edith ventures.

“Marigold? Your family’s ward?”

“You see, I’m much fonder of her than anyone else and I’d hate to leave her behind”.

“Of course. We’ll have children of our own.”

She tells him that she will have to think about his proposal.

“Kiss me and I promise I won’t keep you waiting too long,” she says.

And so Edith has skirted the topic of Marigold’s being her daughter once again. (Cue ominous music, please.)

Bed and Breakfast, Beryl Patmore Style

Mrs. Patmore’s bed and breakfast is coming along nicely. She has attracted her first customers, a doctor and his wife. Along with a lovely breakfast and two guest rooms, her cottage offers an indoor privy.

While Mrs. P. works at the main house, her niece, Lucy, will see to the guest house. Beryl’s goal is to have a reputation for good service and good food. In her mind, she could not have started out better as an innkeeper, even if she tried.

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Mrs. Patmore ambushed. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for Masterpiece

But the paying customers turn out to be a pair of skanks having an affair. The doctor is a mere mister and his so-called missus is another man’s missus. A photographer catches them out and the resulting publicity creates a local scandal.

In no time, Beryl’s pretty little rose covered cottage is regarded as a house of ill repute and she is gaining a reputation as the inn keeper of a tawdry bawdy house. Poor Beryl. In this instance, she can’t win for trying.

The Egyptian Connection

The Crawleys return from London downcast. They are greeted by Isobel, who hands over a letter to the earl from Violet, which tells him that his momma needed a change of air and that she’ll be traveling all over the Mediterranean. As a gesture of love, she has arranged a present for him, which Mr. Sprat has delivered.

His lordship must go below stairs, which all seems very rum to him.

“Her ladyship was most particular, my lord,” says Sprat, undeterred. “She chose the present herself.”

earl sees his dog

Robert sees the puppy

 

The moment Robert sets eyes on the yellow lab puppy, his demeanor changes.

“Ohhhhh, hello little one!” he exclaims, hugging the puppy.

He calls her Tiaa, in the grand tradition of naming all his dogs after famous Egyptians – Pharaoh, Isis, and now Tiaa (pronounced Teo.) Or, as the confusing matter stands, Tio or Tiy, another wife of Amenhotep III.

What a sweet ending to a rather sad episode. What say you, gentle readers? Can you believe we have only 2 episodes to go?

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Spoiler Alert: Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.

As episode six opens, Moseley is handing out tickets for a tour of the Abbey in aid of the Downton Hospital Trust. BRING ALL THE FAMILY IN A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO VIEW THE STATEROOMS OF THIS GRAND MANSION! shouts a poster affixed to the Church’s outdoor bulletin board.

Mary and Tom have come up with a brilliant idea that neither the earl nor his fond mama find appealing.

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Downton Abbey | Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

We’ve nothing to show them,” complains a grumpy earl, still abed after his vomitous projectile episode and sick of being sick. “Some dusty old portraits of relatives no one remembers … We sleep in a bed, eat at the table … What do we have to show them, except Lady Grantham knitting? They’ll do better taking the train to London and visiting the Tate.”

“People want to see a different sort of home, not the things in it. They want to see how the other half lives, where supreme calm, dignity, and propriety always reign,” says Lady Mary with a straight face.

“The Abbey is to be opened for one day for charity, nothing more,” adds Cora in a reassuring tone.

Tom says very little. He’s too busy calculating the amount the Abbey can rake in by multiplying the potential visitors, times the operating hours, times 6 d. admission per head, times the number of downstairs rooms that can be traipsed through, times the number of physically fit family members who can escort the hoi polloi at speeds calculated to make even a motor car driver like Henry Talbot dizzy. Since no member of the Crawley family has anything of historic interest to say about the Abbey, each paying customer should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete a 3-hour tour (complete with complimentary luggage and clothing for 3 years, courtesy of Madame Ginger of The Minnow Booking Agency). When Tom realizes what a treasure trove the Abbey represents, British pound signs begin to replace the pupils in his eyes.

But I digress. Let’s return to the earl’s bedroom, gentle readers, where Tom comes to himself long enough to say, “They have a curiosity about our way of life.”

Mary and Tom have made the decision,” says Cora with a finality that brooks no debate.

“I know well enough that when Mary has spoken, my opinion has little bearing on the matter. I still think it’s crackers,” Robert says peevishly.

Since his BLOODY episode at dinner, the earl’s been on a strict 500 calorie a day diet of broth and flavored gelatin. He’s hungry AND craving crackers, no doubt about it.

Two Friends Discuss Jane Austen

As an aside, conversations about visitors paying their hard-earned lucre to see an aristocratic pile of stone and its gardens are rather confusing for Jane Austen fans. It has been a grand tradition for housekeepers and butlers for centuries to show visitors around in great country estates for a moderate tip when the owners are away or at play. How else could Jane have contrived to place Elizabeth Bennet at Mr. Darcy’s great estate, Pemberley, and to have her meet him in the most embarrassing circumstances, only to discover that he’s a splendid fellow after all and that his house, reputation, and income aren’t all that shabby either? This well-known point was confirmed by Isobel, who sensibly reminds the unhappy Violet of this fact.

But why should they pay?” asks Lady Violet peevishly, “just to see an ordinary house?”

Ordinary, indeed. One wonders how our favorite dowager duchess would describe Chatsworth House or Castle Howard. She must regard her cozy dowager cottage as a mere hovel.

 

The Merge

The two hospitals will merge, as expected, and the post of president will be offered to Cora, Lady Grantham. Lady Violet will be “allowed” to step down after many years of service. Her demotion smacks of age discrimination, since, in the words of Dr. Clarkson, her once loyal ally, “She is not as young as she once was.”

Cora is gob smacked. She’s to step into her mama-in-law’s shoes and be given more responsibility! “Who will tell her?” she asks, with some trepidation, knowing it would be wiser to provoke a rabid dog than to inflame her mama-in-law.

Let’s have the hospital write her a nice letter of termination after we leave for America. We will be well out of the way by then,” Isobel says sensibly.

Cora is almost tempted. Instead, she invites her mama-in-law to a discussion in the earl’s bedchamber. Before they can inform the dowager of her reduced status, Lady Violet announces, “The patients are my priority. I shall be MAGNANIMOUS in victory.” She exits the room, not having learned of her firing.

I am woman hear me roar

I suppose you will want to accept the position,” Robert says peevishly. “I worry that this will be too much for you. You’re not like Isobel. You need your rest.”

“What do you mean?” Cora asks in too soft a voice. “I’m not old, Robert.”

“I didn’t say you were!”

“Didn’t you?”

The earl spends the next few minutes prying his foot from his mouth.

 

A Fond Sisterly Exchange, Part Two

Bertie Pelham wants to meet up here,” announces Edith.

“Is he worth it?” asks Mary.

“As opposed to your car mechanic?” asks Edith.

“Hey,” says Tom. “I’m one.”

 

Opening the Abbey’s Doors to Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

Meanwhile, downstairs, Carson hates the idea of strangers poking and prying around the house. “What are the odds of them slipping a valuable bauble or two, or a first edition, in their back pockets?” he asks, which causes Bates to worry that he or Anna could be charged with theft should an unscrupulous visitor lift a few priceless items, what with their bad luck and all. The constable’s always breathing down their necks when anything of a CRIMINAL nature occurs and he’s tired of the man’s harassment.

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Tom and Bertie. Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the tours nears. Bertie Pelham, who has come for a visit with Edith’s family, asks sensibly, “Who knows about the history of the house?”

Only our librarian, Mr. Pattinson,” answers Edith. “But he won’t be here.”

“You’ll have to fake it,” says Bertie, less sure of their success.

