Downton Abbey Watch: Double-O Downton

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Carnival Film & Television

Brendan Coyle as John Bates

This week’s Downton, like a weather-report description of the t-storms that pass through the village during a crucial scene and leave blues skies behind, was scattered. Lots of plots advanced, none resolved—but the show still found time to underline its crucial theme in a few different ways: homes, on a show about a house, matter. A lot.

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But first there’s that aforementioned rainy night, complete with a policeman on a bicycle, a dark lane, a figure in the shadows in a mysterious hat. At Downton, Edith picks up the phone to a cryptic message from Sybil: she’s out of the flat and they haven’t stopped her. Wherever she’s making the call from—a train station?—is suitably mysterious too. It’s Downton as spy story! How excitingly genre-bending. Sybil even hangs up and walks away like a spy. She would definitely be the best spy out of the Crawley sisters. (The most shocking news, of course, is that Sybil lives in an apartment.) During the dinner, there’s a pounding at the door, but it’s just Tom Branson, posing in the rain like a superhero.

Branson, who has learned how important home is. Tom tells the family that he had to flee Ireland after an Anglo-Irish Lord and Lady were turned out of their castle by rebels who then set fire to the building. The family turns on Tom—perhaps never less one of their own—for leaving the pregnant Sybil alone. (Which…fair point.) Tom says that the English castles in Ireland are terrible to him, but that when he saw the family turned out of their home, he could see that the tactic was wrong. Everyone must have a home to call his own, or else he has nothing. When Sybil finally arrives at Downton, after greeting Tom with a nice make-out sesh with the camera spinning around them—that main room is perfect for dolly-shot make-outs—she defends her husband and their joint decision to travel to England separately, but she can’t argue with her family’s stance that, even though Tom wants the baby born in Dublin, at his home, it’s too late in her pregnancy to travel again. The question becomes moot when it turns out that the deal Lord Grantham has pulled strings for is that Tom can remain free if he does not return to Ireland because, unbeknownst even to Sybil, he was present at meetings when the attacks were planned. Welcome back to being in every episode, Branson family.

Secondly, Edith demonstrates the importance of home by not really having one of her own. Breakfast in bed, in turns out, is not the only privilege Edith is denied as an unmarried woman: as a non-landowner under the age of 30, she can’t vote. Even though the Dowager Countess says ladies don’t write to newspapers, Edith goes ahead and sends a letter to the Times, expressing her opinion that women should have full suffrage. Also, it’s something to do. Edith’s life is boring—until, against Robert’s predictions, the letter is published.

And finally, now that Matthew is a co-owner of the state, he needs to figure out what his role is, and how he can balance pulling his weight and respecting his father-in-law and keeping the house in a good state. When he does take Mary’s advice about getting involved in the estate, he’s concerned about what he finds: the house is being mismanaged. (In this scene, Mary wears a gray suit with button accents, perhaps the best outfit yet this season, excluding wedding dresses.) For example, when Matthew questions how many footmen are really necessary, Robert cuts him off. Of course they need footmen! Many footmen! Footmen everywhere!

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Besides homes, here are some other things that mattered this week:

Providing the best life possible for your grandson whose mother is a prostitute: Ethel visits Isobel Crawley and Mrs. Hughes to tell them that she’s changed her mind from the decision she made in Season 2: she’s going to give her son, Charlie, to his grandparents. (Mrs. Bird, Isobel’s cook, refuses to get Ethel’s coat for her; she’s a surprise contender for the best mean-girl face in the village, but her stance against waiting on Ethel wins her the title in one fell swoop.) Ethel meets with the Bryants, and Mr. Bryant is as unpleasant as ever. A gif of him saying “I judge her and I find her wanting” would be pretty much the most useful tool for internet comment-section debates in the history of internet commenting. But while Mr. Bryant may be judgey, but Mrs. Bryant is nice and they both want good things for Charlie. She says good-bye. Weeeeeeep, viewers, weep. Ethel walks off alone.

Wallpaper: Mary summons Matthew to approve of some wallpaper to turn the nursery into a sitting room, but “go meet Mary in the nursery” obviously gave Matthew some ideas. He pries into why she went to a doctor recently (hay fever, she says) and what they’ll do when they actually need a nursery, but she doesn’t want to discuss it.

Spoons: Carson drills Alfred on the various kinds of spoons and trips him up on the bullion spoon. Classic rookie footman mistake! Womp womp.

New characters: The handsome new footman interviewee, Jimmy Kent, shows up, much to the delight of all the extras who play unnamed scullery maids…and Mrs. Hughes…and Thomas, whose sexuality has been mostly left alone ever since he stopped hitting on visiting noblemen. Even the Dowager Countess says that Jimmy (who Carson insists will be known as James) looks like an actor playing a footman on stage, not real life. There’s nothing like a man with six-pack abs and an old-timey side-part, amirite? The new kitchen maid, Ivy, shows up too, and Daisy is finally promoted to assistant cook. Her happiness is marred, however, when Ivy draws her crush Alfred’s attention away from her.

Snail mail: Anna, like the sad girl at summer camp, has no post. Bates, likewise and equally sad, receives no letters in jail. What we have in this marriage is, apparently, a failure to communicate. Anna confesses to Mrs. Hughes that she’s worried Mr. Bates wants her to forget about him. Which is a total Mr. Bates move. It’s surprising he hasn’t done that already. But Bates finds out his cellmate is has gotten him classified as dangerous, which is why he gets to visitors or mail, so he hides the drugs Craig planted in his bed so that Craig is blamed. He’s rewarded for his trouble with a big stack of letters from Anna that had been kept from him. And all of his letters have been mailed, leaving Anna with her own stack of post. Anna and Bates read their letters. Swoon.

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So, not many big questions answered, but many raised: When will Downton Abbey include babies? What will Edith do with her pathetically free time? How many footmen do you really need? And, most importantly, where does the bullion spoon go?

Dowager Zinger of the Week:

Violet: “There must be something you can put your mind to.”

Edith: “Like what? Gardening?”

Violet: “Well, no, you can’t be as desperate as that.”

History Lesson of the Week: Mrs. Hughes gets herself an electric toaster, to Carson’s consternation. Her trouble preventing it from smoking was with good reason, according to MIT: although toast has been around as long as bread, fire-prone electric contraptions for making it were invented in the late 1800s and a commercially successful home toaster was developed in 1909, the pop-up mechanism we all know and love didn’t receive its patent till 1921, a year after Mrs. Hughes burned her bread. (It’s also possible that the toaster is an anachronism and Mrs. Hughes is just bad at toast.)