Just as I was feeling that “Downton Abbey” was kicking off the season with a little more speed, the second episode of the season grinds down to a couple of mind-numbing subplots that really don’t serve the series.
After Lady Edith made such a mess of the Drewe family, Julian Fellowes turns Mrs Drewe into a stalker and Thomas has been reduced to little more than a line or two. I know that Fellowed is tying up any possible loose storyline, but the Drewe storyline was long done and gone, and this one only reminds viewers of what a mess Lady Edith cast upon the family that tried to help her.
That said, “Downton Abbey” can still put me into an escapist mindset, but this episode was just a tad bit of a struggle for me as I know there’s a limited number of episodes left of this fine series, and I hate to see it wasted on the banal.
We”ll be doing the recap two ways. For those of you in a rush that want to just get the gist of the episode, you can just scan the first section, but for those that love to dip deep into the Downton pond, travel down further for a much more extensive breakdown of the episode.
I came into this series with an open mind, impressed by the quality of the trailers and the general air of things having improved. I even began to think that not only would this series perhaps equal the quality of series one, I wondered if a miracle might happen and it might even surpass it. After two outings now, frankly, I think you would get more entertainment out of Mr Drewe’s pigs, whether you were a prime minister or not.
So many “low stakes” plotlines are developing and this worries me. The burden on the actors to spin gold out of Malton Show manure is intolerable. Daisy’s transition into a cross between Lenin and Jeremy Corbyn is not only not believable, it’s an echo of a previous unsuccessful plotline. Likewise the business of Lady Mary becoming the agent: this is Lady Edith as editor reworked. And it’s particularly traumatic to see Thomas’s impact so pointlessly reduced. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) was once one of the great Downton characters.
“When do you need me, Mr Carson?” “When indeed?”
I’m just not sure that Carson would bully Thomas like this. If he really disliked him, he would get rid of him. And he has no reason to dislike him (aside from his “unnatural” side, obviously, which Mr Carson never approved of and that’s all been dealt with ages ago). Plus, wouldn’t Mr Carson be slightly changed by his impending nuptials? And surely this would make him better disposed to Thomas, not worse?
We are left with the following questions. They’re not going to sustain a series but still we are expected to play along anyway. Which of the servants will be first to leave? Will Anna have a baby? Will Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes get married at the Abbey? Will Daisy’s father-in-law get turfed out of his house? Will Lady Mary work out who The Impostor Child really is?
Like I say, these subplots would all work wonderfully in The Archers. Here they feel exhausting and pointless. Still, we find entertainment where we can. They are going to London to see Dr Rider! I do hope he is not the same gynaecologist who killed Sybil. And, lo, Uncle Julian has been Googling again: “cervical incompetence.” I do hope he didn’t come across any nastiness online before he happened upon that.
Random subplot alert
This whole thing is just one big subplot, ever since we lost sight of the crucial matter of the settling of the “entail” in series one. (Who remembers the entail? Pour yourself an extra sherry if you do.)
But the most successful subplot at the moment is the wedding of “Elsie” and Mr Carson. If there is to be a wedding, that is. “It’s not us. It’s not who we are. It may be where we work. But it’s not who we are.” Plinky-plonky violin music at the ready as the battle lines are drawn. “The wedding day is mine!”
Meanwhile Anna and Bates are giving Oscar-worthy performances whilst discussing the miscarriage problem.
“You’re married and that means you never have to cry alone again … Have you ever thought about adoption?”
“You are tribal, Mr Bates …”
“To me, we are one person and that person can’t have children.”
This is all very miserable, though. And – again – it’s Groundhog Day. We’ve seen Anna and Bates suffer too much. Give them a change of tone, Uncle Julian! Some joy. Or even some scheming. Or a humiliation. Anything but more misery. Poor Anna must have run out of hankies by now. I am not even going to mention the hospital.
Surprise character development
Well, this was a surprise for all of two seconds, until everything went back to normal. Why couldn’t The Editor have been brainwashed by the Nazis (the party was founded in 1920, so this would work – I too can Google, Uncle Julian!), faked his own death and travelled incognito back from Germany to kidnap The Impostor Child and take her back to Berlin to reign over the Third Reich as the true Führer?
Instead, soppy Mrs Drewe (who could have “borrowed” Miss Marigold at any point over the past two years) took the child for a short drive home in the pig truck. The poor Impostor Child must be so bloody confused.
I confess, though, that dreamboat Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) has temporarily surpassed Molesley in my affections. “No, my darling, I’m not angry at all …” Possibly, however, I am simply desperate for any feeling other than massive exasperation.
THE MR CARSON EYEBROW OF THE WEEK AWARD
In a move unprecedented over the past five years of writing this blog (is it five or 50? I forget), I am going to award the golden eyebrow not to Mr Carson reacting to Lady Mary (“Your reception will be in the Great Hall if it’s the last thing I do.), not to the farmer reacting to the news that Lady Mary is the agent (“It’s a changing world …”) and not to Mr Drewe’s pigs, who looked exceptionally shocked at the sudden disappearance of Miss Marigold.
