Downton Abbey: Many Unhappy Returns

Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew and William disappeared for a little while, but then came back, as did Bates, once again spouting promises of divorce from Vera the Terrible. Isobel left too, in a childish snit, to take up a position in France.

Amiens in 1918 looks like a barren, postapocalyptic wasteland. In the trenches, William helps Matthew get ready for the big push. Matthew’s nervous, and William’s sweetly trying to put a brave face on the whole thing. The other men are undergoing their own pre-battle preparations: smoking last-minute cigarettes, checking their weapons, etc. Matthew gives them a brief but reasonably rousing speech, then checks his watch, orders them all to fix bayonets, and over the top they go.

As soon as they show themselves, all hell breaks loose. Guns fire, artillery explodes, men scream and die. As William charges, back in Downton’s kitchen, Daisy suddenly starts. Mrs. Patmore asks her what’s wrong and Daisy ominously says that someone just walked over her grave. At the battle, the Germans fire away at the approaching Allies, devastating them with machine guns. One man falls, screaming in agony. Still, the push goes on, Matthew urging his men forward. In the Downton library, Mary suddenly flinches and drops her teacup. Violet asks if she’s ok and Mary says she just felt terribly cold. William and Matthew find a moment of respite in a shell crater, but when they go to climb out, there’s a blast nearby that throws them both back. They lie either dead or unconscious, William piled on top of Matthew, looking like a pair of sad, broken dolls.

It’s late at night at Downton. O’Brien steals into Cora and Robert’s room and rouses them, saying they should go downstairs.

Molesley’s come, bringing the telegram bearing word that Matthew’s been badly injured. Cora and the girls are with Robert as he opens it and says Matthew must be brought to Downton’s hospital. Cora frets about contacting Isobel, who’s off in France and nobody can seem to remember where. Mary looks completely wrecked as plans are thrown about around her. Carson comes in and asks what the news is. Robert goes and addresses the staff, telling them that Matthew’s been wounded. Daisy asks about William, and Bates volunteers that William’s father would have had a telegram if there’s news. Edith immediately offers to drive over to his farm in the morning. Everyone troops off to bed, and Mary takes a moment to ask her father to tell her any news he hears, good or bad.

The following day, Anna finds Bates out in the courtyard and tells him the latest news: William’s been sent to a hospital in Leeds, and he’s in really bad shape. Anna asks him to walk her to the church that afternoon so she can say a prayer for both Matthew and William.

Edith and Violet, meanwhile, are having a sit-down with Clarkson, asking that William be brought to Downton too. Clarkson reminds them that they only cater to a select clientele: officers. Violet, apparently forgetting that she was against the idea of mixing officers and enlisted men just a couple of episodes ago, argues in favor of bringing William home so he can recuperate—or not, whatever the case may be—in familiar surroundings. Clarkson remains firm. William will have no space at the hospital, even though having to travel all the way to Leeds is a significant hardship on William’s widowed father. Edith volunteers to nurse him herself so it won’t add to the workload, but Clarkson feels if he does a favor for one guy from the village, he’ll have to do something for all of them. Really, Clarkson? Are you so snowed under with requests from villagers that you care for their wounded? Is this such a significant problem in this little tiny village?

Violet’s not about to give up, and she’s definitely not a fan of Clarkson anymore. As she and Edith leave the hospital, she sniffs that this always happens when you give “these little people” a bit of power.

Up at the house, Thomas actually expresses some regret that Matthew’s in a bad way. O’Brien adds that it’s sad William’s been hurt too, because he was a good kid. She sighs that it was probably a poor idea to write to Bates’s wife and tell her Bates was back at Downton, because now she’s sure the woman will show up and make trouble. Well, yeah, O’Brien, wasn’t that your intention? Why else would you tell her where Bates was?

Daisy comes in and tells the others the doctor won’t let William come to the village hospital. O’Brien thinks that sucks, and surprisingly, so does Thomas, who resents that the lower classes are always getting the short end of the stick.

