Downton Abbey: Week 5

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Not one of my favorite episodes of “Downton Abbey” this week, for multiple reasons. It kind of felt like the second episode of the season for me, where plots were started and stopped, nothing really gets resolved, and we are all just left hanging until more chaos ensues and decides to further the plot.

The mysterious Peter/Patrick Gregory who claims to be a cousin of the Granthams was a spooky, yet underdeveloped plot bubble that was deflating from its emergence. Whether or not he really was the cousin and was scamming the Granthams, he so clearly was a device to solely serve the purpose of a plot “what if?” before he was shipped off into the Land of No Return for forgotten characters. What if Matthew, who we love so much, is not the heir and cast out, wheelchair and all, into the street? Yeah, right. Other than the fact that Edith has a thing for every guy who thinks she’s pretty (silly Edith), Gregory’s story wouldn’t have had any legitimacy. As an underdeveloped character with a very short diegetic lifespan, he seemed to take up more Downton energy than was necessary.

Now, what in the world is this new maid trying to do with Lord Grantham? Please tell me that this isn’t going to prompt a haphazard affair with the show’s leading “good guy” who seems to be one of the only characters on this show with consistent morals. It would be such a cop out. I can see the writers sitting around asking themselves, “Ok, how long can we have the show go on without Lord Grantham taking advantage of his Master of the House status and cheating on the wife whose money he now solely possesses?” No, “Downton Abbey,” please don’t even go there.

With Vera Bates found dead in her home after her run-in with Richard Carlisle the episode before, I can already hear rumors whizzing past the ears of Downton’s inhabitants. This can honestly go in any direction, putting the blame on many different sources who played even the tiniest role in the Pamuk scandal. However, it’s a pretty good assumption that some of this egg will land on Bates’s face. Let’s just hope, as Howard said last week, that Anna doesn’t make a peep about how happy she is, because if she does, there is probably no hope for poor Mr. Bates.

ZOË RICE: My thoughts as Downton’s opening credits flicked from room to room ran along the lines of, “Please let Matthew have sex again!” And as the closing credits rolled, they turned more to, “Huh, okay…?” This week’s episode was something of a place holder – the set up for what we can only anticipate will be a whirlwind of tumult.

The introduction of Peter/Patrick – aka The Canadian Patient – seemed at first another dramatic jolt added to the jumble of Downton plot lines this season. Too quickly, however, the Patient’s emergence on the scene shifted from family mystery to a near cliched, obvious scam job – a version of the “they were cellmates” tale where one comrade takes on the identity of another. I was glad, then, when Peter/Patrick exited so easily. I suspect the deeper effects of his drive-by visit will manifest in more scheming by Ethel. We saw her questionable family loyalty last season regarding Mary, we know she’s a sucker for attention, and I suspect Ethel will soon return to her mischievous ways – especially once there are no more patients to distract her.

Poor Mary seems mired in deeper conflict now that she and her reputation are bound so tightly to nouveau riche Sir Richard. I’ve liked the addition of Sir Richard to the Downton arena. He’s not solely the villain; he bullies Mary to be sure, but he’s not entirely unsympathetic. She did agree to be his wife, after all, and I believe that he wants to be a good husband to her – as far as he understands what that means: a grand house near her family and her favorite servant in return for her loyalty and good behavior. She entered the deal naively, but that’s one of Mary’s endearing qualities – she’s never as icy cold nor as worldly as she appears.

And so beleaguered Lord Grantham must lose his favorite servant. His attachment to Carson led to some touching moments – and his growing attachment to the newest maid to some troubling ones. Howard’s predictions from last week may have been quite prescient. We’ve come to view Lord Grantham as a pillar of honor, duty, and morality, and I do hope he continues to do what’s right – even if he must endure some internal struggle along the way.

