Downton Abbey: Leaving the Nest

Blogger’s Note: These recaps are for the hour-long episodes that aired on ITV back in the fall. After the way PBS hacked up series 1, I thought it might be better to recap the unadulterated versions. Episode one from PBS is covered in this and the following recap, and so forth.

We are back, folks! And how lovely was it that the very night Downton series 2 debuted in the UK series 1 cleaned up at the Emmys? The Americans may have fought a war to sever themselves from the crown, but we still love our British prestige pieces, don’t we? And rightly so—Downton was the best thing nominated in its categories, in my opinion. So, how does series 2 stack up to its predecessor? Let’s see.

We start right off in ‘shit got real’ land with a jarring explosion and the camera zooming in on a filthy soldier lying face down in a trench. This is the Somme in 1916, which is really not where you wanted to be just then, and the soldier turns his face to the camera so we can see it’s Matthew Crawley. He spots a wounded soldier beside him and shoulders the man, carrying him through a hellish warscape of whistling bombs and flying bodies to another trench, where he hands the wounded man off and fires off some orders to a waiting sergeant. He goes to his underground bunker area, where he finds an official notice that he’s getting a few days’ leave. He tells the sergeant—who also appears to be his batman—he plans to hit London, then head north for a little while. He adds that there’s a girl he wants to see. Hmm. The sergeant comments that it’s strange to think of their lives just going on, while this crazy war’s being fought. Matthew agrees that when he thinks of his life at Downton it seems like another world. I’ll bet it does.

Ahh, here’s the credit sequence we’ve come to know and love. In the peace of Downton, Anna’s showing the new maid around while workmen erect a stage in the entry hall. Anna tells the girl she’ll go over things more thoroughly with her the next day, when things are back to normal. The new girl—Ethel—snits that she knows how to run a house. Oh, she’s going to be a joy.

William’s helping Robert dress in his uniform, and not doing such a bang-up job of it. Robert corrects the placement of something (sorry, uniforms aren’t my strong suit) and William says if he’d known Robert was going to be in uniform a lot, he’d have asked Bates how to do it properly before he left. There’s some history and exposition dropped as we learn that Robert is now Lord Lieutenant, which makes him responsible for the army while it’s in the county, but doesn’t actually mean he himself is back in the army. He’s clearly not happy about this.

In the kitchen courtyard, O’Brien smokes bitchily while workmen cart in chairs for a concert that evening.

Inside, Robert’s lab races down the stairs ahead of its master, barking like mad. That dog still needs a name, show. Robert finds Carson overseeing the workmen in the hall and asks if he knows when Bates is coming back. Soon—apparently he had to leave for a bit because his mother died.

Robert joins Cora and Sybil for breakfast, where he receives a letter inviting him to be colonel of the North Riding Volunteers, which tickles him pink, because he thinks this is his chance to really contribute something to the war. Sybil, meanwhile, has received a letter that clearly has bad news in it. She blanches and looks completely devastated reading it, while her parents obliviously chatter on about Robert’s new appointment (Cora seems worried he might actually be sent to France, and I don’t blame her, while Robert hopes he gets to go over there and do something). Robert finally notices there’s something wrong with Sybil and asks her if she’s ok. She gets up and hurries out of the room while Cora observes that she’s had more bad news. Thanks, Lady Obvious. Also, way to go try and comfort your daughter, Cora. You went running after Mary when she threw a temper tantrum in series one but you can’t be bothered to get off your ass to comfort Sybil when she’s clearly just had terrible news? No wonder these kids turned out the way they did.

Hee! Branson’s teaching Edith to drive! She’s doing pretty poorly with the clutch (boy, do I feel her pain. I remember trying to learn to drive manual. Sucks.) but she’s getting a little better. I’m actually surprised to see Branson still around. I thought he would have joined up by now. Edith mentions the impending draft, and Branson says he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it. Which I imagine he will, since he was prime age and the Military Service Act 1916 was passed that March. Shouldn’t be long now before he finds himself in uniform.

Back at the house, William’s hanging around the kitchen, complaining that his dad still won’t let him enlist. Mrs. Patmore reminds him that his dad has nobody else in the world, and frankly, she doesn’t want to see him marching off to war either. Neither does Daisy, and it’s worth noting that Daisy’s moving around the kitchen much more confidently than she ever did in series 1. Girl’s growing up. William hates sitting around while all the lads on the farms march off. He reminds them that even Thomas went off with the medical corps and Mrs. Patmore snorts that that’ll come as a nasty shock. Heh. I’ll say.