“Do we need anyone knowledgeable?” asks Tom. “Can’t they just have a quick look before we push them out like cattle?”

“Not if you don’t want them to go out happy and leave what’s not theirs,” says a sensible Bertie. “We’ll have the servants sit in an inconspicuous corner to keep an eye on things.”

In due course it is decided that the public will be taken through the small library, then the big library, then through the painted room, the withdrawing room and smoking room, the great hall, in and out of the dining room, and back outside.

What about the back staircases and the gardens?” asks Bertie, who worries that the visit might be a tad rushed. And then he comes to the important question. “Who are the guides?”

“Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Grantham. I’ll sell tickets,” says Tom.

“Well, then, Lady Grantham, you and your daughters will take parties of 10 each with no more than 30 people in the house at a time,” says Bertie decisively.

“Crikey!” says Edith.

“Heavens,” says Cora.

‘Hell!’ thinks Mary.

long line

A line forms. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the house tour arrives, the ticket table is placed at the front door, a long line is forming, and our aristocratic trio of ladies are ready as they will ever be. They fail miserably as docents, of course, their knowledge of the priceless paintings and artifacts in the house being a smidgen above zero. How could they have known that people of humble origins would ask such impossibly intelligent questions?

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Cora smiling instead of informing. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

As a group tours through the house with Lady Cora, she quickly reveals how little she knows about the saloon.

This room was medieval,” she ventures.

“Is that why it’s called Downton Abbey?”

“I guess so.”

A visitor points to a portrait. “Who painted that?”

“I’m not sure, but…” Cora gestures vaguely around the room… “This painting and that painting, and, oh, that one over there, well, they’re quite worth looking at. Don’t you think?”

“What are those blank shields on the mantelpiece?”

Cora peers closely. “I haven’t a clue.”

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Edith reveals her ignorance. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

Lady Edith is not faring much better than her momma.

Tell us about that painting,” asks one visitor.

“They’re all rather marvelous, don’t you think? Truth be told, I haven’t looked at them in years. They’re part of the background…”

“Who is the architect?”

“Sir Charles Barry. He finished the Houses of Parliament and built lots of other lovely big buildings, or so I think. Well, I’m almost sure.”

In the library, Lady Mary reassures her group that the sitter in one portrait, “…might be the son or it MIGHT be the father…”

Before Lady Mary spews more inanities, Lady Violet barges into the library, not caring that there are 30 strangers in her son’s house. “WHERE IS SHE!!!” the dowager demands, looking for the traitorous USURPER. She has just found out about her amicable discharge from the hospital board and will not wait another second to speak her mind.

Lady Mary, wishing to deflect her grandmama from saying something untoward AND have her answer a question that has her stymied, asks Violet about who founded the library.

The library was assembled by the fourth earl. He was a great reader. He was also a collector of horses and women,” she says, charging out of the room.

The visitors realize that the dowager imparted more information in three curt sentences than the ‘docents’ had in 2 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, a bored Robert, in danger or developing bedsores from lying around too long, espies a cheeky little rascal peeking around his bedroom door.

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Little visitor

Who are you?”

The boy looks up and around, curious. “Why is your house so big?”

Robert is taken aback. “I’m not sure really.”

“Why not buy something that’s comfortable. You must have the money,” the urchin says reasonably.

“You know how it is,” the earl sighs. “You like what you’re used to.”

Molesley appears at the doorway, sees the tyke, orders him out of the family quarters, and threatens to report him.

No,” the earl says, “he was more a philosopher than a thief.”

After Tom counts up the day’s till (minus the amount refunded to unhappy customers), he proposes that the Abbey should be opened for more tours in the future. This sets off a shrill protest among the docents, who quit en masse.

So much for family unity.

 

An Undelivered Letter

Some days later, as Mrs. Patmore tosses out some kitchen scraps, she finds a letter from Mr. Mason, which Daisy accidentally on purpose dropped in the rubbish bin.

Why is it opened?” Mrs. P. asks suspiciously, curling her nose at the odors emanating from the pages.

“I don’t know,” says Daisy, deliberately forgetting that Mr. Mason charged her to give Mrs. Patmore his missive.

“Did the letter grow legs and walk to the rubbish bin?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did it somehow open itself?”

“Maybe.”

“Pah,” says Mrs. Patmore, thinking, ‘We’ll see about this.’

When Mr. Mason drops by with a basket of fresh veggies, ostensibly to thank Mrs. Patmore, but actually to see her sweet face again, Daisy turns even more childish.

You’ve already thanked her,” she says petulantly. “Besides, why bother? Have you seen the kitchen gardens here?”

Mrs. Patmore tries to be gracious, telling Mr. Mason that his carrots are tastier, his cabbages are bigger, and his onions make her cry harder. But all he can think of is finding the fastest way out of the kitchen before the hens start fighting over the rooster.

 

Charlie Sweet Talks Elsie

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The look of love is in her eyes

Charlie would like his bride to have a talk with Mrs. Patmore about the art of making a proper cup of coffee for an occasional breakfast in their cottage, and perhaps arrange for the hall boy do some polishing and keep their home up to STANDARD.

I don’t see why not,” says Elsie, gritting her teeth.

“And you might ask one of the maids to make up our bed.”

“Is that not good enough EITHER?”

“Oh, it’s not bad, but I do like those sharp corners.”

Elsie reaches for a piece of paper. At the top of her to do list will be a visit to the parish priest about the procedures for annulling a hasty marriage.

Unaware of his beloved’s thoughts, Charlie keeps pressing the issue of dinner.

You’re not expecting a banquet, are you?” she asks suspiciously.

“No, just a delicious dinner prepared by the fair hands of my beautiful wife.”

While flattered, Elsie thinks, ‘I’m up a creek without a ladle.’

 

Flotsam and Jetsam

Thomas Barrow, meanie under butler, is trying to get back into everyone’s good graces without much success. Carson sums up Barrow’s future at Downton: 1) Lady Edith already manages without a maid, 2) probably not even one footman will be working in the Abbey in the future, and 3) Lady Mary will probably not replace Anna if she leaves. “The under butler,” he concludes, is a “post that is FRAGRANT with lost memories, unlike a butler. A house like Downton cannot be run without one.” This cheery discussion leaves Thomas even more despondent.

Mr. Moseley’s transformation from inept butler and first footman to a world class educator is almost complete. Mr. Dawes the school master, likes Moseley’s enthusiasm in helping Daisy study for her exam and wonders if he should harness his intellectual energy and take a test of general knowledge (of his own devising) at the same time that Daisy takes her test. Largely self-schooled, Moseley is unsure, but he is finally persuaded to take the test alongside Daisy. This results are so excellent that Mr. Dawes offers Mr. Moseley a teaching position. How sweet. It’s about time that our Mr. Moseley gets to shine!

Mrs. Patmore has bought a pretty little house with the money she inherited from her relative, and will transform into a bed and breakfast. She’ll continue to cook, while her niece will take over the day-to-day management of their little inn.

How will you attract lodgers?” Mrs. Hughes wonders.

Mrs. Patmore, 20th century entrepreneur, has a ready answer. “I’ve already placed an advertisement in the paper.”

“How will they contact you?”

“I’ve installed a telephone in the house,” replies our favorite cook and trail blazer.

 

Dickie, still intent on courting Isobel despite the execrable behavior of his two sons, brings a Miss Cruikshank around to meet her. This young lady is engaged to Larry Grey, the most venomous of Dickie’s boys.

I know you and Larry got off on the wrong foot,” Miss Cruikshank says sweetly.

“That’s one way of describing it,” says Isobel.

“Please know, not all of Lord Merton’s family feels the same way.”

‘Goodness,’ thinks Isobel, scrutinizing Dickie’s face for any sense of irony. ‘I might look like a gullible widow, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Something’s afoot and methinks I need to tread carefully.’

