In this episode of Downton Abbey, the Crawley family opens up their home to tourists, Mrs. Hughes silently plots how to murder Carson with her crappy cooking, Thomas cries in the dark, Mary has a romantic first kiss in the rain and no one who lives at Downton Abbey knows anything about Downton Abbey.
This is a seriously packed episode bursting with plot, romance and drama both upstairs and downstairs. It’s also probably one of the funniest episodes of the season, with the highlight of the hour being when the three Crawley women desperately try to make up facts about the house they live in.
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I basically lost it when Cora is asked why the crests on the mantle are blank and she stares at them in confusion, having just noticed this for the first time ever. Downton Abbey can be very funny, but these scenes are definitely the closest the show has gotten to all-out comedy in ages and it’s much appreciated.
Many of the storylines are still inching along at a crawl, which is surprising with only a few episodes left before the show’s swan song. There are more dire predictions that perhaps Downton Abbey won’t be able to sustain itself as a giant mansion full of rich people changing outfits three times a day and eating dinner in formal wear. (The horror!)
For the first time since the early seasons of the show, however, there is at least the distinct possibility that Downton won’t be saved at the last minute or that the family might decide to live like normal people without butlers, maids and cooks. The show has always been about the need for Downton to change with the times for its survival, but perhaps not even Downton can change as fast as history.
Oh, man, where to start? To raise money for the hospital everyone suddenly cares so much about, the family has decided to open Downton Abbey for one day only. They’re selling tickets to see the house, and the proceeds will go to the hospital.
Come one, come all! Step right up to see lots of weird paintings, uncomfortable furniture and overdressed people with scandalous secrets! If you play your cards right, you might even visit while the family has a public fight! What fun!
Robert, Carson and the Dowager Countess are against the scheme, but no one cares because Mary and Tom have already decided to do it. The Mary and Branson interactions in this episode are truly a highlight, as they have been all season. The two give their scenes a laid-back, comfortable vibe that’s always fun to watch.
Branson is basically the only one Mary ever listens to when he calls her out on her snobbishness. There’s so much history, affection and mutual respect between these two characters that has been earned steadily over the course of the show. They’ve been paired up a lot this season, and it always results in really strong, enjoyable scenes.
Speaking of Mary and Branson, they both go to London when Anna isn’t feeling well in order to take her to the doctor. Mary is worried about Anna, but Mary is also thirsty for Henry Talbot, so she invites herself out to dinner with Talbot, Branson and Evelyn Napier.
Evelyn Napier is, at this point, basically a long-running joke on this show. I can’t decide if I laughed harder during the house tours or when the camera zooms in on Evelyn Napier pouting as Mary once again walks away to go sex-murder one of Napier’s friends. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Mary and Henry Talbot have cold, frosty chemistry together and it shows during dinner. For his part, Branson is totally #TeamTalbot as well as #TeamCars. After dinner, Mary and Henry Talbot get caught out in the rain, so they duck into an alley for a romantic kiss.
“I know your husband and the father of your child died in what was perhaps the lamest car crash I have ever seen on television, but would you like to see me race cars anyway?” Talbot asks. Mary is so thirsty for the tall drink of water that is Matthew Goode that I think she would have agreed to murder a hobo if he proposed it, so she reluctantly agrees to come to the races.
Speaking of romance, Bertie comes to visit Edith at Downton and the two share another kiss. Robert doesn’t think Bertie is good enough for Edith, who has the potential to become one of the “most interesting women” of their time. Of course, lest you think Robert is getting a little too cool with feminism, he lets Cora know that he doesn’t think she should work. “Don’t you already work? I mean, you wear fancy clothing and walk around the house and sometimes you write letters. Isn’t that enough?”
Obviously, it is not enough for Cora, who is both terrified and flattered to be offered the post of president of the hospital. She’s flattered because Cora has always enjoyed work and being useful, just as much as Robert has bristled whenever she gets anything resembling a job. But she’s terrified because she knows that accepting the post will bring down upon her the wrath of Violet. And no one wants to be on the other side of that sharp tongue and rapier wit.
At dinner, Bertie is like, “So you guys haven’t prepared in any way for all these tourists coming to your house?” The Crawley family is like, “Preparation! Edith, what a strange fellow you like! What funny jokes he tells!”
Bertie advises that they should maybe give people actual tours of the house and also rope off certain areas so that the local riff raff can’t just rifle through their ye olde medicine cabinets. “Crap, that’s a good idea. But here’s the flaw: we know nothing about the house we’ve lived in for generations.” This is not a wrinkle poor Bertie saw coming.
