'Downton Abbey' Recap: It's Hard to Say Goodbye
'Downton Abbey' Recap: It's Hard to Say Goodbye
Morgan Glennon
Morgan Glennon
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
This week on Downton Abbey, Cora perfects her cold shoulder, everyone shouts the word "prostitute" and the Bates storyline almost gets interesting when he nearly shanks a guy in prison. If only every prison scene had come with a side of shanking, Bates' story this season would have been infinitely more interesting.

After killing off a beloved character (RIP Sybil. I hope you are wearing the most fetch pants in heaven!), the show thankfully doesn't attempt to return things to the status quo. Instead, we're mired in sadness as everyone tries to adjust to life in the post-Sybil Downton Abbey.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the disintegration of the marriage between Cora and Robert. Blaming Lord Grantham for Sybil's death, Cora turns her giant anime character eyes into twin beams of blame and disdain. While they are reconciled by the end of the episode, this rift works to further the season's theme of change versus tradition.

Everything is changing, whether the Lord Granthams or Mr. Carsons of the world can accept that change or not. First with the near-loss of Downton and now with Sybil's death, Robert has been forced to admit that he's not as knowledgeable or in control as he would like. Unfortunately, even with two glaring examples of how off his judgement has been, Robert still persists in clinging to the past with the terror of a class about to be made obsolete.

Even William's father shares this view with Daisy. Will houses like Downton still be running exactly the same way as they always have in 40 years? Will tradition carry on, frozen and unchanged, like Carson and Lord Grantham would like? It's doubtful. The times, they are a-changing ... even at Downton Abbey.


Things are chilly upstairs, mostly due to how much Cora hates Robert at the current moment. It's looking bad for Robert ever getting back into the marital bedroom ever again, to say nothing of getting Cora to even accept a compliment. Unfortunately, as a side effect of all the trauma, Robert has seemingly developed a condition called jerk-itis, which causes him to act like a huge toolbag throughout the episode.

When Branson talks about moving out and finding a job, everyone tells him he should stay except Robert, who is like, "Meh." Matthew and Edith tell Tom he should absolutely stick around because, at this point, the three of them are all bros now.

But soon Robert is freaking out about the fact that Tom not only named the baby Sybil, but also plans to baptize her Catholic. Catholic, can you imagine! This presents a nice opening for half of the characters to talk about how Catholics are totally weird and the other half to point out that there are other religions in the world.

At one point, an awkward family dinner just becomes a geography lesson as Matthew, Isobel, Edith and Mary name off all the Catholic countries. "Ick," Lord Grantham replies. "Stop trying to make Catholicism happen. It's never going to happen!"

Mary mentions that Sybil was totally on board with the Catholic baby plan, which is touching for Tom and enraging for Robert.

Since the lead-up to Sybil's death, Tom has been more subdued and less strident, which has given me a chance to finally appreciate this character. This is a Tom Branson I can get behind. He's not baptizing baby Sybil as a Catholic to be a jerk or to make an unnecessary statement about the bourgeois, like when he tried to show up to Matthew and Mary's wedding without proper attire. Instead, he just knows what he wants for his daughter and plans to stick by his guns.

His friendship with Matthew has also made both characters even more endearing. It seems like whatever dude jerk disease these two had earlier in the season has been handily passed on to Lord Grantham.

In other moments of Robert's douche spiral, he stampedes into the nice lunch Isobel throws for the ladies to demand that they leave at once. Why? Because Ethel was a prostitute. A prostitute, I say! And we all know that prostitute is contagious. One day you're eating food prepared by a former prostitute and the next day you're working the streets and there is no in between! Stop thinking about whether or not that makes sense and flee for your lives, you feeble women! Somehow, this is not logic that anyone gets behind, and Robert instead just throws a hissy and stamps his little feet and slams the door on his way out.

The Dowager Countess takes stock of Cora and Robert's marital woes and immediately realizes she needs to get in there like a boss and fix things. So she calls Dr. Clarkson and asks him to lie/tell the truth about how slim Sybil's chances really were, even if he operated. After they hear this harsh truth, Cora finally breaks down and the two sob into each other's arms in another sad closing scene.


Like the Lord Grantham story, Ethel's plight only worked to point out the large gap between the way things were and the way things are going. In this case, Carson represents the strict traditionalist past, while Mrs. Hughes (and the untapped fountain of awesome that is Mrs. Patmore) represent a kinder and more accepting future.

Of course, we're not quite to that future yet (in fact, we're still not quite there in 2012) and so we hear the word prostitute at least 20 times in this week's episode. I'm starting to believe Ethel's only purpose for returning is to give every single character the excuse to say the word prostitute in their best shocked voice.

I hate to see Carson and Mrs. Hughes fight, despite their vast differences in how they see the world. They are pretty much the best pair on the entire show, and every episode I wait with bated breath to see what will happen with them. Will Carson whistle a tune when he finds out Mrs. Hughes isn't sick? Will Mrs. Hughes almost burn down Downton with a toaster? I feel like they would make great lead characters in a Nancy Meyers romantic comedy.  Forget Bates and Anna! Forget Matthew and Mary! Give me more Carson and Mrs. Hughes!

Meanwhile, in the Bates Boring Jail Storyline o' the Week: Vera's friend suddenly won't admit Vera was baking a pie because someone in the jail threatened her. Wait, what? How do they even ... you know what? I don't even care. Sure, Julian Fellowes. Whatever gets us out of this jail storyline faster.

So Bates decides to handle this the only way a reasonable person would in the pokey: it's shiv'ing time! I can't believe it took us six episodes to get to a prison shanking. So thanks to Bates' little friend Mr. Shiv, Vera's friend changes her story and it will now be only a matter of time until he's sprung free.

Finally! Not only did I not care one bit about Bates' magical jail adventures, every time the scene switched to the inmates walking slowly in a circle like the worst game of duck-duck-goose ever, the entire momentum of the episode ground to a screeching halt.

In Miscellaneous Downstairs Plot Bingo

- Alfred tries to learn the foxtrot, but dances like a baby deer just learning to walk, probably because he is 10 feet tall.

- Mrs. Patmore is tired of living in a rerun of some weird, hormone-infused teen drama. Upstairs, it's all death and disaster and bankruptcy, and downstairs it's like an episode of 90210. "You're all in love with the wrong people!" Mrs. Patmore complains of the Ivy-Jimmy-Alfred-Daisy situation.

- Thomas goes on hitting on Jimmy in increasingly uncomfortable ways, while O'Brien convinces Jimmy to shut up about being molested if he wants to stay in good standing.

- William's father wants to give his farm to Daisy.

The Mary and Matthew of It All

Mary and Matthew are pretty quiet this week. Instead of being in the forefront of the action, they're quietly working behind the scenes or supporting other characters.

Matthew keeps trying to speak wisdom to Robert about trying to run the estate like someone with rudimentary business knowledge, but Robert isn't hearing it. "Knowledge" is so middle class!

Mary tries to tell her father that he should maybe come halfway, or at least give up over the christening.

At night, Mary and Matthew cuddle and vow to always fight for their relationship and to always be adorable. So far, so good, you guys.

What did you think of this week's episode? Are you thrilled Mr. Bates is finally out of the pokey? Are you totally waiting for Carson and Mrs. Hughes to admit their love? Are you glad that Cora and Robert reconciled? Share in the comments!

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(Image courtesy of PBS)