 

Back to the Newlyweds

How are we doing?” says Charlie as he waits for his meal at his cozy table in his cozy cottage for two.

Elsie, smiling, serves him smoked salmon with lemon. Only, there is no lemon. “I left two lemons at the Abbey,” she mourns.

Charlie then suggests that horseradish thinned with a little sour cream would hit the spot just fine.

“There’s none,” says Elsie sadly. She looks at her glass of … plain water. “What are we drinking with our meal?”

“What you see. His lordship cannot drink alcohol, ergo we shall not drink alcohol. Loyalty is solidarity,” he intones.

“Is that what’s making you grumpy?”

Charlie raises his impressive eyebrows. “I think not. What’s next?”

“Duck.”

“Is the skin crispy like Mrs. Patmore’s does it. Did you ask her advice?”

“We certainly talked about what it’s like to cook dinner for you,” says Elsie, handing Charlie his plate and muttering under her breath, “She thinks you’re too old to be trained as a husband.”

Charlie, having found one tiny piece of crispy skin, bites into it and fails to hear his beloved.

 

The Sisters, Their Bachelors, Their Prospects

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The rain, the man, the woman

Henry Talbot has a clear notion that his prospects with Lady Mary are modest at best, but he’s not deterred. He walks her back to her place in London after an ambush dinner. The weather cooperates and they must seek shelter from a rain storm. He takes her in his arms and kisses her.

Heaven’s Mr. Talbot.”

“You’re a great catch. You’re also a woman I happen to be falling in love with. Gosh, that sounds rather feeble doesn’t it?”

“No!” she says, thinking, ‘Frankly, you had me at…”You’re the boss.” ’

“Then will you come to Brooklands to watch me motor race?”

“You must realize that Matthew died in a car crash.”

“What if I promise I won’t…”

She shushes him, saying “Love mean never making promises you can’t keep.”

Meanwhile, at the Abbey Tom mentions to Robert, Cora, and Mary how much he likes Bertie after his buffo performance as grandmaster of the house tour.

“He seems to know a lot,” agrees Cora.

“But he’s an agent,” says the earl, “stuck somewhere up in Northumberland, managing someone else’s estate.”

Mary cuts to the chase as usual. “He’s boring to an Olympic degree. Edith’s so stupid to have saddled herself with a child. Marigold is sweet, but why would any man want to take her on?”

“What are Edith’s prospects?” says Cora, concerned about her daughter’s SECRET.

“With her magazine, she could develop into one of the more interesting women of her day. And he’s a gentleman. You cannot object on that score,” says the earl, finally seeing the gold and the attraction in his middle daughter.

Cora and Robert leave, giving Tom the opportunity to talk about Henry. Mary mentions going to Brooklands to watch the motor race.

“But, the cars…!” she adds, worried.

“Could this be love,” Tom wonders aloud.

“Oh, shut up!” says Mary.

In Conclusion:

My how time flies, except when you’re writing a recap and review. Six down, three to go. And then? I’ll get to write about Jane Austen again.

What did you think of this week’s developments, dear readers? Will Henry snare Mary? Will Edith reveal to Bertie that Marigold is her daughter any time soon? Will Robert start drinking port again? And how many top Yelp reviews will Mrs. Patmore’s little inn attract?
My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

 

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Inquiring readers: A poll I placed on this blog a few days earlier showed that people were generally more pleased with Episode One over Episode Two, but the votes were close between excellent or merely O.K. for both. As for my coverage, 80% of you like my irreverent recaps, and 20% did not, with %5 wanting me to give it up and 15% wishing I was more serious. Having considered the results, expect more tongue in cheek coverage. Warning: Spoilers! Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.

Charlie and Elsie and their Upcoming Nuptials

Mrs. Hughes is miffed, not sounding like a bride on the brink of wedded bliss. Good old Elsie wants a sit-down wedding breakfast at the school house with a groaning table filled with heart attack foods, but that’s not how posh people like Lady Mary do it. These days those skinny aristos stand around a room, delicately chewing on nibbly bits with zero calories.

“Well, I for one,” opined Charlie Carson bravely, “want to do it like the family wants to do it.”

Elsie shoots him a look that would fell a maddened bull.

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Elsie shows off her sensible dress.

Later she shows Mrs. Patmore and Anna her sensible, ordinary old day dress with long sleeves and a high neck and a hem that sweeps down to her ankles. “That’ll do for a bride, don’t you think? Clean and tidy and it’ll cover all my nibbly bits.”

Even Mrs. Patmore knows better than this and gives Anna a sly look. When Elsie leaves, Mrs. P. pulls out a catalogue, a sort of Forever21.com or BridesOnline.com on paper (for you millenials), and shows her a dress at half price, plus a coupon for another 20% off, and free return postage by horse guaranteed. “I want to order this for her as a surprise bride’s gift at an impressive discount.”

Anna’s not so sure, seeing that the image is black and white and grainy, but, hey, her wedding dress was nothing to shout about either.

Mary Spies a Bump

When next we see Anna with her Mistress, that eagle eyed ice lady senses a change.

“You’re not!”

“Too early to tell, my lady, but my morning porridge is tasting somewhat off.”

“Now we know the problem isn’t Mr. Bates,” blurts Mary, pleased as punch that Anna’s completely at fault.

Anna blushes. “If I were to repeat the things you say downstairs…” (‘And talk about the dead men we carry from room to room in the dark of the night… or your sampling session with Viscount Gillingham in Liverpool..’.)

“Should you be working?” Lady Mary interrupts Anna’s thoughts. “I can put Baxter on double duty for 1/4 the pay…”

“No, I don’t want to tell Mr. Bates until I can no longer see my feet. He’ll never notice, what with this loose frock and all.”

Mary claps her hands with glee. “At the end of the third month we’ll whiz up to London to see Dr. Price and have that miracle-working stitch stitched in. Then we can go shopping. Oh, how exciting!”

“S’cuse me, my lady,” says Anna, covering her mouth, “but I’ve got to find the nearest loo.”

Thomas Reads the Paper

Meanwhile, Thomas Barrow is in the servant’s hall looking at adverts before his inevitable heave-ho, after having finished reading an article on Exit Counseling.

“Very thoughtful of you,” says Mr. Carson. “Your finding a job should avoid any unpleasantness on my part, though don’t go thinking that my giving you the pink slip shall ruin my honeymoon in any way whatsoever.”

“So nice of you to say,” says Thomas, spying a promising ad for a position of trust in a prominent household, thinking a position of trust is right up his alley.

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Cora talks to Elsie and Charlie about their nuptials.

Lady Cora Finally Gets A Story Line, Sort Of

Lady Cora, having talked with Mrs. Patmore and gotten wind of Lady Mary’s steamrolling the wedding reception at the house and Mrs. Hughes’ unhappiness with the situation, invites all interested parties, including Isobel, to dinner. When they assemble in the drawing room after a divine meal of fig and stilton salad with port wine dressing, venison tenderloin with madeira green peppercorn sauce, and floating islands with lemon scented custard sauce, she summons Mrs. Hughes. Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/archive/entertaining/partiesevents/tv-dinners-downton-abbey

“Mrs. Hughes,” she begins, I’m sorry to put you on the spot, but I believe you have been rather railroaded into holding your reception in the hall by my imperious and spoiled daughter. I understand you don’t want to be married from this house.”

The Earl – ” What?” Lady Mary – “Why ever not?” Carson – “My lady, we are both privileged ….”

“No!…I want to hear from Mrs. Hughes.” The outraged chorus stops. Isobel smiles with glee.