Upstairs, Mary’s packing up a few things and explaining to her father that she’s going to go to the hospital so she can be there when Matthew arrives. She thinks it’ll be a good idea for him to have a familiar face nearby. Robert tells her Cora’s written to Lavinia, and as hard as it is for her, Mary says the right things, saying it was good to do that, and that Lavinia should stay at Downton, instead of being alone at Isobel’s. Robert looks a little heartbroken for her, but he says nothing.

Bates and Anna wander into the church and he comments that he wishes they could have a church wedding. Whether they do or not, it shouldn’t be long before they can be married. He’s only sorry Vera’s taken so much. Anna doesn’t care what she’s taken, as long as she goes away in the end. They reach the altar and Anna says she should feel bad for being happy when others are so sad, but it does make her more grateful for what she has. They kneel together, clasp hands for a moment, and start to pray.

In the kitchens, Patmore reassures Daisy Violet will figure something out to bring William home. Daisy says she’s not that worried, she’s just sad William’s been hurt. Patmore comments that she must be glad she let him have his little fantasy of being loved before he went away, but Daisy is ashamed, because she lied and misled him. As she starts to cry, Vera comes wandering in and, unsurprisingly, gets a hostile welcome from Patmore. Folks, you do know that Downton’s private property and you can have her removed and banned from the place, right?

Violet’s shouting down the telephone, trying to track down her nephew, the Marquess of Flintshire. As soon as she gets him on the phone and exchanges a few pleasantries, she asks him who they might know on the board of the Leeds hospital.

Bates and Anna are meeting with Vera, who’s spitting that nothing’s settled, and she sure as hell didn’t give her permission for Bates to return to Downton and take up with Anna again. Well, Vera, here’s the thing: he doesn’t need your permission. And I’m betting you didn’t ask permission to go screwing other men either, so get off your high horse, why don’t you? Vera says she’s going to sell her story anyway, even though Bates gave her everything she wanted. He realizes that she’s just pissed because he’s actually happy, and she sniffs that might be true, but he won’t be happy long. What a delightful creature.

Sybil goes down to the garage and asks Branson to drive her to the hospital. She wants to be there when Matthew arrives. He bluntly asks her if Mary’s still in love with him and she won’t say, and not because he’s a servant, as he guessed, but because Mary’s her sister and it’s nobody else’s business. Branson observes that she’s good at hiding her feelings, like other aristocrats. He thinks they’re much better at it than the common folk, who like to keep it real. She informs him that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any feelings. You know, Branson, setting up a big “us vs. them” dispute between aristocrats and working folk is not the way to win over an aristocratic lady. Mostly it just makes you seem like a classist douche.

In Leeds, William’s father’s sitting at his son’s bedside while Violet meets with the doctor. All her string pulling has borne fruit—there’s an ambulance waiting to take William to Downton. Unfortunately, he’ll be going there to die. He had significant internal injuries, specifically to his lungs. So, let’s get this straight: Thomas got himself injured and wound up going back to Downton and running things while dear, sweet William gets a slow, horrible death. There really isn’t much justice in the world, is there?

William’s father approaches and Violet puts on a brave face for the man, who thinks William will improve as soon as he’s back in familiar surroundings. Violet agrees, and when he moves away, she tells the doctor it’s probably best to let this particular blow fall by degrees, to give Mr. Mason time to face it.

Clarkson enters the main ward to tell Mary and Sybil that Matthew’s arrived. Mary tells him she plans to stay, and Clarkson tries to talk her out of it, telling her Matthew’s condition may be distressing. She stands her ground, however, so Clarkson lets her stay. Sybil directs her to a spot where she’ll be out of the way, and then Matthew is carried in on a stretcher. He looks terrible, like he’s about to go to a Halloween party dressed as a zombie. He’s deathly pale and has cuts all over his face. Mary helps move him onto the bed and the orderly tells the girls he hasn’t been conscious since they had him, probably because he’s pumped full of morphine. There’s a tag attached to his pajamas that says Matthew may have spinal damage. Sybil, all business, says that could mean anything, as she gathers Matthew’s clothes. Mary’s good luck charm falls out of his jacket and Sybil wonders how that got there. Mary explains that she gave to him. Sybil doesn’t think it brought him much luck, but Mary points out that he is alive. Mary gets ready to muck in.

