Downton Abbey: A Very Downton Christmas

A truck drives through the woods, a giant tree strapped to it, and pulls up in front of Downton, where Thomas supervises the tree’s unloading. A bit later (presumably), Daisy scoots through the house with coal scuttles, in a brief throwback to the opening scenes of the very first episode. In the great hall, O’Brien and Edith are decorating the big tree while Mary stands by, probably silently criticizing everything Edith’s doing. Daisy stops to stare at the tree like she’s never seen one before, until Hughes arrives to hurry her along.

On the road to Downton, Rosamond is driving up to the house, accompanied by her maid, who stares at the mansion like she’s never seen one of those before. Are she and Daisy suffering from some kind of amnesia? Rosamond’s greeted by Mary at the front door.

Inside, Violet’s critically going through some of the family’s Christmas cards and, for some reason, taking issue with them. Man, I knew she was difficult after season one, but there were several moments this season–and especially right now–where she’s just starting to seem like an unnecessarily hypercritical bitch. Who takes issue with Christmas cards?

That evening, the family gathers all the servants in the great hall to give them presents. Cora hands Anna hers and reassures her they’re all praying Bates doesn’t get himself hanged. Barely holding it together, Anna rejoins the other servants. Hughes asks her what Cora said, and Anna says she was just being kind. Hughes reminds her that, if they can’t prove Bates did the killing, he’ll get off. Oh, that’s not necessarily true, but it’s sweet of her to try and make Anna feel better.

Carson’s gift is a tome about the Royal Families of Europe. Heh. Anna opens one of her gifts and it’s a pretty, heart-shaped gold locket from Mary. Aww, that was kind of sweet.

In the servants’ hall, everyone’s enjoying their Christmas lunch, with the younger set boisterously snapping crackers. Hughes quietly tells Carson she couldn’t imagine celebrating with Bates locked up. Rosamond’s maid overhears them and loudly (and quite rudely) asks if Bates is “the murderer.” Hughes and Carson pull themselves up and close ranks immediately, sharply telling her Bates has been unjustly accused, that’s all. “All? I should think that’s quite enough,” she sniffs. We’ll call her Bitchy for now, shall we? Patmore curls a lip a bit and I hope we get to see her adding some soap shavings or something else unpleasant to this woman’s food soon.

Topside, the family’s opening gifts and enjoying a buffet lunch in the library. Carlisle whines about having to serve himself at lunch, which strikes me as being slightly out of character, for some reason. He always seemed quite nice and polite about the servants before, and treated them like people. It’s almost like they’re deliberately trying to make him super unlikeable, in order to push the whole Mary/Matthew thing, which is a bit disappointing and unnecessary. Carlisle informs Mary that they won’t be doing things this way in their house. Their servants will serve at all hours, on all days, dammit!

Violet opens a gift and asks what the hell it is. And then Isobel does perhaps the most awesome thing ever on this show. “It’s a nutcracker,” she explains. “We thought you’d like it. You know—to crack your nuts.” HA! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! That makes up for Isobel being so insufferably condescending in the rest of season 2.

Edith asks her father who they’re expecting for the New Year’s Day shoot. The usual crowd, according to Robert. She asks if he’s invited Strallen, and he says he did, but got turned down flat. Man, Strallen sure holds a grudge, doesn’t he? Especially considering he never got the whole, real story. Shame. Robert adds that Rosamond forced him to invite one Lord Hepworth, which gets Violet’s attention. She seems to know quite a bit about the men in the Hepworth family, having (according to her) known Lord Hepworth’s father in the late ‘60s.

Out in the hall, Matthew hangs up the phone, looking grim. Mary joins him and asks how Mr. Swire’s doing. Matthew tells her the man’s not well at all, and he’s catching the train to London in the morning, hoping to get there before Mr. Swire dies. Carlisle emerges and Mary explains about Swire. Carlisle coldly observes that Matthew will miss the shoot. Instead of telling him not to be such a dick, Matthew promises he’ll be back by New Year’s, because Swire won’t last that long. That’s…good? Seems to me that even if you did get back in time, you wouldn’t be much in the mood for shooting things so soon after seeing someone shuffle off the mortal coil, but what do I know? Matthew apologizes for being gloomy and Mary tells him not to be silly, because they’re all under the shadow of Bates’s trial. You are? I know you and Robert have a somewhat personal attachment to the case, but what do the others really care what happens to Bates? Cora never liked him, Violet barely knew him, and as far as we could tell, Edith didn’t have much to do with him either. And Rosamond’s totally removed. All right, whatever, we’ll go with it. Everyone’s depressed because of Bates, which I guess is rather nice of them. Matthew asks if any of the family will have to testify. Mary answers that only her father and some of the servants will, but she’s going to the trial to support Anna. I’m curious to know why Robert would have to testify. Character witness, I guess? Same as the servants?

Matthew offers to go to the trial with her to explain what’s happening, which is a little sweet but also totally insulting, since it implies that she’s too dumb to be able to follow a murder trial. I think she can figure it out, Matthew. He asks if Carlisle will be going along with her instead, but Carlisle plans to go back to work the day after the shoot. Oh, these low-class types and their jobs. I know I’m probably supposed to think less of him for that, but I don’t. The guy’s got a business to run, and other than the fact that he bought Vera’s story off of her, he has no connection to this trial or its immediate participants. And it’s not like Mary’s testifying and needs him there for moral support.

Belowstairs, Patmore sends the plum pudding off for the family’s dinner, and Daisy inexplicably pulls a Ouija board off the top of one of the cupboards. What’s that doing in the kitchen? She asks what it is, and O’Brien explains it to her. Daisy hands it off to O’Brien, who looks at it thoughtfully.

The plum pudding is brought up to the dining room, where Edith rather sadly remembers it was Sybil’s favorite. Where is Sybil? She’s not allowed to come home for Christmas? I thought she’d made it up with her family. And it seems odd that this is the first time anyone’s mentioned her. Is she married now? I want explanations, show!

