Downton Abbey Watch: Thoroughly Modern Crawley

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This week’s episode of Downton Abbey—a double-header, including what was the U.K. season finale—was chock full of developments. We’ve got Season 1 references, the line of succession, estate management, religious differences, and a rude awakening to the Roaring ’20s. So buckle your old-timey seat belt and get ready for some spoilers.

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First of all, there’s Mr. Bates, and he’s not wearing a prison uniform! It took pretty much the whole season, but he’s free. And Anna is waiting for him at the gates of the jail, and they run to each other, and he takes off his hat, and they embrace, and they laugh, and they kiss, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you start an episode. Downton Abbey! Blammo!

In fact, so much happens after that big bang of a start that to tell it in chronological order would take this from recap to long-form journalism. So let’s break it down:

Tough Times for Thomas

The kitchen love-quadrangle of Ivy, Daisy, Alfred and Jimmy-James continues to cause tension, especially after Alfred asks Ivy to go to the movies with him. (Actually a pentagon, if you count Thomas’ crush on J-J, and they must be a good match because James takes a page from the dirty-tricks playbook and rearranges the spoons on Alfred’s tray so that a plate of lobster tails falls on the Dowager Countess’ lap.) Thomas even uses the L-word in conversation with James. He passes it off as platonic, but while the others are out at the movies, Miss O’Brien lies and says that James is interested in him. Which is, of course, an excuse for a nice long scene of James getting undressed alone while Thomas thinks about him. Later, he sneaks into James’ room while the footman sleeps—which is not how you act with someone you like, dude—and kisses him. Just then, Ivy and Alfred return. Alfred asks: If he could prove that James was uninterested in her, would she date him instead? Uh-oh. He goes looking to ask James to tell Ivy he doesn’t like her, and walks in on Thomas, waking James, who was never interested. AWKWARD. Actually, worse than awkward: Thomas is in serious danger, as private homosexual acts weren’t decriminalized in England until 1967.

Then, lots of back and forth: Miss O’Brien convinces her nephew Alfred to tell Carson what he saw. Carson decides that, to avoid scandal, Thomas should say that he’s leaving because Bates has returned to take the position of his Lordship’s valet. Miss O’Brien—who’s way nastier than her fellow villain Thomas—convinces James that it’ll look bad if he doesn’t complain. James tells Carson not to write Thomas a good reference, which would mean Thomas would be done for in the world of English servants. Mrs. Hughes finds Thomas crying and he tells her what happened. Bates and Thomas talk and Thomas says that he envies Bates; “I’ll be gone soon,” he concludes—which, uh-oh. Bates starts to feel guilty. He gets the story from Mrs. Hughes and tells Lord Grantham, who’s not surprised (plus, lots of guys tried to make out with him when he was at Eton, so he doesn’t see what the fuss is). The Bates’ summon Mrs. O’Brien to their new cottage and give her a secret message from Thomas: “her ladyship’s soap.” Hello, Season 1! It works—and she convinces James to take back his complaint. Alfred calls the police anyway, but Lord Grantham (canceling out all the old-fashioned-ness he ever displayed) convinces him that “Thomas does not choose to be the way he is.”

By this point Thomas has, in one episode, transformed from the show’s main villain into a sympathetic character. “I’m not foul, Mr. Carson. I’m not the same as you, but I’m not foul,” he explains—and good thing, too, since now we can be glad he made it out of that episode alive.

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Ethel Redeemed

Prostitute-cook Ethel is also having trouble, with shopkeepers in the village refusing to serve her and everyone talking about her scandal. The Dowager Countess knows Isobel Crawley is too stubborn to do anything about it, so places an ad to find a new job for Ethel. Ethel doesn’t think that any of the any of the people who answered the ad would be a better fit than Isobel, except one—who, unfortunately, lives very close to the Bryants, who have adopted her son Charlie on a condition of no contact. The Dowager Countess, who seriously just gets whatever she wants, summons the Bryants to ask if they would be okay with her taking a job near their home. It turns out that Mrs. Bryant thinks it’s a great idea. That, it would seem, is the end of Ethel’s time at Downton (again).

Matthew Won’t Give Up on Estate, Baby, Bro-in-Law

Matthew is still set on modernizing the estate management now that he’s co-owner: he wants to buy off some of the tenants while they have the money, so they can consolidate the land into one more efficient farm. Tom and Murray the lawyer agree with Matthew but Jarvis, the estate agent, agrees with Robert that it’s too drastic. Jarvis quits and Robert’s like a Rodney Dangerfield: No respect! (But with good reason: his idea is to invest the money from Reggie Swire with a new investment guy who’s getting great results. The guy is Charles Ponzi.)

Mr. Branson’s brother, Kiernan, arrives for Baby Sybil’s christening. All you need to know about him is that he asks Carson to bring him beer after dinner rather than a proper post-meal drink. (Bonus: when you ask for beer at Downton, it comes a silver stein.) Cora warns Robert that he’s pushing Tom to Kiernan and a life as a Liverpool mechanic, which is not what Sybil wanted. The Dowager Countess, of course, has the solution to every problem: make Tom the estate manager! He has farm experience! It will keep Baby Sybil close! They can call him Branson rather than Tom! He agrees.

