In this episode of Downton Abbey, Mrs. Hughes can’t cook, Andy can’t read, Mr. Bates can’t contain his happiness and Lord Grantham can’t contain his ulcer. I never thought I’d live to see the day when a character on Downton Abbey projectile vomits blood onto the finery like that little girl from The Exorcist, but here we are. What a time to be alive!
It’s hard to focus on anything else that happens in this episode of Downton Abbey because I just keep imagining Robert spewing blood across the fancy dinner table as his family squabbles around him. It’s like I’m watching Downton Abbey by way of Hostel.
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The staging, the music, everything is suddenly reminiscent of a horror movie. I was expecting Robert to totter over with some kind of mysterious ailment soon, but I was really not expecting him to spit up blood on future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. I’ve griped about Downton Abbey repeating plot points before, to the point where sometimes the show gives you a sense of deja vu, but honestly, there’d no way I saw this bloody business coming. Well played, show.
The rest of the episode that doesn’t involve blood geysers moves some of the season’s storylines along at a reasonable clip. There are some interesting developments, but on the whole, the storylines for this season continue to be painfully thin. Each individual episode has been enjoyable, but the momentum this season doesn’t really feel as if it’s building to anything in particular. Of course, all that might have changed with one overheard conversation, a Downton Abbey plot device classic.
This season’s weird preoccupation with the hospital storyline continues, as the Dowager Countess refuses to give up the fight, even though she’s basically the only one fighting in her corner now. Modern medicine, who needs it?! (Her son, apparently.)
In an effort to turn the tide, Violet invites/blackmails the Minister of Health, Neville Chamberlain, into visiting Downton for dinner so she can make her case. On one side is Violet violently arguing against this hospital expansion and on the other side is everyone else who would like to not die choking on their own blood at the dinner table. Who shall prevail?
Before dinner, Robert is just wandering around the halls of Downton, clutching his stomach and moaning like a ghost. To say that the show telegraphed that there’s a problem coming for Robert is really an understatement, but Robert convinces Cora that he’s fine to go to dinner.
At dinner, the arguing starts up once again at the table, and poor Neville Chamberlain looks like he wants to make like the Kool-Aid man and just burst through a wall to freedom. Unfortunately, there is no escaping the wrath of Violet Crawley; I’m surprised she wasn’t monologuing about keeping the hospital in the family as her son burbled blood onto the carpet.
Robert tries to escape the argument between his wife and mother by exploding into a pile of blood and dying, but the joke’s on him because there’s no escape from petty cat fights at Downton Abbey.
Apparently, Robert had an ulcer that burst, and after calling for an ambulance and taking him in for emergency surgery, he has survived the ordeal. Everyone looks pretty rattled by the whole situation, which causes Cora and Violet to be less circumspect than they usually are about the origins of little Marigold.
Which, of course, Mary overhears. It isn’t Downton Abbey if someone isn’t learning a scandalous secret by overhearing it in an open doorway.
That little snippet of conversation is the last piece in the puzzle for Mary, and finally everything wonky and weird about Marigold snaps into place. You can literally see the moment Mary puts everything together and the “OMG” look in her eyes.
Now that Mary has figured out that Marigold is Edith’s daughter, what will she do with that information? She looks more shaken and shocked by this revelation than seeing her father erupt into a volcano of blood. Mary and Edith’s relationship has always been strained and snarky, to say the least, and what’s interesting about Mary’s characterization in the series so far is that I could see this going either way.
Either Mary is going to take this as a wake-up call to start looking at and treating her sister differently, or she could go in the other direction entirely and use this very vital tidbit of information against her. After all, it was only about a decade before that Edith took a scandalous piece of Mary’s dirty laundry and aired it to the world.
One of the things I’ve always respected most about Downton Abbey is that the show allows its more prickly characters to stay prickly, when a lesser show would have sanded down their edges. Mary, in particular, has been horrible to Edith, for no actual reason, for years at this point.
It would make Mary a more “likable” character to have her and Edith hold hands and become best friends, but it wouldn’t be very realistic or very in keeping with Mary’s ice queen characterization. Yet this revelation, on top of the frequent mentions of dearly departed Sybil’s kindness, might be enough to shake Mary into seeing her sister in a new and interesting way.
This is a great opportunity to change up the sisterly dynamic between the sisters without necessarily softening Mary to an unrealistic degree. I’d love to see the two sisters form a new kind of relationship, one that is less bitter and more genuine.