Mrs. Hughes, eyes averted from her beloved, seizes the moment – “I don’t want to sound ungrateful -this is a fine house – it would be an honor to hold our party here…”

“But it’s not what you want.”

“Precisely! None of us is on a diet, my lady. We need energy to work, whereas you and your lordship and Lady Mary must watch your waistlines from sitting around all day. At my reception I want to serve a solid meal at proper tables, with plenty of calories and carbohydrates, so that we may go about our duties later with vim, vigor and gusto.”

“Does anyone have a sit down wedding breakfast anymore?” Mary snorts, wishing to have a word in.

Mrs. Hughes turns to her. “A great many people my lady. And then I’d like to feel we can ask all sorts, everyone who’s been part of our lives here, our friends, and even our betters, such as yourselves, should you deign to join us. And I’ve planned for music later on, with dancing and whooping and hollering, none of which would be suitable in the great hall.”

“It would not,” intones Carson, who is feeling nauseous just thinking about having to kick up his heels a few scant hours before PERFORMING in bed. ‘Will he have the stamina,’ he wonders. ‘Will Elsie?’

“There you are, were only agreeing,” says Elsie, not knowing what is on her Charlie’s mind.

Mary attempts one more time to hold the reception in a proper place. “Mrs. Hughes, doesn’t Carson deserve a wedding in this house?”

“It’s about Charles Carlson and Elsie Hughes, just us, Lady Mary. Not you and Carson, which I find a bit odd, truth be told. Pardon me, but may I be excused?”

Not if Lady Mary could help it, but Cora was done with the subject. “I understand your reasons, Mrs. Hughes. I hope we will be invited.”
‘Didn’t I just say?’ Mrs. Hughes thinks to herself, wondering if Lady Cora has early onset of Alzheimer’s.

Some Mother and Daughter Bonding Time

Mary

Snob!

The moment Elsie and Charlie leave the room, Lady Mary and her momma express their opinions.

“You’re a bully. I should have given you a spanking when you were young. Or at least twenty lashes with a wet noodle,” Cora says to her beloved eldest.

Mary rounds on her momma: “You think I’M a bully, I think YOU’RE a snob. You just don’t want the bother of hosting the servants’ wedding in the hall!”

Lady Cora yanks on the bell pull to order 10 wet noodles. She’s had enough of her daughter’s insufferable case of affluenza.

Denker and Sprat

The viewer is then treated to Denker making Mr. Sprat’s life miserable once again. A visitor arrives at the back door in the dark of night and Denker insists on knowing who it is.

“Nothing, nobody, that is, it was a visitor, but he came to the wrong house.” Sprat’s evasiveness doesn’t faze Denker one bit. She approaches Violet with false concern, wanting to know about Sprat’s friends.

“I know he has many relations who seem to get married and buried with numbing regularity, usually on inconvenient days…” our favorite dowager says, wondering why Denker is always interrupting her with silly nonsense.

The local constable visits the servant’s hall and asks Sprat if he’s seen Wally, his sister’s son, just absconded from prison and currently on the run.

“Has the cretin made any contact, Mr. Sprat?”

Sprat, his eyes dilated, shakes his head no, unable to speak.

When the constable leaves, Denker is at her oiliest. “What an interesting family you have, Mr. Sprat. Mine are dull compared to yours. After you put that criminal up in the potting shed, did he get away safely? Don’t worry, Mr. Sprat, I can keep secrets if I want to. Will you want me to?”

‘I’m sunk,’ thinks Sprat, ‘and well and truly stuck with the bitch for the rest of my working life.’

Thomas on the Hunt for a Job and Some Respectability

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Thomas at a job interview

Wearing his best Sunday bowler hat, St. Thomas à Barrow, his transformation into a nice person almost complete, approaches a grand but moldering house in Dryden Park in York. As the elderly owner takes him through the largely empty but dusty mansion, he says without irony, “We’ve rather let things slide since my wife died. Our previous housekeeper worked for a Miss Havisham, who seemed to be the gloomy, untidy sort.” He talks about the old days when his wife was a lady in waiting to some grand duchess and when the house was used for entertaining, and then observes that his two sons never came back from the war. Thomas, commiserating, mentions his service in Flanders.

The old man perks up. “This is what I need, someone who knows what it like to fight for his king and his country.”

‘I wouldn’t know, really,’ Thomas thinks, flexing his bad hand and recalling how he made it BAD in order to escape combat. “How many staff do you have?” he asks, cutting to the chase.

“Mrs. Tomkins comes in 3 days a week, and a man outside every now and then. When the good times return and they all come back, we must be ready…we can’t let standards slip.”

It becomes clear to Thomas that while serving in the house as it was twenty years before would have been perfect, the job wasn’t right for him now. ‘More’s the pity,’ he thinks, as he bids the old man goodbye, and returns to the Abbey, where Molesley looks to Daisy’s education and Daisy, who’s champin’ at the bit for worry about Mr. Mason, corrals Lady Cora every chance she gets to put a good word in for her papa-in-law.

Edith, Wonder Woman

Having rather a drama on her hands with her male editor, Edith scurries to London. There, she hooks up with Bertie Pelham, land agent. He’s someone she’s met before, a detail that most viewers have already forgotten.

“I own the magazine, you know,” she says, “and I’m off to fire my editor.”

“How modern!” he says, with admiration.

“Yes. I miss Marigold, my ward, er, our ward,” she says to the man who has no clue as to how modern she really is.

“Would you care to have a drink later on?” he asks.

“As long as it’s near the office. I must lead a purposeful life.”

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Edith, Wonder woman. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

But after she fires her editor, Edith realizes that the proofs are due at the printers in 9 hours and that her ghastly ex-editor had done nothing worth sending over. Crikey! A four a.m. deadline! That’s way past her bed time, but she refuses to be defeated. She runs through Covent Garden, and races against time, like Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, to break her date with Bertie. (Cue Chariots of Fire music.)

In Bertie’s mind, the exercise has given Lady Edith’s skin a sexy glow. Overcome by her sweateous beauty, he offers to tag along and cook, clean, sew, and look after babies to help her meet her deadline. Edith, having never done anything more than sit on a tractor, give her sister a rough time, pen a story or two, and pine after Marigold, becomes an instant expert on magazine layout and design. Working their well-manicured fingers to the bone, she and her team meet the deadline with seconds to spare. Whew! Lady Edith turns to Bertie, “Want to go for that drink now?” He’d like to go for something more, but decides to bide his time.

And Now, Back to the Wedding Preparations

When the catalogue dress arrives, Mrs. P. is crestfallen. “Lordy, lordy, this is awful! It’s gray. It’s plain! It’s just like Elsie’s other dress! It seemed so nice in the picture! It seemed like such a bargain. Now she’s got two ugly dresses.” (As you can see, gentle readers, false advertising reared its ugly head as early as 1925.)

This upsets Anna so much that, when she tends to Lady Mary’s toilette, Lady Mary wonders if Anna’s having a miscarriage again. “Oh, no, not yet, m’lady. It’s so much worse. Mrs. Hughes has the ugliest two dresses in creation in which to marry her Prince Charming!”

Lady Mary, wanting her revenge on her mama and wishing to play the grande dame, says, “Well, we can’t have that! Let’s have you, Mrs. Patmore, and Mrs. Hughes rifle through Mama’s closet for a nice designer coat that is worth 10 years of your combined salaries. I’m sure Mama won’t mind.”

But when Lady Cora returns to the Abbey from a meeting about the hospitals, where Violet and Isobel honked for hours like two fighting geese, she is in no frame of mind to think about frocks and coats and weddings, so Lady Mary remains mum when Mum heads straight up the stairs.

When Mama enters her inner sanctum she hits the roof. She sees Elsie in one of her best coats, with other clothes tossed helter skelter on the sacred Crawley bed, and Mrs. P. and Anna attending her as if Elsie was the countess!

“What the ….?!” Lady Cora screeches. “Out of my chambers!”

The servants scurry away, leaving Lady Cora’s coats in a heap and Mrs. Hughes feeling like a naughty child in need of a smack. Lady Cora is livid for this awful business. Lady Mary is livid with her Mama and reminds her that she, Mary, is not the only one suffering from affluenza. This makes Cora feel dreadful for being so churlish to those sweet servants who have worked the sweat off their brows since puberty for practically no pay morning, noon, and night.

Eating humble pie, Cora descends to the servants quarters with a beautiful embroidered coat for Elsie. “My abject apologies,” Mrs. Hughes. “Here’s a coat that cost the earth. Please wear it, keep it, and remember my largesse for the rest of your life.”

Elsie has no words to thank her properly, knowing that she, at 5′ 4,” will never fit into a coat created for a skinny 5′ 8″ aristo, unless Baxter is willing to stay up for the rest of the night to tailor it.

T’was the Night Before the Wedding

Carson, eager to see his bride-to-be, takes a peek into Mrs. Hughes’ parlor.

“Ack! We musn’t see each other tonight!” Mrs. Hughes protests, holding a thick blanket up to her high- necked flannel jammies. She needs another night to adjust to the idea of seeing her lothario naked, and of he seeing her naked, and … oh, goodness, she’s lost her train of thought.

She falls into a fitful sleep, until…

Reception Interruptus

Knock! Knock! “We’ve come to dress the bride!” Baxter and Anna tra-la as they waltz in.

“Well, that a sentence I never thought I’d hear,” says Elsie.

The wedding ceremony is sweet. Everyone is teary eyed, including the viewers.

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Mr. & Mrs. Carson aka Charlie and Elsie. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Mrs. Hughes plain gray dress is beautifully enhanced by Lady Cora’s coat.

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Elsie and Charlie’s wedding. Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

The wedding is sweet, the school house is decorated with white paper flags, and the guests are pleased as punch for all of 5 minutes, when Tom and Sybbie arrive to toast the bride and groom. Everyone abandons Charlie and Elsie to rush over to Tom. “I had to go to Boston to figure something out. I learned that Downton is my home and that you are my family.”

tom sybie_3

Tom and Sybbie join the festivities

Yeah, well, what a great way to take the spotlight off Elsie and Charlie at their reception, Tom. Harrumph and welcome back.

Music crescendoes. End of Episode 3, which I give 4 out of 5 stars.

My Recaps and Reviews of Season 6

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Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Curious readers. I present to you a poll. Please vote. Please be honest. Curious minds want to know what American audiences think about this last season!

Click on the choices below to take the poll. You may vote for 3 categories: Season 1 plus Season 2 plus Vic.

 

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Dowton Abbey Season 4 image, courtesy PBS

After Matthew’s shocking death, we couldn’t wait for Dowton Abbey Season 4 to begin, certain that we would be grieving alongside his widow and family at the funeral. As we now know, this did not happen. The action, as it were, began six months after the tragedy. Enough of sorrow. So many reviews of DA now exist, that I thought I’d turn the table a bit. I’d love your reactions to my tongue in cheek observations for Epis 1 & 2:

1. Lady Mary’s wooden with grief, or Lady Mary’s always wooden.

2. Edith’s a hussy; her public passion (in a restaurant, of all places) went beyond the boundaries of good taste, or Edith’s finally getting some – good for her.

3. Mrs. Patmore and Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, have so much in common – they could stand to lose a tad of weight, or they’re so old-fashioned, their heads are screwed on backwards.

 4. Violet’s quips are becoming predictable, or the dowager duchess will never wear thin. The Abbey simply isn’t the Abbey without her.

5. Lady Cora showed some feistiness in firing that awful nanny, or Lady Cora has the worst taste in ladies maids.

6. John Bates and his Anna will produce a Batesy Jr., or (after Green’s awful assault) we don’t know what will happen to Bates and his Anna.

7.  Tom Cullen as Lord Anthony Gillingham will make a splendid suitor for Mary, or Tom Cullen holds no candle to Matthew (Dan Stevens.) Alternate observation: It’s a bit too soon, isn’t it, to hint of a new guy for Mary? or it’s about time that Lady Mary’s knickers get twisted.

8. Alfred and Jimmy will come to fisticuffs over Ivy, or Daisy and Ivy will  have a major food fight over Jimmy.

9. Molesley will prefer ditch digging over working as a footman, or he will trip Carson on the stairs and ascend to the title of Butler.

10. I miss O’Brien, or I’m glad she’s gone.

 Please let me know your thoughts or provide a few observations of your own.

Note: In past years, I spent hours pulling images from the review DVDs that PBS sent us. Last year, parent company Universal frowned on another blogger’s similar actions (I am not sure she wants me to reveal her blog), taking the punitive step of notifying Google, which blackballed the blog and drove numbers precipitously down. I have spent arduous hours deleting my pulled images from the many Downton Abbey posts on this blog and from the web.  I will no longer pull images on my own and will use only materials released for publicity. PBS has been nothing but supportive of me, and I thank the organization for including me in those heady early years.  – Vic

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The Downton Abbey of seasons past is back, warts and all. Last night viewers were treated to a 120-minute episode of pure Downton Abbey-isms, with Violet spewing her wisdom left and right, character development galore, only an occasional plot twist that stretched the story line into unbelievable territory, Tom Branson as super hero, and even a glimmer of passion ‘tween the sheets twixt Mary and Matthew. So let’s dive in, shall we?

All bow down and hail Bates’s release from prison!

Thank you Julian Fellowes for putting an end to our misery. I had reached a point where I didn’t care if Bates rotted in prison for the rest of his life. This week we were treated to Bates and his Anna sitting side by side, walking side by side, and painting side by side. Their tepid kisses told me that they should stop taking lessons from Mary and Matthew and embark on another steamy honeymoon night.

Ethel and her miasmic scarlet letter washed clean

It’s becoming clear to Violet that: “Ethel is notorious in the village.”
“I don’t think so”, replies Isobel, who will counter her nemesis any time, any where, even at the price of being wrong. Violet always has the upper hand: “I know so. You have touched this house by a miasma of scandal … “

In this episode the two battle axes are at it in full force. Violet shows no quarter, even to the hapless Ethel, who ventures to brag after receiving a compliment about her cooking from Isobel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”

To which Violet replies:  “But you seem to have so many.”

Our dowager does have a heart and even keener powers of observation. Noticing Ethel’s extreme unhappiness at her treatment in the village, she joins forces with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to remove the fallen woman from her scene of social crime to another position in another village. Violet places an advertisement in Ethel’s name “to wash her clean.” But the only appealing offer comes from a Mrs. Watson near Cheadle, a village tantalizingly near her son, Charlie, and the Bryans. who are raising him. This is when Violet comes to the rescue!

She invites Mrs. Bryan, who, in defiance of her meany of a husband, encourages Ethel to accept the position, for she feels “uncomfortable keeping a mother separated from her son.” With Ethel working nearby, she can see how Charlie is getting on, and later, much later, reveal that she is his mother.

Lady Rose’s nubility vs the Downton nobility

Let’s see. Lady Rose’s mama is Violet’s niece and godchild. Lady Rose is 18. She is pretty. She is a flapper and a trendsetter, for her wardrobe is years ahead of its time. She is also a liar and a sneak and (blush) the girlfriend of a slimy married man with a house in Warwick Square. This minx’s sole reason for appearing on DA is to spice things up, and I must admit she is more interesting than that dishrag, Lavinia Swire. (Will she hook up with Branson, super man, in future episodes? Curious minds want to know.)