Carson places the pudding in front of Violet, who wishes everyone a happy Christmas before digging in and serving up. Edith reminds her to make a wish, and Mary suggests they all make a wish and a prayer. “Is this about Bates again?” Carlisle asks, a little snarkily. Rosamond says the whole thing’s just terrible, and Matthew insists he’s been wrongly accused. Carlisle asks how Murray managed to get the trial held in York. Yeah, how did he manage that? The crime happened in London, didn’t it? That makes no sense at all. Robert’s not sure how it was managed, he’s just glad it was. Carlisle asks if Murray’s confident and Robert says he seems to be. “Lawyers are always confident, until the verdict; then they start expressing their doubts,” says Violet. How true.

Belowstairs, Thomas, O’Brien, and two nameless maids are trying out the Ouija board. Daisy comes upon them and freaks a little, because she doesn’t think it’s right. They don’t care and go back to asking if there’s anyone there. The marker moves to “yes”, but before they can get any further, Hughes shows up to break up the fun and tell them to scatter. Daisy asks if Hughes thinks there really are spirits out there, and Hughes says she’s pretty sure they don’t play board games. I don’t see why not, it would get a bit dull in the spirit world, wouldn’t it?

Upstairs, the family’s playing charades, and apparently Mary’s got as much patience for these parlor games as I do, because she’s about five seconds in and already exasperated. She starts to act out a 5-word book title, the fourth word of which is…shaking? Seizure? I have no idea. Carlisle’s bored and asks Violet if she really likes games where people must appear ridiculous. She pithily says that all life is a game in which we appear ridiculous. Wow, that totally sounded like a line and not like something a real person would say, didn’t it? “Not my life,” he says. The answer is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yeah, I wouldn’t have gotten that one at all.

Far from the warmth of Downton, Bates sits alone in a cold, dark cell, looking sad and depressed, as well he might.

The next day, Carson’s helping Robert get dressed and delicately brings up the matter of Bates maybe not coming back. But he happens to know that Thomas is keen to take the valet’s job. Yes, I’ll bet he is. It’ll give him so many more opportunities to steal stuff. Remember that, people? Remember how he was caught stealing? He’s already pilfered one of those expensive miniatures of Robert’s, plus Carson’s wallet. Come on, maintain continuity, please! Robert’s not willing to consider it, thankfully.

Daisy’s hard at work in the kitchen when Rosamond’s maid, Bitchy, comes in to spread a little discontentment. She tells Daisy she could easily be a sous-chef in London, with her mad kitchen skills. Or a cook in a slightly less grand house. Patmore bustles over and fires off some orders that send Daisy scurrying away. Bitchy takes note before finally shoving off.

Edith’s at Violet’s for tea, when who should pull up but Strallen, in a chauffeur-driven car. Aww! Come on, show, give Edith some joy! It’s Christmas! Edith’s a little freaked out, because she didn’t know he was coming, but Violet’s no fool and noticed how upset Edith was that Strallen wouldn’t come shooting, so she kind of tricked the two of them into coming for tea.

Strallen comes in, and if he’s surprised or displeased to see Edith, he hides it beautifully. They greet each other fairly warmly, and she tells him how happy she is to see him so unscathed by the war. But he’s not, apparently, because he took a bullet that’s rendered his right arm pretty useless. “But not forever, surely?” she says, a bit cluelessly. Then again, this is a universe where people can go from paralyzed to dancing a jig in about a week, so I can’t really hold that ignorance against her. And we already know that Edith will believe just about anything. Yes, forever, he tells her. At least that explains why he didn’t want to come shooting. I find it highly unlikely that nobody at Downton would have heard of Strallen’s injury. He’s a fairly near neighbor, and word like that would get around. Anyway, Strallen finally exposits that Sybil’s married now and asks if they all got over to Dublin for the wedding. Edith says that she and Mary did, but—and here Violet interrupts to say that all the rest of them were, sadly, ill. Wow, that’s shitty of them. Strallen politely asks what Branson’s like. “He’s political,” is all Violet will say. Strallen asks if he shoots and Violet says she thinks so, but not pheasants. Heh.

Anna arrives at the jail to visit her husband. Bates explains that Murray thinks a reference from Robert will go far towards making the jury think he’s an upstanding citizen who would never, ever kill his repellant and hateful wife. Anna thinks it’ll help. “Because you want to think so,” says Bates dourly. Thanks, Mr. Glass-Half-Empty. I know you’re fighting for your life here, but how about you at least try and meet your new, awesome wife halfway? He tells her she needs to prepare for the worst, just in case. She tells him the time to face it is after it’s happened, not before.

The chyron kindly tells us it’s New Year’s Eve, as a car bearing Lord Hepworth pulls up in front of the house. He’s greeted by Cora and Rosamond. Hepworth tells Carson he doesn’t have a valet with him, and Carson tells him Thomas will care for him. Thomas doesn’t look delighted, probably because Hepworth’s not really his type.

That evening, Robert hands Cora a letter from Sybil. He practically spits his own daughter’s name. I want to punch him in the face. As she opens the letter, he asks her what she thinks of Hepworth. She neutrally says he seems nice enough. He’s got a good recommendation from Rosamond’s maid, which is enough for Cora, for some reason. She looks down at the letter and gasps happily—Branson Jr.’s on the way! Awwww! And also—wouldn’t it be kind of funny if Sybil was the only one of the younger generation to have any kids, so her son ended up inheriting Downton? Robert, of course, takes this news like she’s just died. Actually, I’m starting to think he’d prefer her dead. “I see,” he says sourly. “No return, then, she’s crossed the Rubicon.” Now I REALLY want to punch him in the face. I thought you’d reconciled yourself to this, Robert! Get over it! She crossed the Rubicon when she got married. What a dick he’s become. Cora, who’s clearly made her peace with this situation long ago, goes on to say that Sybil doesn’t want them to tell anyone else. Robert figures this is why Sybil didn’t ask to come home for Christmas. Geez, could it be because you’re being totally hateful about her marriage? What kind of a happy Christmas would that have been for her? “Well, well, we’re to have a Fenian grandchild,” Robert sniffs. “Cheer up,” says Cora. “If the revolution comes, it might be useful to have a contact on the inside.” Ha! I’m so glad she didn’t die of the flu.

Hepworth runs into Rosamond in the hallway and observes that they’ve been given rooms right next to each other. She coyly says it’s not quite proper to remark on such things before introducing her maid, Shaw. Hepworth asks if there’s going to be a party belowstairs and she says she doubts it, but she doesn’t mind.

Rosamond and Hepworth go downstairs, where they meet up with Violet, who asks him how his country pile’s doing. He says he’s not there much and Rosamond boldly says it probably needs a woman’s touch. Violet gets practically girlish as she says how much Hepworth’s like his dad.

Belowstairs, Carson’s pouring glasses of wine for the servants to drink at midnight. Shaw says that at her last place, she had to be upstairs serving no matter what day it was. Did she work for Carlisle? Daisy figures this means she wasn’t a ladies’ maid then, and Shaw gets a little cagey. Patmore asks her how long she’s been with Rosamond and she says it’s been two months.

In the corner, Thomas and O’Brien have their heads together. Thomas says Robert doesn’t trust him, you know, because of the earlier thieving and all. O’Brien suggests he make Robert trust him, by hiding something of Robert’s and finding it. Yeah, because that worked out so well the last time they tried something like that. Geez, these two. Carson starts handing out the wine, and Thomas takes a second to observe Isis the dog, standing in the doorway. NO! Thomas, you keep your hands off Isis!

Topside, everyone’s got their champagne and Edith’s explaining why Strallen couldn’t be there for the shoot. She’s all cute and smiley and glowing, so I guess tea went well. As she moves away, Violet admits to Rosamond that she’s sorry she started this whole thing back up with Strallen, because she’s afraid Edith will spend her whole life as a nursemaid. As opposed to a spinster, which wasn’t a great prospect back then? And how do you figure, Violet? The man can’t hold a gun anymore, but it’s not like he’s totally helpless. He’s getting around fine.

Carlisle observes that, once again, the servants are MIA. Mary wearily tells him they can fend for themselves for half an hour two days out of the whole damn year before turning her attention to Matthew, who’s discharged his duties in London and is back again. The world is now short one more Swire, but at least old Mr. Swire wasn’t alone when he died. Mary sincerely tells him how sorry she is. The clock strikes and everyone wishes each other a happy new year. 1920! Violet hopes for good things for all of them in the new decade.

Upstairs, Anna notices Hepworth having a word with Shaw. He moves away as Anna approaches, and Shaw falls into step beside her, telling her that he’s pushing his luck a bit, because he wants her to talk him up to Rosamond. Anna warns her to keep out of it.

The next morning, everyone’s getting organized for the shoot. It’s a veritable tweed parade. Carlisle and Matthew get into a little tussle over Mary, but it’s decided she’ll stand next to Matthew for the first drive. I guess she doesn’t care anymore if she makes her fiancé jealous. They march out and start firing away as the ladies stand by and observe. Mary asks Matthew why he doesn’t have a loader and he explains that he sucks at shooting and doesn’t want an extra witness. He asks her not to tell anyone how incompetent he is. I think they’re all just grateful you can walk out there to do the shooting in the first place, Matthew. It’s surprising, though, that after all he’s seen in the war he could even go out and do this. Some people can’t handle shooting anymore after having gone to war.

Mary admits that Carlisle’s starting to bug her a bit, but she’s still going to marry him. Because that’s just what you do.

Daisy’s working in the kitchens, as usual, when Hughes comes in with William’s dad, who’s swung by for a visit. Patmore tells her to take him to the servants’ hall for a nice visit. Hughes shows Dad to the hall, and Daisy turns to Patmore and tells her she should really come clean about the whole marrying William due to peer pressure thing. Oh, Daisy. Learn to dissemble a little, sweetie. Sometimes, it’s for the greater good.

Edith’s gotten bolder with the years—she takes a little trip to Strallen’s beautiful home and suggests they go out for a drive, like they used to (remember, Edith drives now. So it all works out!) Strallen demurs, but offers her something in the way of refreshment, clearly expecting her to turn it down. But she doesn’t, because she’s got some gumption now. She sits down and they make some polite conversation for a bit, but then he comes right out and tells her they won’t be “taking up” again. Edith hurries to tell him that what Mary said at the garden party wasn’t true at all and was only said out of spite. He says it’s not that, it’s that he’s too old for her. Edith disagrees but Strallen’s under no illusions. Plus, he’s got the bum arm now, so what he really needs is a nurse, not a wife. But Anthony, Edith’s good at the nursing thing! Edith tells him she doesn’t agree with a single word of what he’s said, and she’s not giving up. That’s my girl! He tells her, as gently as he can, that she must. Oh, no, she mustn’t!

Daisy serves her father-in-law some tea and he tells he really wants her to see the place where William grew up. He remembers that William always wanted to work with animals, but his mother wanted more for him. He says he’s glad William’s mother went first, which Daisy sees as an opening to say they all need to face the truth of things someday. She starts to blurt out how she and William were friends, and that she didn’t feel the same way he did about her, but she manages to temper it at the last moment by adding that she’s afraid she might have wasted some of their time together. William’s dad says she gave him the thrill of the chase, and that he thought of nothing but her, so what she did was just fine. He asks her when she’ll be coming to the farm and she promises to let him know before heading off to get him more tea. “More lies,” she hisses at Patmore as she passes her. “Were they, really?” Patmore asks.

Out at the shoot, Mary’s with Carlisle, bickering like they’ve hated each other for years. Hey, wait a minute—aren’t they supposed to be married by now? I thought at the end of last series, which was spring 1919, she told him they’d set a wedding date in the summer. What’s the holdup? Sorry, that just occurred to me. Carlisle starts complaining about Matthew being around all the time and being so chummy with her, and the discussion gets so heated that Matthew just has to come over and intervene. Mary explains that Carlisle’s just pissed his loader’s gotten lost, but thankfully, the man appears just then, diffusing the tension just a little and giving Matthew a chance to slip away.

At the hunt luncheon, held in one of the estate’s picturesque outbuildings, Isobel asks Robert if she might accompany him to York for the trial. He’s fine with that. She feels it’s strange that they’re all just sitting around chatting while he’s rotting in a cell. She punctuates that with a sip of wine, which is perhaps not the best chosen piece of stage business. Robert asks her not to make him feel guiltier than he already does.

Further down the table, Matthew tells Mary he has to go back to London to fetch Mr. Swire’s ashes, because Mr. S. wanted them buried with Lavinia, who’s up in the Downton churchyard. Mary asks him to tell her when he buries them, because she’d like to be there. Carlisle looks pissed.

Hepworth, meanwhile, is having a cozy tea with Violet, who very quickly gets to the point: she knows that Hepworth’s broke and wants to marry her rich, widowed daughter so he can recoup his fortune. So, Rosamond’s the new Cora, basically. He promises his feelings for Rosamond are sincere, but Violet insists he tell Rosamond the truth about his circumstances.

At dinner, tensions are running a bit high. Hepworth tells Rosamond he needs to speak with her later, and Carlisle’s telling Mary she needs to set a date. She already did! What happened? Mary asks him what the hurry is and he, like me, tells her glaciers move faster than she does in these matters. Seriously, how long have they been engaged now? He could have a nice chat with Matthew about this very matter, if he wanted anything to do with him. Carlisle warns her that his patience is wearing out, as both Matthew and Robert observe from afar.

Mary leaves and heads into the hall, trailed by Matthew, who asks if there’s anything he can do to help. He tells her she doesn’t have to marry him, but Mary says that, actually, she does, and she can’t say any more than that. Cora appears to pull her away for a bridge game, and off she goes.

Belowstairs, the servants are playing with the Ouija board again. Thomas uses it to insult Patmore, who pulls Daisy away, but not before Shaw nastily tells her she hopes she gives Daisy something rewarding to do. Daisy tells the woman to leave it alone. Seriously, Shaw, mind your own damn business.

Later, Robert reports to Cora and tells her that Murray’s coming the day before the trial to speak to him, Hughes, and O’Brien. Cora asks what they know the others don’t and Robert has no clue. Robert’s still sure the trial won’t go against Bates. He moves on to ask Cora about the weird moment between Mary and Carlisle earlier. Cora’s sure Mary has him under control but Robert’s not so certain. He doesn’t envision happiness in their future. He wonders what’s keeping them together, so Cora decides it’s time to tell him the whole sordid history of Mary and Pamouk.

The next day, Murray’s briefing Hughes and O’Brien, who can’t fathom why they’ve been called as witnesses for the prosecution. Carson asks where Anna stands in all this and Murray tells him a wife can’t be compelled to testify against their husbands.

At the trial, O’Brien’s in the box, telling the court that at one point she overheard Bates on the phone with his lawyer. The prosecutor asks her how Bates looked after his last meeting with his wife and O’Brien says he had a scratch on his cheek, which he could have gotten anywhere. Under questioning, she admits to having overheard Bates say that the meeting with Vera was worse than he could have imagined. To her credit, she does seem like she’s trying to keep Bates out of trouble as much as she can.

Hughes is up next. How did the prosecutor know to call these women? Is he psychic? How’d he know they were secretly listening in on these conversations? Did one of the other servants go to him? That seems strangely unlikely, unless it was Thomas, and I don’t think Thomas was around for some of these events—he was off in France.

The prosecutor asks Hughes what Bates called Vera—a bitch, as we may recall, which was totally right. He asks her if he threatened to strike her. I don’t think he did. Actually, Vera urged him to strike her, so she’d have some kind of ammunition to use against him (though it would have been useless, because she was trying to prevent the divorce and proof of violence would only have been useful to push a divorce through). Nonetheless, Hughes says that Bates did.

Outside the courtroom, Murray tries to reassure the Bates Cheerleading Squad—Anna, Isobel, Robert, Matthew and Mary—that cases always seem awful when you’ve only heard the prosecution’s side. The defense will be up soon enough. Anna’s horrified that Hughes would say those things, and Isobel points out that it’s scary to lie under oath. Robert sighs that it’s seeming much worse than he expected, and it’s too bad that Bates didn’t speak up about having bought the poison. Robert adds that it’s down to him to prove that this crime is just not something Bates could do. No, Robert, it’s up to the lawyer to do that. Calm down, I know you want to help, but let Murray do his job.

Robert’s up in the witness box, confidently speaking out on Bates’s behalf. The prosecutor asks if Bates ever spoke of his wife. Nope. Not until she showed up and dragged him away and started making his life a living hell, that is. Prosecutor asks if Robert counseled restraint when dealing with Vera, but Robert claims not to remember. Apparently he did, because Bates stupidly brought it up in his police interviews, claiming he followed said advice. Oh, Bates. Are you trying to get yourself hanged? Under some pressure, Robert admits that Bates once wished his wife dead, just before going to London that last time.

Later, Isobel’s reassuring both Hughes and O’Brien, who are worried they might have made Bates seem worse. O’Brien, rather nicely, frets about Anna and how she must think they’ve sold Bates out, which is quite a turnaround from how she used to feel towards him. I guess you can want to see a guy fired, but you have to be a real psycho to want to see him dead. Murray shows up and tells them the jury’s returned.

In the courtroom, Bates stands so the jury can read their verdict. Guilty. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Anna screams, and the judge soberly puts on his black cap and tells Bates he’s to be hanged. Anna sobs and tells them this is all wrong, terribly wrong. Bates calls out to her as he’s taken away by the constables. She doesn’t know we’re only 40 minutes into a 90-minute special, so there’s plenty of time for a last-minute rescue of some sort. And I doubt it will come at the hands of Murray, because if we’ve learned anything here, it’s that he’s about as competent as Dr. Clarkson is. The two of them can handle the small, everyday matters, but anything else and they’re hopelessly out of their depth. Aside from that brief moment with Hughes and O’Brien, did Murray even bother to prep any of his own witnesses? It sure didn’t look like it.

Anyway, in the more peaceful environs of the dower house, Rosamond and Violet coolly discuss the trial, not terribly concerned about the outcome because they didn’t really know Bates all that well. Violet steers the conversation to Hepworth, whom Rosamond doesn’t consider a bad lot at all, despite his penniless status. Rosamond’s tired of being alone, and since she has money to spare, she has no issues taking on a fortune hunter. She hasn’t definitely decided whether or not to marry him, though. She wants to wait until after the upcoming servants’ ball.

Mary, Matthew and Murray settle down with Anna to try, uselessly, to reassure her that it’s just a routine thing for judges to sentence someone to death. It is? That seems rather harsh, if it’s not something you intend to carry out. Murray hopes to work towards life imprisonment so they’ll have time to build an appeal case. Murray plans to write a letter to the Home Secretary and deliver it personally. So, I guess he’s good for something. While he’s at it, he might want to consider looking up a good criminal defense attorney to recommend for Bates, because I’m guessing this just isn’t his specialty. He’s a family lawyer; if anything, I’d guess his thing would be property law. Murray goes on to say that they need to make the argument that this wasn’t a premeditated crime, but Anna doesn’t want to make the argument that this was a crime at all, because she’s sure Bates didn’t off his wife, no matter how much he might have wanted to. She pulls herself together enough to sensibly ask Murray how good he thinks their chances are. Murray admits they’re not good, but there’s always the possibility of a miracle.

Hughes and O’Brien, meanwhile, have returned to Downton and are reporting to the rest of the staff. One of the hitherto unnamed hall boys or something tactlessly asks when Bates will be hanged—with a little too much enthusiasm, if you ask me. Carson ignores him and asks Hughes to give Cora a report of the day. Before she goes, Hughes says she’s sure Bates is innocent of these charges. Once she’s gone, Shaw asks O’Brien what she thinks. All O’Brien will say is that she’s sorry to have been part of this. As she sadly turns to go, Thomas observes that there’ll have to be a new valet now. “I don’t often feel selfless, but when I talk to you I do,” she tells him. Awesome. Nice that she’s finally realizing what a repellant human being he is.

Topside, Hughes is finishing up telling Cora about the trial. Cora expresses her sympathies and says this is a very sad time for all of them.

In the kitchen, Daisy’s chosen a poor time to start complaining about her job, which Patmore calls her on right away. Not the time, Daisy. Wait a week or so.

Mary finds Robert in the library after dinner, where he’s having a quiet drink. She says how sorry she is after what’s happened. Robert asks after Anna and Mary says she sent her on to bed. Robert looks at her for a few moments, then asks point blank if she’s staying with Carlisle because he’s blackmailing her over the Pamouk story. Mary gets pale with shock and guesses he must be very disappointed in her. Robert says she’s not the first Crawley to make a mistake. I’ll say. Struggling to keep her voice steady, Mary reasons that Carlisle’s willing to marry her, despite her being damaged goods. Robert asks if that’s all worthwhile, when he already sets her teeth on edge. He asks what Matthew thinks about the Pamouk affair and she quickly says that he doesn’t know about it; that they split because of Lavinia, in a sense. Robert asks if that’s really final, and Mary says that they are as far as Matthew’s concerned.

Robert gets up to pour himself a drink, then turns around and tells her what he thinks: she should break up with Carlisle and let him publish his scandal, if he will. She can go to America and stay with her grandmother until the fuss dies down. He doesn’t want his daughter marrying someone who’d go and blackmail her like this (and, at the same time, he actually puts Sybil’s marriage on the same footing as Bates’s murder trial and World War I, so now I kind of want to slap him again. He was winning me back there, and then he just took a few steps back again.) He tells her he wants a good man for her—a cowboy from out west, if he must. So, a dirty cowboy’s fine, but an Irishman’s not? Ok.

Belowstairs, Thomas asks for a moment with Carson and brings up the empty valet job again. Carson doesn’t really want to deal with it just now, and who can blame him? The trial was that day. When pressed, Carson tells him Robert just doesn’t trust him. Nor should he.

In the kitchen, Daisy’s still exuding attitude, so Patmore asks her what the problem is. Daisy tells her she feels like she’s treated rather shabbily by Patmore, who still talks to her the same way she did when Daisy first started. Having recently rewatched season one, I’d have to kind of disagree with that. I think Patmore’s a lot more respectful and willing to trust Daisy with difficult tasks now than she was then. And Daisy’s much less of an idiot than she was then. Patmore insists that Daisy’s just tired and should take a day to go visit William’s dad. Daisy won’t go, because she thinks William won’t like it. Why wouldn’t he? Honestly, Daisy, you’re just looking for excuses now, aren’t you?

On a chilly, rainy day, Mary joins Matthew and Isobel at Lavinia’s grave, where Matthew’s placing Mr. Swire’s ashes. Matthew sincerely tells her that he’s glad she’s there, because all of them were part of each other’s story for a while. I know I complained a lot about all the annoying “will they or won’t they” back-and-forthing in season two with this pair, but I am enjoying seeing them interacting in this episode. It seems quite warm and unforced, unlike many of their earlier scenes together. It’s making me buy them more easily as a couple than I had before. Mary observes that soon their story will be at an end, because she’s going away…somewhere, and Matthew doesn’t want to live in Downton anymore. He doesn’t? When did he say that? Aside from way back at the end of season one? Matthew suggests they take a moment to remember those lost, and they start to pray.

Back at the house, Violet stumbles across Daisy, who’s sobbing by the hearth in the library. Violet asks her what’s wrong and Daisy springs to her feet, alarmed.