Topside, Isobel thanks Robert and Cora for agreeing to hold the concert at Downton. Violet comes in and says having it there means they can charge a lot more for tickets (it’s a hospital fundraiser). She also announces that she’s come to help with the flowers, since Cora’s arrangements look like arrangements for a first communion in southern Italy. Come again? What the hell is that supposed to mean? They’re not even white. Oh, whatever.

Ethel and Anna are straightening up the library, and Ethel’s not at all stinting in throwing her attitude around. Mrs. Hughes comes in and nicely asks Ethel how she’s doing. Ethel complains about Anna constantly trying to show her how to do the job and Mrs. Hughes points out that Ethel has experience, but it was in a much smaller house. Anna proves she’s still one of the kindest people on the show by trying to have a friendly chat with Ethel, but then Violet comes in and asks for Anna to help her disassemble a floral arrangement she hates.

Belowstairs, Carson’s scurrying around polishing silver and trying to get things ready for dinner. Hughes comes in and tells him he can’t run himself ragged, and that there’s a war on, so people will understand if standards slip just a little. Come on, Mrs. Hughes, you know him better than this. Carson, of course, thinks there’s no excuse for standards slipping and tells her that keeping those standards up will be the best way to show the Germans they can’t beat the British in the end. Well, that and overwhelming fire- and manpower.

Isobel, Cora, and Robert gather in the library for a chat, while Violet listens in from her spot by that arrangement. Isobel tells the Crawleys that Matthew’s coming up for a visit in a few days, and he’s bringing a fiancée with him. Well, now! Well done, Matthew! And suck it, Mary! Everyone’s a bit sad to hear that Matthew’s been taken off the market, but that’s life, and they know it, so they’re pleased to have him visit. Well, Robert is. Cora frets that Mary’s coming back the very day Matthew’s due to arrive, which could be awkward. Well, it’s Mary’s own damn fault they didn’t get married, so she just needs to deal with it, Cora. It’s about time she realized her actions have real consequences. Isobel quickly reassures them that Matthew and his fiancée, Lavinia, will be driving down, so they won’t meet up with Mary on the train. Violet’s happy to hear it, because she hates it when all the drama happens offstage, Greek tragedy style. Yeah, she likes to have a front-row seat, and we all know it.

Sybil arrives back at the house after a walk on the grounds, I suppose, and runs into Isobel in the entryway. Isobel notices that something’s upsetting her and asks her what’s up. Sybil tells her that some young man she knew has been killed, and it seems like every young man she’s ever danced with is dead now. She’s not far off. Apparently Lady Diana Manners married the man she did because he was basically the only one of her friends left alive at the end of the war. Sybil says she feels useless, just kicking around Downton while these young men are out risking their lives. Isobel tells her she could go train as a nurse at a course in York. She warns Sybil that it’ll be tough for her, seeing as how she’s never made her own bed or tea or anything, but this is Sybil we’re talking about, so of course she’s game. O’Brien, naturally, is hovering in a nearby room, listening in, and Isobel notices her and snappishly asks what she wants. O’Brien delivers a quick message and Isobel sends her away before suggesting Sybil ask Mrs. Patmore for some cooking tips before going to York.

O’Brien goes right to Cora and tells her that Isobel wants to use Sybil as some kind of skivvy at the hospital. Oh, Jesus, why does anybody even listen to this woman anymore? And what a preposterous thing to believe, as if Isobel would really recruit someone like Sybil to be a maid-of-all-work. O’Brien paints a grim picture for Cora of her daughter slaving away and being exposed to all sorts of horrors at the hospital, like disfigured men and rough women. Cora looks horrified.

Mrs. Patmore goes into the servants’ sitting room to ask Daisy about the butter for some Crepes Suzette she’s making. Ethel, who’s clearly clueless, says she’s always wanted to try those, and could Mrs. Patmore save her some? Yeah, right. Just what kind of a household did she work in before this one? Even Branson gives her a “get a load of this one” look. Ethel asks what the servants will be eating and hears it’s lamb stew. Sign me up! She’s not pleased with that and asks if they eat a lot of stews. Mrs. Patmore’s not willing to put up with Ethel’s crap and sarcastically asks if that doesn’t suit her. Nope, Ethel responds. What a little bitch. She also complains about having to share a room. With Anna. Who’s sitting right next to her. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but she’s so awful I’m starting to wish O’Brien would speak up more in this scene. I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I miss Thomas, but I fear it’s only a matter of time.

Speaking of O’Brien, she observes that Ethel’s got quite an attitude, especially considering it’s her first day on the job. Ethel just shrugs and says she wants the best and she isn’t afraid to admit it. Maybe dial it down a little, sweetie. You’re not coming across as someone who wants the best, you’re coming across as an ungrateful, obnoxious brat. You won’t be making any friends this way. Ethel continues to dig her own grave by saying she figures it’s tough to change at O’Brien’s age, and she wants to be more than just a servant. See, Gwen said much the same thing last season, but somehow it came across as less snotty. I miss Gwen. Wonder what she’s up to?

Violet, Isobel, and Cora are in the carriage galloping through town and debating the notion of Sybil becoming a nurse. Cora clearly still thinks of Sybil as her baby, while both Violet and Isobel think Sybil should be allowed to do her part, if that’s what she wants. I can’t believe these two are actually agreeing on something. Violet reminds Cora that nursing’s perfectly respectable, since even royalty’s pitching in. Cora sulks a bit as they pull up at Crawley House, where Molesley helps Isobel out of the carriage. Cora asks him if he’ll serve if called up, but he informs her he won’t be called at all. He’s had a letter from the war office informing him he’s not fit for service. He doesn’t look too broken up about it either.

A train pulls into Downton station and Bates steps out of a third class carriage. Yay! How I’ve missed Bates. As he heads down the platform, he passes the first class carriage Mary’s climbing out of. Eh, I didn’t miss her. She greets him nicely and offers him a ride home.

The two of them arrive at Downton and are met by Anna, who smiles sweetly at Bates and asks him why he didn’t send word he was coming home. He tells her he didn’t know until that day. He makes his way toward the servants’ entrance as Mary sails in through the front door, telling Anna she borrowed a case from her aunt, because she bought a few things in London. So, let’s sum up: Sybil’s getting ready to train as a nurse, Edith’s learning to drive so they can do without the chauffeur when he gets called up, and Mary’s shopping. I guess the war hasn’t changed everything, has it? Mary’s still kind of a worthless human being.

Sybil’s down in the kitchen, asking Mrs. Patmore for some basic lessons. She doesn’t even know how to make tea, which the kitchen maids think is hilarious. Sybil agrees that it’s absurd how little she can do, which is why she wants the lessons. Mrs. Patmore agrees to teach her and sends her to fill the kettle. Sybil thinks she can at least do that properly, but she somehow manages to spray water all over the place. Oh, dear. She’s got a rather long road ahead of her.

That evening, Bates catches Anna in the servants’ sitting room and asks when he can talk to her. She tells him they can meet up in the courtyard after dinner. They scoot out and William and Daisy come in. She asks him if he’s going to the concert and he says he might, and would she sit with him? Awww. Daisy tells him she’s got dinner to make, so she doesn’t have time for concerts. William says he had a letter from his father that sounds like an extended guilt trip designed to keep him from enlisting. Daisy doesn’t seem so keen on seeing William march off to war and says that his dad loves him. William knows that but thinks his dad isn’t being fair.

The ladies are lounging around Mary’s room while she gets dressed for the evening and complains about the horrid concert, because she’s Mary and she always needs to be bitching about something. Edith breaks the news that Matthew’s going to be swinging by, and oh, by the way, he’s bringing his fiancée with him. After the crap Mary pulled on Strallen, I can’t blame Edith for crowing a bit over this news. Mary covers, as she is wont to do, and says she’s perfectly happy to hear this news of Matthew’s. She adds that she’s got a suitor of her own: Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper baron. She wants them all to meet him, and she whines a bit about her father shutting down their shooting. Cora gently reminds her that most people think it’s a bit tacky to go shooting things for sport when there’s a war on, but she’ll invite this guy for a visit. The ladies clear out, leaving Mary alone with Anna. Once it’s just the two of them, Mary starts to cry. Whatever. It’s still her fault they broke up, so I don’t feel bad for her at all.

The crowd is gathering for the concert, and in come Isobel, Matthew, and Lavinia, who looks a bit nervous. She observes that the place is quite grand and Matthew tells her it’ll be their home someday. This is clearly not the type of house she’s used to being in.

The Crawley girls check Lavinia out and Violet makes an unwarranted crack about Lavinia’s looks, although I think she’s rather pretty. She kind of reminds me of Jennifer Ehle. For those of you interested in this sort of trivia, the actress who plays Lavinia is flatmates with the actress who plays Daisy. Cora says she thinks Lavinia’s sweet. Robert, bless him, wastes no time hurrying over to Matthew and introducing himself to Lavinia. Mary stands up and catches Matthew’s eye, so he and Lavinia make their way over to her next. Mary greets Lavinia nicely, and chats with her a bit, pretending not to notice Lavinia’s nervousness. Someone shows Lavinia to a seat and Mary and Matthew have a second together to decide to let bygones be bygones and be friends again.

The concert, which features a string sextet, begins while belowstairs Carson gets to work decanting the wine for dinner. Mrs. Hughes comes in for a chat and notices that he doesn’t seem too excited to have Matthew back. Carson sniffs that Matthew broke Mary’s heart, and Hughes counters that Mary broke her own damn heart. Thank you! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that. Carson gets all snotty about Lavinia, noting that she’s not to be found in Burke’s Peerage or Burke’s Landed Gentry, which of course means she’ll be some awful, gauche creature.

At the concert, two young ladies get up and start walking around, handing out white feathers to the men in the audience not wearing uniforms, including poor William. Ladies, come on. Don’t be assholes. For all you know there’s a perfectly good reason these men aren’t off at the front. Not that they care. Robert notices what they’re doing and gives them a piece of his mind, calling the ladies cowards and throwing them out of his house. William fingers his feather sadly. As the girls pass Branson in the hall, they hand him a feather, which he takes with a smirk and the observation that he’s in uniform (the chauffeur’s uniform). “Wrong kind,” one of them spits. He clearly doesn’t care.

At dinner, the family talks about how horrible the white feather ladies are, before Isobel turns her attention to Sybil and tells her there’s a vacancy up in York and she can go on Friday. Cora’s not pleased to hear this and glares Isobel down.

Anna and Bates are having their chat, and what it boils down to is this: Bates’s AWOL wife, Vera, suddenly showed up at his mother’s house right after the old lady died. I’ll bet she did. The upside is, now that he knows where the hell she is and he has money to pay her off, Bates thinks he can get his divorce. “Is this a proposal?” Anna sputters. Yes, yes it is. Bates even talked to Robert, who said the two of them could have a cottage on the estate and keep their jobs. Wow, that’s a really generous deal. She’s a bit annoyed that he talked to Robert before talking to her, but she can’t be too mad, because she’s so happy, and they kiss at last. YES! Even my husband cheered.

Back up at dinner, Robert asks Lavinia how she and Matthew met and Lavinia tells him her father’s a solicitor, just like Matthew. Violet observes that Lavinia’s in a good position if she’s ever in trouble with the law, and Lavinia looks a bit confused by the underhanded comment. Didn’t Isobel warn this poor girl about Violet before sending her right into the lion’s den? Robert tells Matthew he’s been given a colonelcy, so he’s back in the army officially now. Matthew congratulates him, then turns to Mary and says he hopes Robert won’t end up being sent to the front. She asks him seriously what it was like in France, and after a long pause he tells her he really can’t talk about it. She nods and they change the subject to their mutual past and whether they’re both happy now. He seems happy with Lavinia, and Mary thinks she’s about to be happy with this press baron, so I guess that’s a yes.

Downstairs, Gwen’s reading a Photoplay article about Mabel Normand, who went from being a cab driver’s daughter to an actress. And then had her career bottom out after numerous scandals before she died of TB age 37. But that’s all in the future. Things seemed bright for her in 1916.

O’Brien comes in and tells Ethel that Cora wants to see her in the drawing room. Ethel thinks she’s in trouble, but O’Brien reassures her Cora wants to tell her how awesome she thinks she is. Ethel, like a chump, buys it hook, line, and sinker and runs upstairs. The other servants burst into laughter once she’s gone.

The family and guests are all gathered in the drawing room after dinner when Ethel bursts in, apologizing for keeping Cora waiting. Cora doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and Carson’s so horrified he looks like he’d rather be eating glass than dealing with this. Ethel obliviously goes on to say what a privilege it is to work at Downton. Carson asks what she’s doing and Ethel tells him (and the others in the room) that O’Brien sent her. Carson sends her belowstairs and the others titter when she’s gone.

Mary’s showing Matthew to the door, where Lavinia’s waiting beside Carson, who’s literally looking down on her. Matthew says it’ll be ages before he inherits the title, so Lavinia will be a lawyer’s wife longer than she’ll be a countess. That is, if he doesn’t get himself killed. Mary’s sure he’ll come through just fine and asks how much longer he’ll be staying. He tells her he leaves in a day.

The following day, someone’s apparently filled Ethel in on the fact she was the butt of a joke, and she grumbles to the other servants that she doesn’t see why they thought it was funny, especially since most of them weren’t even there to see it. O’Brien says their imaginations sufficed and Carson tells her to button it before asking Mrs. Patmore what Sybil was doing down in the kitchen. Daisy and Patmore tell him about Sybil’s plans to actually be useful, and Carson asks if Cora knows about this. Daisy tells him it’s supposed to be a surprise. Hughes speaks up for Sybil and urges him not to give Sybil away. Ethel says it might do Sybil some good to learn how to scrub, because times, they are a’changing for the upper class and for the servants, and when things do change, Ethel means to make the most of it. Mrs. Patmore snorts, so Ethel pissily asks what happened to the leftover crepes from the night before. Patmore tells her the guests ate them all and heads back to her kitchen, where she gives the leftover crepes to the dog. Heh.

The doctor’s meeting with Isobel and reporting that they’re going to have to take 100 wounded men, which is three times the number the hospital was built for. She tells him they’ll just have to convert one of the convalescent rooms. The doctor’s not happy to hear they’re going to have to kick the convalescents out as soon as they can walk, but there’s no other remedy. As they talk, Molesley comes in and removes a tea-tray, and the doctor asks if he should be doing that, what with his lung condition and all. Isobel knows of no such condition, because it doesn’t exist outside Violet’s head. Seems Violet’s been playing fairy draft-dodger to some of the people who work for the family. She told the doctor Molesley has lung problems and William has some sort of a rash, and the doctor believed her without even bothering to examine these men or ask them what the deal was, and he wrote to the war office to tell them they were unfit for service. You’ve got to be kidding me. Would he really do that? Seems like he’d be taking a serious gamble with his reputation. Also, isn’t Clarkson the only doctor in town? Wouldn’t he know if these men had some sort of problem big enough to get them invalided out of the service?

Sybil’s having a cooking lesson, and it’s not going well. She’s mucked up the porridge or whatever it is she’s trying to make. Daisy suggests they chuck it and start over.

Anna and Bates are unwisely discussing the future in the servants’ sitting room, which is unusually abandoned. They talk about keeping his mother’s house and renting it out for some extra income, and saving up to buy a little hotel, for when they start a family. Yes, running a hotel and raising infants go remarkably well together, I hear. Anna’s so happy about these ideas she’s actually crying. Of course, Ethel has to come in right then and purposely bust up the moment, flipping magazine pages with all the attitude she can muster. What’s her problem?

Matthew arrives at the train station early in the morning and is surprised to see Mary there waiting for him. She hands him some little stuffed animal that she tells him is her lucky charm, making him promise to look after it and bring it back without a scratch. He pockets it and promises not to try to be a hero. She asks him if he enjoyed his time at home, and he responds that he showed Lavinia some of the place he likes and gave her a few memories. Wow, that’s ominous. And by the way, where is Lavinia? Seems like she would have wanted to be there to see him off. And if she had accompanied him, wouldn’t it have been awkward when they found Mary there? “Oh, hello, woman my fiancé almost married. What brings you here at the crack of dawn?”

Matthew says his goodbyes, telling Mary that, if he doesn’t come back, he’s glad they made up before he left. He also asks her to look after his mother and Lavinia, if anything should happen. She promises to do so, kisses him on the cheek, and wishes him well before he steps onto the train and it pulls out of the station. She watches it go, bravely, but tears up once it’s gone.

Belowstairs, Ethel’s having a chat with a woman whose face we don’t get to see yet, who sounds like she’s digging up the old rumor about Mary and Pamouk, which I think probably would have died out by now. I mean, come on. There’s a war on, and that was at least three years ago. Who would care? Anna interrupts them, drags Ethel away, and scolds her for gossiping about the family with a stranger. Ethel tells her it isn’t a stranger, the woman is Mr. Bates’s wife. Oh great. Anna looks like she’s been slapped.

Nonetheless, she returns to the servants’ sitting room, where Vera (who’s being played by Maria Doyle Kennedy) recognizes her instantly as the girl who called on her late mother-in-law a couple of years back. Who told her that? The mother-in-law? Why? Bates comes in just then, followed by Mrs. Hughes, who invites him to take Vera into her private sitting room for a talk. Bates thanks her, and Vera says everyone’s been so kind she can see why “her Batesey” has gotten so spoiled. Ick. Batesy? This woman is dreadful. And is it me, or is there something really weird about her accent? It’s like she’s trying for an American accent but slips back into Irish every now and then. What’s up with that?

Cora’s enjoying an afternoon of embroidery when Carson comes in to act like a giant spoilsport and tattletale. He spills the beans about Sybil’s belowstairs lessons, and forgive me, but I don’t see what’s so up his ass about this. Everyone knows she plans to go off and train as a nurse, so why shouldn’t she know how to boil oatmeal before she goes? Is he really holding everyone to Mary’s utterly useless standard?

Sybil’s apparently come along so well she’s currently working on a cake, which she wants to serve her mother as a surprise. Under Patmore’s and Daisy’s watchful eyes, she pulls it out of the oven, watched by Branson and, unbeknownst to any of them, her mother and Carson, who still disapproves of this whole thing. Cora, however, is absolutely delighted and so proud of her daughter she tears up. Lots of tearing up this episode. She tells Carson she’s grateful to him (why?) and asks him not to give it away that she knows about the surprise cake.

In Mrs. Hughes’s sitting room, things are understandably tense. Vera pours tea like there’s nothing amiss and urges her husband to sit down. He spits that he doesn’t want to sit down, then calms down a bit and tells her he doesn’t blame her for the breakup of their marriage, but it’s over, and he’s happy to take the blame for it and fake adultery if that’s what it takes. She’s not prepared to let go, though, even though, from what I can tell, they’ve been living apart for at least four years at this time, probably longer, and it seemed like she was the one who took off. Now, divorce laws were pretty favorable to husbands at that time, and if he could prove abandonment (shouldn’t be hard, since she hasn’t attempted to live with him in at least four years), he should be able to divorce her whether she wants it or not.

I guess we’re pretending that’s not the case. Vera tells him she tried it on her own for a while, and she decided she didn’t like it. Especially now he has some money. He snorts that he’d never go along with what she wants, but she reminds him that he went to prison for her once. She’s also got some insurance in the form of blackmail: if he doesn’t take her back, she’ll go to the newspapers with the Mary/Pamouk story, which she heard while she was working for Robert’s cousin, Lady Flintshire. She knows that Anna was involved in the cover-up too, so she’s happy to drag her name through the mud as well. You know, I’ve never seen Maria Doyle Kennedy playing a bad guy before, and I have to say, she gives good creepy. This character’s making my skin crawl. Why do people keep messing around with Anna and Bates? Can’t someone on this show be happy?

The mention of Anna sends Bates over the edge, and he very nearly puts Vera through the nearest drywall. She invites him to do so, and then she’ll go have it photographed. For what? The divorce case you don’t intend to bring? The police weren’t so concerned with husbands knocking their wives around in those days, lady.

He releases her and sits down heavily in the chair across the table from her, defeated. He hollowly asks her what she wants and she starts firing off instructions. He’s to hand in his notice that very day and accompany her back to London, where they’ll live in his mother’s house until they can get themselves sorted. Hey, Bates? Here’s a thought: Tell her to go to hell. Who’s going to believe a story told by a nobody who heard it third-hand, which was based on a rumor that reared its head years ago and was denied even then? Everyone’s just going to shrug and say: eh, heard that. Isn’t there anything new? More than a million soldiers died during the Battle of the Somme, which as we know was being fought right at this time—who the hell is going to give a crap about some old rumor about a lord’s daughter nobody who’s anybody really cares about anymore? And then once you’ve told her to shove it, get your ass to a lawyer’s office and file a petition to divorce. I understand that, in Britain, you can divorce someone without consent if you’re been living apart for five years. If you haven’t reached that point now, you’re damn close.

Sadly, he does no such thing, and these arrangements are overheard by Mrs. Hughes, who’s hovering on the other end of an air vent.

Bates gives Robert his notice, and Robert is pissed. He yells and yells about how he stood up for Bates back when everyone wanted him to go. Bates stands and takes it, because what else is he going to do? Robert tells him he’s terribly disappointed in him, and that he’s never been so disappointed in any man in his life.

And from there, Bates goes to tell Anna. Jesus, what a crap day he’s having. Anna takes this as well as you’d expect, especially considering Bates is giving her very little real information. All he’s saying is he’s getting back together with Vera and that’s it. Anna knows there’s more to it, and she tearfully tells him she doesn’t care if he’s divorced or they’re married, she’ll go and live with him anyway. Damn, this girl’s determined. Come on, Bates, step up! Stop falling on your sword all the time! He tells her to forget him and be happy, and then leaves as she completely falls to pieces.

Inside, Daisy finds William brooding in the darkened servants’ sitting room. She chatters a bit about how she’s not scared of electricity anymore, but then gives that up and tells him she hates to see him so sad. He calls himself a dirty coward and she says she doesn’t think of him that way. He talks about enlisting some more, and she elects to cheer him up by kissing him. Awww. Yay! I want to see William happy, I like him! He leaps right from one kiss to asking Daisy to be his girlfriend. She doesn’t give a response that we see.

The front. Matthew’s back and getting a report from his batman. Before he goes up to see how things are, he grabs Mary’s little stuffed animal and pockets it.

Things are chaotic and horrible in the trenches. The battle drags on, there are explosions all around, and wounded men being attended by medics. One medic in particular draws Matthew’s eye, and he realizes it’s Thomas. With a hint of dark humor, Matthew tells Thomas he’ll never guess where Matthew’s just been.

Back at Downton, Bates and Vera take off while Anna watches from an upstairs window. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes is helping Sybil pack while Violet observes and Cora and Mary and Edith putter around. Violet asks where Anna is and Mrs. Hughes says she wasn’t feeling too well. Aww, that’s sweet of Mrs. Hughes. Edith pulls an evening dress out of the wardrobe and Sybil tells her she won’t need it. Edith says she should take something nice, in case she gets asked out to dinner or something, and Mary urges her to pack one nice dress, just in case. Edith sweetly says she’ll miss Sybil and offers to drive her. Violet shoots that idea down and wonders why Edith needs to be driving at all. Edith reminds her that they can’t expect to have an able-bodied man drive them around for much longer, and if Sybil can be a nurse, she can damn well be a chauffeur. Go Edith! I want her to be happy too. Violet excuses herself to go meet Isobel for tea. Before she goes, she wishes Sybil well and tells her it’s a brave thing she’s doing. She slips out, followed by Cora, who takes a minute to get a little sad about the first of her chicks leaving the nest. Edith notes that their mother always feels these things so keenly, and Mary puts it down to Cora’s American blood. Because I guess the English never feel anything.

Sybil gets loaded into the car and is waved off by her mother and sisters. As she pulls away, she looks a little scared and sad.

Isobel has apparently invited Violet for tea and an ambush: she’s got the doctor there and gets Violet to admit that she made up Molesley’s lung problems and William’s rash. Her excuse is that it would be a terrible thing for Molesley the elder or William’s father to lose their sons. True, but maybe not the right thing to say to a woman whose son is currently serving in France. Isobel says as much and says that every man at the front is a special case to someone, and this war is a big deal and everyone has to do their part. The doctor finally steps in to say he understands why Violet did what she did, but he has to write to the war office and correct his mistake. After he leaves, Isobel tells poor Molesley, who looks terrified, that she hopes he understands why she did what she did, and that it’ll be ok, because he won’t be called up right away. Not while there are so many younger men to be killed off first. Violet portentously says that they’ll get Molesley in the end, and when they do, he can blame Isobel. Amazingly, Molesley doesn’t go right out and start plunging his hands into every rue hedge he can find.

Carson bitches to Mrs. Hughes about the inconvenience of Bates leaving, which means Carson will have to be valet on top of everything else. He admits that he once thought Bates wouldn’t be up to the job, but now he can’t imagine Downton without him. He asks Hughes if she saw this coming, and she admits to having listened in on the conversation between Bates and Vera.

Sybil arrives at the hospital in York, where several wounded men are having physical therapy in the courtyard. Branson, who’s carrying her luggage, glances at them as he passes. I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind having a fake skin or lung ailment right now.

He and Sybil pause in a narrow corridor, where she says it’ll be hard for her to let him go, since he’s her last link to home. He tells her it’ll be harder for him, and she realizes what’s coming next and tries to cut him off. Branson won’t have it, and he quickly tells her that when the war is over, he’ll make something of himself (why wait?). She earnestly says she’s sure he will, which he takes as encouragement, so he urges her to throw her lot in with him, even if her family casts her off, and if she does that, he’ll devote every minute of the day to making her happy. Awww. Sybil tells him she’s terribly flattered, and his face crumbles a bit as he asks her not to say that, because “flattered” is a word posh people use when they’re about to rip your heart out and trample all over it. Hey, at least she didn’t string you along for months like a certain sister of hers I could mention. You kind of got off easy, Branson. Sybil clearly feels terrible about this, and there’s a long and awkward pause before Branson puts his hat back on and tells her he’ll be handing in his notice when he gets back to the house. She urges him not to do that, and he says he’ll have to, because they won’t let him stay once they hear what he’s just done. Branson, this is Sybil we’re talking about. You know your secret’s safe with her. And, indeed, she reassures him she won’t be sharing this story with anyone back at Downton.

There’s a jarring jump cut from the sweetness and intimacy of that scene to the hellish trenches, where Thomas is scurrying around, holding one end of a stretcher with a wounded man on it. A nearby explosion sends him and his fellow stretcher bearer tumbling to the side, at which point he realizes the man they’ve been carrying is dead. Fellow Stretcher Bearer decides to take a cigarette break right then and chuckles that he thought being in the medical corps would be safe. Joke’s on you two, then. Where exactly did you think the wounded men would be, way in the back, out of artillery reach? FSB hands the cigarette to Thomas and starts talking about how he feels like his survival thus far is all down to luck. Oh, this guy’s getting shot in the head in a second, isn’t he? Nobody talks like that in movies or on TV without getting killed almost immediately. Sure enough, he doesn’t even have time to light another cigarette before he drops dead at Thomas’s feet and Thomas commences freaking out.