At the house, Daisy watches through a glass door as William is carried in.

Thomas and O’Brien are meeting in a back stairway to talk about Vera. Thomas tells her she never should have blabbed that Bates was there, which she knows now. Vera’s been spouting off about the scandal she’s going to spread, and O’Brien’s all upset about this affecting Cora. O’Brien, you’re an idiot. Thomas says as much, telling her she really should have asked Vera what she was all about before she encouraged her to come to Downton.

Anna tells Mary the whole story about Vera while she helps her undress that evening. Resigned, Mary tells her she’ll go to Sir Richard and tell him the whole story. Or here’s a thought, folks: get Vera in a room and tell her that what she heard second hand was just a rumor, and if she tries to sell it to anyone, you’ll have her prosecuted for libel. Libel laws were pretty strict then (and I think they still are) and put the whole burden of proof on the person telling the story. She has no concrete proof. She’d be screwed. And even if she did sell the story, you could sue the newspaper and just deny the hell out of it. Who are people going to believe, the lower-class woman with a clear bone to pick telling some crazy story, or the extremely wealthy and very well-connected family surrounding Mary? Vera’d be dead in the water.

But no, Mary’s going to take this all on herself, and I guess I should be glad that she’s taking responsibility for her actions. She tells Anna she’ll head to London the following day. Lavinia will be in Downton to look after Matthew, so she can take a little break.

William’s settled in a bedroom at Downton. Edith finishes tucking him in and gently urges Mr. Mason to go home for the evening, promising to sit up with William. Mrs. Patmore’s  there too, and after Mr. Mason leaves, she murmurs that he looks so perfect, she can’t believe he’s really dying. Edith sadly tells her it’s true.

Robert arrives at the hospital the next day with Lavinia, just as Clarkson’s doing an exam on Matthew. Robert pulls Mary aside, and she kisses Lavinia hello and tells them that a shell landed near Matthew and William, throwing them, and that Matthew seems to have landed on something. Clarkson’s afraid there might be trouble with Matthew’s legs.

Clarkson himself joins them and breaks the bad news: Matthew’s not going to walk again. He should, however, survive. Lavinia bursts into tears and Robert wraps a comforting arm around her. Clarkson pulls him aside for a word, leaving Lavinia with Mary, who takes over comforting duties. Clarkson’s news is grim: Matthew won’t walk again, and it’s also very unlikely he’ll ever be able to have sex. Robert absorbs this as he rejoins the ladies, telling Lavinia she can go see Matthew. Lavinia goes behind the curtains to see him, pulling herself together, and Matthew grins and greets her as his “darling.” Aww.

Lugging two baskets, Mrs. Hughes hops a bus to a cottage out in the countryside somewhere where she’s stashed Ethel, who’s had the kid. And I think we have another timeline problem here. Just how pregnant was Ethel in the last episode? Because that was set in spring 1918. I’m guessing the battle we saw at the beginning was the Battle of Amiens, which kicked off the Hundred Days Offensive that eventually drew the war to a close. Amiens was fought in early August, 1918. Judging from people’s clothes and Branson’s later mention of the tsar’s execution, which occurred in July 1918, I’m guessing it’s early fall, at the latest. That baby’s huge. It’s at least a few months old. She wasn’t even showing yet when we last saw her. Even if all the events of last episode took place in March and it’s now September, she would have had to be several months pregnant by the end of last episode for that to work out, and that doesn’t seem quite right.