Back at the churchyard, Mary goes one way and Matthew and Isobel another. Isobel tells her son that Mary still loves him. Matthew says they just can’t be together, and that’s that. Isobel guesses it’s because of Lavinia, and adds that Lavinia was a sweet girl and wouldn’t have wanted Matthew to be happy, something Lavinia herself made quite explicit on her deathbed. Matthew rather absurdly tells his mother that both he and Mary deserve to be unhappy and she tells him that’s just stupid, and if he’s purposely making himself miserable, he’s a moron.

In the Downton library, Daisy’s just finished telling Violet how she was a false wife to William. Oh, geez, Daisy, can we move on from this already? You’re just proving you’re too immature to move on, in my opinion. Violet says there’s no way Daisy could have been false to a guy she was only married to for about half an hour but Daisy insists, because she led him on, letting him think she loved him. Violet guesses that she married the guy to keep his spirits up in his last hours and thinks that’s actually a very loving thing for Daisy to have done. Robert comes in, surprising Daisy, who scurries away. Violet asks if there’s news on Bates, but there isn’t just yet. Murray’s meeting with the Home Secretary soon, so they’ll know more later. Violet’s surprised there hasn’t been anything in the newspapers yet, but that’s not why she’s there. She wants to talk about Rosamond and Hepworth. She asks Robert if a woman Rosamond’s age is entitled to marry a fortune hunter. Of course she is, Violet, why wouldn’t she? The woman’s in, like, her forties! With her own money! Back off! Robert agrees but says they’ll need to tie up the money. Yes, I’m sure she’ll really appreciate that.

Violet realizes Robert’s distracted and he explains that Isis has gone missing and he’s worried. As he should be.

The pooch in question is, at the moment, being led on a leash through the woods by Thomas, who takes a moment to light a cigarette, then stashes her in some ramshackle old shack out there. Isis barks wildly as he locks her in.

Anna’s meeting with Bates again, and man, I can’t imagine how harrowing this face-to-face would be. He’s all practical, asking if she plans to remain at Downton (yes, if they’ll let me, is her answer. Oh, Anna, of course they’ll let you). Bates asks her to thank Robert for trying to help him and to give him his best wishes for the future. He also tells her not to hold a grudge against Hughes and O’Brien—especially not O’Brien, because he knows she didn’t wish this on him, no matter how little they got on. Anna starts to cry and says she doesn’t regret anything about their relationship. He sweetly tells her he doesn’t either, because he loves her. He takes her hand, and the guard stationed nearby sharply tells them there’s no touching. Bates reminds him that he knows where he’s headed, so how much harm is this, really? The guard backs off, and the Bateses kiss. Aww, tearing up time!

The Ouija board’s back out at Downton, and this time, Patmore decides to give it a try. The hand thingy points to W, and Daisy thinks it’s William talking to her. She asks what he wants and the thing swiftly spells out “go to farm, make dad happy.” Shaw observes that the thing’s not usually so specific. Shaw, shut up!

Post-dinner, Matthew shows up at the house and finds Robert about to go out and look for Isis. At night. Probably would have been a better idea to do this during the daytime, Robert. Matthew suggests they organize a search party.

Organize it they do, and it includes Mary, who wonders if Isis has been stolen. Edith frets that that’s a terrible thought. Out in the woods, Thomas and Carson come across the spot where Thomas stashed the dog, but there’s no sound coming out of the shack, despite Robert constantly calling the dog’s name. Uh oh. Thomas, I swear to God, if you killed that dog, I will hate you no matter what you do to try and redeem yourself. There’s no redeeming yourself after killing off this show’s mascot.

Robert decides it’s time to call it a night, but offers a tener for anyone who can find the dog the next day. Carson tells Thomas to get back to the house and tell Patmore to heat up some soup for the searchers. Thomas scurries off. Mary, meanwhile, asks Matthew what he was doing up at the house and he says he wanted to see her, because he wants to know exactly what her reason is for marrying Carlisle. She says that Matthew would despise her if he knew. He asks her to tell him anyway.

Back at the house, Hughes frets about the dog going missing at such a stressful time. Hughes brings up the fact that this has, surprisingly, been kept out of the papers, making her the third character in the last 20 minutes to say that. I think we get it. She adds that it’ll be difficult for Anna, being the widow of a murderer. Carson says she’ll have to get used to some notoriety, as will the home that keeps her. He doesn’t realize that Anna’s been listening to this, but she quickly sets his mind at ease by handing in her notice, intending to slip away and just become another housemaid in London or Scotland or something. Carson, a little unfeelingly, says she has a point, but Hughes refuses to accept her resignation. Anna, however, insists.

Outside, Mary’s apparently just told Matthew everything, and he’s reacting like she personally smothered Pamouk to death or something. He asks her if she was in love with Pamouk, because if she was, then he might be able to wrap his head around this just a little bit. She says she barely even knew the guy—the whole thing was just a dumb thing that she did once. Matthew pulls himself together and tells her she shouldn’t marry Carlisle, because she’s strong enough to brave the ensuing and inevitable storm. Mary observes that Sybil’s the really brave one, because she doesn’t care what people think, but Mary does. She brings up the prospect of going to New York for a while, and Matthew repeats that she needs to dump Carlisle, because a few months’ scandal isn’t worth a lifetime of misery. She’s got a day to figure it out, because Carlisle and Hepworth are returning the following afternoon. As they make their way back to the house, Matthew tells her that she was wrong about one thing: he could never despise her, no matter what she’s done.

Belowstairs, Thomas is nervously smoking, having evidently told O’Brien that he took her totally stupid advice and stole his boss’s dog, which typically goes over poorly. She asks why he didn’t just find the poor thing while they were out looking and Thomas insists he never really got the chance. She tells him to go get the dog as soon as he possibly can, and hope things work out well.

In the kitchen, Patmore asks Daisy if she’ll go to the farm. Daisy says she thinks she should. After all, spirits told her to.

The next morning, Thomas returns to the shack, only to find it empty. Well done, idiot. He goes running through the woods, calling for Isis. Daisy, meanwhile, shows up at William’s dad’s farm, where she finds he’s laid out quite a lavish spread for her. She says he shouldn’t have done so much, and he says it’s the least he could do, seeing as she’s the closest thing to a living kid he has now. Oh dear, that’s just going to spook her. I mean, I think it would spook most people. That’s laying it on a tiny bit thick. He tells Daisy that William had four siblings, all of whom died at birth, and he thinks one of the reasons William married her was so his dad wouldn’t be totally alone. He asks her if she’ll be his sort of adopted daughter, and let him take her into his heart (in a totally non-creepy way). Daisy’s a bit bowled over by this, because she’s never had real parents, it seems, and hasn’t ever been special to anyone. Except William. She seems delighted by the idea that she could be special to this sweet older gentleman now.

Thomas, looking much the worse for wear, stumbles up the front walk at Downton, where he’s almost immediately greeted by an enthusiastic Isis. She’s followed by Robert, who asks what the hell happened to Thomas. Thomas explains that he was out looking for the dog, which was found by a village child the day before. Horribly, this whole, stupid scheme has actually worked in Thomas’s favor, because now Robert’s all impressed that he did so much to try and find her.

After tea, William’s dad gets ready to give Daisy a ride home and lay some advice on her: if she’s not happy with how she’s treated, she shouldn’t sulk and get sassy, she should discuss it like a grownup. Good advice, that. Oh, and he tells her to stop listening to Shaw. Very good advice. I like him.

Rosamond, on her way down for dinner, runs into Hepworth, who’s just arriving. She tells him the servants’ ball has been canceled, because the Bates situation is still uncertain. He tries to get her to tell him if she’s got a favorable answer to his proposal, but she plays coy.

Upstairs, Anna’s helping Mary dress and asking what she’ll be doing in New York. I guess she’s going, then. She should take Anna with her! Mary’s sure life in New York and Newport will be dull, but comfortable. Oh, please, it won’t be any duller than it would be in England, Mary. Anna asks if Mary might consider taking her along (see?!) and Mary says she certainly will, but Anna should really wait for a definite outcome regarding Bates first.

In his room, Robert works up the courage to tell Carson he wants to give Thomas a trial. Carson’s surprised, but Robert’s convinced there’s more true kindness in Thomas than he realized (!!).

Back in Mary’s room, Anna brings up Carlisle’s recent arrival and asks Mary if she’s ready. Mary thinks so.

Downstairs, Matthew and Isobel have arrived for dinner, and Isobel tells Matthew one more time that she wishes he would take her advice and just let himself be happy already. He tries to bring up Lavinia, but she sharply tells him to stop using that sweet girl as his excuse. Amen.

Belowstairs, Hughes sadly tells Anna she’s sorry she’s going, but glad she’s staying with the family. Anna starts to break down and Hughes gently tells her that both she and Bates are very highly thought of by everyone there. She starts to cry too and embraces Anna like a daughter.

In the library, Mary’s just handed Carlisle his walking papers, telling him it’s clear they’re not well suited to each other. Well, not in this episode, you’re not. Actually, earlier episodes suggested you were rather well suited in the sense that you both had similar goals and temperaments. He reminds her that he’s been protecting their family for ages now, getting more and more angry, until Matthew comes steaming in, of course. Carlisle turns his vitriol on him, telling him that Lavinia knew all along that Matthew didn’t love her. Ohhh, congratulations, Carlisle, I think you just found Matthew’s berserk button. Sure enough, Matthew punches him right in the face, and the boys start to tussle, making a mess, until Robert comes in to break it up and tell Carlisle he’ll be leaving in the morning. Carlisle wonders if Robert will be so polite and smooth and serene when the papers are filled with the nearly decade-old scandal of his eldest daughter’s exploits. Seriously, who’s going to care now? Anyway, with supreme sang-froid, Robert says he’ll do his best. Violet comes rushing in to see what’s up and is told by Carlisle that he’ll be leaving in the morning and he doubts they’ll meet again. “Do you promise?” she asks. Ha! Ok, she’s making up for not having nearly as many good lines in season two just with this one special.

Carlisle leaves and Matthew apologizes for breaking some vase. Violet says it was a wedding present from a dreadful aunt and she’s hated it for half a century. Hee!

The following morning, Carlisle goes to leave, but Mary catches him in the hall. He’s calmed down considerably and is able to politely say goodbye to her. She tells him that she’s actually really sorry about everything, which he takes as a plea for him to sit on the story after all, but that’s not her intention. She really just wants to make this right. Mary’s come such a long way since season one. I hope this characterization continues. He tells her that he really did love her and Mary says she hopes that the next woman he loves will deserve it more than she did. And with that, Carlisle’s off. Too bad, I kind of liked him. Before the hatchet job they did on him in this episode, that is.

Upstairs, Anna comes across Shaw giggling and chatting with Hepworth. Hepworth peels off and Shaw joins Anna, girlishly telling her that he keeps trying to get her to press his case with Rosamond. I really don’t feel like Anna cares at this point.

Carson bursts into the library to hand over a telegram to Robert, who reads that Bates has been reprieved—he’ll receive life imprisonment. Robert tells Carson to fetch Anna and the others. Once everyone’s assembled, Robert reads that too many facts of the case call into question the notion of premeditation, so Bates won’t hang and they’ll have time to work on an appeal. Anna, weeping with joy, asks to go see him and Robert tells her the new chauffeur will drive her into York.

Hughes and Carson deliver the news to the rest of the downstairs staff, adding that the servants’ ball is back on for that evening.

Anna’s back at the prison, meeting with her husband and telling him that she plans to stay at Downton now, because she’s determined to help his appeal in any way possible. Bates tells her that could take years and urges her to get out, make friends, and go to parties in the meantime. Anna manages a smile and promises to try.

