Monday, February 6, 2012


As the season builds to what is sure to be a shattering climax (it's true there are only a few episodes left!), this week's episode answers the question: Guess who's coming to dinner? and raises many other more unsettling ones like: Is Sir Richard Carlisle a distant relative of the late Russell Armstrong of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

It's 1919 and the war is drawing to a close. Mary has assumed the role of primary caregiver to Matthew and is wheeling him around Downton's verdant grounds (the cinematography from this episode was positively gorgeous). When he tells her he "keeps thinking about William ... he was the brave one," Mary with all the emotional efficiency she can muster replies, "You were both brave" and offers this bit of wartime wisdom: what happens during a time of war "just happens and we should live with it."

Not that anyone at Downton Abbey has any other choice. Aristocratic houses sit abandoned ripe for the picking by the new moneyed arrivistes, soldiers and officers continue to fall (bye-bye Major Mustache), the new emerging social order adds to the overall uncertainty for the aristocracy and the servants. And to top it all off, a mysterious stranger has come to Downton threatening to upend what little comfort its residents have managed to hold on to.

What's striking about this episode is how far all the characters have come in a short time (speaking in relation to the number of episode of the season). I've said it before but it bears repeating: more happens in one episode of this show than in season of most network dramas. This installment was no exception. In fact, Downton gets better and better every week. I don't know how I'll cope once it's over, but I digress. I can't think about that now. Here's my recap on what happened last night.

While watching Matthew and Mary from afar through a window at the house, Carlisle asks Lord Grantham, "Am I to be jealous?" The answer would be yes. Grantham, who can barely contain his contempt for his son-in-law to be, doesn't bother to answer. He's horrified to learn that Carlisle is taking Mary to see Haxby Park, the 12,000 acre estate next door in hopes of convincing his fiancee that it should be their new home. Unlike creaky old Downton, (Carlisle's view, not mine!) Carlisle is going to equip their lovenest with all the modern conveniences like central heating, a bathroom for every bedroom and a modern kitchen. "Sounds like more like an hotel," sputters the Earl. What Carlisle doesn't tell Lord Grantham is that he is hoping to bring Carson with him.

Major Clarkson tells Lord Grantham that a Canadian major, Patrick Gordon, who suffered severe burns while at the front, has requested to come to Downton because he has ties to the house and a family connection. Of course, he's welcome here, says a puzzled Grantham unaware of what's to come.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Anna and Bates are talking about getting their own house on the property once they're married when O'Brien grumbles something about it being unfair that the long suffering couple would get separate quarters. "Why," asks Bates who returns O'Brien's contempt in full measure. "Because we've all been such pals?"

Meanwhile, Cora (Loved that hat!) and Violet pay a visit to Isobel to talk about the future of Downton now that the war is coming to an end. Isobel is shocked to learn that Cora and Robert are eager to have their home fully returned to them rather than continue to use it for the some higher calling. She implores them to consider have it become a recovery center which, naturally, she will run. Surely they don't want to return to a life of "changing clothes and killing things" (Nicely done, Julian Fellowes). The Dowager Countess asks Isobel if she's "vote to abolish private houses?" Desperate to get this harpie out of their house for good, on the ride home with Cora, Violet vows to pull some strings and find something to divert Isobel's attention and find her another post-war project.

Lady Edith is the first Grantham to meet the mysterious major who has come to Downton to heal from the emotional and physical wounds he's suffered as a result of an explosion. Before she's able to get a good look at him, Edith cheerily tells him she's in charge of "the non-medical welfare" of the men. The major warns her that his appearance is quite off-putting. Edith, who has perhaps changed more than any of the Grantham sisters, says confidently, "At this stage there isn't much that puts me off." Then he steps out of the shadows and she gets a good look at him.

The new housemaid Jane tries to get Daisy to come to an event for local war widowes about their pensions but she isn't buying it. "I'm not a widow," she declares in front of the staff reminding them that her marriage lasted all of seven hours (Insert your own Kim Kardashian joke here). Despite Mrs. Patmore's urging that William wanted her to have the pension so she could be "looked after" Daisy reveals her anger at Mrs. Patmore saying, "You made me a liar when he was alive. I won't be false to his memory."

Carlisle finally gets around to offering Carson the job of running the home he and Mary are about to buy. It's no surprise that he thinks the promise of an "increase in salary" would lure him to the job of running Haxby Park ("There's nothing that money can't fix") When that doesn't seem to have any impact, he plays the Lady Mary card telling Carson that his favorite Grantham daughter would no doubt find Carson's services and presence invaluable as she settles into her role as a new bride. Carson, who has become one of my favorite characters this season because of his steadfast devotion to the family and his unabashed snobbery, tells Carlisle he will wait to make his decision until he learns how Mary feels about his coming to work for them.

"I don't dislike him. I just don't like him. There's a difference." -- Violet's best line of the episode offering her take on Carlisle when talking to her son who is still put out about Carlisle's plans to gut the graciousness of Haxby Park with the modern conveniences. Cora makes it clear she disagrees with her husband. "I'm an American. I don't share your English hatred of comfort." For several episodes now it's clear there's trouble brewing between Lord and Lady G. Although it's an inevitable plot twist, I'm not happy with this development at all.

Mrs. Patmore is worried about one dire consequence of the armistice: food rationing which gives Thomas, who knows it's time to figure out his next move, an idea about a new business. "Are you talking about the black market," he asks Mrs. Patmore. "I'm shocked." To which she replies, "Oh, I doubt that." In the next room, Ethel comes to the back door of Downton receive her care package of food from Mrs. Hughes. Carson catches the housekeeper helping the former housemaid.

In the helpless husband department Lord Grantham complains to Cora when she tells him he'll have to eat alone at lunch because she's too busy with work. "If you really can't be on your own for one luncheon ..." she says sounding annoyed. This, folks, is what we call foreshadowing.

Carlisle takes Mary to see Haxby Park which makes Downton look like a co-op on the Upper West Side. Mary is clearly moved when she recalls the happy days spent by its owners at the house who have now left because they were too devastated by the death of their son in the war to stay."What will we do about furniture?" asks Mary, her voice echoing in the cavernous space. "We'll do what anyone does -- buy it," offers Sir Richard. "Your lot buys it and my lot inherits it," says Mary in response.

"Should we give the house another chapter?" asks Carlisle attempting to sound romantic and seal the deal. Mary's response is a classic: "I suppose one has to live somewhere." Somewhere, Cupid is weeping.

Carson takes Mrs. Hughes to task in front of Cora for giving Ethel food on the sly. Evidently, Carson's soft side doesn't extend to women of loose virtue. "Men will be men, but for any young woman to let her judgment so dessert her ..." (Just asking, but I'm wondering if he'd have the same response if -- more likely when -- he learns the truth about his beloved Mary and Mr. Pamuk. We're guessing that will come up next season) Cora, who is becoming quite the modern woman, informs the butler: "Don't worry Carson, the baby will ensure she pays the price." She offers to write to the major to invite him to Downton in hopes that Lord Grantham can convince him to do the honorable thing. Mrs. Hughes isn't certain the major has any honor at all. Undaunted by Cora's rebuke, Carson has the final word: "I cannot condone her inability to pronounce a two letter word: no."

Cut to another housemaid who, it's clear, has eyes for a different man in uniform. Jane serves Lord Grantham lunch and he strikes up a conversation with her asking if the job at the house is proving manageable given her 'family situation.' After Robert inquires about her son (he's 12), the young woman opens up telling him the boy has a "talent for mathematics" and is hoping for a scholarship to Rippan Grammar and before Carson bursts in on them, the charmed earl promises to put a good word if he can. "It's my fault. I asked the questions," says a chastened Lord Grantham to a disapproving Carson. What will Downton do when its moral compass departs to work for the devil and the new Mrs.?

Mrs. Hughes goes to Ethel to tell her they've been found out and restating the obvious tells her "You've broken the rules my girl" letting her know that Cora has written to the major in hopes of helping her. If there's a point to this story, I wish we'd get to it already.

Back at the house Bates get a call from his lawyer and learns that Vera is going to tell the judge he paid her to divorce him which would allow the decree to be overturned. "I'm not divorced after all," he tells Anna after learning the news. "I'm a stupid, stupid, stupid man." No, not really, but this is really getting on my nerves. Can't someone find a house to drop on Vera and be done with her? Undaunted, Anna tells Bates "We're going to be together no matter what" while O'Brien listens from behind the door.

The burn victim major tells Edith that he is Patrick Crawley, Downton's heir who was believed to have drown on the Titantic. He is visibly hurt when she does not recognize him and tells her of his childhood memories spent playing at Downton. Clearly thrown by the news, Edith asks why he didn't come forward sooner. He tells her he couldn't remember who he was and had no reason to come back to England. When he was mistakenly to Canada, he took his new name from a gin bottle and in 1914 signed up for the infantry. After the explosion that left him burned, his memory started to return and that's when he realized he was Patrick Crawley, Downton's heir. We're as confused as Edith but this is a bit too All My Children for PBS so I'm guessing he's an impostor.

Patrick asks poor Edith if he loved Mary (remember, the couple were to be engaged before he went off on the Titanic six years ago) and then surprises her by saying, "You were the one who really loved me." Now in tears Edith replies, "I never knew Patrick knew." He tells her: "He did. I do." Edith is convinced the man beneath the bandages is Patrick Crawley but says, "I must tell Papa."

On another stroll about the grounds of Downton, Mary tells Matthew about Haxby Park with the effusive "It's just big" and then reveals that Carlisle wants "to steal Carson" and have him come work for them when they marry. When Mary frets that the butler may decline the offer, Matthew tells her, "Surely he'd open a vein for you so I don't think there's much doubt he'll do it." But Mary has an even bigger dilemma on her mind. "I don't have to marry him, you know." The ever gallant Matthew tell her yes, you do. "I can only really relax because you have a real life coming. I have nothing to give and nothing to share. If you were not engaged to be married I would not let you anywhere near me." Dan Stevens is simply perfect in this scene. I think he's got a big screen career in the not to distant future. Reminds me of Hugh Grant before he started doing all those dopey rom coms.

Watching from the window (I thought this man had a newspaper empire to run?) Carlisle knows he must make this problem disappear so he helpfully suggests to Cora that if she wants grandchildren, it's time for Lavinia Swire to return to Matthew's life. Cora takes the bait.

Sybil and Branson are inching closer to acknowledging they're in a relationship. Be patient a little longer, she tells him. She can't even talk about their secret affair of the heart until the war is over. "I'd wait forever," he tells. Cupid has stopped crying.

That night, Lord Grantham tries on a tuxedo for the first time noting that it's just the thing for those nights alone with Cora. ("All the chaps in London are wearing them only for the most informal evenings," he notes.) Bates observes his lordship might not get much use out of it when the war is over.

Carson and Mary discuss Carlisle's offer. "I need to hear what you think," he tells her. "It's a terrific idea. If anyone can keep me out of trouble, it's you," she says. "What about his lordship?" asks Carson. "Of course, he'll kill me," says Mary satisfied she's gotten her way. Again, Carson, the keeper of Downton's social order -- or what's left of it -- has the last word. "It's a huge wrench to leave Downton. I'll give you my answer when I've spoken to Lord Grantham."

Lord Grantham, having learned of Edith's conversation with the major goes to see him. "I wish you'd spoken to me first." Robert tells him he's put his attorneys in London on the case to find out the truth. "Do you not recognize me at all?" asks the anguished major who makes a gestures that stops Robert cold. Clearly torn, he feels for the fellow but clearly wants to protect his family -- and, most importantly, Matthew, from more heartbreak and leaves without giving his answer.
Violet goes to Isobel intent on diverting her attention from her plans to make Downton a part of the post-war recovery effort. She cleverly talks about all the causes sure to emerge after the war in hopes of finding something that would appeal to her cousin. "What will become of the refugees?" she asks Isobel who tells her she's struck a chord. "Thank goodness," says Violet under her breath. The choice is clear, she tells Isobel, between organizing exercise classes and lectures on pottery and helping men and women rebuild their lives. Violet teases that some unnamed organizer feels Isobel is absolutely essential to the effort and Isobel's ego gets the best of her. She says she'll give Violet her answer tonight at dinner at Downton where Robert has asked the family to gather for some important announcement.

Mary tells her father, as he is dressed for dinner by Bates, about her plans for Carson. He is not amused telling her there is "nothing more ill-bred than to steal other people's servants." Lord Grantham asks Bates what he thinks. "I say Mr. Carson must have the last word on where he lives and works" says his valet, clearly preoccupied with his own troubles.

In the drawing room before dinner, Lord Grantham tells the family about the patient "Patrick Gordon who claims to be Patrick Crawley." Carlisle senses he's missed something. What does it all mean? "If he's alive, than I'm no longer the future earl of Grantham," says Matthew. Edith tries to tell the group that the man knows things about life at Downton that he couldn't know unless he was Patrick Crawley and Mary cuts her to the quick. "That's a stupid thing to say." Growing increasingly upset Mary cries, "This man is an impostor. It's a cruel trick to play. Matthew has been through so much" basically forgetting the man she's engaged to is in the same room.

Matthew, who is also sporting a new tux, bitterly responds while everyone in the room sits in stunned silence: "He seems like a nice enough chap. Not pretty but he can walk on his own and sire a string of sons. All in all,a great improvement on the current situation." Another great scene from Dan Stevens.

More from the storyline no one cares about: Cora tells Mrs. Hughes Major Mustache is dead and that the house's ties to Ethel are effectively severed as well. As is the case when any real dish is being served, O'Brien is within earshot. What's going on? she asks Cora who tells her "a friend of Mrs. Hughes knew the major." O'Brien puts the pieces together in under ten seconds.

Once again we go from a scene about one housemaid whose reach exceeded her grasp to another who is playing the game far better. Late that night, Jane finds Lord Grantham staring into the fire in the library. "Anything I could fetch you?" No, says his lordship, "Nothing that would help" and leaves Jane to gaze longingly at him as he goes off to bed.

The next morning, sitting in the ruin of a garden on the grounds, Edith tells Patrick she does recognize him now. He is touched by her tenderness and asks her "once its all settled, might we talk again?"

Another scene with Ethel: Mrs. Hughes tells her that her child's father is dead. "Now I'm ruined," says the young woman but Mrs. Hughes reminds her, "You were ruined already." Ethel, clearly seething that another maid with a child has been accepted at Downton is reminded by Mrs. Hughes there is a world of difference between the two women's lives. "Jane is a responsible married woman that one man chose to make his wife." When we last see Ethel in the episode she is sitting alone crying holding the child on her lap and looks to be hatching some kind of plot. Enough already.

Bates tells Lord Grantham that he must go to London. "Please say this is about property and not the former Mrs. Bates," says Robert. "It's about the former or better yet the late Mrs. Bates." (More foreshadowing) says Bates. "She's found a way to ruin everything." His lordship cautions his valet telling him, "Be sensible and do not lose your temper."

Downstairs, Carson and Branson are engaged in a debate over the future of Europe while the staff looks on when Lord Grantham comes in to announce the war is over. The ceasefire will begin, he tells them, on November 11 at 11 o'clock. Everyone is to gather in the great hall of the house at that time to mark the occasion.

Meanwhile, Isobel tells Cora and Violet she has decided to go off and work to help the plight of the refugees but she hopes they will keep Downton open as a recovery center without her. (This woman, as the Brits like to say, is as thick as a plank)"You must go where you can make a difference," Cora tells her barely managing to hide her delight at the realization she will finally be rid of her nemesis. On the ride home Cora tells Violet, "I know it was for Robert and the girls but I thank you from the bottom of my heart." Score a big victory for Granny.

While sitting in the library with Edith, Patrick Gordon? Crawley? loses it when he realizes the family will never accept him as their long lost heir. She tries to reassure him, "You're not a stranger to me."

Downstairs, O'Brien tells Thomas, "I wouldn't want to be Vera Bates" having seen the look of complete rage on Bates' face as he left for London earlier that morning. Thomas, who has long lost interest in Bates tells her, "If I were you, I'd keep out of it." "Wise words," says Anna has she catches a snippet of the conversation. Later, when Bates returns (with a nasty scratch on his face) he tells Anna it was "worse than anything you can possibly imagine."

Lord Grantham reveals to the family what the lawyers have uncovered about 'Patrick Gordon.' There was a Peter Gordon who fought in the infantry. Edith still believes he's the heir, Mary does not. Violet offers this assessment: "When his face was blown away he decided every cloud has a silver lining. He was perfectly placed to replace his dead friend."

Matthew, who is, by now boiling over with rage over what the fates have doled out, tells Lord Grantham, "Don't think about me" in considering what to make of the major's story. The Earl won't hear of it. "My dear chap, how can you say that? I don't think of anything else."

Edith tells Patrick/Peter about the latest news. Yes, he says, I knew Peter Gordon. We were good friends. "We'll find this Peter Gordon," vows Edith. "Yes," says Patrick/Peter sadly. "I expect you will." Game over.

Carson tells Mrs. Hughes he is accepting the position to run Carlisle's house when he marries Mary. "I will miss you very much," Mrs. Hughes tell him. It's a very Remains of the Day moment.