No, I am afraid that this week I am going to have to award the golden eyebrow to myself.
Because the upper features of my face were blasted sky high by this phrase from Mr Drewe, talking to the Earl of Grantham about the Impostor Child business:
“We made a plan. But we forgot about emotion. And emotion’s what can trip you up every time.”
WHAT? This man is a pig farmer. It is 1925. Is it really necessary for him to talk like a psychotherapist on The Jeremy Kyle Show? I rest my case about anachronistic speech. And this wasn’t just anachronistic, it was something that no living and breathing person would say ever.
Excuse me, could you just repeat that awkward line of dialogue?
“As usual, you add two and two and make 53.” Lady Edith is the only person who can skewer Lady Mary’s icy demeanour.
“She is an important figure in my life. I won’t apologise.” Carson’s pash on Lady Mary knows no bounds, even when it comes to his wedding day.
“I like to walk on my own, if I’m honest.” Too right, Andy, especially if your potential companion is Thomas.
“Do you want to come and see Lady Mary showing off her pigs?” It’s this sort of thing that got Mr Pamuk into trouble.
“I hope you’re not implying that she would be more powerful than I.” “Oh no, indeed.” The doctor’s finest moment as he swiftly reassures Cousin Violet (AKA Conan the Destroyer) that no one has more power than she.
Cousin Violet: “Did you drink at luncheon?” Cousin Isobel: “No, I did not.” Lady Edith finds love! Spratt and Denker are back at war! And “Elsie” is finally getting married. Or is she?
Change is coming to Downton, whether Robert and Mr Carson like it or not. Of course, we’re not talking big, momentous, or calamitous change. It’s just small enough to fit in our Downton world without rocking the great estate off its foundation.
The episode started with a Mr. Finch stopping by to speak to the estate’s agent regarding an upcoming fat stock show. When Carson offers to call in Lady Mary, Mr. Finch prevaricates and insists that he doesn’t want to bother the family, let alone one of theladies, so he gets a bit of a surprise when Mary finally meets with him in the library and informs him that she’s the new agent. Any way, this meeting sets off a chain of events that lead to a rather unnecessary (and, in my opinion totally contrived and unfair) plot line that takes up the majority of the episode. For this recap, I’m going to do things a bit differently and instead of intertwining the various stories, tell them one at a time. I think it will better serve the heightened anxiety at the end of the episode this way.
Before we get back to Mr. Finch and the fat stock show, let’s talk about what’s going on with the family in general: first, Violet and Dr. Clarkson are still trying to curtail, if not completely stop, the takeover of the hospital. They hold a meeting at the Dower House, but only invite Robert. See, Violet’s smart. She purposely doesn’t invite Cora because she doesn’t want Isobel to have too much of an advantage. And frankly, we all know that she can manipulate Robert a lot easier than Cora. At any rate, the meeting is at a standstill as far as any decisions go. Robert refuses to take sides (typical!), and later, when Isobel runs into Lord Merton, she gets confirmation that he is firmly on her side. So, right now, we have Clarkson and Violet on the side of keeping things status quo, and Cora, Isobel, and Lord Merton rooting for reform. At this point, if Robert joins forces with his wife, Violet is going to lose this battle. Frankly, the entire storyline is not worth any more detail. If I had to pick sides, I’d join forces with Isobel & co., because who doesn’t want better equipment and more advanced treatments for their patients? When Violet and Dr. Clarkson finally invite Cora to the hospital, they are (predictably) unsuccessful in convincing her that the takeover is a mistake.
Downstairs, the saga of Bates and Anna continues. Now that they are both free from being jailed for some crime or another, the big problem is Anna’s inability to have children. See? This couple will never get a break! Enter Lady Mary to the rescue! She cajoles Anna into confessing about her miscarriages and promptly springs into action. She’s going to take Anna to London to be examined by a specialist (the same doctor who fixed her inability to get pregnant back when she was married to Matthew), and come up with a solution. Anna reluctantly agrees but doesn’t tell Bates the real reason for going to London. Anyway, the doctor tells Anna that there is a problem with her cervix (I’m not even going to attempt to provide the medical details), and that the next time she gets pregnant, all she has to do is give him notice around the twelfth week of her pregnancy, and he’ll come out and perform a minor procedure that will ensure her carrying the baby to term. Yay! Anna comes home overjoyed, but still doesn’t tell Mr. Bates what’s up. He thinks that the break away from the house was all she needed. Men.
Meanwhile, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are trying to plan their wedding, and are looking for a place to hold the reception. Robert tactlessly offers to decorate the servants’ hall for the occasion, and Lady Mary overrides his ridiculous suggestion and instead offers any room at the Abbey. Mrs. Hughes is not happy about this arrangement at all and asks Carson to turn the offer down. Poor Carson doesn’t really want to offend the family (especially Lady Mary), and hems and haws his way through a sort-of refusal, which of course, fails spectacularly. So, for the time being, we’re at a standstill. Mary’s insisting that the best option is for them to marry from Downton, Mrs. Hughes is not happy about it, and poor Mr. Carson is stuck in the middle of two rather strong-willed women.
