Previously on Downton Abbey: Mary started to get some schooling on estate matters, Edith invited her boyfriend for a weekend house party, and Rose got a crush on a gardener.
Party time! You know, I’m surprised that Downton waited this long to have a house party episode. These sorts of events are great for drama, and if Gosford Park showed us anything, it’s that Fellowes is pretty good at writing these types of scenarios. I’m hoping this episode has rather better pacing than the last two.
Guests are arriving by the carload, and what lovely cars they are. Belowstairs, things are buzzing. One of the valets—belonging to Lord Gillingham—flirts with Anna.
Upstairs, the Crawleys are giving everyone tea and awkwardly providing exposition by, wait for it, having Cora and Robert explain to each other who their own guests are. For heaven’s sake, Downton! They don’t know who they invited to their own home? That’s just…ok, whatever. I’m pregnant and I have a cold, so I have no energy to get worked up just now. Robert and Mary go to talk to Gillingham, while Edith tries to set Michael at his ease. A matron chats with Tom and comments that he must really miss Sybil. He agrees.
Downstairs, Carson comments that the staffing levels of the guests aren’t up to pre-war snuff, the old snob. Hughes asks Edna and Anna to see to some extra ladies, though Edna, being the new female Thomas, says she probably won’t have time (Hughes tells her to make the time, thankfully. Where does this chick get off?) and Carson mourns the reduced circumstances of one of those ladies, who lives in some ‘dingy little house north of the park’ these days. Hughes calls him out on being a jerk right there, a bit more mildly than I would have.
Gillingham’s telling Mary that his family home has become a girls’ school, while the family has decamped to the dower house. They also talk about romantic prospects: he’s forgotten about Matthew’s death, and apologises profusely for putting his foot in his mouth over it. Mary excuses him. He’s about to be engaged, for the record.
In the kitchens, Patmore’s rushing about like a chicken with its head off, while Daisy and Ivy are totally chill.
Topside, Gillingham the valet—let’s call him Mr G for simplicity’s sake, since his real name is Green anyway—is still hitting on Anna, and she’s trying to fob him off. Edna rounds a corner and finds Branson all kitted out for dinner and comments that they finally got him into white tie. Yes, they did, and he looks GORGEOUS in it, so SHUT UP you snake-faced creepozoid! He admits to feeling foolish in it, and she creeps up on him and asks if they can still be friends. He says of course and she pushes her luck by suggesting they have lunch sometime in the village. He tries to put her off, and makes it clear that that’s not going to happen. Let’s hope not, at least.
Isobel’s having Clarkson for dinner and admits that it seems a bit disloyal to Matthew, having a party months and months after his death. Heavens, Isobel, they can’t mourn forever.
Up at the Abbey, Rose is telling some guy how much she loves Al Jolson, while Tom chats with that dowager, who’s apparently the dowager Duchess of Yeovil. She’s played by the same actress who played Aunt Gardiner in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice, so we can assume she’ll be a nice character. And she does seem rather sweet so far. She goes to talk to someone else and Violet eases up to Tom and tells him not to call the duchess ‘her grace’ in a social situation, but refer to her as ‘duchess.’ He asks why that is. Oh, Tom. Don’t ask. The idle rich had to come up with all sorts of ways to weed out the undesirables, and that was one of them. Violet says as much and Tom begs Thomas for a drink as he passes. There’s talk of a card game, and Gillingham seems interested in riding. You know, I think he’s played by the same actor who played Wulfric in World Without End. The 20 English Actors rule strikes again. He asks Mary to come riding with him and she says she might, actually, having not been for a while. And then, before things get too intimate, she asks everyone in the vicinity if they’ll come as well. They all turn her down.
After dinner. Hughes finds Patmore still at work in the kitchen, trying to get ahead of the next day’s work. Hughes leaves her to it and asks Carson what they should do with Dame Nellie Melba, who’s coming out to sing the last night. Wow, that’s quite a coup. He says they can give her a tray in her room and Hughes is taken aback, wondering if she shouldn’t be allowed to eat with the family. He’s aghast at the idea of an Australian songstress eating at the same table as her ladyship, let alone the duchess. Yes, we can’t have them being infected by…Australian songitis or something. Although by this time Dame Nellie was well established and hung around with royalty, which makes this whole debate rather stupid, really.
Jaunty music accompanies the delivery of a bunch of foodstuffs at the hands of Molesley, who’s working as a delivery boy, as Daisy rather snottishly observes. Patmore tells her to reign it in and directs Molesley where to set his things down.
Upstairs, everyone’s gathering for breakfast, and Rose is flirting with the Jolson fan. Edith tries to invite her father for a walk with her and Michael, but he puts it off, to Edith’s and Michael’s disappointment, because they were really hoping to get Robert to know Michael better. If I were Edith and had been through what her father put her through with her last boyfriend, I’d be careful to keep them as far apart as humanly possible for as long as I could.
Belowstairs, chatter is about the previous night’s card game (one of the men, Sampson, is apparently a very good player).
Mary and Gillingham are out for their ride and talking about his fiancé. He’s set up with the heiress of the season, which is apparently wanted by both families. Mary tells him that sometimes these arrangements can work out for the best, as it did with her and Matthew. Gillingham tells her she was lucky to have had a great love, and she wonders if that’s true, because being with Matthew changed her and made her a bit soft. She thinks that if she were as tough as she was when she and Matthew first met, she might be happier now. I don’t know that that’s true, since she didn’t seem all that happy back in those days either. Mostly she just seemed brittle.
Mr G flirts with Anna in the servants’ hall, and Bates makes it clear he’s not happy about that. Out in the hallway she asks him what’s wrong and says the guy was just trying to be nice. Oh, come along, Anna, you’re not that naïve.
In the library, Cora and Robert talk about the Melba performance. She’s excited, whereas he’s bitching about the cost. She waves it off and says that a house party is pretty dull without a special moment. Knowing this family, they could have probably come up with something themselves. Couldn’t they have spiked Tom’s drink again?
In the kitchens, nobody can seem to get a jar open, not even Alfred. But then Jimmy manages, and somehow also manages to fall over right onto his ass, dropping the jar and shattering it. Embarrassed, he hops up and Patmore yells at him for ruining a whole jar of jam.
Michael reports to Edith that he’s getting pretty good at German. She still can’t believe he’s doing all this for her. And they’re having this whole conversation in a library full of people, including Robert, so I guess they’re not keeping this thing buttoned up. Speaking of Robert, they join him and Edith prompts a conversation by saying that Robert was just admiring the library. Michael picks up his cue and says he heard there’s a Gutenberg bible there. Seriously? And it didn’t occur to Robert to try and sell that back when he lost everyone’s money? Robert says that their librarian (they have a librarian? Since when? You know, if Robert’s so concerned about this tax bill, maybe he should consider some economies around the house, rather than going right for selling off large portions of the estate. Downton’s library isn’t that big.) isn’t there to show them and then immediately leaves to go approve the wines for that night. Michael sighs that Robert clearly doesn’t like him. Don’t take it personally, Michael, Robert doesn’t like anyone.
Robert does, in fact, go to approve the wine and Carson asks if it’s ok for the staff to come hear Dame Nellie sing. Robert’s fine with that, and with the idea of keeping Dame Nellie segregated.
Mary and Gill are still out on their ride and he comments that it’s wonderful to see an estate still in one piece. It was a rare thing, at that point. Mary tells him not to count those chickens too soon, because they have a hefty tax bill to take care of. He suggests she meet with the tax people and bring their best offer back to Robert. Apparently his family faced the same thing after his father died. Unfortunately the best deal was giving up their home. She comments that it’s nice to know that others are facing the same things she and her family are. He reassures her she’s not alone out there.
Jimmy’s hurt his wrist, of course, so he can’t carry a tray with some of the dinner dishes. Carson orders Thomas to carry it, although he protests, as he’s the under butler and too grand for such things. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Thomas, when your boss tells you to do something, you shut the hell up and do it, especially when you’re only still on staff because…actually, I have no idea how he’s managed to hang onto a job at this place, let alone such a high-ranking one. But his whole purpose on this show seems to be to just be troublesome, and that’s boring. Either give him a real story (and no, just ‘being gay’ is not a story), or cut him loose.
After dinner, the boys prepare for another card game, and Gill warns Robert that Sampson’s a sharp player. Robert’s not worried, because if there’s anything he’s expert at, it’s losing money. They all join the ladies in the drawing room and Michael reports to Edith that he’s playing cards with Robert and her father later, so Robert will have to talk to him then. Don’t be so sure, Michael.
Mary has asked Robert if she can meet the tax people, and he’s reluctant, of course, because these wimminfolk are annoying when they’re uppity. There’s the sound of tinny, old-timey music from the hall and Rose comes in and asks if anyone wants to come dance. Her new buddy follows her out, and the duchess sighs that she used to love dancing, but now she has no partner. Tom looks seriously uncomfortable, especially after Cora prods him to ask her grace to dance, but of course he can’t get out of it, and off they go. Gill asks Mary, who tries to demur by saying she’d like to keep her grandmother company. Violet tells her not to use her as an excuse, and that if she doesn’t want to dance, she should just tell the poor man. Mary looks conflicted.
Belowstairs, Mr G proposes teaching a card game to Anna, who seems game. Bates comes in and asks for her help with something, so cards’ll have to wait for another night.
Everyone’s dancing really awkwardly upstairs. Tom and the duchess almost seem to be listening to two different songs. She chats with him a bit about Ireland, and it quickly becomes clear that she has no idea she’s speaking to the family’s former chauffeur. Wow, they managed to keep that hushed up, didn’t they? How?
Mary has apparently decided to go ahead and dance with Gill after all and thanks him for giving her good advice earlier. But then she notices that the music is coming out of the gramophone that was given to, I believe, Matthew and Lavinia as a wedding gift. Shouldn’t that have been sent back to the giver? I always thought it was poor form to keep gifts if the wedding didn’t go through. Mary gets all distraught and rushes off to bed, while everyone else just keeps dancing. Heh.
The boys have begun their card game, and Sampson’s fleecing them all, very congenially, reassuring everyone they can settle up as the end of the weekend or at the club, later. Robert asks them all not to tell Cora how badly he’s losing and Carson looks a bit stressed.
Tom’s going to bed too, and as he passes Edna in the hallway she asks him how he’s enjoying the party. He pouts that he’s dressed like a fool, talking like a fool, and feeling like a fool. The what now? What’s his problem? He was doing fine, and everyone was treating him quite nicely. He goes on to say that he felt more like a fish out of water than he ever has before, which is stupid, because I can’t believe he feels more uncomfortable here and now than he did the first time he and Sybil came back to Downton. What about that fancy dinner where he ended up the butt of some rich jerk’s practical joke? Stop whining about nothing, Tom, you’re better than that.
Robert admits to Bates he just got walloped at poker. Apparently Sampson only got the invite because Robert chatted about it at the club and the man fished for an invite. Robert, again, you prove that aristocratic inbreeding does nobody any good. I also find that story a bit suspect, because Robert specifically mentioned that he met the guy at White’s, which is one of the oldest and most exclusive clubs in London. While stupid bets were not unheard of there, I find it extremely difficult to believe that a card shark could become a member at all (this man’s not well known to anyone at the house, so I’m guessing he’s not an aristocrat. Not a known one, anyway) let alone continue operating at the club. Clubs tended not to want to get a reputation for that sort of member.
Anna goes in to Mary’s room to get her ready for bed and finds her lying prone on the bed, again like a petulant teenager. Mary asks if Anna knew that Rose had found the gramophone and Anna says she did, but she told Rose to ask Mary’s permission. Mary sighs that she didn’t and says she’s not sure who’s she more in mourning for: Matthew, or the person she was with him. Anna tells her she’s a fine person and Mary admits she made a bit of a fool of herself in front of Gill. They both agree that he probably won’t mind.
Violet spots Isobel in the village and stops the car so she can beg her to come up to the house that night for the performance. Isobel claims to have a lot to do but Violet tells her that sitting alone night after night isn’t healthy. Isobel knows, but she has this feeling that every time she laughs or hums a tune or finds a moment of joy in her life, it’s like she’s forgetting Matthew. Jesus, does this woman need some serious therapy or what? Violet once again urges her to come.
Carson has summoned Molesley to the house to fill in for Jimmy, because Thomas feels the duties are beneath him. Molesley is aghast momentarily at the idea of being a footman, but Carson says he figured he’d be fine with it, seeing as how he’s a deliveryman these days and all. My God, Carson’s a really unpleasant little tick this episode, isn’t he? Molesley admits he’s come down in the world, and as he’s a beggar, he can’t be a chooser, so he’ll do it.
Cora’s getting dressed for dinner and asks Edna if Dame Nellie has arrived. Edna says she has, and Cora happily passes the word along to Robert, who doesn’t care. He tells her he doesn’t want Sampson invited back to the house. Cora asks how Michael managed the game and Robert admits that he took losing like a man. She says she hates gambling, the way men stupidly throw away fortunes. Yes, that is exceptionally stupid.
Molesley’s ready to be a footman, but he’s not doing it without quite a bit of attitude. He’s doubly horrified when he has to wear gloves. You know, like a footman.
Mr G is showing the other servants how to play their card game and…I have no idea what the game is. They all jus seem to be throwing cards on the table and gleefully grabbing for them.
In the drawing room, Cora’s got everyone waiting for Dame Nellie, because as an American, she has all these democratic ideas about not making highly respected opera singers shut themselves away, even if they are Australian. And Isobel’s decided to show up after all.
Michael finds Sampson and asks to be dealt into the game that night, saying he’s pretty sure he’s got the hang of it now.
Carson’s delivered the news to Cora that he and Robert though it best to seclude the singer, which enrages Cora. She immediately pulls Robert aside and gives him what-for for having a world-famous artist in his home but judging it beneath his dignity to eat with her. He’s confused, because he’s a clueless idiot, as always, and babblingly wonders what he’s supposed to talk about with this woman at dinner. You know singers are people, right, Robert? Actually, he probably doesn’t. Cora stomps off to fetch Nellie.
Patmore’s worked herself into some sort of attack or bad cramp or something, so Alfred gets to work making the sauces that still need to be done for dinner and Daisy commences panicking.
Over dinner, Violet notices Molesley serving and comments that it’s nice to see him there, adding that they can’t keep a good man down. ‘On the contrary milady, that’s exactly what they can do,’ he grumbles, rather ungratefully. I mean, Carson’s being a pill, but socially, this was better than delivering groceries at the time, right?
Michael tells Edith he’s going to slip away for some cards later on and she seems a bit concerned, because he told her she lost a packet the night before. He insists he knows the game now. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Robert, oh, dear, Robert. He’s now being forced to actually interact with this singer beside him, and she takes a sip of wine and correctly identifies it. ‘Did you just read that on the menu?’ he asks her derisively. Are you kidding me? What a shitty thing to say. She, rather awesomely, tells him she didn’t have to, because she knows her decent wines. ‘Oh, well, perhaps this won’t be as uphill as I thought,’ he responds. Oh. My. God. WHO SAYS THAT TO A GUEST IN THEIR HOME? That’s it, I’m taking a page from the SF Debris book and instituting a new feature here: the Stupid Robert Moment of the Week, and that was it. At least, let’s hope that was it. That’s just incredibly poor manners. This man thought he was above this woman, who’s taking these insults without budging the smile from her face? He has absolutely no manners at all. I wish Violet would reach across the table and slap him, because he needs it. That was appalling.
Mary tells Gill she’s going to ring for the appointment with the tax people and take Tom as backup. He offers his own assistance, if she needs it, and then asks to take her to dinner when she’s next in London. Isobel’s face says ‘don’t you DARE,’ and Mary doubts that Gill’s fiancée would approve, and frankly, she doesn’t approve either. She finds it a bit of a boost that he wants to go out with her. Isobel gets super uptight and Tom asks if something’s bothering her. She stiffly says it shouldn’t be, and he realizes this is the first time she’s heard Mary laugh since Matthew died. Yikes. Isobel tightly says that she can’t join in the merrymaking and can’t help but think of all these men sitting around the table who are alive, while her son’s dead.