Before the nubile Rose is packed off to her family’s estate in Scotland in July, she will stay with Violet at the Dower House. When questioned if she was capable of keeping such a young girl gainfully occupied and interested, our stalwart dowager replied: “The thing is to keep smiling and never to look as if you disapprove.”

Somehow Rose finagles her great aunt into letting her go to London with Edith so that she can arrange a surprise for darling mummy. Matthew also needs to go there on some mysterious business, and so, like the lion, tin man and Dorothy, the three of them start off for Aunt Rosamund’s place.

Once there, Rose makes her escape in a taxi and disappears ’round the bend. The taxi driver, kind man that he is (and hoping for a fat tip), returns Rose’s scarf and relates the sordid tale of her escapade.

Gullible Rose is rescued at the Blue Dragon from the clutches of lying cad who has (if inferences can be read correctly) fornicated with the girl.

This story arc is so contrived that I felt myself getting mad, except for the fact that we see Matthew in heroic action and Aunt Rosamund look down her aristocratic nose at that dreadful two-timing Terrence.

Once Rose is safely deposited at her great aunt’s home, Violet, with a smile that could neutralize poison, announces that Rose will be trundled off to Scotland after the cricket match to stay alone with her Aunt Agatha.

The camera pans to Rose’s horrified face.

Do we really care? Except that this gives Julian Fellowes a perfect excuse for sending the whole troupe to Scotland for Episode Seven of this season. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Edith, the not so invisible woman

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Praise Saint Julian, for he has given Edith direction, a job, a nice wardrobe, and a splendid man. Although, let’s be realistic, life will never be perfect for our scrappy gal, who has learned to make do with her eldest sister’s cast offs. We first meet up with our heroine at her granny’s house for tea. Violet is aghast when she discovers that Edith actually means to accept the position of columnist for The Sketch. When Edith reminds granny that it was her idea that she find something useful to do, Violet retorts, “I meant running a local charity or paint watercolours or something!”

At dinner Edith announces that she accepted the job as journalist and her plans to “get the 10 o’clock” and meet her editor for tea. Violet seems quite supportive, saying “I don’t think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there”, but then she turns her thoughts directly on Edith. “”Edith isn’t getting any younger, perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”

And so Edith goes off to London. Her first glimpse of Michael Gregson, the editor of The Sketch, is that of a smiling, strapping man who is looking for “a mature female voice” (and perhaps something else on the side).

They make a date for lunch next time she’s in town, and our Edie takes care to look especially pretty. As she talks of journalism and being jilted at the altar, she mentally rearranges Mr. Gregson’s clothes off his body.

Charmed as she is, our Edie wasn’t born yesterday! Back at the Abbey, this smart cookie checks her man out. And hies back to London blazing mad.
Donning a serious working hat, her best pearls, and killer lipstick, Edie rushes to Gregson’s office to QUIT her one opportunity to make something of herself.

I had the impression, SIR! that you were flirting with me and found me attractive! Only to find you are MARRIED!”

“Yes, uhm, well, let me explain.”

“I find the idea repugnant! No, I find YOU repugnant. I quit!!

“No don’t go yet. You haven’t had your clotted cream and fresh raspberries! You see, my wife is in an asylum. Lizzie was wonderful when she could cook and clean and sew, but she is gone. And I can’t divorce a lunatic. I’m tied, I tell you, TIED to a madwoman, but I’m MAD about you! Just seeing your feisty words in print lifts my spirits. Having lunch with you …”

“Do I look stupid? My cousin, who is MUCH younger and more nubile and prettier, bought that line off some toff on Warwick Square, but I’m not having any of your deceitful and hateful and untruthful lies.”

What if I said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”

“Oh, well, then. If that’s the case, see you next week.”

The Passion of Mary and Matthew

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

One more open-mouthed smooch and the passionate scenes between Mary and Matthew will receive an x-rating. We catch Mary saying such seductive things as, “You’ll make me untidy,” “We’re trying for a baby,” and “While we make our little prince.” I shudder at her passion.

Even the doctor is predicting an increasing amount of sexual activity, saying that Lady Mary will be pregnant by 6 months. Gasp. This is too much for me to bear. I am positively getting red in the face thinking about the lustful way in which these two are cavorting all over creation in order to follow their DUTY to God, country, house, and earldom.

Oh, what the heck. I’m a 21st-century girl. Go team Matthew and Mary. Bring that next heir on!

The sacking of Thomas, or how O’Brien tightens the noose

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The long arm of forewarning and prophecy made it’s first appearance with this statement: “I expect you’ll find something to do, Mr. Barrow, now that Mr. Bates is back.” Viewers have wondered since the first episode when O’Brien would crank up her evil conspiracy against Thomas and it seems the time is at hand. Thomas is in a precarious situation and knows he’ll be given his notice as the earl’s temporary valet. If anyone was rooting for Bates to rot in prison, it was our erstwhile valet cum footman cum bad guy. But the earl promises Thomas that he won’t be left in the lurch. “We’ll sort things out.”

The fiendish O’Brien, divining the right moment, strikes up a friendly conversation with Thomas and makes this observation about James: “You make a cozy couple I must say. Alfred says [James is] always going on about you. Silly sloppy stuff.”

Thomas stops smoking long enough to retort: Youre quite wrong Miss O’Brien He’s a proper little ladies man.”

“Oh, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“What are you going on about?”
“There’s no need to bark. I only know what Alfred tells me.”
“Well, if he says Jimmy’s interested in me he’s lying.”
“Oh dear, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Lovely stuff, this dialogue. O’Brien and Thomas dance around each other like two vipers. One hungers to kill the other, while the second is distracted by a desire that overwhelms his sense of caution.

And so the inevitable happens, with Thomas making a move on a sleeping Jimmy. (Does this make sense? Would he not wake him to see if the young man was receptive?)

Suddenly awakened, Jimmy is, like, totally spooked.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

This happened during an age when homosexuality was criminalized and gays were literally living in the closet. Poor Oscar Wilde was sent to prison and hard labor, only to emerge as a physically and spiritually broken man. Thomas was putting everything on the line by showing his affection to James.

After the truth comes out, Thomas and Carson engage in a conversation that represents the attitude of most gay and straight people at the time:

Thomas: “I was very drawn and got the impression he felt the same way. When you are like me, Mr. Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can, because no one dares to speak out.”

Carson: “I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world. You have been twisted by nature into something foul.”

Here is where Thomas quietly defends himself, saying, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson.”

Bravo, Thomas.

Jimmy and Alfred are guided by the puppeteer O’Brien, who manipulates the situation in such a way that Thomas is let go without a reference after ten years of service, a disastrous consequence that will lead him straight to the poor house.

There are twists and turns, with the end of the story sorted out by Bates, who, while he feels revenge is sweet, is a decent man. For the first time since his return from prison, Bates has been given an important task by Julian Fellowes – as the instrument of redemption for Thomas. All he has to do is lure a self-satisfied O’Brien to his house for tea and whisper in her ear: “Her ladyship’s soap.”

O’Brien turns paler than Bates’s whitewashed walls and leaves, promising to set things right.

In the end, all turns out well, with Thomas retaining his position in the house as an underbutler. This job is usually held by a former first footman who steps in for the butler if he is unable to fulfill his duties due to an illness or absence. Thomas as underbutler bodes well for further plot developments, and I cannot wait to see him manipulate his new position to his advantage in future DA seasons!

Tom/Branson, superman

Tom Branson emerges as the super hero of this season, able to grieve with the best of them, dandle a baby, divine how to run a great estate simply from observing his granddaddy, order his boozy brother, Kieran, around, deftly sidestep tricky matters of protocol so that he even gains Carson’s grudging respect, and learn to play cricket in the blink of an eye.