In other news, Thomas asks Mr. Carson to at least give him an indication of when the proverbial axe is to fall, but Carson won’t budge. When Thomas asks if he should start looking for a job, Carson tells him that “it wouldn’t hurt,” which sets Thomas off to find a new position. He goes for an interview at a manor up in Rippon only to find out that the job is basically being a jack-of-all-trades (butler, footman, chauffeur, and valet), and the head butler at the manor is not exactly the most congenial man. Okay, I have a real problem with this storyline. Here’s the thing: yes, Thomas is a troublemaker, and he hasn’t exactly been the nicest person around, but the way Mr. Carson and the rest of the staff are treating him is absolutely despicable. They are purposely keeping him away from the new guy, Andy, as if the mere acquaintance with Andy could have some dire ramifications. The lack of trust and the general dismissal of any attempt on Thomas’ part to help Andy is just ridiculous. What’s worse is that Andy seems to be in on it, too. The only person who cares for Thomas is Baxter, and of course, Thomas rebuffs any attempt on her part to be nice to him. I honestly feel bad for Thomas. He doesn’t deserve this kind of hostility. I also think it’s incredibly unfair and mean of Mr. Carson to act as if Thomas is about to be fired when no official word has come from Robert. It’s just petty, in my opinion.
And now, we get to the meat of the story. Remember how I said the meeting with Mr. Finch sets off the main plot of this episode? Well, here’s the thing: Mary agrees to enter some of their prize pigs into the fat stock show, which means she’ll have to go and talk to Mr. Drewe, who’s in charge of the pig stock. She decides to take little George along with her, which prompts including Marigold in the visit. Unfortunately, Edith has to go to London to deal with her ornery editor, Mr. Skinner, so she can’t be there during the visit to the Drewe farm. So, Cora, Mary, and the kids head down to the Drewes, and of course, Mrs. Drewe shows a bit too much affection for little Marigold. The encounter strikes Mary as really odd (not to mention how weird she feels about Mr. Drewe telling Marigold to go with her “auntie”). Any way, Cora’s quite alarmed by the interaction and tells Robert that the only way to ensure Marigold’s safety is to ask the Drewes to leave their farm. Wait. What? Seriously? Wouldn’t the best thing be to tell Mary who Marigold really is? Any way, Robert goes down and has a talk with poor Mr. Drewe (remember, his family has been a tenant for over a century!) and tells him that he should consider leaving if he can’t keep his wife in check.
Meanwhile, Daisy’s still feeling awful about what happened with Mr. Mason and wants to talk to Cora about intervening with the new owners at Malllerton Hall. Of course, she can’t just walk up to Cora and ask, so Molesley asks Baxter to act as the intermediary. Cora tells Baxter there’s nothing she can do, but agrees to speak to Daisy nonetheless. When Daisy finally gets the opportunity to talk to Cora, it’s after the “incident” at the Drewe farm. You can predict where this is going, yes? Cora says that she might have an idea to save Mr. Mason from being homeless, but of course, we don’t really get a resolution in this episode. I’m sure what we all think is going to happen will come up in the next one.
The day of the show arrives, and everyone’s there, looking over the county’s best of the best livestock and wares. Mr. Drewe’s in a pen with the pigs and his wife shows up in their truck, but without their kids in tow. Everyone’s busy playing games and socializing, and to cap it off, the Downton pigs win first prize. While everyone is gathered around the pen, Mrs. Hughes notices that Marigold is missing. Panic ensues, and people start running around looking for her. Mr. Drewe comes up to Edith and tells her he that his wife must have taken the little girl back to their farm. So, Edith, Robert, Cora, and Mr. Drewe drive down to the farm, and sure enough, Mrs. Drewe’s sitting in the kitchen with Marigold in her lap. She’s acting a bit strange, a bit obsessed? Mr. Drewe takes Marigold and gives her back to Edith, and he tells Robert that he’ll start looking for a new tenancy the next day. Now you can really see how Mr. Mason’s problem will be solved, right? Honestly? Ugh. I didn’t like this twist at all. It is completely unnecessary to portray poor Mrs. Drewe as some crazy lady who can’t let go, and who resorts to kidnapping. The entire plot felt contrived and frankly, lazy.
And how does all this relate to change? Well, Mary’s now officially the agent, Mrs. Hughes is (somewhat) openly rebelling against the family’s generosity, Edith is seriously considering moving to London (which, by the way? Could’ve been another solution to the Marigold/Mrs. Drewe problem), there is a distinct possibility for a Baby Bates, the hospital is slipping away from Violet’s control, and Lord Merton seems to be making a tiny bit of progress with Isobel. I told you, not momentous changes, just Downton-sized ones.