The insane card game continues belowstairs, until Bates shows up to ruin the fun and yell at Anna for making such a racket when Patmore’s been taken ill. Mr G turns his attentions to Edna, while Anna goes out in the hall and asks Bates why he’s being such a stick when she was just having a bit of fun. As Mr G passes, Anna thanks him for organizing the game, and then goes in to see Patmore, who just had an anxiety attack. What’s she so anxious about? Surely they’ve had big house parties at this place before. She’ll be fine, Clarkson gets to stay for the singing, and Carson can’t believe they’ve got squealing in the servants’ hall and a footman cooking the dinner. Plus, a filthy opera singer in the house. Whatever is the world coming to?
Robert stomps into the library to pour himself a drink and finds Tom lurking there, looking kind of sad. Tom says he thinks he let Robert down. Robert’s as confused as I am, so Tom elaborates by saying that, ever since Sybil died, the family has let him feel like he was one of them, but he’s not, when they’re actually among their own people. I still don’t know what his problem is. Other than his address hiccup that first night, nobody’s breathed a word about finding him to be out of place or anything. It’s not like he’s been the subject of a bunch of passive-aggressive asides or anything, that we’ve seen. This just seems bizarre. Tom doesn’t think he belongs there, but Robert won’t hear him say anymore, telling Tom they need to go, before they get into trouble.
Dame Nellie sings, and it’s lovely, but Michael and Sampson sneak off to their game, which seems really exceptionally rude. The staff’s all in attendance and Alfred takes the opportunity to whisper to Patmore that he didn’t let her down. She reassures him the family ate the food like it was going out of style, and he admits that’s what he really wants to be doing. She urges him to take it one step at a time. Anna tells Bates she has a bit of a headache, possibly because of all the shouting in the game. Or because she’s pregnant. Seems like any time a female character on a TV show complains about something out of the blue it’s because she’s pregnant.
Dame Nellie moves on to O Mio Babbino Caro. Hmm, a song about a young woman trying to talk her stubborn father into letting her do something he disapproves of? How on the nose. She dedicates it to love and lovers, which is a bit of an odd choice for that song. Yes, it’s about a girl telling her father she wants to marry her boyfriend, but it’s essentially a daddy-daughter song. Violet whispers how glad she is they’re not in for some German music, adding you can always rely on Puccini. ‘I prefer Bartok,’ Isobel says. ‘You would,’ says Violet. I have no idea what that exchange was about. Also, considering Bartok only wrote one opera, that was a slightly odd turn to the conversation.
Sampson, Michael, and Rose’s guy are playing, along with one other guy, and Michael’s apparently really got the hang of things, because he’s kicking Sampson’s ass.
Mr G finds Anna alone downstairs taking her headache powders and offers her something a bit stronger. She turns him down and he guesses she was tired of listening to ‘a grown woman screeching like a cat in a bonfire.’ Yes, that’s exactly what singing sounds like. She says Dame Nellie has a beautiful voice and goes to head back upstairs, but of course he blocks her way and creepily says she seems like she could use some real fun for once. She tells him there’s no such thing happening, so he slaps her and drags her into one of the many rooms downstairs and…Ok, I’m sorry, I have to go to my happy place. I really, really can’t bear recapping moments like this. And of course, this is all intercut with scenes of everyone upstairs peacefully listening to the music. And Bates happily wonders what Anna’s gotten up to, guessing she’s fallen asleep. I think I’m going to be sick.
The card game’s over, and Sampson’s been wiped out. Heh. Michael says he’ll take all the IOU’s the man’s accumulated over the weekend, as well as a cheque, or he’ll put it about that Sampson’s a cheater. The man agrees to pay up, sniffing that Michael thinks he’s so holy, but he’s a cheat, just like Sampson. Michael says he won against a cardsharp, and there’s pleasure in that.
Violet and Isobel are being seen off by Robert, who tells Isobel how glad he is she came. She says she’s glad too, presumably despite Mary showing joy and Violet’s random Bartok diss. Robert goes back inside and Michael hands over the IOUs, which he’s also given back to the other gentlemen. They’re all most appreciative, and Robert even goes so far as to tell Edith that Michael saved his bacon, but she needs to keep that mum. Edith asks how he managed it and Michael admits he revived a talent from his misspent youth. Gill tells Robert this has been a great visit and he’s really pleased he came. They move off together and Edna slips out from behind a door and gives Branson a rather large whisky, saying she thought he might need it. He thinks she understands him and she says she certainly hopes so. I shudder.