That evening, Matthew arrives for the servants’ ball and gets a primer on the party from Robert, who tells him that Cora usually opens the dancing by partnering with Carson (Violet hasn’t done it since her husband died), and then Robert dances with Hughes. He suggests Matthew partner O’Brien, and he blanches a bit at the prospect. Heh. They talk a little bit about Mr. Swire, whom Matthew thinks he let down. Robert says he did no such thing, because he was going to marry Lavinia and do the right thing, and surely Mr. Swire knew that. Cora pokes her head in just then and pulls the boys out to join the party.

In the hall, servants are dancing with masters to the tune of a string quartet and it’s all very merry. Thomas asks Violet to dance a waltz with him and she accepts. Anna watches from the sidelines, which gives her a good vantage point to see Hepworth sneaking upstairs with Shaw. Charming. Anna moves away, passing Daisy, who’s making her case that it’s high time she moved up from being just a kitchen maid. Yeah, I’d agree with that. She’s making the soufflés and everything now. She wants to be a proper assistant cook, and Patmore’s fine with that.

Mary, Anna, and Rosamond head upstairs, where Mary opens Hepworth’s bedroom door and shows her aunt Hepworth and Shaw in a very compromising position. He tries the “it’s not what it looks like!” excuse, but Rosamond’s no idiot. She suggests he marry Shaw instead, because she can make up for her lack of social standing with her resourcefulness. They slam the door and Rosamond takes a minute to pull herself together. Mary thinks this was a lucky escape for her, and Rosamond agrees; she just hates it when her mother’s proved right. Heh.

Downstairs, the party continues. Anna pulls Robert aside for a quick word and asks if she might withdraw her resignation. He’s only too happy to oblige her. Elsewhere, Matthew steams up to Mary and asks her to dance. As they waltz, he asks how her plans for America are going and how long she plans to be gone. She says she’s not sure.

Robert finds Cora in the library later and tells her they should be safe to go to bed now. The others have all gone, except for Mary and Matthew, who are still dancing. She suggests they not interfere with that. Robert pours a quick drink and Cora tells him she’s written to Sybil and sends her Robert’s love. She says she won’t be kept away from her first grandchild and Robert says he’s done his duty by not standing in Sybil’s way when she got married. Cora reminds him that he wouldn’t go to the wedding. Unless I missed a line somewhere, Cora, neither did you. She admits this isn’t what she wanted for Sybil, but it’s the way things are, and now she wants Sybil to come home, with her husband. Robert seems to be coming around to the idea, just a little.

Downstairs, O’Brien finds Daisy sitting beside the Ouija board. Daisy says she was just thinking about William, and for the first time in a while, she looks happy when she says it. Anna comes in and sends O’Brien to tend to Cora. Daisy says she’s glad Bates will be OK, and she and Anna start playing with the Ouija board, which spells out “May they be happy, with my love.” Hi, Lavinia!

Mary’s standing outside, in the lovely, picturesque snow wearing an awesome dress that I love. Matthew joins her, observing that the party was fun, though it’s sure to lead to a few hangovers. He asks her if Carlisle will really make her life so terrible if she stays. She’s not sure, but she knows the story will always be out there. He asks if she’ll stay, if he asks her. She says they’ve got a lot of baggage between them, and anyway, she worries that Pamouk will come up every time they argue. He promises he won’t, and she turns to face him, asking if he’s forgiven her. He says he hasn’t, because she hasn’t done anything he needs to forgive. She’s done things in her life, just as he has, and now it’s time to bring their lives together. She reminds him that they’ve danced on this particular knife’s edge too many times to keep playing around. He says he’s not playing now. She insists that she won’t answer unless he kneels down and does the thing properly, so he does, as she smiles happily, and it’s really quite sweet, and this time, unlike the first time, I actually buy it. And Mary actually says yes without making him hang around for months and months. And they kiss in the snow, and it’s beautiful, and I’m left with the warm fuzzies. Just a few more months to season 3, and an even shorter time to Julian Fellowes’s next project, the Titanic miniseries.

Hope everyone’s having a happy holiday!

7 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: A Very Downton Christmas

  1. Julian Fellowes’ portrayal of Sir Richard Carlise really turned my stomach. Why is this man so inept in portraying working-class or self-made characters with any complexity? Where is Robert Altman when he needs the guy? Oh yes. I forgot that Mr. Altman is dead. Poor Iain Glen. His talents were really wasted in this role.

  2. I’ve been reading your Downton recaps for a while now and they always make me laugh. Thanks for this one!

    I’m so happy they made this Xmas special – it totally made up for what I thought was a boring series 2.

  3. This was a BAD episode. I felt embarrassed just watching it. Mary and Matthew’s relationship has been reduced to something from a bad Barbara Cartland novel . . . and I include that cheesy marriage proposal at the end. Poor Thomas is stuck being a servant. And he does have my sympathies. Yes, he can be an unpleasant person, but I got the feeling that Fellowes punished him for wanting something better in life . . . without seeking help from the Crawleys. Robert continues to be an asshole regarding Sybil and Branson. Mary continues to make subtle catty comments about the U.S. and her mother’s ancestry. Can someone please explain how Sir Anthony Strallan managed to lose the use of his arm in combat, yet Robert wasn’t even able to leave Britain, let alone serve in combat? At least Robert had combat experience. The storyline regarding Daisy nearly made me puke. She spent a good deal of the season being bullied by Mrs. Patmore into becoming involved with William against her will, and we’re supposed to believe that Mrs. Patmore was right to bully her, because Daisy found a new parental figure in William’s dad? Really? The whole storyline about Lady Rosamund, her maid and Lord Hepworth was a waste of my time. Sir Richard Carlisle was so ridiculously one-dimensional in his villainy that I found myself feeling very sorry for Iain Glen for being stuck in such a role.

    The only story line that did not leave me tearing my hair in frustration was Bates’ murder trial.

  4. I loved Matthews proposal, especially the way Mary asked him to do it ‘properly’, I thought it was brilliantly in character and really romantic (they need to work on the fake snow though!)

    Thanks for a really funny recap!

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