These tricks disguise the fact that Tom/Branson plot line often makes no sense. Where is his revolutionary fervor? Buried in the grave with Sybil? While most of the family calls him Tom, Violet and the earl insist on calling him Branson, which is meant to put him in his place. This does set up a running comic dialogue, with Violet constantly being admonished by Cora and her granddaughters. Remarkably, Mary, whose nose is pointed so high in the air that it attracts snow clouds, fully embraces Tom’s entrance into the family, even though the only thing they have in common is baby Sybbie.

Good old Cora comes to Tom’s rescue repeatedly, saying that “He’s our responsibility, he and the baby.” Frankly, the Bryans’ attempts to take their grandson from Ethel makes more sense than this sentimental claptrap. The Crawleys have the wealth and means to get rid of the chauffeur while keeping their grandchild. But the viewers are invested in the Crawleys as decent people. We would balk and leave in droves if the earl and his extended family went off the deep end and used their social muscle to push Tom/Branson out of the picture in order to retain Sybil’s child.

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The Catholic christening is deftly glossed over, but provides some fun dialogue from the earl, who delights in poking fun at the clergy.

Recall that in episode 4 he suggested that Violet be placed next to a toffee-nosed prince of the church because she’d know how to handle him. The earl gets off another brilliant line at the dinner table, protesting that at a Catholic christening he…

And thus we come to the ridiculous situation in which forward thinking Matthew discovers that Tom’s granddaddy owned a teensy tiny Irish sheep farm, a fact that caused him to conclude that Branson must know how to handle the running of an enormous estate in Yorkshire.

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid's encyclopedia

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid’s encyclopedia

I was drinking wine during this scene and nearly choked with disbelief on that peculiar observation.

When Branson’s brother, Kieran, sensibly invites him to live in rooms above his garage in Liverpool, the upstairs gang just about keeled over from a collective heart attack.  Baby Sybbie in a garage? Over Violet’s dead body!

Kieran turns out to be a plot device upon which hangs our changing perception of Branson, whose super powers include diplomatic skills with which he convinces his brother to eat with the toffs, honors Cora, and impresses Carson. Branson lives in limbo, no longer able to socialize with the downstairs folks and unable to fit in comfortably upstairs. What’s a super hero to do?

Sweep out the old, bring in the new

My DA viewing party took the opportunity to take breaks any time Matthew, Tom, and Mary discussed farm improvements using a volume of Estate Farming and Stewardship for Dummies.

The earl and Jarvis are Downton Abbey’s benevolent overlords, using farming techniques that go back to the Norman Invasion. Murray, Matthew, and our super hero Branson, are forward thinking chaps who are unwilling to squander Swire’s fortune in the manner that Robert used to waste Cora’s inheritance.

It is telling that Robert now thinks of Downton as a dual monarchy, whereas Matthew looks upon his inheritance as an investment that must turn a profit.

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the young whippersnapper is starting to make sense a desperate Robert brings up a marvelous new American financial invention: the Ponzi Scheme. “I hear that you get a great return on your investment in 90 days.”

Jarvis, seeing his cushy, easy job vanish into thin air, asks for a good reference and sweeps out of the room, old broom that he is. This plot development stepped over the line of common sense too many times, but I understand Fellowes’ need to provide baby Sybie’s daddy with a raison d’etre for remaining in town.

Violet, as usual, gets in the last word, telling her son: “Think of the child. You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla. We owe it to Sybil.” Besides, as she sensibly remarks, we could call him Branson again.

Dang right and experience be damned. And so at the end of Episode 6 the new estate manager is … Ta, Da! Drum roll, please – Sybil’s darling Tom, the grandson of an Irish sheep farmer.

The depths of Branson’s super powers have not been plumbed. When the earl, in a moment of self pity, declares “It’s time for me to take a back seat”, our hero comes to the fore with this observation, that Robert knows the people on his estate backwards and forwards and that this knowledge is priceless.

Hearing this, Robert’s face shines with delight and he declares in a Sally Field moment – “You like me, you really like me!”

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

It’s cricket time!

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I almost thought I was watching a replay of the Ravens and 49ers when the villagers took on the folks at the Abbey in their yearly cricket match. The scenes were so action-packed and unbelievably tense that I missed quite a few details.

The village folk (including Dr. Carson) were up for a thrashing, having won too numerous times to count, and the earl and Moseley were just the right men to bring VICTORY to Downton Abbey. Of course their team was missing two men, mere bumps in an otherwise smooth landscape.

Matthew had to hurry up and get Branson up to speed and teach him cricket in like 30 seconds …

… and the earl had to find a way to keep Thomas, a talented cricketer, on. Fellowes, clever fellow that he is, solved all of Episode 6’s problems in a mere 10 minutes.

Branson will stay on with baby Sybbie at the mansion, which has Cora crowing with delight. Mary and Matthew continue their pornographic display of affection in plain view in the hope of conceiving a little replacement male Crawley. Edith basks in the thought of being loved by an honourable married man and having a paid position. Violet has been reassured time and again that she is perfect, which does not surprise her at all.

And then there’s Branson. He, who has NEVER played cricket before, catches the WINNING ball! Those of you who were not convinced of Branson’s super powers must now agree – the man is unstoppable!

And so, all is now well in Downton Abbey land. See you next week, gentle readers. Same time, same blog.

In leaving your thoughts, please NO PLOT SPOILERS about the last installment.

Images courtesy PBS Pressroom.

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Downton Abbey lovers, it is important that you NOT continue to read this post if you have not seen Episode Four of Season 3. PBS is streaming each episode one day after it airs at this link. Do watch it and then come back to share your thoughts.

As many of you know, a major character is killed off during this season (perhaps more). It’s been all over the Internet for months. In fact, some headlines in the U.K. have totally spoiled the surprise for some U.S. viewers. Fear not. For the first time in the 3rd season the writing is up to snuff. While some of us already know who has died, the writers have managed to create scenes that stir us, make us laugh, or promote the plot. More importantly, we are able to react with disbelief, grieve alongside friends and family, and still be stunned by our reactions.

Why did the writers kill off such a popular character? Downton Abbey has made the cast uber famous. Who can fault the younger ones from jumping ship to what seems to be a more promising land for their careers? Us! For we oldsters know this is a big mistake 90% of the time.

Actors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Some who stay with a successful series are never able to rise above their stereotypical roles and quietly drop out of sight after their run is over. The same fate happens to most actors who drop out prematurely. Only a lucky few manage to carve a solid career for themselves.

Take Dame Maggie Smith, for example. While hanging onto her meaty role as Violet, she’s performed in the following films during the same time period: Nanny McPhee Returns, Gnomeo & Juliet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Quartet. Maggie, who’s no spring chicken, dug deep inside herself, found a few extra hours in the day, and decided to go for the gusto, staying with Downton while accepting other film projects. (Take that, Leonardo Di Caprio. That poor tired old/young soul is takinga break after making 3 films in 2 years.) Dame Maggie could show him a thing or two. She has proven her acting chops, which is where she has a leg up on the young’uns.

It is no secret that offers are raining down upon some of the more popular Downton actors. Godbless’em for being tempted and providing the writers with marvelous ways to “Auf” them, but all I can say is “Sayonara, darlings. You’re not doing yourselves or your careers a favor.” To make my point, visit IMBD to see the projects for which our much lamented expired cast member left Downton.

Now that I’ve had my rant, on with reviewing the show!

The Battle of the Physicians – or a standoff at the Downton corral

It all started normally, with Dr Clarkson assuring the family that Sybil is a healthy young woman going through normal childbirth.

The earl solicits a “society doctor”, Sir Phillip, to oversee the birth of Sybil’s child, explaining to Cora: “We can’t risk her welfare to soothe Clarkson’s feelings. I like the old boy, but he did misdiagnose Matthew and he did miss the warning signs with Lavinia.”

When Dr. Clarkson notices Sybil’s alarmingly thick ankles and muddled mind, Sir Phillip puffs out his substantial chest. “You are upsetting these people for no reason at all!” and warns Clarkson off, telling him not to interfere with doctoring or his much superior social skills in schmoozing with the ladies at the dinner table. We know Sir Phillip is not too swift for 1) He probably received a second-rate education in a first-rate institution simply because he’s upper class, and 2) He disses our pretty Sybil by accusing her of having fat ankles in the first place, which back in those days was considered a major physical defect. Had I been Papa Crawley, I would have decked Sir Phillip.

But Clarkson won’t be put off: “I think she may be toxemic with a danger of eclampsia, in which case we must act FAST!”

Gasps all around. By now the viewers are reaching for their medical dictionaries (click here for explanation of the condition).

Two factions emerge: On one side is the Cora/Clarkson contingent, on the other side the Robert/Phillips naysayers. Clarkson continues his portents of doom, despite Sir Phillip casting dagger eyes at him: “Her baby is small, she’s confused, and there’s far too much albumen in her urine.”

This is TMI for Robert, who reminds Clarkson that the Crawley matriarch is in the room listening.

Violet, godblessher, retorts, “Peace! A woman my age can face reality far better than most men.”

Continuing with his gloom and doom predictions, Clarkson warns that an immediate delivery is Sybil’s only chance. He urges the chauffeur to hie his wife off to a hospital, where they may yet save Sybil and the baby and deliver it by Caesarian.

Sir Phillip puffs up his chest again and declares that a caesarian will be surely kill Sybil and ruin her flat tummy for life. All eyes turn to Clarkson, who reluctantly agrees that as things stand, a caesarian might just do Sybil in.

“Honesty at last,” intones Robert in his best Yul Brynner as Rameses voice. I will NOT put Sybil at risk. I am the master of Downton Abbey and my decision (even though I co-own the place with Matthew) shall stand. So let it be written, so let it be done!

“The decision lies with the chauffeur”, Violet says sensibly, cutting through the bullshit with a rapier voice.

Branson is summoned. Poor man. All he can hear is If… If…If… If… If… If. He looks this-away way, he looks that-away and … stands paralyzed like a pillar of salt.

Meanwhile, what of the lovely Sybil, she of the slim ankles now thickened? We begin to understand why Jessica Brown Findlay’s role was so minor in the first 3 episodes, for the viewer is starting to realize that she is doomed – that it is Sybil, the most popular and most beloved sister, who is about to DIE. But is she?

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The next thing we know, Sybil has successfully delivered her baby. She’s radiant! Tom is bursting with pride. They ooh and ah over their little girl.

The servants rejoice. The family is happy.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Cora apologizes to Robert for doubting him. Sir Phillip’s chest is now so puffed he looks like a mating pigeon just given a come hither look.

My friend, who watched Episode 4 with me, kept sighing with relief. “Ah, she lives. Good, she lives. I thought they were going to kill her off.” I started braiding my tongue to remain quiet.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Back to the cozy little post-labor scene: Jessica Brown Findlay has all of two lines, which was more than she’d been given all season.

She then nuzzles into her sheets, ready for rest, which leaves the viewers sighing with relief and thinking, “All is well. Someone else besides our beloved Sybil is going to die.”

Tick tock tick tock.

The denizens of Downton Abbey are fast asleep when Mary sounds the alarm. Wake up! Wake up. It’s Sybil!

Lady Sybil, we hardly knew ye.

And now it’s time to lay my tongue-in-cheek tone aside, for Sybil’s death bed scene was as splendid a bit of writing and acting as I have seen. Like you, I sat on the edge of my seat and cried. Every one, from a desperate Cora and Tom, to the disbelieving sisters, father and witnesses, to the resigned yet horrified face of Dr. Clarkson, tugged at my heart.

Sybil, convulsing and unable to breathe, dies swiftly, but the reactions of family members take longer to settle in.

The camera lingers on each face, all showing the same horror and disbelief that I felt.

Elizabetth McGovern could not have been more perfect as the grieving mother. Her last talk with Sybil “( my baby, you will always be my baby”), was heart breaking.

Even though I knew that Sybil would die in this episode, this scene with McGovern’s superb, restrained acting was a revelation. I could not watch it without crying a bucket of tears.

Sybil was the glue that held the three sisters together and now she is gone. The reality has set in for the two remaining sisters:

Mary: She was the only person living who thought that you and I were such nice people.

Edith: Oh, Mary. Do you think we might get along better in the future?

Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time that we will all be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.

Thank you Julian Fellowes, for giving us back the Downton that we have come to love.

We are even given a foreshadowing of events to come when Cora has the earl sleep in his dressing room.

The next day, she can barely contain her civility, saying in a hasty, tight-lipped phrase:

“I must apologize to [Dr. Clarkson]. Because-if-we’d-listened-to-him,-she-might-still-be-alive.-But-Sir-Phillip-and-your-father-knew-better,-and-now-she-is-dead.”A devastated Cora cannot forgive Robert for his part in promoting Sir Phillip over Dr. Clarkson, and who can blame her?

While most of the hour concentrated on Sybil’s tragic end, there were other plot developments, believe it or not.

Lady Edith flexes her career muscles

Edith can’t win for trying. Arising early in the morning to join the men for breakfast, she happily discovers that she has been offered a regular once a week column in The Sketch to discuss problems faced by the modern woman. Wondering if she should use her name, Robert retorts that this is exactly what they want: her name and title. When Matthew rises to her defense, she says with resignation: “Don’t bother, Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family.”

Violet’s response at dinner is hardly better: “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” This prompts Edith to mouth – “See?” Yet we’re rooting for her. Let’s hope this sister gets her chance to prove herself and find her niche in the world, as middle children are often wont to do.

Ethel Cooks Badly for Isobel

Isobel finally has a meatier role to play, however minor, in which she tries to rehabilitate Ethel into a respectable servant.

Her good Samaritan gesture results in Mrs. Bird walking out the door and Isobel reaching for the pepto bismol any time Ethel serves up one of her culinary disasters.

Downton Servant Merry Go Round

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, likes Alfred, who is O’Brien’s nephew. He likes Ivy, the new kitchen maid, which prompts Daisy to behave super bossy towards her, which sinks her in Alfred’s eyes. Ivy likes Jimmy, or James, the wannabee footman, which gives Alfred a hang dog look and prompts him to help Ivy out of kitchen scrapes. Sound complicated? Yeah, well, this story line is like watching puppies tussle. Cute at first and then a little boring.

Thomas is falling into O’Brien’s trap …

O’Brien’s jealousy of Jimmy and hatred of Thomas sets her in motion to do both of them in. When it looks as if Jimmy and Alfred will have to vie for first footman, O’Brien sets a trap for him. “Want to wind the clocks? You’d better ask Mr. Barrow,” she advises the gullible young man. And so he does. Thomas is only too happy to oblige and explicitly sets out to teach James a new skill.

After his lesson, O’Brien attempts to pry some details from a reluctant Jimmy. “What are you implying?” she prompts, “Nothing unseemly I hope?”

“No, nothing like that,” he mutters before scurrying away. Our last glimpse of O’Brien has her wearing a Chesire cat smile and rehearsing the next bad thing for Thomas.

This concludes my review of Episode Four. I am so over Bates’s predicament and Mary’s non-chemistry with Matthew, that I am happily skipping over their story lines.

What did you think of this week’s DA and Sybil’s death? Please, no plot spoilers on future developments.

My other Downton Abbey Season 3 posts: Click here

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