Matthew is also still worried that he might be infertile. He goes to London to see a specialist—the same doctor he heard Mary mention earlier in the episode. The doctor says he doesn’t treat a Mrs. Crawley but that if he didn’t he couldn’t discuss her treatment. But: he does treat Mrs. Crawley! She was seeing him under a false name, Mrs. Levinson! And there she is! Turns out she‘s the one with the fertility problem. She had a small operation, it worked and now they can have babies! Babies babies babies.

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Lady Edith Is the Most Important Person at Downton

Edith, who is fast becoming the most interesting person at Downton Abbey, goes to London to meet with Michael Gregson, the editor who wants her to write a column for The Sketch. He encourages her to make up her own mind without her father’s influence. By the time they meet for dinner later that day, she’s decided to write the column—and he’s decided to have a crush on her. She likes him too and gets all giggly and everything. And, when she next visits the office, it’s clear he really likes her for her brains (but not in a Walking Dead way). She’s written about veterans, though it’s not an obvious topic for a woman’s column, and he’s glad she’s a woman addressing masculine issues, a strong female voice in the debate. Gregson is one of the first people who has encouraged Edith to be proud that she’s a modern woman with opinions, rather than being ashamed that she’s unmarried.

There’s a possible glitch though: he’s married. Edith wants to resign her column when she finds out—but, in a Jane Eyre twist, he tells her that his wife is in an asylum and someone in an institution cannot legally be divorced or divorce. So he’s stuck with his wife but likes Edith. If she’s okay with that, she’s more modern we ever thought. Edith’s response to Gregson is really the only question mark left at the end of this two-hour extravaganza, suggesting that the show’s powers-that-be have also picked up on the middle sister’s promotion to central plot motivation. Someone needs to make a mash-up of the New Girl theme song but with Lady Edith instead of Zooey Deschanel and send it here. Please, and thank you.

The ’20s Attack

The Dowager hosts her 18-year-old niece Rose for a while, because Rose apparently hates London. Not true. Rose is super ditzy but clever like a fox and almost immediately gets Edith and Matthew to take her back to the city. As soon as they get there, she pulls the classic teenage-girl trick of changing out of her parent-approved clothes into the latest scandalous fad ensemble and running away in a taxi. The taxi driver, however, tattles on her: he took her to see a friend, waited while they stayed inside for two hours (ooooooo), and then took them to a club called the Blue Dragon. So Edith and Matthew and Aunt Rosamund go hunting for her at the Blue Dragon (which seems like a super fun place, actually). Matthew says it’s like Dante’s Inferno—but it’s just the future! Close dancing! Fast music! Skimpy clothes! Making out in public! So this is why Rose’s parents sent her away to the Dowager Countess. Rose’s “friend” is a former employee of her father’s and is a skeevy older married man.

Also of note: Rose’s parents are named Susan and Cousin Shrimpy.

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The house-versus-village cricket game shares top billing with Rose in the second half of the double episode. Robert is obsessed with winning, to the point where it’s a) a major reason why Thomas can’t leave, b) capable of proving that tradition can continue, and c) worth hounding Tom about playing even though Tom doesn’t know how. (Matthew is a good BFF and teaches Tom, naturally.)

At the cricket match, everyone looks super-cricket-y and chamber music plays and nobody gets grass stains on their clothes and almost every plot line gets neatly wrapped up.

  • Mr. Molesley, who has been talking up his cricket skills (sample advice: “cherish the ball”), gets to play. But when he comes in to bat, he totally sucks. Poor Mr. Molesley, as usual.
  • The Dowager Countess figured out about Rose and is sending her to Scotland to stay out of trouble.
  • Lord Grantham tells James that Barrow is staying on—and James can’t really argue, especially now that Lord Grantham declares him officially First Footman, ending his rivalry with Alfred.
  • The Bates’ hang out together.
  • Mary and Matthew look all sweet with Baby Sybie, showing they’ll be good parents.
  • Tom gives in on Cora’s request that he and the baby live with the family at the big house until she’s older, rather than staying in the estate agent’s cottage.
  • Robert agrees to Matthew’s plan, so everything is settled, and Tom makes an important catch, so that he and Matthew and Robert can have a slo-mo shake handshake, thus ending the season…until the Christmas special/U.S. finale next week.

Dowager Zinger of the Week: Lady Edith: “Listen, everyone. You have a journalist in the family.” The Dowager Countess: “Since we have a country solicitor and a car mechanic, it was only a matter of time.”

History Lesson of the Week: The movie to which Alfred takes Ivy is Way Down East, a 1920 Lillian Gish-Richard Barthelmess romance directed by D.W. Griffith. In the movie, country girl is tricked by a rich man into a fake wedding and scandalous pregnancy.