This week on the first part of an extended two-part Downton Abbey
, Baby Sybil is christened Catholic, Matthew and Robert continue to butt heads over the estate management and Thomas should have maybe read that book He's Just Not That Into You
. It would have solved a lot of problems for Thomas this week.
Also, Bates returns, swagging out of jail like a boss and setting up shop at Downton again. After a whole season of Bates being stuck in a melodramatic prison storyline, you'd think the least they could do is make his homecoming noteworthy in some way.
But instead, Bates just returns to Downton all, "Hey guys! Anyone want to learn how to make a prison shank? I learned it during arts and crafts in the pokey!" And everyone just sort of pats him on the head like Isis the dog and then completely ignores him for the rest of the episode. I'm not saying they should throw him a parade or anything, but his homecoming is somewhat anticlimactic.
Instead, this episode focuses on the upstairs drama of what to do with Branson, and the downstairs drama of what to do with Thomas. Last season, the world of Downton Abbey
opened up past the doors of the titular house to encompass the war raging in English society. Even fancy houses like Downton, after all, couldn't ignore a World War. Even in season 1, there were some outside historical touchstones, like the sinking of the Titanic, which set the narrative of the show in motion.
This season, however, has been more insular in focus than ever before as the characters at Downton deal with bankruptcy, death and interpersonal squabbles. What's going on in the greater time period? Who knows! So it's nice to see Downton dip back into the rich and vibrant period to call up details of how different things were. For instance, how differently homosexuality was viewed in the 1920s, when it was still illegal and punishable by jail time in England.
This is one reason the slow-burn of the Thomas storyline pays off dividends this week. More than any other episode this season, this week really delves into the prejudices of the time. Whether it's everyone telling Edith a woman's place is in the home, the Granthams' anti-Catholic sentiment or the reaction to Thomas' advances, the rose-colored glasses have come off when it comes to directly facing the common prejudices of 1920s England.
The theme of this season has been the inevitability of change. While Lord Grantham and Carson might wish things could stay stuck in exactly their current shape, we all know society doesn't stay frozen for very long. Change is the specter that looms large over Downton Abbey.
With things becoming less rigid and traditional, the skills of people like Matthew and Branson are becoming just as important as knowing the right jacket to wear to dinner.
In the HBO epic fantasy series Game of Thrones
they have a saying: "Winter is coming." On Downton Abbey
, that saying could just as well be "Change is coming." But will the Crawleys be able to quit squabbling and adapt in time?Upstairs
Edith is hell-bent on getting her own storyline, but everyone is always trying to get in her way. Robert thinks the idea of her writing a newspaper column is horrible and absurd. While the Dowager Countess isn't a fan, she does at least tell Robert she thinks Edith should go sow her wild oats and go crazy before settling down to life as a wife.
Edith is excited because finally someone is sticking up for her. But then the Dowager more or less calls Edith a spinster who will die alone surrounded by a bunch of cats, so the victory is short-lived.
Still, Edith goes to London anyway and meets with her potential editor, who seems quite flirty. Honestly, Edith is pretty much a catch. She's rich, she can drive a car and she has a seemingly endless supply of little hats. Go for it, editor guy!
Hey, remember when Mary almost married that horrible guy that owned newspapers? No? Neither does Downton Abbey
Elsewhere, Matthew keeps trying to tell Lord Grantham there is no such thing as a money fairy that magically pays all your bills. But Lord Grantham is still against using logic and actual business sense to make sure Downton can become self-sufficient.
His assistant, Jarvis, agrees, even though nearly every single earl of the property has managed to lose all the money in some way or another. I didn't know being stupid with money was genetic, but it's really looking like that's the case with the men in the Crawley family. So Jarvis quits in a huff, not wanting to hear all this craziness about "turning a profit."
In other matters causing Robert's blood pressure to spike, it's time to baptize baby Sybil. Mary is to be the godmother and Tom's brother, "Drunk Irish Stereotype" Branson, is to be the godfather.
