In this episode of Downton Abbey, Robert finally fights for his marriage but possibly not in the way Cora would have hoped, Edith can’t figure out what to do with a problem like Marigold, Mary and Charles Blake stir up drama and we hopefully see the last of Sarah Bunting.
I’ve never been so happy to see the back of a character on Downton, and there have been a lot of real duds on this show. Sybil aside, Branson has truly terrible taste in women.
This episode is both funnier and more action-packed than the outings so far this season. I never thought I’d see a full-scale fistfight on Downton Abbey. Masterpiece Theater is getting real this year. To level out the melodrama in this episode, from Bricker to Marigold to the police investigation, the show liberally sprinkles in laughs.
The episode starts with Violet‘s contemplation of the drawbacks for nudist colonies, continues with her scheme to break up Isobel and Lord Merton backfiring and even includes a wonderful scene of Charles Blake continuing to be the most delightful troll of all time. It’s official, I think I might be on Team Charles Blake. His amazing ability to stir up drama while visibly enjoying the discomfort of others actually makes him a perfect match for Mary.
As usual, not every storyline works perfectly. I still don’t care at all about the police investigation, the Mr. Green storyline or whether Mr. Bates really murdered anyone. My caring level for anything Anna and Bates related is perilously low at this point. Sarah Bunting is still a horrible black hole, but at least this episode swiftly sees her to the door. And despite some effort on the show’s part to make her compelling, I still struggle to ever care about what Rose is doing.
Still, there are more hits than misses this hour. Overall, it’s a strong chapter for the season and tees up some future storylines nicely. Sometimes, Downton Abbey is actually best when it gives into its most soapy instincts, and this episode is an example of how some outsize drama can actually inject added life into the proceedings. There probably shouldn’t be a fistfight every episode, but now and then a good punch in the face is just what the doctor ordered.
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Rosamund is in town after hearing about Edith’s weird interest in the daughter of a local farmer from Mary. She immediately puts together the pieces and asks Edith if she can see her great-niece. Edith takes Rosamund by to visit the Drewes, and Mrs. Drewe shoots daggers at the both of them from her eyes. Later, she freaks out at her husband about how weird Edith is, prompting him to tell Edith to back off or run the risk of the Drewes leaving Downton for good.
Here’s the thing, Mrs. Drewe definitely has a point about Edith being a creepy creeper, but I’m really starting to doubt her intelligence level. How in the world has she not put this all together? It’s blatantly, painfully obvious. Also, what was the thought process behind not telling Mrs. Drewe the truth about the situation? I feel like a lot of these problems could have been headed off at the pass if Mr. Drewe and Edith had just been transparent with the Mrs. from the start.
Violet and Rosamund suggest to Edith that she take the child and put her in a school in France, where Edith can visit sometimes without ruining her reputation. So their solution is just kidnapping then? Okay, that’s cool, I guess. Don’t they think the Drewes will miss their daughter? Don’t they think Edith’s creepy stalking might make her the number one suspect when their daughter suddenly goes missing? This is a terrible plan.
Edith agrees, at least somewhat, although her new plan appears to involve kidnapping Marigold and taking her to London. This situation just gets worse and worse. Poor Edith.
Meanwhile, off in London, Mary is having dinner with Charles Blake. “I have a surprise guest for you,” Charles says with such a Cheshire Cat grin that you know it’s going to be a terrible surprise.
It’s Ms. Lane Fox, Gillingham’s former finance, who has no idea why she’s having dinner with Lady Mary. “Come on, isn’t this fun?” Blake asks, ordering every meat-based dish on the menu and throwing popcorn into his mouth. “Catfight, catfight,” he softly chants under his breath.
Blake suggests to Lane Fox that she take back Gillingham, since apparently she’s still in love with him. “He’s slightly used, but more or less still intact,” Mary agrees. “Believe me, that’s pretty amazing considering most of the men I sleep with die terrible deaths.” Unfortunately, Lane Fox isn’t into the idea and storms out of the restaurant in a huff.
Back at the Abbey, Branson goes to see horrible Sarah Bunting in her cute, little red hat to tell her this whole thing isn’t really working out. Even in this breakup scene, Sarah Bunting is absolutely unbearable. She asks Tom if he hates his own family and seems shocked when his answer is no. Pro romance tip, ladies: maybe don’t try to bully your man into despising his own family?
Also, what exactly have the Crawleys ever done to Sarah Bunting except be mostly kind and continually extend dinner invitations for parties they know she’s going to ruin? What monsters. As usual, Downton Abbey introduces a character critical of the aristocracy and then promptly makes that character so insufferable that their political opinions hold no weight.
I get the impression Sarah Bunting would burn down Downton Abbey with all the Crawleys inside, no matter how many awkward dinners they kindly invited her to. There’s no reasoning, there’s no middle ground, there’s no compromise; she just hates them on principle. In short: she continues to be the worst.
Robert and Branson actually have a nice scene together where Robert praises his ability to see both sides now and actually interact with people who hold opinions different than his own. Branson might still be a socialist firebrand sometimes, but mostly he’s a pragmatist who gets to know individuals before writing off whole groups of people.
Both sides of the Robert and Branson divide have actually learned valuable things from each other, which is what happens when you’re not so strident that you only value opinions exactly the same as your own.
After breaking up with her, Sarah Bunting decides to leave Downton and take a new job, like a big, giant baby. Daisy is upset because she thinks Sarah Bunting is brilliant and tells Branson to go after her.
For one brief, horrifying second, I think Branson is about to declare his love to this terrible woman, but instead he just thanks her for reminding him of his beliefs and gives her a kiss.
Sarah is still hurt because she loved Tom, which seems a bit much from the short interactions we’ve seen. Sarah spent most of her time insulting his family and calling him a wuss, but I guess that’s what she considers love? The important thing is that she’s gone now, hopefully forever.
Robert has much bigger fish to fry than Sarah Bunting in this episode. While he’s gone, Simon Bricker shows up to look at the “art” at Downton Abbey. Bricker sneaks into Cora’s bedroom and says that she can’t ignore what’s happening between them. Cora seems flattered and panicked in equal measure, but not as if she’s actually considering an affair. Of course, this is the exact moment that Robert comes back home and into the bedroom to see Bricker declaring his love.
What happens next is amazing on many levels, but mostly because watching Robert roll around on the floor and then silently pin Bricker to the ground when Edith knocks on the door is hilarious. Bricker says Robert isn’t appreciating Cora, which is true, and then Robert punches Bricker right in his face, which is warranted.
The fight gets out of control, and once Bricker leaves, Cora is hilariously casual about the whole thing. “Golly, what a night,” she says, practically filing her nails for all the worry she seems to have about the whole thing.
Robert stamps off to sleep elsewhere and then gives Cora a cold shoulder so chilly that even Mary and Violet notice. And those are two of the most cold-blooded characters on this show, so you know Robert was really frosting Cora out for them to take note.
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Compared to fistfights and romantic angst, the downstairs action is pretty lame. So let’s cover the most annoying storyline first, shall we?
The police are back at Downton to question Anna and Mary about their whereabouts when Mr. Green died. They seem to think Anna might have had something to do with his death because she was in London with Mary. Of course, we know it’s much more likely that Mr. Bates was involved, but the police seem to be more focused on Anna at the moment.
Bates promises Anna that they will grow old together surrounded by a whole bunch of children, but more likely they will grow old together in separate jail cells because Mr. Bates can’t seem to stop being accused of murders.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore comes into a bit of money from a mean, dead aunt and can’t decide what she should do with her extra cash. She asks Carson, even though Mrs. Hughes rightly points out that he doesn’t know anything about money, investing, living in the real world or giving reasonable advice. So Carson overhears Lord Grantham talking about property and suggests that she go into real estate.
Mrs. Patmore doesn’t want to just throw some money at whatever company Carson randomly chose, but she also doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. This leads to a wonderful scene between Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore where they talk about how the men at Downton have such soft, delicate baby feelings that the ladies always have to walk on eggshells.
Of course, Mrs. Hughes knows Carson so well she can play him like a fiddle, and Mrs. Patmore makes him think her decision to buy a cottage was totally his brilliant idea. Carson is proud of himself and adorable, while the ladies just kind of roll their eyes behind his back.
Finally, Baxter comes clean to Molesley, who thinks her background resolves her from all the blame. And Thomas is looking sicker and sicker, just sort of wandering around the estate like a malicious gay zombie, threatening to go to the police even though he basically has no valuable information. Thomas, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Elsewhere Around Downton Abbey…
— Rose gets the barest hint of a storyline this week when she bumps into a cute boy named Atticus, whose family are originally Russian Jews. This leads the Russian refugees she’s been caring for to be unbelievably nasty to him, but he’s impressed by how unflappable she is in her acceptance and he invites her to dinner. Is this the start of romance?
— Speaking of romance, Violet recruits Dr. Clarkson in her quest to ensure Isobel doesn’t outrank her. Unfortunately for them both, it turns out Lord Merton is a total medicine geek who apparently reads the latest medical journals for fun like a giant dweeb. “He’s a huge nerd just like she is,” Dr. Clarkson sadly informs Violet. “We’re doomed.” It looks like Isobel and Violet might soon be on much different footing when it comes to social standing. Poor Violet.
— “Viva la revolution!” Daisy yells, book held high over her head. Then Mrs. Patmore tells her to get back to work and she quietly demurs.
What did you think of the episode? Are Robert and Cora heading towards divorce? Will Mary and Charles Blake get together? Did you dislike Sarah Bunting as much as I did? If you liked her, why exactly? And what should Edith do about Marigold? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)