Back in civilization, Robert’s attending some regimental dinner and telling one of his fellow officers how very, very happy he is to be back in the army proper, because it means he no longer feels like a fraud. Oh, poor Robert. He’s going to hit the ground hard, isn’t he?

Molesley catches up with the doctor at the hospital and asks him if he’s had a chance to write that letter yet. The doctor says he’s written it but not sent it, so Molesley tells him not to send it, because Violet was right all along, he’s having trouble with his lungs. He’s clearly lying, and the doctor knows it, but nonetheless he rather kindly agrees to change the letter so it doesn’t mention Molesley. Molesley thanks him gratefully, and as he goes to leave, the doctor says he hopes Molesley will find some way to help the war effort.

After dinner, Robert’s chatting with that fellow officer and asking him when the regiment will be heading to France. The officer realizes Robert thinks he’ll be going to France and tells him they have no intention of sending him to the front. The position’s just an honorary one, and they just wanted him around to keep spirits up. Robert tries not to look too crushed as the officer takes off to talk to someone else.

O’Brien helps Cora get ready for bed and talks a bit about the war and how much life has changed over the last two years. Meanwhile, Carson’s helping Robert get ready for bed too. Robert grouses about Bates leaving, and Carson lets him in on the real reason Bates left—to protect Robert’s family’s reputation. The only thing Carson won’t reveal is the nature of the story Vera was going to tell.

Later, Carson’s locking up when he finds Ethel on her hands and knees, scrubbing at an electric plug. He asks her what she’s doing and she says she’s checking the plugs for vapors, which she was told to do by O’Brien. Is Ethel a bit simpleminded? Why else would she believe anything O’Brien said to her after the last prank? Carson sends her to bed and tells her to ask him the next time O’Brien gives her an order.

Robert sadly climbs into bed, telling Cora he realizes he’s ungrateful, bad-tempered, and useless. He’s also apparently incapable of learning from the past, considering every single time something odd has happened involving Bates there was more to the story. And yet, he just assumed Bates would chuck the job out of nowhere, despite the fact that that’s totally out of character for him. Cora teases him gently, then brings up Sybil. Robert comments that the war’s reaching Downton and scattering them all, but he’s glad that Matthew came back to the fold, even for a little while. Cora’s glad that Sir Richard Carlisle distracted Mary at just the right time, and she mentions that Mary wants the guy to come visit. Robert notes the irony in his daughter wanting him to invite a man who peddles in scandal into their home.

Anna reaches her room and finds Ethel in there crying. Like Anna doesn’t have enough to deal with right now. But, of course, she pulls up a chair and asks Ethel what the problem is. Ethel sniffs that nobody cares, so Anna lets her in on a little secret about getting along with one’s co-workers: don’t be an asshole who talks about all the great things they’re going to do once they’re out of this job. Ethel doesn’t get it and thinks she’s just expressing her dreams. She then asks if Anna doesn’t have dreams, and Anna says she does, but they’re not going to come true. Awww, poor Anna!

Mary’s kneeling beside her bed when Edith comes in, looking for a book. Edith guesses that Mary was praying and asks what she was praying for, but Mary tells her to get lost. Surprisingly, Edith does, and once she’s gone, Mary pulls a photograph of Matthew out from under the bedclothes and prays for God to keep him safe.

The object of her prayers is wandering the trenches at night. It’s quiet, which is a welcome change. He comes across Thomas, who’s sitting down to a bit of tea, which he offers to share with Matthew. The two men drink up and talk about home. Thomas is up on all the news, thanks to O’Brien, who sends regular letters. Thomas wonders if he might be able to get transferred back to the hospital near Downton. Not terribly likely. He’d have to be sent home, for one, and once there, he’d have to pull a few strings.

Once their little interlude is over, Matthew takes off and Thomas takes a few moments to steel himself before he finds a fairly quiet corner of the trenches. He leans against the wall for support, shakily takes out a cigarette, flicks his lighter, then holds the light over the edge of the trench, shaking and crying, until a shot rings out and he gets himself a nice hole in his hand a ticket home. Damn. I didn’t see that one coming.

6 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: Leaving the Nest

  1. Much thanks for this expertly detailed yet emotially nuanced episode summary. You made me laugh and you made me tear up. Absolutely cannot wait for the episodes to be available in the States.

  2. Nice sum up. Yes, Bates should be able to sue if it only takes five years. Judging from last series he went to prison for Vera for two years – that was also, aparently when she took off – and then when Anna goes to look up Bates’ record with the army she says that he had left around eight years ago. Total that up it means like ten years! Even concurrently that would be six and more than enough. Oy! Anna is the sweetest and more selfless character but even though I really desire her and Bates together after all of this I think he is going to have to turn the tables and pursue her like mad to patch things up.

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