Meanwhile, everyone else in the entire house but Robert realizes it's probably a bad idea for Tom to go work in Drunk Irish Stereotype's automotive garage.
Which is why the Dowager Countess' stroke of genius works to kill three birds with one stone:
1. Tom will take over Jarvis' role as estate manager, which will
2. help them keep Tom and baby Sybil around Downton and give him something to do while
3. allowing the Dowager Countess to go back to calling him Branson.
It's a win, win, win!Downstairs
Poor Ethel is still having a hard time of it this week, although at least no one yells the word prostitute five million times. People in the village are being cruel to her, which isn't exactly surprising given the circumstances. What is surprising is that the Dowager Countess, while having dual motives, seems to come up with a good idea to help Ethel. She has Edith put an ad for Ethel in the paper to help her get a good job away from Downton.
This will help Ethel go to a place where everyone isn't constantly shouting the word prostitute at her and acting like you can catch "streetwalker." It also efficiently clears the Crawley family from the scandal of their Pretty Woman
maid situation. It's another win-win! The Dowager is on fire!
Obviously, Isobel doesn't agree because she's an idealist and also a crusader who doesn't like to let the cold hard facts of reality get in her way. I like the idea that both of these women are trying to help in their own way, while both also have their own selfish motivations for helping.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bates returns to find that his job has been taken up by Thomas. Thomas is obviously not over-eager to give the job up, and Robert and Carson will soon need to make a decision about what to do with him. So Bates and Anna kill time by strutting around the village looking for a cottage.
But the real shocking moment of the episode comes thanks to O'Brien's sneaky subterfuge. O'Brien has been going out of her way for episodes to build up the connection between Thomas and Jimmy so Thomas will think something romantic could be in the offing. While both characters have done a lot of awful things, this has to rank up there with the worst.
Thomas decides to make his move by visiting Jimmy at night in his bedroom, like a more romantic Freddy Krueger. I know it wasn't a good time to be gay and there wasn't much opportunity for flirting, but popping into a dude's room in the middle of the night to steal a kiss still seems like a spectacularly bad plan.
At this very moment, Alfred is about to throw his pride out the window to ascertain whether Jimmy has any interest in Ivy. Since, after going to the movies together, Ivy agreed she would let Alfred be her sloppy seconds if Jimmy wasn't into tapping that. You know things are bad in your life when even Daisy thinks you're pathetic.
Alfred sees the fallout from the Jimmy and Thomas kiss and tells his aunt, who prods him to tell Carson. Carson is of course disgusted and outraged and yells at Thomas for his horrible behavior. Man, I legitimately never thought I'd say this, but poor Thomas.
At least Thomas' bad attitude, chip on his shoulder and anger at the world have always made sense to me. It would have been hard to be gay during this period of time, when it was illegal and one false move could get you reported to the police. It must have been hard to constantly hide who you really are for fear of being discovered.
So, yes, Thomas is a huge jerk-face to a high degree, but I've always understood where his anger came from. Life in the 1920s would have been deeply unfair for a man like Thomas. Can someone explain to me why O'Brien is such a hateful shrew, though?The Mary and Matthew of It All
Meanwhile, while all the drama is exploding everywhere, Matthew and Mary are just being adorable as usual. The hands-down best moment of the episode is when Mary asks how his day was, and Matthew flops down on the bed like a huge nerd. "Pretty bad." Oh, Matthew, let me love you.
Matthew is still worried that his downstairs butler is perhaps the reason the two haven't conceived yet. How long have they been married now? Less than a year, right? Can't Matthew wait for a little while longer before freaking out about his malfunctioning junk? Give it time. Practice makes perfect!Recap Part 2: Cricket, Cricket, Cricket >>>
What did you think of this week's episode? Are you glad to see Bates back? What did you think of Branson's new job? And what do you think will happen with Thomas? Sound off in the comments! Want to keep up with all the dirt upstairs and downstairs? Then do as the Dowager Countess would do and add Downton Abbey to your very own watch-list so you'll never miss a dinner party. Download the BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone.
(Image courtesy of PBS)