Hughes goes down to her room, where she finds Anna, a mess, all beaten up and bloodied and crying, crumpled on the floor. Anna begs her for help getting some clothes and seeing to Lady Mary. Hughes tells Anna that’s fine, but she really needs to report this. Anna refuses, for…no reason whatsoever, and also, rather outrageously, says she can’t tell Bates either. How are you going to hide this, Anna? You’re a mess! What are you going to tell him, that you fell down the stairs? She’s afraid Bates will go and kill the guy. Valid. But I’ll bet no jury would convict him. Especially not in that day and age. Hughes agrees to help out with this horrible and appallingly well-worn TV trope. Look, I know that there are plenty of women who don’t report rapes, and that’s awful, because it perpetuates victim shaming and lets evil, evil people continue to walk the streets. But it still enrages me how common it is for TV characters to refuse to report sexual assaults, usually for reasons that make no sense. It does a poor job of exploring the psychological reasons why a woman wouldn’t give the guy up and makes it seem like that’s really the norm and how it should be. Why wouldn’t Anna at least tell the police about this guy? He’s a predator going into houses full of people! If she were just some housemaid there could be an argument that she’s afraid nobody will believe her and she’ll get fired, but this is Anna, so we know that wouldn’t be the case. It’s a poor attempt to create drama out of just about every woman’s worst nightmare.
Horrifically, we cut from Anna, back on the floor, sobbing helplessly, to Cora asking, ‘did you enjoy your evening?’ Shudder. Robert tells her he did and says he liked Dame Nellie, mostly because she liked his wine. Cora asks how he feels about Michael and he admits the man’s not necessarily what they would have wanted for Edith, but it’s a changing world. Whatever. He goes on to say that Michael did behave in a very gentlemanly manner, so there’s that. Congratulations, Michael, you’ve just bought Robert’s love. The man who thinks he’s so above it all is actually so low-class all you need to do is shove some cash in his hands and he’ll do anything. If he were around now, he’d probably be pimping Downton out as a reality TV show, like the Kardashians.
Edna slips out of Cora’s and Robert’s room, steals down the hall to another room, asks if the occupant is awake, and goes in. You think she spiked Branson’s drink with something so she could get him in a compromising position?
Belowstairs, Bates sees Anna coming out of Hughes’s and, naturally, asks her what the hell happened. She lies that she fainted and hit the sink and ruined her dress, which is why she’s now wearing a housemaid’s dress. Mr G passes down the hall and bids them both goodnight and thanks them for taking such good care of him while he’s been there. Ok, now I’m actually going to be sick. They both bid him goodnight, and then Bates reaches for his wife, who swiftly ducks out of the way. He wonders what’s wrong and she lies again and says she just feels like walking on her own. Anna, do you really think it’s best to keep him in the dark when that’s how you react to your husband touching you? He’s going to know there’s something terribly, terribly wrong soon. And you’re going to need some serious time to get over this. Maybe you and Isobel can find some counselling together, because you both definitely need it now. God, this poor woman.
Well, as I thought, the pacing on this one was better than the last two, which tended to plod. It was nice to see Mary starting to act human again, though Isobel’s judgemental behaviour was a bit much. The Branson thing made no sense whatsoever and was sloppy, and I’ve already talked about what I think was very poor handling of the Anna subplot (and judging from the previews for next week, that’s just going to get worse). I still don’t understand what Patmore’s problem was—like I said, she’s surely managed big parties like this in the past, probably quite frequently, but she was running around and freaking out constantly like this was a new thing. What’s happened to her? She’s acting like an idiot. Like Molesley, she used to be fairly competent, but now she’s pretty much just around so we can point and laugh at the silly, ageing lady who’s afraid of electricity. And that’s pretty gross.
Stupid Robert Moment: there are two—his disgusting behaviour towards Dame Nellie, and inviting a cardshark he didn’t even know into his home for a weekend visit and playing cards with him. And letting the guy fleece his guests without having a quiet word with him. Robert’s as bad a host as he is a father/landlord/husband/head of the family.