Things happened this week! Hurrah! Some story moved forward and a couple of characters got a little more interesting!
We pick up immediately after Caroline’s party, and everyone’s still talking about Charles and wondering what the heck he was doing there. Because it makes no sense for someone at the pinnacle of high society to be conspicuously parading around some middle-class nobody. They all know something’s up here, but don’t quite know what it is.
Oliver is downright pouty about the whole thing, and also annoyed with his wife for making such a spectacle of herself with John Bellasis. Susan kind of talks him down, and in the course of the conversation she learns that John is the heir to the Brockenhurst fortune and title.
After Oliver leaves, Susan’s maid, Speer, steps waaaaay out of line and makes it clear she’d help arrange an affair with John. Susan does not fire her on the spot, so I guess she’s good.
Let’s talk about Susan just for a minute here. She’s not a very well-formed character, in that she doesn’t have a great deal of personality of her own. We learn that she can’t have children (or, at least, she thinks she can’t. It’s possible it’s Oliver who’s infertile and she assumes it’s her because that’s what people tended to assume in those days) and she might be disappointed about that, or maybe not, it’s hard to say. She has no discernable interests or particular motivations. What we do know about her is that she’s bored out of her mind. She wants to move in high society, but can’t quite get there.
Now, it’s not entirely clear what the deal is with the Trenchards. The servants say, over and over again, that nobody ever comes to call, which does seem odd. Have they no acquaintences whatsoever? Even acquaintences of their own class? Did Susan not have any friends before she married?
Certainly it seems like Anne isn’t terribly motivated to be social. Maybe she’s an introvert (I am too, so I get it) and prefers solitude. Or maybe losing Sophia just made her also lose any desire to do much of anything. She certainly seems a bit checked out. And honestly, I get that too. A daughter would have been a strong motivation to move into society, but without that motivation, and weighted down by grief, well, what’s the point?
I still want to know how she ended up getting invited to the Duchess of Bedford’s, though. That seems some sort of mark of favour, despite the duchess trying to steer her towards the more class-appropriate guests, but we have no idea how it came about or what it meant.
So, anyway, the Trenchards are kind of a social dead-end, and Susan HATES that. So when she receives a note from John, asking to meet him in the park, she jumps right on it, spins a convincing lie right off the top of her head about the letter being from a schoolfriend, and takes Speer with her as her chaperone.
Susan eyes John from afar at the park and tells Speer that he’s the type of man who likes the chase, so she’ll have to make him work for it. And yet, as soon as they meet, he’s like:
‘Hey, I have a love nest not too far away.’
And she’s like:
‘Great! Meet you there in two days!’
Way to make him work for it, Susan.
Let’s leave her for a bit and turn our attention to John’s father, Steven. Turns out, he’s a degenerate gambler who’s now in with some nasty folk for £1000 (£114,000 today–yikes!). He has two days to come up with the cash.
He goes straight to his brother with his hand out, and his brother, kind of awesomely, tells him no. Steven’s been doing this for pretty much his whole life, and acting like such an entitled brat about it I don’t blame Brockenhurst for finally cutting him loose. Brockenhurst points out that Steven has plenty of money from his inheritance, his wife, and from the job he never seems to do, so he should really learn to manage.
On his way out of the house, Steven comes upon Caroline acting all chummy with Charles. He deduces something is up here, so he goes to John and asks him to do some digging with the Trenchards, since they seem to know Charles as well. Steven suggests John start with the servants.
Now, I’m going to take a moment here to say that I’m finding both John and Speer to be rather fun characters. John’s got the whole charming rogue thing going, and Speer just totally doesn’t give a shit. Maybe it’s the mindset I’m in, but I’m kind of liking the unapologetic, uncomplicated villains here.
John goes to Speer, who is only too happy (for a bit of a payoff) to tell him he should speak to the butler and one of the other maids (Mrs Trenchard’s lady’s maid, I believe). None of the servants, save for one right bright-eyed-busy-tailed footman, are particularly happy in this world, which is probably more realistic than in Downton. The ladies’ maids, in particular, seem disappointed that their lives leave them so few options. The butler’s just kind of a bitter jerk, from the look of things.
John starts with the butler, who seems only too willing to help out, for a price.
John and Susan meet up for the first of what is assumed to be a continuous series of trysts. Afterward, Speer provides her with an alibi, and Susan is well aware of what she now owes her own maid. Talk about job security.
Charles, meanwhile, is on top of the world. Caroline’s showing him such favour she’s agreed to invest in his business, which is pretty much the best news he’s ever had in his life. He also gets to have a nice walk and chat with Maria, which is only somewhat spoiled when she lets slip that she’s engaged to John. Ok, so it’s a bit of a record-scratch moment. Poor Charles.
But he shakes it off and rushes over to James Trenchard’s office. (It’s worth noting that in James’s office there’s a big portrait of Sophia in a very prominent spot, but no signs of Oliver anywhere.) He shares his good news and James offers to take him to lunch at the Athenaeum Club, which he’s just joined thanks to the Cubitts.
At the club, James and Charles start to go over some paperwork, only to be sternly reminded that business papers are not permitted. Charles pouts a little and says that the club should be proud to see people flashing around business papers. I always find it annoying when characters don’t seem to be aware of the rules of the very world that they have inhabited for their entire lives. Charles, for heaven’s sake–‘business’ was still seen as somewhat dirty, and discerning gentlemen’s clubs, while quietly acknowleding that many of their members could only afford to be there because they were in business, still didn’t want the matter bandied about. It was considered common. Stupid? Yes, but those were the rules. Still are, in some circles.
It’s very clear that James is, to some extent, treating Charles like the son he always wanted but didn’t get. He’s trying to get Oliver involved in a large-scale project on the Isle of Dogs, but Oliver is only kind of interested in business. Meanwhile Charles is bright and eager and doing the work to establish himself, which sets him in exact opposition to his secret uncle.
As the men head out, they find Oliver waiting for them. Oliver, who’s already in a snit about Charles and the favour Caroline was showing him at the party, goes right over the edge when he sees him with his father. He throws a tantrum, tosses the business papers he was bringing to his father all over the floor, and stomps out.
As the day draws to a close, everyone assesses their position. The Trenchards worry about their secret getting out, Steven’s wife reminds him that they have nothing left to sell and he needs to figure something out, and John makes inroads with the butler.
I think we can all agree that none of this is going to end well, right?