At dinner that evening, Carlisle arrives with Lavinia in tow which is a shock to everyone but Cora. Matthew is furious as is Lord Grantham for very different reasons. Lavinia tells Matthew she's changed and that she loves him and that she's going care for him. "That's all there is to it." Knowing he can't have Mary, Matthew seems momentarily relieved that Lavinia has come back. Cora is ready for Robert's wrath. "Before you scold me ..." she begins before he explodes that she's conspired to doom Lavinia to be Matthew's caretaker. "Don't you want Mary's marriage to succeed. Do you want grandchildren?" she asks. Disgustedly Robert replies, "Sometimes, Cora, you can be curiously unfeeling."

Mary and her fiance are arguing about Lavinia's return when Carlisle, having had just enough of watching Mary pine for Matthew, grabs her and pushes her against a wall when they are alone and offers this threat: "If you think you can jilt me or set me aside, you have given me the power to destroy you and don't think I won't use it. Don't ever cross me. I want to be a good husband but never." He kisses her. "Absolutely never." Absolutely terrifying.

Sybil tells Edith that Peter/Patrick is gone. He's left a note for her. "It was too difficult. I'm sorry." It's signed 'P. Gordon' Devastated, Edith tells her sister: "We drove him away. His own family."

The episode's final scenes were among the best of the entire series. Everyone is gathered in the hall awaiting the clock to chime eleven times ending the long war on November 11 at the 11th hour. It's all quintessentially British and I loved it. Lord Grantham intones, "When the clock strikes to mark the finish of this terrible war, let us remember the sacrifices that have been made and the men who will never come back" As the bells chime, the camera pans to each character who have each undergone dramatic changes as well as the faces of servicemen meant to represent the collective brotherhood of soliders. "Remember this is not just the end of the war," says a sober Lord Grantham. "It is the dawn of a new age. God bless you all."

Afterwards as Bates wheels Matthew feels something that startles him. Is the feeling in his legs returning? He decides not to say anything until he is sure.

Standing at Downton's doorway Lord Grantham and Carson survey the changing landscape. "I don't suppose you have any doubts," asks his lordship about his longtime servant's decision to leave the house. No, Carson, tells him. He's made up his mind but he'll stay until a suitable replacement is found. "Whoever we find won't replace you," says Lord Grantham. The final shot of the scene is perfect. Filmed from behind the actors, it gave us a view of these two men, both heads of their respective households, standing side by side looking out into the distance in the shadow of the great house. It was my favorite scene of the episode.

While Edith sits alone crying in the field where just days before she's been with Patrick/Peter, the staff has reassembled down below in the kitchen when Bates received a telegram. He reads it and bolts from the room. Anna retrieves the paper. "His wife is dead," she tells the servants. Cut to a shot of Vera, eyes open, laying dead on the floor of her house surrounded by broken pottery.

Who done it? My guess is Carlisle had a hand in it. What do you think?

Photo credit: ITV for Masterpiece

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Blogger Deb W said...

What I want to know is, will we get the Christmas episode at the end of this series, or have to wait unil next Christmas (groan), perhaps as an opener for season 3?

I'm with you. The Ethel storyline is not interesting, but it must be going somewhere. Maybe Mrs. Hughes suggestion that she "go to the city [and] invent a past for yourself" has something to do with it? (also suggesting that is what the new maid has done?)

As for the new maid, I wonder if the fact that they made much over the BOY being 12 and so bright was a precurser for something? Illegitimate son of someone? Lord G? One of the previous heirs?

Then there is Peter/Patrick. I can't believe they would make that a one-episode crisis. Since he left abruptly, he's still out there, ready to turn up again at any moment. If they were trying to say definitively that he was not Patrick, they failed. The "imposter" angle is what we all assumed from the beginning. They'll have to go farther to prove he is not Patrick.

Poor Edith - so desperate for love. She would take anyone who gave her the time of day.

On the other hand, Mary seems surprisingly obliging at the prospect of marriage to a man who will clearly abuse her - psychologically, if not physically.

I've read in the news that Shirley McLaine has signed on to play Cora's mother in Series 3. She will make a good foil for Lady Violet (think of her character in 'Steel Magnolias'). I have wondered all along why we never heard a word about Cora's family. After all, with all that wealth, they would be powerful, like a Vanderbilt (once Duchess of Marlborough), Carnagie or Morgan. And why, when her fortune was about to be 'wasted' by the entail, did they not speak up?

February 6, 2012 at 7:06 PM  

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