Speaking of forming a new kind of relationship, Mary is really feeling the vibes from Henry Talbot, which makes sense when you consider that he has the face of Matthew Goode. Mary is pretending to care about things like cars and Evelyn Napier, but really, she’s just interested in spending more time with Talbot.
“Dude, you guys should just make out already. The sexual tension is killing me!” says Branson, Mary’s very best wingbro. Mary and Branson’s relationship is one of my favorite dynamics on the entire show, and I love the talk they have earlier in the episode about relationships. Will Mary actually take Branson’s advice and go on a real date with Henry Talbot? Only time will tell.
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Speaking of prickly characters who are hard to like, this is a pretty good episode for Thomas. There are few characters more interesting, layered and nuanced than Thomas, who swings wildly from wanting to belong to lashing out in resentment. It’s hard not to feel for Thomas, even as you cringe when he self-sabotages himself with petty schemes.
In this episode, we finally find out why Andy has been avoiding Thomas, and it’s exactly the homophobic reasons you’ve probably imagined. He doesn’t want to give Thomas the “wrong idea,” which apparently means running out of the room every time Thomas shows up like he might catch gay cooties. Understandably, this makes Thomas feel crappy.
On a visit to Mr. Mason’s new farm (because screw the poor couple who agreed to raise your lovechild, I guess), Daisy, Andy, Branson and Mary talk about the upkeep of the farm. Mary and Branson are there to visit, but really, they’ve shown up to make sure old Mr. Mason isn’t too old to properly care for the pigs.
For some reason, Andy blurts out that he’s agreed to help Mr. Mason with the pig farming between his household duties. I’m honestly sad we didn’t get to see Mr. Carson explode in rage upon hearing about this scheme.
Mr. Mason gives Andy some books so he can read up about pig farming, and Andy is like, “Cool, can’t wait to read these! Because I can totally read! I think the red one looks particularly interesting! Look at it, so full of words and sentences, ended by periods. I know all about reading, that’s right!” I feel like someone should tell Andy that Daisy is probably not worth all of this trouble.
Thomas stumbles upon Andy throwing some books around and quickly surmises that he can’t read. But instead of being his usual Thomas self about the whole thing, he instead offers to teach Andy to read.
Thomas is so very, very desperate for friendship and companionship and it’s so depressing to watch. Thomas always seems to cling on to the people in the house that treat him the worst (anyone remember Jimmy?) and his pattern is obviously repeating here. At the very least, Andy apologizes for being a jerk, so maybe there’s some hope for Thomas to make a real, actual friend besides Baxter.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore is trying to help Mrs. Hughes cook for Carson, but it doesn’t go so well. Every scene with Carson and Mrs. Hughes is a winner, and these martial scenes are comedic gold. Mrs. Hughes looks like she’s going to strangle poor Carson in his sleep when he suggests that Mrs. Patmore teach his new wife how to cook edible food. Watch out, Carson; you’re skating on thin ice!
Elsewhere, Baxter’s brief storyline dovetails into a dead end, at least for the moment. She goes for her court appearance, but apparently it’s a moot point because the guy has changed his plea. It’s too early to totally wonder what the point of this storyline is, as it could come into play later, but right now this is really feeling like a road to nowhere.
Elsewhere Around Downton Abbey…
— “Bad harvest!!” Mr. Bates shouts, lest he and Anna tempt the gods. And by “the gods,” we mean showrunner Julian Fellowes, who delights in making Anna and Mr. Bates’ lives as horrible and depressing as possible. Could they finally have a little happiness instead of being the rain cloud hanging over Downton?
— Edith is considering leaving Downton, at least for the time being, to take up the life of a busy magazine owner in London. With her new lady editor and snazzy 1920s jazz baby forehead headbands, she’s basically perfect for the big city scene. She also finally kisses new beau Bertie, who seems to really appreciate her for being a cool, powerful woman with awesome fashion sense. Hopefully, he’ll be cool with the whole Marigold situation.
— There’s a whole thing where Violet almost fires Denker because she pops off at Dr. Clarkson and then she blackmails Spratt into helping her keep her job. It’s not terribly interesting and is not a good look for anyone.
— Mary looks around the upstairs of Downton, realizing that she’s just become the head of the estate now that her father is too sick to manage it. It’s been a long road for Mary from the time we met her, angry about the stupid entail that kept her from owning Downton. She’s come a long way.
What did you think of the episode? Were you shocked by Robert’s bloodbath? What do you think Mary will do with the Marigold information? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sunday at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV