DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON TWO EPISODE SIX RECAP
If this was the pre-finale episode, God knows what we can expect in Downton's final episode of the season. I know I sound like a broken record, but Julian Fellowes packs so much into every episode it's head spinning. Last night, there were four engagements and a funeral. Positively epic! I hadn't known that last night's broadcast, billed as episode seven, which actually aired as two separate shows when it was shown in the UK, was going to be two hours long. Although I could have easily paused it on my television, I dared not move from my sofa for fear of missing one withering look from Lady Mary, a brief but telling exchange between O'Brien and Thomas, a disapproving harrumph from Carson or a clever line of dialogue uttered by Violet. And it's a good thing, because there wasn't a wasted minute of this supersized edition of Downton.
It's 1919 and the last vestiges of war have been removed from Downton. Most of its inhabitants find themselves at loose ends unsure of what they're to do now that the wounded (at least the ones with the visible scars) have left the great house.
The marriage of Lord and Lady Grantham seems to have been severely battered by the war as we see the couple at opposite ends of virtually every argument. When Cora raises the issue about Matthew leaving Downton now that all the other patients have gone so that he -- and Mary -- can get on with their lives, Robert is aghast and heads out on a walk to the village. It's become clearer with every episode that Lord Grantham feels overwhelmed by the estrogen level at Downton and craves the camaraderie of a son. He meets Jane on the grounds and inquires about her son, the 12 year-old Freddie, and tells her he's written to the headmaster of Rippan Grammar to help the boy gain acceptance to the school. Looking for someone to share his despondency, he asks her if she misses her husband to which he replies, "I have Freddie." The Earl tells her he is haunted by his thoughts of "Poor William" and paralyzed Matthew. "Do you ever wonder what it was all for?" he asks the stunned housemaid before she scurries off into the house.
When Sir Richard arrives he seems to sense Lord Grantham's mood perfectly when he says, "When the war is over the first emotion is relief; the second is disappointment." How true, says his lordship, let's get some tea.
Thomas, no longer able to hide behind his uniform and determined to leave his former life of service behind, has decided to try his hand in the black market and boasts to O'Brien that despite investing all his money buying a stash to resell to customers like Mrs. Patmore he'll be "well fixed as soon as the word gets out." In the meantime, Thomas tells her he'll wrangle a few weeks stay at Downton until the money starts rolling in. "I shouldn't count on it," says O'Brien who knows Thomas isn't exactly loved by anyone upstairs or downstairs at the house.
Bates, (Who for some reason, I'm feeling a bit annoyed with -- perhaps because he's put our good hearted Anna through so much), is dressing Lord Grantham for dinner when his lordship absentmindedly wonders aloud why Vera didn't leave a note if she committed suicide and raises the question of where she got the poison then apologizes for raising the issue with Bates. Anna, in the meantime, is stopped in the hallway by Sir Richard who asks her into his bedroom (which is not so coincidentally just the right shade of red for the devil's lair) and basically bribes her to spy on Lady Mary and report back on who she sees, where she goes and what she says. What a guy.
Later, the entire family gathers for dinner when the topic of the 'new fashions' come up. It's an amusing scene which cleverly informs the viewer about just how much the world has changed since the war and who is and isn't a fan of the dawning of the new post-war age. Having exchanged his formal cutaway for a tuxedo as is the latest style now, Lord Grantham jokes that he almost came down in a "dinner jacket" to which Violet replies, "Why not a dressing gown or pajamas?" Ever the modern woman, Isobel says she likes the "new fashions -- shorter skirts, looser cuts" because they're better for "getting things done." The old, restrictive clothes were better suited for swanning around on a chaise lounge. "I'll stick to the chaise lounge," says Violet.
Sybil, disbelieving that Granny isn't a fan of the new way of doing things says, "Surely you can't want things to go back to the way they used to be?" to which Violet replies: "Of course I do and as quickly as possible." What about you, Papa? Sybil asks. Lord Grantham, looking glum, tells his family: "Before the war I believe my life had meaning, I'd like to feel that once again." Someone is having one hell of a mid-life crisis.
When Mary mentions the boyish women's haircuts that are all the rage in Paris, Matthew says he hopes she won't try one. Lavina and Richard try to reinsert themselves back into their respective fiance's bandwidths to no avail. Lavina pipes up with: "I don't know how feminine they are." Mary's retort: "I don't know how feminine I am" and Sir Richard's lame attempt at reminding her he's in the room: "Very, I'm glad to say."
Listening to her father and "Granny" pine for the way things used to be send Sybil (almost) into the arms of Branson and she leaves the house and goes to the garage. She tells him, "I feel so flat after the hustle and bustle of the last two years" and that she knows now she can't go back to the old way of life. Hearing all this, Branson expectantly asks her if she's made up her mind about running away with him. "Not quite," she tells him.
At the end of the evening Carson and Mrs. Hughes are sitting in the servants quarters having tea as he regales her with tales of all the new kitchen and bathroom gadgets to be used at Haxby Park describing then as "something out of a film with Theda Bara." Mrs. Hughes, who, I'm convinced, would have gladly been Anna to Carson's Bates, asks him, "Will you be happy there?"
"I will regret leaving Downton every minute of every day," he says. I have to say, Carson is the role Jim Carter was born to play. (Carson has so many great scenes in this episode thanks to Carter's pitch perfect depiction of the butler's snobbery and confusion over the emerging new world order.) "I thought I'd die here and haunt it ever after, but I think I can help (Mary) in those early years when it's important to get it right." Mrs. Hughes, who has never been a big fan of Mary, tells Carson she thinks her ladyship is an "uppity minx" (How great is that!) "who's the author of her own misfortunes." Just then, Anna comes in and tells both of them of Sir Richard's attempt to bribe her.
Upstairs, Bates is helping Matthew into bed when the long suffering Captain Crawley reveals to the valet that he's been feeling a tingling in his legs but that Dr. Clarkson is dismissing it as an illusion. Bates, who seems to have lost all patience for everyone at this point, tells him if it's real, he'll know soon enough. Matthew swears him to secrecy for fear of getting 'anyone's' (read: Mary) hopes up.
With word that Major Mustache's parents are going to be paying a visit to Downton, Mrs. Hughes goes to see Ethel and tells her she can come hide out in the house and if the opportunity presents itself, the housekeeper will arrange for her to speak to the major's mother and introduce her to her grandson, Charlie, who is now about a year old. Mrs. Hughes seems to have garnered the powers of ESP when she tells the young woman that her only hope of getting help to raise Charlie is by appealing to her lover's mother.
Carson tells Mary about Sir Richard's attempt to spy on her and given the circumstances, he won't leave Downton to work for the couple. Furious at being "abandoned," Mary chastises Carson reminding him that they both knew what kind of man she was marrying ("We were to educate him together -- that was the plan!") and then tells her favorite servant how disappointed she is in him. Her hard protective shell forms almost immediately when she dismisses his decision as unimportant when Richard interrupts them and she tells him of Carson's decision saying, "Butlers will be two-a-penny now that they're back from the war."
Lord Grantham and Jane meet just outside the dining room when his lordship, looking for Carson, stops to inspect the wine for the evening's dinner. Jane tells Lord G their earlier conversation "made me sad." Looking completely forlorn, this lordship tells her: "I'm a foolish man who's lost his way and doesn't know how to find it again." That's for sure. He lunges at her for a kiss. This is completely out of character for Lord Grantham and is distressing to me. He's Downton's rock! How can you do this to us, Julian Fellowes? As if he's heard my gasp through the television set, he pulls away from Jane and apologizes to her for his 'ungentlemanly' behavior. Jane skitters back to the kitchen when she finds Carson and, although completely flustered, manages to tell him his lordship is looking for him.
Carson tells Lord Grantham about Sir Richard's bribery of Anna and says because of it, he won't be leaving Downton after all. "I couldn't work for a man I don't respect," he says. Let's hope he never finds out about Jane since we know how tolerant Carson is when it comes to giving people a pass for giving into sexual impulses. If only he knew the people two he loved most were idols with feet of clay.
Matthew and Lavinia are in the drawing room when Lavina decides to bring a heavy tray left behind by the servants into the kitchen. What happens next is like a scene is straight out of the pages of an All My Children script, but I don't care, it worked. Lavina trips heading straight into the fireplace when Matthew rises just in the nick of time from his wheelchair to catch her. He can walk!
Lord Grantham gathers everyone downstairs to bear witness to the miracle including Dr. Clarkson, who is forced to admit his misdiagnosis. It turns out that the other doctor that examined Matthew when he first came back from the war diagnosed him as having spinal shock and predicted Matthew would eventually recover. (Nice save, Julian Fellowes) I'd say Clarkson got a pretty bad track record between this and his horrible mistake of misjudging that poor blinded solider who, after being told he had to leave Downton by the good doctor earlier than he was ready to do, committed suicide. Hope your malpractice insurance is paid up, doc! There seems to be no hard feelings, because Lord Grantham invites Clarkson to stay for dinner to celebrate even if he isn't wearing evening clothes.
While the rest of the house is celebrating upstairs, Bates drops another bomb on Anna in yet another hallway encounter telling her that it was he who bought the rat poison Vera must have taken several months back when she asked him to get it for some unknown reason. Anna begs him to tell the police immediately so as not to look like he's hiding anything. This can't be good.
At dinner Matthew announces he and Lavina will be married "As soon as I'm well enough to walk down the aisle" and then asks if the couple can have their nuptials at Downton so as to "bury the memory of what I hope was the darkest period of my life." Lord Grantham agrees, Cora seethes and Mary looks as if someone has just slapped her across the face.
Tired of watching other people get on with their lives while hers remains in limbo, Sybil goes to Branson and tells him: "My answer is I'm ready to travel and you're my ticket to get away from this house and this life." Not exactly 'I love you and want to be with you' but Branson is too excited to notice. You don't mind burning your bridges? he asks her. "Fetch me the matches! And yes, you can kiss me," she tells him. At last.
All is not well in the Grantham's room at bedtime. While his lordship is thrilled about Matthew's plans to marry at Downton, Cora is none too pleased about not being consulted on the decision to host the wedding and reminds her husband that by allowing Matthew and Lavina to get married at Downton, he has delayed Mary's wedding all because Matthew was "lame." Robert explodes at his wife calling her remarks "stupid and selfish."
Mrs. Patmore decides to take Thomas up on his offer and asks him to secure the hard to get ingredients she'll need for the wedding cake for Matthew and Lavina. When will he get paid? asks O'Brien. "When I'm satisfied," the crafty cooks tells them. Seems like the dastardly duo have met their match.
When Major Mustache's parents arrive it's easy to see where the cad got his charming manners. His father is an absolute tyrant ordering his chauffeur to stay in the car and telling Lord and Lady Grantham they have to "eat and run" despite all the effort that has been made to bring together all of those at Downton who knew the major so his family could ask questions of them. When Mrs. Hughes tries and fails to get a few minutes alone with the major's mother, she goes to Ethel and tells her the meeting she had hoped for isn't going to happen. Ethel is undeterred, and with Charlie in her arms, bursts into the dining room and confronts the major's parents.
"What proof have you?" blusters Major Mustache's father. When Ethel tries to tell the man his son knew about the child but would not acknowledge him, the man cuts her down calling her an opportunist preying on the grief of a rich couple who lost their own son (only he says it in a much nastier way). Ethel leaves the room in tears and Major Mustache's father announces lunch is over. "He's terrified of his own grief, that's why he acts this way," offers his beaten down wife as they exit. When the couple depart, Sir Richard offers his usual kind hearted take on the situation telling the others that Ethel has no legal grounds and the baby is "her bastard" (I don't know why this sounds so incredibly harsh given the expletives we hear today, but it does. I cringed every time the word is uttered in this episode). Ever the gentleman, Matthew asks his mother if one of the refugee organizations she is now working with could help the unwed mother and child. Isobel explains Ethel is not a refugee and the budgets of these organizations are already stretched to the limit. Mary, who has seemingly morphed back into the wicked witch since Matthew's miraculous recovery, says coldly: "She's made her choice and she's stuck with it. Aren't all of us stuck with the choices we make?" Some more than others, my dear.
That night Violet goes to Matthew and bluntly tells him Mary is still in love with him. Shocked (although I don't know why) Matthew sputters a response about not being able to leave Lavina since she is the one who vowed to take care him when there was no hope of a 'normal life.' It would be bad form to throw her over now. And anyway, he says, Mary is marrying Sir Richard. "Let's not muddy the pool by discussing Sir Richard" says Violet. Finally, she leaves Matthew with this: "Marriage is a long business. There's no getting out of it for our kind of people. You may have 40 or 50 years with one of these women -- make sure you have selected the right one."
Sir Richard "impatient" to set a date for his wedding to Mary, gets her to agree to marrying at the end of July. You don't sound very excited, he says. "To quote you," she replies. "That's not who we are." Mary tells him she knows of his attempt to spy on her. If you want to know something about me, just ask, she says. Okay, then. Sir Richard asks her if she's still in love with Matthew (what was your first clue?) and she tells him she'd never love someone who prefers someone else.
More from the doomed-from-the-start love department: Bates tells Anna that Vera wrote to a friend before her death telling her she feared for her life because of Bates' anger.
Somehow Anna finds the strength to brush her own troubled love life aside and help Mary and Edith find Sybil when they discover she's run off with Branson. They find the couple at The Swan Inn. When they burst in, everything is as chaste as can be. Sybil is sleeping fully clothed on the bed and Branson is dozing in a nearby chair. Sweet. Mary and Edith convince their sister to return to Downton so Sybil can talk to her parents about her plans and not 'sneak off like a thief in the night.' Branson knows Mary will try her best to talk Sybil out of marrying the chauffeur, but Sybil reassures him her mind is made up.
Unaware of all that's happened with his daughters, Lord Grantham and Cora have another snippy exchange at breakfast the next morning when Cora tells him she's too busy to spend time with him because she's helping Isobel with her work with the refugees and not to hold lunch for her if she's late. He doesn't understand the change in his wife. "The war changed everybody," Cora tells her sullen husband. "Not me," he says. "Don't be so sure," she admonishes. When he's left alone in the dining room, Jane appears out of nowhere (in a bit of a creepy way) to tell him she's resigning her post. The needy Lord Grantham talks her out of it. You won't lose your livelihood because of my ungentlemanly behavior, he tells her.
When Mrs. Patmore discovers Thomas' baking supplies consist mostly of plaster dust after she and Daisy try a bite of the sample cake, Thomas realizes he's been taken by a man he met in a pub. When he completely loses it in front of O'Brien in the shed where he's been keeping his stash I feel momentarily sorry for him. All things considered, he's something of a tragic figure. Desperate and broke, he goes hat in hand to ask Carson if he can stay on at Downton while he looks for work. "I cannot say I sympathize when you dabble in the black market," Carson tells him whose dislike for Thomas goes back to season one when he knew the former footman was stealing wine. He tells him he must go.
Fast forward three months. The house is being readied for Matthew and Lavinia's wedding. One night with the family gathered before dinner, Lord Grantham finally learns of Sybil and Branson's plans and explodes at the sight of the former chauffeur in the drawing room. "I will not allow my daughter to throw away her life!" Violet tries to calm things and asks her granddaughter about her plans. Sybil tells the family that Branson (his first name is Tom!) has gotten a job as a journalist (Now there's a bright future) and that she will move to Dublin to be with him and work as a nurse. Cora, whose eyes look as if they're going to fall out of her head any moment, is horrified at the prospect that her unmarried daughter will live with a man. No, says Sybil, they will be married. Lord Grantham refuses to give his blessing. Branson gets the same warm reception downstairs when he tries to tell the servants of his plans. "Have you no shame!?" bellows Carson. (He's the only character who could utter this line convincingly and he does with great flourish). Poor Carson, he is the biggest snob at Downton and continues to be flummoxed by all the changes around him.
Violet finds Edith sorting through Matthew and Lavina's wedding presents (I really hope this poor girl finds love in season three, she's more than earned it) while looking for Lord Grantham. Edith tells her he's upstairs talking with Sybil. "I'm afraid it will end in tears," says Violet. "They won't be Sybil's," says Edith having wisely assessed her sister's determination to live her own life. Edith tells Violet she worries that she'll wind up "the maiden aunt" to which Violet tells her to buck up. "Don't be defeatist. It's very middle class."
Sybil and Lord Grantham are indeed battling it out upstairs when Violet joins the fray telling her that all this drama is better suited for novels than for real life. The youngest Grantham daughter is resolute: "I will not give him up!" Lord Grantham issues a threat: "There will be no more money. Your life will be very different." Sybil is unmoved. "Bully for that!"
Cora and Lord Grantham argue over Sybil's behavior. Cora says that perhaps they have chosen not to see their daughter for who she really is. Here comes my favorite line of the night: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs." (By this time I've lost count of the exact number of all the great lines uttered in tonight's episode)
Anna seems to have grown a backbone finally when she tells Bates she doesn't care what it takes, but they are to be married as soon as possible so if there is trouble with the police, she is her love's next of kin and can be kept informed of what's happening. "You can't deny me that," she tells him. Oh, so I want this to end well, but we all know it can't, don't we?
That night, Carson, Mosley, Cora and Lavina suddenly become ill. Everyone but Mosley (who, it turns out is drunk from sampling too much of the wines he was serving for dinner) has fallen victim to the Spanish Flu. At first, Cora seems like she won't survive. Racked with guilt over causing Cora's miscarriage all those months ago, O'Brien refuses to leave her ladyship's bedside. At one point, she tries to confess all to Cora but stops when it's clear she's too ill to understand what's being said.
Later that night, Mary sees Matthew trying out the new gramophone and before you know it, the ill-fated exes are waltzing around the floor to "Look for the Silver Lining" from the flop "Zip Goes a Million." "We were a flop," says Mary. Matthew lets his guard down and sounds completely devastated when he replies, "Oh God, Mary, I'm so so sorry." Mary tells him it was her fault and he reveals that Violet came to him a while back to tell him Mary still loved him. Undaunted, Mary calls the move "classic Granny." Matthew then tells her, "I couldn't ... however much I want to." Then they kiss only to be interrupted by Lavinia who later tells Matthew she never wants to be "a nuisance" imploring him, "don't ever let me get in the way."
Acting out in a major way, Lord Grantham shares a somewhat steamier exchange with Jane who upon hearing he's feeling "wretched" follows him into his dressing room for some snogging before a knock at the door from Bates breaks the spell. The would be lovers have a heartfelt 'Oh I wish things were different' conversation before wretching themselves apart from each other. Shame on you Lord G!
The lord of the manor has a pretty short memory because the next morning he goes to the Grantham Arms in the village to pay a visit to Branson. Surely, his daughter can't have real feelings for a servant and he's just as sure Branson's exit can be secured for the right price."How much would it take for you to leave us in peace," he asks his daughter's would be husband. Branson, who I love more every episode, tells his lordship he won't be bought.
Major Mustache's parents return to Downton for a visit with Ethel and Charlie. With Mrs. Hughes at her side, Ethel finds out her son's grandparents (or rather his grandfather) has an offer: give us the child and he'll have everything; raise him yourself and your on your own. Ethel pleads with the man to allow her to work as the child's nursemaid with a promise she won't reveal she's his mother, a proposition grandma endorses, but the dreadful man won't hear of it and uses the word 'bastard' as many times as he possibly can in one sentence. In the end, Ethel goes to Mrs. Hughes and tells her she's keeping Charlie. Kleenex alert: "Life is short," she says. "They say they can do better, but what's better than a mother's love?" End of this story. I hope.
Isobel tells Matthew and Lavinia they must postpone their wedding until Lavinia is fully recovered. Matthew reluctantly agrees. When his mother leaves the couple alone Lavina says maybe it's for the best. The selfless woman (sorry I misjudged you!) reveals she saw what happened between Matthew and Mary the night she fell ill and she although she loves Matthew, she realizes that she is just "an ordinary" person not 'Queen of the Castle' like Mary and that the two of them belong together. Matthew protests.
Sir Richard arrives back at Downton to help with the sick although nobody wants his kind of 'help.' When he inquires about the health of the patients, it dawns on Mary why he's come. Should Lavinia take a turn for the worst, she accurately guesses, "you wanted to stop Matthew from falling into my arms." Bingo.
The ice queen Mary suddenly defrosts when she learns Anna has arranged to marry Bates in the village on Friday and agrees to cover for her while the two quietly go off to wed. She also pays Carson a visit who is sick, but getting on better than the others. They vow their undying 'mutual support' of each other before a smiling, newly efficient Thomas pops in to offer a tray to his former nemesis. "Watch out for Thomas," warns Mary when he offers them both a courtly goodbye. "He doesn't want to be a footman forever." Mary's suspicions are confirmed later that night when she sees Thomas in the dining room dressed and ready for service. "Don't you look smart," she says to him. "I still had the shirt and I found my livery in the cupboard so I thought, why not?" And just like that he's back in the fold.
Sybil bursts into the room (there was quite a bit of that this episode, come to think of it)looking for Matthew. Lavinia has taken a turn for the worst. Sir Richard tries to stop Mary from going to her bedside grabbing her arm and hissing, "Let him go to her. You owe her that." But she breaks free and joins the rest of the horrified family members in Lavinia's room as she labors through her last words to Matthew: "Isn't this better, really? You don't have to make a hard decision. Be happy," she tells him. "For my sake. Promise me and remember that's all I want for you."
Lavinia's death is a wake-up call for many of Downton's residents. Lord Grantham goes to Cora, who is now recovering having almost succumbed to the Spanish flu. "We're all right, aren't we?" she asks her husband. "Of course we are," he tells her. Cora apologizes for neglecting him. "Don't apologize to me," he says. You got that right.
Jane resigns and this time Lord Grantham doesn't try to stop her. He does, however, give her the address of his 'man of business' telling her he wants to give Freddie 'a start in life" and perhaps buy his mother's silence in the process? "Can I kiss you before I go?" They share a last lingering kiss. Before she finally goes, she asks him, "Will you be happy?" His reply: "I have no right to be unhappy. It's almost the same." Not quite.
Anna and Bates marry in the village and when they return, Mary surprises Anna with a night in a bridal suite that she and Jane ("her good-bye gift") have decorated for the couple. Bates and Anna finally share a night of passion. (Not the love scene we were hoping for by any measure -- clearly British actors don't feel the need to go to the gym before the big reveal. Yikes!) "Now that you've had your way with me," Bates tells Anna, "I just hope you don't live to regret it." Says Anna: "I couldn't no matter what comes." We'll see about that.
Lavinia's funeral is gothically beautiful with a ghostly looking Matthew (a little heavy on the white pancake, no?) surrounded by everyone from Downton. Afterwards, he tells Mary that he believes Lavinia died of a broken heart. We killed her, he says. "We're cursed you and I. Let's be strong and accept this is the end." It was all very Wuthering Heights, if you ask me. A horrified Mary agrees and allows Sir Richard to lead her back to Downton resigned to her fate to live out the rest of her life as a wife in a loveless marriage. I know what the naysayers say about Downton just being a dressed up soap opera, but isn't that what so many of the best films are? This could have easily been a clip in this year's Best Picture rotation at the Oscars if you think about it. The graveyard scene -- beautifully shot, brilliantly written and wonderfully acted reminded me why Downton is better than anything I've seen in a long, long time.
While the rest of the crowd disperses, Lord Grantham eyes Branson with Sybil and goes up to the couple braced for battle. Something has changed, though. When Sybil tells her father she had hoped they could all be friends he softens. Maybe it was his brief encounter with Jane, maybe it's watching Matthew, the son he'll never have, get his heart broken again, but his lordship tells his daughter, "If I can't stop you, if you're sure, then you may take my blessing with you." For some reason, despite everything else that has happened in this episode, I completely lose it here. Perhaps it's because it was so touching to have the honorable Lord G return. This stiff-upper lip but soft-hearted man is the rock of the series without him and that lovable white labrador, the whole thing wouldn't be nearly as good. He warns Branson that he'll be torn apart by wild dogs if he doesn't treat his beloved youngest daughter well. "I would expect nothing less," replies his son-in-law to be.
As Lord G and Granny make their way back to the house, Violet is already spinning a tale of Branson's Irish ancestors having a connection to some moneyed family in Cork. Look on the bright side, she tells her son, he's political and a journalist we can concoct some version of a story that will be more interesting than scandalous. Granny is nothing if she's not pragmatic.
There's no spinning what happens to Bates in the show's final minutes. Upon returning from the cemetary, a frightened Mrs. Patmore tells him there are two men waiting for him in the servants' hall. They arrest Bates for Vera's murder. Anna tries to stop them ("I love you! For better or for worse!") but the always stoic valet tells them to do whatever is required. He is escorted out in handcuffs while the staff -- even Thomas -- looks on in shock.
For next week's finale: Will Bates be found guilty? Will Mary marry the devil? What else could possibly happen to Matthew? Leave your comments here and let me know.
Photo ITV for Masterpiece