The stage has been set for heightened conflict. Vera Bates seems to have taken one last, desperate step to damn poor Mr. Bates, and I’ll be surprised if she hasn’t framed him for her murder. Lady Sybil seems to be seriously considering fleeing Downton with the chauffeur, Branson. Perhaps Lady Ethel will start conniving again, and perhaps Lord Grantham’s eye will start straying. And Matthew! He feels a stirring! The clock has chimed eleven times with all of Downton, high and low, there to witness: The War is over, but the battles may just be beginning.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Oh, good. I thought I was the only one disappointed by this episode. Safety in numbers.

Wow, that Patrick plot was foolish. I mean, I get the idea behind it- but what kind of terrible con was that? Especially when he’s talking to Lady Edith, and he explains how he was very, very good friends with the guy who could have given him the information to be a fraud? And why was he shouting all the time? I get it, he was burned. But he wasn’t still getting burned! Enough with the shouting already. A terrible acting performance, I thought, and it stands out so much more around these astonishingly good actors.

Moreover, not to be shallow, he was not enjoyable to look at. It was gruesome. And Downton Abbey’s appeal is, at least in part, in reveling in what is beautiful. So I just didn’t think the idea worked at all, and I am glad he is gone.

That said, what an uplifting moment from Matthew at the end of the show. So understated, so effective. How wonderful to get the chance to root for him again, instead of merely coming to terms with his more limited character. So much of Downton has been based upon us thinking of what Matthew can be- married to nobility, rich beyond words. It is natural to allow us to get excited over the possibility that he could walk.

As for Mr. Bates, is he really that stupid, stupid, stupid of a man, as he asserted, that he’d go kill Mrs. Bates when he’s the lone suspect? One hopes not, especially for Anna’s sake. I guess we’ll find out if Anna makes some declaration in the opening next week like, “How lovely to adore a man who isn’t arrested and charged with murder!” You know where I’d never want to take Anna? To the ninth inning of a no-hitter.

As for Branson, he’s playing this just right. No money, and he’s getting the better-looking Crawley sister who will make a better wife than the one marrying a newspaper tycoon. Keep driving Branson, you’re almost at the station.

I don’t think I’m ready to discuss Carson leaving Downton Abbey yet. I’m more upset about it than he is.

MICHAEL CUMMINGS: I’ll make it 4-for-4 and say I, too, was disappointed. I’d like to complain about something here, though I’m not sure what. Whatever it is, I’m starting to lose interest.

Like so many American men (OK, OK, Howard and myself) I was torn between watching the Super Bowl and Downton Abbey. Neither delivered the goods. I’m neither a New Yorker nor a New Englander, so I found the Super Bowl unappealing from start to finish. (Eli Manning as our new quarterback overlord? Oy vey.) And as a human with a functioning pulse, I found this week’s Downton Abbey much the same. Two issues rankled.

Problem No. 1: Julian Fellowes clearly lost interest in turning every episode into a George Lucas scavenger hunt. That was excusable, what with the end of World War I and all. The inexcusable part was the long-lost-heir plot. For real, I’m making Star Wars references, and I thought that was trite. (True story: Antoine and I are from the same town.)

Problem No. 2: The couples need to go ahead and get their business out of the way. The cute daughter needs to run off with the chauffeur already. Lord Grantham needs to have his affair. (Come on. We all know it’s coming. That particular maid has never been anything more than a mildly interesting Chekhov’s Gun.) Mr. Bates and Anna need to get married while she’s still somewhat cute. Ditto for Captain Crawley and Lady Mary. (Isn’t this the point of the show?) And Edith should just take her chastity vows and be done with it.

The sooner these things happen, the more interested we’ll all be. Until then, I’m waiting for another “shocking” moment to refresh my interest. How soon before Thomas can get back to hitting on his social superiors?

About Sonia Brand-Fisher

My name is Sonia Brand-Fisher and I am a film studies major at Smith College. Interests include vintage film and fashion, fake-swing dancing to early Standards, cooking lavish meals that stem far outside of my culinary comfort zone, and musing over the implications behind all things aesthetically intriguing.
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