Ok, so she has this kid, and Mrs. Hughes is secretly feeding her from Downton’s kitchens, which is a bit surprising, consider the fact that the whole time they knew each other, Ethel did absolutely nothing but bitch and moan and unwittingly shit on all of Mrs. Hughes’s life choices. Ethel tells her she’s tried writing to Major Douchebag, but of course he hasn’t answered. For some reason, Mrs. Hughes tells her he’s coming to Downton to visit some of his convalescent buddies. Ethel wants to go show him the baby, which Hughes won’t allow, so she offers instead to write another letter and have Hughes deliver it. Hughes refuses, saying it’s really none of her business, and anyway, she doesn’t approve of what Ethel did. “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” Ethel asks her. Mrs. Hughes rightfully scoffs that she’s never made a mistake on this scale. Seriously. There’s counting the linens wrong and then there’s getting pregnant when you have no way to support a kid or yourself. Those two things can’t be put on the same level, you know? Ethel backs down and apologizes.

Patmore drags Daisy up to William’s room, telling her to just be nice to him, because he’s dying and all. Daisy is reluctantly shoved into the room and poor William calls her over and takes her hand. As Edith hands him some medicine, he asks after Matthew, learning that he’s doing much better. As Edith busies herself elsewhere in the room, William asks Daisy if she’ll marry him right away, instead of waiting until after the war. Daisy clearly starts to panic, but Edith, perhaps unwittingly, rescues her, urging William just to rest and think about these things later. William asks Daisy to consider it, and Daisy escapes without giving an answer.

Hughes is interviewing a woman for the second housemaid’s job, but she’s not sure she’ll work out, because she has a kid, living with her mother down in the village, and typically servants weren’t supposed to have any ties. Of course, that rule doesn’t seem to be applying to Anna and Bates, so clearly they’re willing to bend things in this household. The woman is evidently a widow, and she urgently tells Hughes that she needs to earn.

Matthew is slowly recalled to consciousness by Mary, who asks him if he’s feeling less groggy now. He asks after Lavinia and William, and Mary honestly tells him William’s not doing well. He tells her he can’t seem to feel or move his legs and asks why that might be. Mary tries to put off answering, but he obviously knows something’s up and wants her to tell him, so she admits that Matthew might have some spinal damage. Matthew asks if he’ll get better and she says they need to focus on getting stronger, and then they’d see. Matthew realizes what she’s not quite saying and turns to stare at the ceiling. Unsure what to do, Mary goes to get them both some tea. He thanks her for being honest, and she smiles and tells him Lavinia will be back soon, and then the two of them can make some plans. As she turns away, her face crumples and she starts to cry.

Major Douchebag’s arrived at the house. Hughes pulls him aside and tries to give him Ethel’s letter. He refuses to take it, telling her this is none of her business. Hughes urges him to go see the baby, but he won’t. What a prize he turned out to be.

Mary’s in Carlisle’s office, having evidently told him the whole story. He’s surprised by it, and also surprised she doesn’t have any excuse for what she did. She admits she was young and foolish and she did something stupid. Well, look at her, being so mature this episode! I rather like it. So much better than the obnoxious brat she was in the first series. Carlisle asks if she still expects him to marry her and she coolly says it’s not really her decision. It seems he’s still willing to go ahead with the match, though, and he promises to try and help get rid of Vera.

Carson goes to Robert with the dilemma of the housemaid: the only viable candidate is the widow, whose husband died on the Somme, for those interested. Robert has no problem with a wife and mother being his housemaid, so I guess she’ll get the job. As Carson leaves, Cora comes in and asks what that was about. Robert tells her about the new maid and explains Carson didn’t want to bother her with it, because she’s too busy. She agrees that she is rather busy, and furthermore, she can’t accompany Robert to some dinner that night.

Downstairs, Daisy’s telling Patmore about William’s accelerated wedding idea, reminding the older woman that she promised Daisy she wouldn’t have to marry William, just pretend to be his fiancée for a while. Patmore, of course, doesn’t know when to stop and tells Daisy to go through with it, because William’s dying. Daisy tells her she can’t keep lying like this.

Lavinia’s back at Matthew’s bedside, telling him she really doesn’t care if he can’t walk. He swallows hard and tells her what else he won’t be able to do. That’s a rougher blow for her to absorb, but she holds herself together admirably. Matthew tells her he has to end their engagement, because he can’t expect her to marry him under the circumstances. She tries to tell him she doesn’t care about that side of things, but he knows better and insists she take her freedom now and live her life fully.

Sybil heads down to the garage to tell Branson to pick up Mary at the station that afternoon. He asks after William and she tells him that William’s doing really poorly. She notes that Branson seems upset and asks what’s up. He tells her about the tsar being executed, along with his family, which he didn’t think they’d do, because revolutions of this type are usually so bloodless, you know. Oh, what naiveté. Branson won’t let an opportunity slip to bring this horrible tragedy back to his odd relationship with Sybil because everything’s about him now, so he tells her that he’s sorry about it, but sometimes sacrifices need to be made for a great future. Yeah, Communism turned out to be such a marvelous future for the Russian people.

Carlisle’s made good on his word and now has Vera in his office. He tells her he’ll need exclusive rights to the story, and she’ll have to sign a contract to that end, promising not to sell it to anyone else. She says she expected all this, but she’s curious to know how he heard about her. Carlisle tells her he knows everything that goes on in the city. He comments that she must really hate the Crawleys to do this to them, and in a clipped tone, she informs him her husband works for them, and she doesn’t care for him. When you put it like that and say it aloud, it somehow sounds even stupider than I thought.

Hughes arrives in the kitchen and tells Patmore that it seems that William’s father is starting to grasp the seriousness of the situation. She next turns to Daisy and tells her William’s asking to see her. Daisy doesn’t want to go up, because she still feels bad about all the lying, but eventually she does go.

When he sees her, William asks Edith and his father to give them a moment alone. Daisy takes a seat at the edge of his bed and William tells her he knows he’s dying and he wants to marry her as soon as he can so she can get a widow’s pension. Aww, that’s kind of sweet that he wants to look out for her like that. She protests that it’d be dishonest, but he doesn’t think so, because in his mind, they were going to be married anyway.

After their meeting, Daisy emerges from the room and comes face-to-face with William’s father, who urges her to marry his son, because she’s very important to William. Daisy starts grasping at straws desperately, nervously saying that the vicar might not even marry them if William can’t get to church, but William’s dad says he’ll have to, because the only way William’s getting to church anymore is in a box, sadly.

Mary finds Lavinia in bed, weeping, and asks her what happened. Lavinia tells her about Matthew’s grim prognosis and that he’s told her to go home and forget about him. Mary looks shocked, because she didn’t realize that a spinal injury would affect…other things, and really, why would she? It’s not the first thing that springs to mind, unless you really think about it. Lavinia apologizes for shocking Mary, but Mary’s the only person she could talk to. Mary says she’s not shocked, she’s just very sad. Lavinia tearfully tells her she’ll die without Matthew.

Over breakfast, Robert, with shock, reads aloud Mary’s and Carlisle’s engagement announcement, which Carlisle’s gone ahead and run in the paper, so it’s all official now. Speaking of weddings, Carson asks if the staff might be allowed to attend William’s. Robert reminds him that the wedding isn’t definitely on, because the vicar might still refuse to do it. Really? What a dick.

And yes, it appears the vicar is being kind of a jerk about the whole thing. He’s summoned to Violet’s house, where he wonders if the “kitchen maid” has somehow conspired to make William marry her so she can reap some advantage. Violet asks him what advantage one might get from marrying a dying man and the vicar shrugs that she’d be entitled to some widow’s dole. Oh, yes, those incredibly large and cushy widows’ pensions. Who doesn’t want to get her paws on one of those? What an ass. Violet reminds him that William has served her family well and he wants to marry his sweetheart before he dies. She also reminds the vicar that his living is under Robert’s control, his house is on Robert’s land, and maybe he should be a little more cooperative. Man, I love it when she lays a smackdown on someone.

Hughes is visiting Ethel again, reporting that Major Douchebag has, in fact, turned out to be a major douchebag. Ethel’s not surprised, though she is sad. Hughes asks if she’s managed to find work, but no, she hasn’t, because there aren’t many places she can take the baby. Hughes asks what explanation she gives for the kid and Ethel says she claims to be a war widow. Hughes chuckles a bit that they have a new maid with the same story, which they’re all choosing to believe.

Vera bursts into Carlisle’s office, waving the newspaper and screeching at him for having tricked her. What, like how you tricked your husband, Vera? By promising to keep your trap shut in exchange for money and then reneging? So sorry your stupid blackmail scheme didn’t work out. Carlisle is unintimidated by her and reminds her she has a contract. Vera’s face twists hideously and she babbles that this isn’t the end for Bates. Carlisle doesn’t really care about that. She whirls out of the office like a crazy dervish. Man, what a cartoon villain. And what a totally unnecessary addition to the show–like there’s not enough drama and tension in this episode as it is. She adds nothing!

Jane, the new maid, blunders into the library and finds Robert there. She apologizes for disturbing him and he tells her it’s no big deal, moving along to thank her for her husband’s sacrifice. She nods and starts to look upset, but then Hughes comes in to shoo her away and tell Robert there’s a telephone call for Mary. He tells her Mary’s just about to leave for the hospital, so she goes to try and catch her.

Looking pale and terrified, Daisy bides her time in the servants’ hall, all dressed up in civvies for her wedding. Carson comes in with a bouquet of flowers from the garden, sent by Robert, and Anna takes on the big sister role, urging Daisy to sit down for a minute. Daisy keeps saying she shouldn’t be doing this, because it’s a lie. O’Brien and Thomas observe her from the stairwell, and O’Brien comments that she doesn’t exactly look like a blooming bride. Thomas can’t blame her, since she’s marrying a dead man and all. O’Brien asks if he’s going to the wedding and he says yes, because he wants to shake William’s hand before he goes. He says that in such a cold manner it’s more chilling than endearing. Hughes comes down, tells Daisy she looks lovely, and says the vicar’s all ready. Carson offers Daisy his arm and escorts her up.

In William’s bedroom, which has been decorated with tons of flowers, which is really sweet, the vicar says the service as the servants, Violet, Edith, and William’s father watch. Violet’s crying her eyes out, and I don’t think they’re tears of joy so much as premature grief. Even Carson’s teary. Hell, I’m teary. This is so sad, and this is one of those situations where I’m not at all happy to have been right. I knew William was a goner, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

Mary’s visiting Matthew, who asks her if she knows why he sent Lavinia away. She says she does. He morosely observes that no sane woman would want to be with him, the way he is. He doesn’t even want to be with him. He gets so worked up he gets sick, and Mary holds the basin for him and speaks soothingly to him, the way one speaks to a child that’s been sick. He comments that it wasn’t so long ago he was throwing her over (rightly, let’s admit it), and now here he is, an impotent cripple getting sick in a basin she’s holding. Mary tells him the important thing is that he’s alive, that he survived the war. Unobserved by the pair of them, Isobel steps into the room and watches them for a minute. Mary goes to empty the basin and runs into her, telling her Matthew will be pleased to see her. Isobel says Mary’s become quite the nurse since she last saw her. Mary says it’s nothing but Isobel tells her it’s quite the opposite of nothing. Mary gets on with her task and Isobel approaches Matthew’s bed. He starts to cry when he sees his mother at last. You know, sometimes we all just need our moms.

Mary arrives home and finds Bates upstairs. She immediately asks after William and Bates tells her it won’t be long now. Mary tells him about Carlisle buying Vera’s story and hopes they can all forget it and move on. She warns him that Vera was quite angry and made threats against him, but she hopes Vera didn’t mean them. Oh, but she did. Mary moves off and Bates next meets up with Anna, who’s understandably delighted to hear that Vera’s been silenced.

Daisy, still in her wedding clothes, sits at William’s bedside. Mrs. Patmore comes in and gently suggests Daisy get some rest, offering to stay with William herself. Daisy refuses, sticking this thing out to the bitter end. That’s a good girl. And the bitter end’s here, it seems. William has died. Farewell, William. You were too sweet for this world. I’ll miss you.

Photos: Evangeline Holland, Edwardian Promenade

2 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: Many Unhappy Returns

  1. I think that Julian Fellowes is getting a bit ham fisted with his characters . . . especially his middle and working class characters. And I find this disappointing.

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