Which brings us to the best part of the episode, as the camera cuts between Mary, Edith and Cora bringing visitors around Downton and doing a terrible job at running tours. It’s clear they’re just making things up as they go along, when they’re not completely stumped by the questions all together.
Of course, one lucky tour gets the show of their lives when Violet comes storming into the house to yell at Cora for her terrible betrayal. Then she runs upstairs to yell at Robert for his terrible betrayal in allowing Cora to terribly betray her. There’s a lot of betrayal. Things are not looking good between Violet and Cora at the moment.
Finally, Mary is still trying to sniff out what the deal with Marigold is, and everyone’s hasty silence is pretty much confirming what she already knows in her heart. Mary plays this, as she does everything, close to the chest so it’s impossible to know what she’s thinking. She tells Tom that if she finds out he knew all along and kept the truth from her, she would see it as a real betrayal.
It’s only a matter of time until she finally has her suspicions confirmed, but it’s too early to tell how this will impact her relationship with her sister. Right now, things seem snarky and unchanged between the two.
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There are lot of little storylines going on downstairs but nothing as funny or interesting as the antics above. The biggest and saddest storyline downstairs is poor Thomas, who ends the episode in a very bad way. It’s obvious to everyone that Thomas is on the way out, even though Mary of all people questions whether that’s fair.
It’s funny because despite the fact that she is undoubtedly a snob, Mary is much more enmeshed in the lives of the servants than Edith has ever been. She has a special relationship with Carson, she’s good pals with Anna and she immediately picks up that something is wrong with Thomas.
In fact, back during the Gwen episode, she seemed to be the person who was the most shaken by the fact that no one recognized Gwen, even though she worked for the family for two years. Say what you will about Mary, but she recognizes the humanity of the servants a lot more often than pretty much anyone else in the house.
Thomas spends the episode being pretty selfless, playing with little George and teaching Andy to read, and does not get much in the way of good news for his troubles. Both Mrs. Patmore and Carson see or overhear conversations between Thomas and Andy that make them suspicious about the connection between the two men. Carson tells Thomas that he doesn’t want someone young and naive like Andy corrupted, which is apparently the refined British way of saying “no homo.”
Poor Thomas tries to explain that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but Carson won’t listen. I mean, this scene is infuriating on so many levels but especially because even if Andy and Thomas were having sweet gay love in his bedroom, he wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. It’s not like there’s a rule against inter-house dating, as Carson literally just married Mrs. Hughes. While it would probably be anachronistic to have Carson be totally okay with Thomas’ “lifestyle” or whatever, coming on the heels of Carson’s many mean-spirited digs about firing Thomas, it just seems like one unkindness too many.
Thomas wonders if Carson could really not believe his word, even though he’s been working in the house for so many years. “I wasn’t plotting and scheming and dognapping the whole time! I’ve been nice for a while now! I mean, I’m not always nice, but shouldn’t you reward the effort?”
It’s unclear whether Carson has finally outright fired Thomas or not, but the writing is most definitely on the wall. Thomas ends the episode crying in the dark, his future looking very dim indeed.
Elsewhere Around Downton…
— Mrs. Hughes is clearly going to kill Carson in his sleep if he keeps needling her about everything from her cooking to her ability to make the bed. Here’s a novel concept for you, Carson: why don’t you just do it then?
— Lord Merton is back on the scene trying to woo over Isobel, who still doesn’t want anything to do with the piles of garbage he calls sons. His son Larry is getting married to a girl who seems to have way too many opinions of her future father-in-law’s love life. I’m not sure what to think of this girl; she seems shady.
— There’s a burgeoning love connection between Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason, and it’s just about as adorable as you would imagine. Not adorable? Daisy throwing hissy fits all over the place about this inevitable coupling, for seemingly no reason at all. Calm down, Daisy.
— Mr. Molesley has done such a great job at tutoring Daisy that the headmaster at the school invites him to take a test as well to see if they have some place for him at the school. It’s a triumph for poor Molesley, who is clearly the only one who actually knows anything about the history of Downton Abbey, although no one is interested in asking him. Also, Baxter gets a letter from jail asking for a visit, and Molesley wisely cautions her against it, but she seems interested in going anyway.
What did you think of the episode? What do you think will happen when Mary finds out about Marigold? Will Downton survive? Should it? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV