Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew miraculously recovered and Robert mysteriously forgot he’s in love with his wife and started making out with Jane the maid. Bates remembered he was the one who bought the poison his wife killed herself with, and Sybil rather inexplicably ran away with Branson, only to be dragged back home by Edith and Mary.
Downton’s abuzz with preparations for Matthew’s and Lavinia’s wedding. Never content to just let things be, Isobel remarks that displaying the presents (a common practice amongst the upper class at the time) looks greedy. Remember last season when she was all worried about seeming outclassed by the Crawleys? What happened to that concern? Shut up, Isobel! Lavinia apologizes for having caused so much extra work at the house and Cora tells her it’s fine before heading off to do something or other. Mary and Lavinia descend on Matthew and ask him how he’s feeling. He’s fully up and about now, thought walking with a cane, which he hates. He wants to be able to walk up the aisle without help. Mary drops the fact that it’s three days to the wedding.
Hughes goes to Carson with a letter from Mrs. Bryant. Apparently her husband’s done a 180 and now wants to see the baby.
As Mary gets ready for dinner, Sybil shows up with news: she wants to announce her engagement to Branson, because he’s got a job with a newspaper (what? What credentials did he use to get that job? Since when has he been interested in writing? Is it really worth my while to expect character consistency anymore?) and she’s all excited. Mary advises her to let him go to Dublin and use the time alone to think things through. Edith backs Mary, so Sybil kicks and whines and asks Anna to back her. Anna tells her it’s tough to give up your whole life, even for someone you love. Sybil naively claims she won’t be giving up her life, and Mary reminds her that she’ll be marrying a chauffeur, which is not going to get you invited to many parties. Sybil corrects her and says he’s a journalist now, which will sound so much better to their grandmother. Uh, Sybil, have you met your grandmother? Sybil’s mind is made up and she tells the girls Branson’s coming by later that night and she and he will be telling Robert everything. Ohh, wait until I make some popcorn!
Thomas, now broke and with no prospects, asks Carson if he can stay at the house a little longer. Carson’s not sympathetic to his plight, but he lets him stay nonetheless, growling at him to find somewhere to go ASAP.
Before dinner, the family’s relaxing together when Branson strolls in like he owns the place. “I’m here,” he announces unnecessarily to Sybil. “So I can see,” Robert says. Hee! Sybil hurries over to Branson and hisses that this isn’t a good time, because she doesn’t want to upset Violet. Branson, of course, refuses to listen to her. Because this is how he asserts himself this season: by being an ass and not respecting Sybil’s thoughts or decisions unless they directly benefit him.
Belowstairs, Daisy and Patmore are getting dinner ready. Daisy tells Patmore that her father-in-law wants to see her. Patmore’s not surprised, since Mr. Mason thinks Daisy loved his son and all, but Daisy’s uncomfortable.
Upstairs, the cat’s apparently out of the bag, right down to Mary’s knowledge of the whole affair. Robert’s spreading his anger around pretty evenly, now directing it her way for not telling him what was going on. He moves on to shout at Branson for driving him around this whole time he was seducing his daughter behind his back. Branson angrily tells him he hasn’t gone and seduced anyone; this was Sybil’s decision. Yeah, after you hounded her for ages. Robert starts shouting, but Violet, of all people, holds up a hand for calm and asks Sybil what her plan is here. Cora looks like she wants to die right about now. Sybil thanks her grandmother for letting her speak and tells everyone about Branson’s job and how she plans to stick around until after the wedding so as not to steal the bride and groom’s thunder. After that she plans to head to Dublin, where she’ll live with Branson’s mother until they can get married. And then she’ll get work as a nurse. Glad to see she’s not giving that up. That, at least, is consistent. Violet asks Branson how his mom feels about this and Branson admits his mother thinks they’re both very foolish. Robert shouts that he won’t let his daughter throw her life away and Sybil reminds him he can’t do anything to stop her. And with that, she turns and leaves the room.
Hughes has taken Bryant’s letter to Ethel, who doesn’t want the Bryants meeting with her at her crappy cottage. Hughes says it’s not important where they meet, the thing they need to work out is how much she wants them involved in her child’s life. Ethel says she wants them to be involved, so Hughes offers to invite them to Downton. Shouldn’t she ask the Crawleys permission for that first?
O’Brien and Thomas are having a smoke and a chat in the servants’ hall. She tells him he couldn’t expect to stay at Downton forever, and he grouses that he didn’t expect to just get kicked out. Why not? Why would they want you to stay? Because of your sunny personality? All you did was act like a condescending jerk and say how glad you were not to be in service anymore. You can’t expect the people whose lives you’ve been crapping on to want you to stick around, you know? She tells him he needs to find a job, like he doesn’t know that. Apparently he’s tried, but it’s not easy because with all the men coming home from the war, everybody’s looking for a job.
Branson comes wandering in and Anna, who’s been writing a letter, puts her work aside and goes to give him her sympathies for the drubbing he took. He says he should have spoken up long ago, giving Daisy an excuse to ask him what he should have spoken up about. He announces his engagement to Sybil just as Carson, who had a front-row seat to the fireworks, comes in with a face like a thundercloud. Carson angrily asks Branson if he has no shame and Branson says he’s sorry Carson feels so strongly about it, and no, he doesn’t have any shame, because he loves Sybil and always will. Carson sends him away and tells the others they won’t be speaking of this matter anymore.
Upstairs, the younger set is putting a record on a gramophone, which is an invention Violet is unfamiliar with. She warns them to stand well clear—I’m guessing she’s still a bit afraid of electric lights too—before going into the gift room and finding Edith in there setting out the gifts all by her lonesome. Oh, poor Edith, always the gift setter, never the receiver. And now both her sisters are marrying off, leaving her alone in the house with her indifferent parents. Violet asks what the news is with Sybil and Edith says Sybil’s with their father, probably getting her head chewed off. Violet sighs that this will end in tears, but Branson, at least, makes Carlisle look practically royal by comparison. Violet sweetly tells Edith her time will come but Edith doubts it.
Violet heads up to Sybil’s room, where Sybil’s telling her father that she really doesn’t care if she’ll be barred from London society and court. Violet tells her granddaughter that these romances sound good in novels but don’t really work out in real life. Sybil’s not going to listen to anyone at this point and just repeats her plan to hit the road to Dublin at the end of the week. Robert starts to threaten to forbid Mary and Edith from visiting her but Violet warns her son not to say anything he might have to retract later. Robert instead tells Sybil she can’t expect any money from them, which will mean a very different life for her. She’s happy to hear that.
Hughes goes to bring Carson some tea and finds him not doing so well. From the look and sound of it he’s pulled a muscle or something, but apparently he’s ill with something else. She tells him to go to bed and rest but he’s too busy. She tells him she’ll deal with everything and urges him to head up. He advises her to send for Molesley to help.
Later, O’Brien’s helping Cora get ready for dinner while Robert waits nearby. Cora’s not looking too healthy, and after O’Brien leaves, she collapses into a chair before asking Robert what they should do next about the Sybil Situation. He claims this is all because Sybil was spoiled and allowed to take up nursing. To her credit, Cora says that nursing was important to Sybil and she’s good at it. Robert claims it made Sybil forget who she is, but Cora thinks they’ve just been ignoring who she is. “You’re turning American on me. I’ll go downstairs,” he says coolly. Dick!
Molesley has arrived to help with dinner and he’s being schooled by Anna in the order of wines. He observes that they seem to have an awful lot of it. And on that note, I think I’ll help myself to a glass. Excuse me.
Sip. Ahhh. Cora’s heading downstairs with Hughes, discussing something wedding related, when she flinches and clutches at the banister for a moment. Hughes asks if she’s ok and she manages a smile and says she’s fine.
In the kitchen, Thomas is whining about Molesley being called in when he could have just as easily stood in for Carson. Thomas, get lost! They don’t want you there! The last time you were employed at this house you were caught stealing! Patmore reminds him that he kept telling them how much he didn’t want to be a servant and he claims to just want to be helpful. She remarks that being helpful is not something they associate with him. You reap what you sow, douchebag.
Molesley’s tasting the wine before rushing out to start serving. I thought it was an excuse for him to have a bit of Dutch courage, because for some reason he seems terrified, but he actually only takes one sip, so I guess not.
In the dining room, Violet comments that she’s surprised Sybil’s eating with them instead of having a tray in her room. Sybil doesn’t see why she should have to hide away, it’s not like she’s doing something shameful like running off in the night, although she wasn’t above doing that before. She adds that Mary and Edith talked her out of that, and Edith looks completely terrified at the mention. I think she was glad to have managed to avoid having her ass verbally kicked by their dad up to this point. Isobel, naturally, starts to put in her two cents, and Matthew tells her this is none of their business. Molesley’s looking deathly pale and Matthew asks if he’s ok. He claims he is, but Matthew doesn’t believe him. Cora’s looking a bit pasty herself and says she’s feeling a bit under the weather and she’ll have to head back upstairs. Robert offers to call Clarkson and Anna chimes in that Clarkson’s coming to see Carson anyway. Robert asks her to send him along when he arrives.
Anna heads downstairs while the family’s eating their main course, and as soon as she finds Bates she pulls him aside and tells him they’re getting married. Now. Because screw this endless waiting. He tries to fob her off but she puts her foot down, telling him to get his ass to Ripon the next day to get a license. Whatever he’s going to face, she wants to face it with him, as his wife, because at least in that case she’ll have rights to be kept informed as to what’s going on. Fair point, that. Plus, what the hell are you waiting for? God, you’ve been engaged for how long now? Do it already!
Jane rushes in and pulls Anna away, because Molesley’s barely able to stay on his feet. Anna tells Jane to take him downstairs, then she picks up the wine and goes to serve it herself, explaining that Molesley’s not well. And neither is Lavinia. You know, this is starting to seem a little contrived. I know the Spanish Influenza struck quickly, but all these people in the course of an hour or two? And the “are you well? Are you well?” questions are starting to feel repetitive. Plus, this is many months after the major influenza outbreak, which occurred in summer and autumn of 1918 and then nearly vanished in November 1918. Mary takes Lavinia upstairs to lie down. Isobel waits a beat before following them upstairs to get underfoot. Violet remembers a cholera outbreak in Paris years before that killed half the guests at one ball. “Thank you, mama, that’s cheered us up to no end,” Robert says briskly. Heh.
Hughes escorts Clarkson out of Cora’s room, ready to take him to Carson. Robert intercepts them and asks how Cora’s doing. Clarkson, the world’s most crap doctor, says Cora’s fine, just tired out. Really, folks? After the monumental screw-up with Matthew’s diagnosis you still trust this guy’s medical knowledge? Mary joins them and says Lavinia’s feeling under the weather too, but she’s sleeping now. Clarkson prescribes aspirin and cinnamon in milk and promises to see her in the morning. He goes to see Carson and Isobel offers to tag along. Clarkson hilariously rolls his eyes as he turns to go. Heh.
Mary goes back downstairs, where she finds Matthew putting a record on the new player. She gazes at him meaningfully for a while before joining him and asking where everyone went. Bed? She comments on the song and he says it’s from a musical that flopped called Zip Goes a Million. Wow, when did Matthew start time traveling? Because that show didn’t open until 1951. Apparently there was a musical version of it by Jerome Kern that was supposed to open on Broadway in 1919, but it closed during a couple of out-of-town tryouts. I find it rather difficult to believe that Matthew found time to get to a provincial theater in America sometime in the past couple of months, or that music from a show that didn’t open would have been put on a record and sold by April 1919, but what do I know? Anyway, that’s just an excuse for Mary to call their relationship a show that flopped. He says he’s sorry and she tells him not to be, because if it was anyone’s fault, it was hers. True. He tells her about Violet telling him Mary still loved him and also tells her his answer to said admission. She agrees that he did the right thing, and then he leans in and kisses her, two days before his wedding, with his sick fiancée asleep upstairs. Keeper!
But wait, that sick fiancée isn’t asleep at all but coming down the stairs to totally cock block this couple we’re supposed to care so much about. They spring apart and Lavinia asks if they should be going home. Mary tells her she’s going to be spending the night, since she’s sick and all, and then she dashes off to make the necessary arrangements. Matthew asks her how she’s feeling and she tells him she feels like a nuisance. He tries to tell her she’s nothing of the kind, and she meaningfully tells him never to let her be a nuisance. You know, I like her, but she’s so good it’s starting to get tiresome. It’s like Bates and his endless self-sacrificing.
Clarkson finally arrives in the servants’ hall to see his last patient, Molesley, who’s not sick, he’s just drunk. On one sip of wine? Man, and I thought I was a lightweight.
Robert emerges from his bedroom and runs into Jane, who happily tells him her son got into Ripon Grammar. He depressingly says it’s nice to hear good news at last. She asks him sincerely how he’s doing and he admits he’s feeling wretched. She tells him she really wants to help (if you know what she means) and he ratchets the creepy level way up, asks if she really does, then draws her into his room. While his wife’s on her sickbed. What’s with the men on this show? And what’s up with Robert anyway? He was devoted to Cora, and it seems like in the last two episodes he’s been acting like a total jerk and now he’s sleeping with the maid? What gives? Character consistency!
Hughes is getting Carson settled into bed, and he’s a predictably bad patient, trying to get up and urging her to call for Molseley to fill in again. She tells him that’s not going to happen.
Robert’s getting hot and heavy with Jane when they’re interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Bates, asking what time he wants his wake-up call. Robert asks for an early one, since they’ve got sick people in the house. Yes, like your wife, Robert! Who’s in the next room, I might add! Bates takes off and Robert seems to realize what a horrible thing he’s doing. Jane tries to start things back up again but he pushes her away, getting in a seriously hokey line about how much he wants her, but it wouldn’t be fair to her or anyone else. He checks the hall to make sure it’s clear and sends her on her way.
Hughes finds O’Brien and Edith attending to Cora. O’Brien asks for ice to bring the temperature down, and before Hughes departs Mary tells her Carlisle’s coming down from London to see if he can help (wow, he’s heading into the middle of a house afflicted with a highly contagious and unusually mortal strain of flu? Brave man!) and could she get some rooms ready? Hughes promises to do so.
Robert, meanwhile, takes a stroll down to the village, where Branson’s staying, to try and get the former chauffeur to give Sybil up once and for all. Branson won’t hear of it, and he doesn’t believe he’s cutting Sybil off from her family, because the decision to cut her off is Robert’s, not Branson’s. Robert asks how Branson could possibly provide for her and Branson calmly but firmly tells Robert that he seems to be under the impression that Sybil would only be happy in another version of Downton, but if that’s the life she wanted she wouldn’t be marrying Branson. See, this is the Branson I like. Intelligent, collected. Not whiny. Robert, really working to hit the full asshole circuit this episode, finally resorts to attempting to pay Branson off, which is completely stupid. Anyone knows that’s not going to make Branson go away. Like any reasonable person, Branson’s totally insulted by that and tells Robert to get lost. Robert snits that he wants Branson out of the village, though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t really have that power. Branson says that if he goes, Sybil’s going to be coming with him. Now totally defeated, Robert stomps out.
He arrives back at Downton, where he finds an anxious Isobel, who tells him Mary’s gone to collect Carlisle from the station. He grouses about Carlisle coming, and then learns from Hughes that they’ve got two more maids down. He quickly ascertains that Jane isn’t one of them, because why be subtle about your near affair with the help?
The arrival of the flu has been a godsend for Thomas, who’s now allowing himself to get roped into helping because there’s nobody else to do it. Hughes apologetically says she doesn’t have the extra budget to pay him and he tells her to just consider it rent. Well, that was nice of him, at least.
In Lavinia’s room, Isobel tells the bride and groom they’re going to have to postpone the wedding. Isn’t the wedding the following day? Isn’t it almost too late at this point? People will already be on their way. Just prop her up at the altar, she’ll be fine. Matthew’s not happy about this, but they have to delay. Lavinia asks him to telephone her father and tell him not to come, because she’s worried about him getting sick.
Although Lavinia’s seeming much better, Cora’s so much worse Sybil’s changed back into her nurse’s uniform and gotten back to work. Robert asks why nobody told him Cora was like this and Sybil counters by asking him where he was. Why, trying to pay off your boyfriend, my dear! O’Brien arrives and starts bathing Cora’s face. Robert urges her to get some rest but she’s like a woman possessed and says she wants to stay until Cora’s through the worst of it. Sybil says that, according to Clarkson, they should know more in a few hours.
Belowstairs, Bates and Anna meet up and exchange the latest infectious news before he happily tells her he booked a time for their wedding that Friday. Before they can celebrate, Ethel shows up, baby in hand—oh, God, nobody told Ethel to stay away from the house!—just as Jane comes down and says the Bryants are there again. Anna goes to find Hughes.
Hughes lets herself into one of the sitting rooms, where the Bryants are waiting. Mr. B’s just as much of a jerk as ever and shortly asks to see Ethel and the kid. Hughes lets Ethel in, and Mrs. B immediately starts ingratiating herself with the baby. She observes that he looks a lot like his father, and that she’s sorry for what was said the last time they were there. Mr. B refuses to be swayed by any baby cuteness and asks if they can get down to business and figure out just how much his own grandkid’s worth.
O’Brien’s starting to reach the end of her tether, I think, and has told Daisy and Patmore she thinks Cora might die, which is news to Daisy. Patmore tells O’Brien that she won’t die for lack of care, and O’Brien says she just wishes she could talk to Cora and tell her something important. And what might that be?
Mr. B’s decided he wants the baby 100%, which Ethel’s not too excited about. Hughes offers to have Ethel stay as his nurse, which Mrs. B’s willing to accept, but Mr. B wants to raise this kid as a little gentleman, and they can’t do that with his mom down in the servants’ hall. Their plan is to raise the child as their grandson, telling him his dad got married during the war before being killed, and his mom died of the flu. Simple! Ethel angrily appeals to the wife to help her out here, but she stays silent. Mr. B asks Ethel to consider little Charlie’s two futures: one as a wealthy gentleman, and the other as the bastard son of a foolish maid. Hughes intervenes and tells them they’ve had enough visiting for one day. Ethel begs to work as the baby’s nurse incognito, but Mr. B knows she could never go forever without telling the kid who she really is.
Anna thankfully bursts in to ask Hughes to send for the doctor, because Cora’s much worse. Bryant shortly tells her to go where she’s needed, because they’ve all said what they needed to and they know how to reach out when they’ve made up their minds.
O’Brien’s alone with Cora, who’s sufficiently with it to thank her for being so good to her. O’Brien starts to apologize for having caused her miscarriage five years ago, but Cora’s pretty delirious, so she gives up. Robert comes in and asks how Cora’s doing and O’Brien tells him Cora seemed to be improving, but then the fever returned. He sincerely thanks O’Brien for looking after her and O’Brien looks super guilty.
Matthew goes into Lavinia’s room and tells her he’s managed to reach everyone, including her father, and that he promised to let them all know when things were back on. He takes a seat and starts to discuss dates for a reschedule, but she interrupts to say that they might have dodged a bullet here and they should take a moment to be sure they’re doing the right thing. She admits to having overheard him with Mary, meaning she overheard him telling Mary that he was only marrying Lavinia because he didn’t feel it would be the right thing to toss her over after everything she did to stand by him. Lavinia’s not sure it’s right to hold him to his promise, even though she loves him and wants to marry him. She just doesn’t think she has it in her to be a countess someday, and furthermore, she thinks he and Mary would make more sense. Matthew tries to silence her, but she keeps going, saying that, when he was wounded, she thought it was her calling to take care of him, something she didn’t think Mary would have done as well as Lavinia. Matthew agrees with her. See? Even he realizes that Mary’s not as good as Lavinia. Matthew reminds her that Mary’s marrying someone else and he won’t hear anymore about this. Lavinia says they’ll talk about it later, but right now she’s tired and needs a bit of rest. Or a relapse, which is what I think is really coming, because we need to truly clear the decks here.
After that rather emotional scene, we cut to Mary coolly greeting her fiancé in the drawing room. Hold on—I thought she went to get him at the station the day before. Did I mishear that? She says she’s not sure what he can do and he says he’s willing to pitch in any way he can, including driving the car, since he understands they’ve lost their chauffeur. Mary asks him to drive it over the chauffeur. Charming. Carlisle asks after Cora, and with no discernable emotion Mary says Cora’s not doing well at all, so he asks after Lavinia, and she immediately assumes he came running up because he heard Lavinia was sick. Apparently he can do no right. He reminds her that he was coming up in a few days for the wedding anyway. A few days? But I thought—oh, the hell with it, the timeline’s been screwed this season since episode one. Mary accuses him of running up there to keep her from falling into Matthew’s arms if (when) Lavinia died. As is usually the case in this episode, a servant (Thomas) comes in to bust up the awkward scene and tell Mary Cora wants her.
In the kitchen, Hughes is suggesting a buffet dinner that night, since things are so chaotic. She figures it’ll be easier on the staff as well, because she’s forgotten how prolific Patmore gets in the kitchens during crises. Thomas swings by to ask for tea for Carlisle and to offer to be super useful, to the surprise of Hughes and Patmore. Daisy’s reading yet another letter from Mr. Mason asking her to come and see him. The older women urge her to go see the poor guy but Daisy refuses. Ok, Daisy, you need to get over all this. Do a poor old man a favor and go talk to him about his son. Yes, you may have misled William into thinking you were in love with him, but you did it for a nice reason, not out of selfishness or anything, so what’re you so guilty about? Suck it up and go see Mr. Mason!
Mary goes into her bedroom while Anna’s turning down the bed. Anna asks after Cora, and then mentions her plan to get married that Friday. Mary asks where the ceremony’s going to be and Anna says it’s in Ripon and won’t take long. Mary gives her permission to go, promising to cover for her.
Edith comes in and calls Mary to Cora’s beside, where the whole family’s gathered. Clarkson’s there too, telling the family not to worry that she’s now hemorrhaging through the nose and throwing up into a basin held by Sybil. Robert quietly asks Clarkson how bad it is and Clarkson says that she’ll probably make it if she lasts through the night. Without seeming too concerned, he asks Mary to take him to the other patients.
For some reason, instead of passing him off to Anna or someone so she can stay at her dying mother’s bedside, Mary takes him up to Carson’s room. Carson looks fine and, like everyone else, asks after Cora. Clarkson leaves some medicine for him and goes to see the others. Thomas bustles in briefly to deliver some food for Carson before excusing himself. When they’re alone, Carson apologizes to Mary for having disappointed her recently. She accepts his apology and tells him he’ll always have her support. She also warns him to be wary of Thomas, because she’s sure he won’t want to remain a footman forever. Don’t you have an opening for a butler, Mary?
Mary’s next stop is the dining room, where Thomas is in his livery, pouring wine and Carlisle, Edith, Isobel, and Matthew are eating. Mary asks after Lavinia and Matthew tells her she’s doing ok, but he thinks the illness has made her confused. Mary asks what he means by that, but before he can answer Sybil comes running in to fetch him, because Lavinia’s taken a turn for the worse. Matthew and Isobel rush out and Mary goes to follow them. Carlisle takes her arm, urging her to let Lavinia have Matthew to herself for just a little while, but this is Mary we’re talking about, and she can’t stop being selfish for five minutes, so she shakes him off and heads upstairs.
In Lavinia’s bedroom, Clarkson tells Matthew Lavinia’s really, really bad. Matthew takes her hand and sits beside her on the bed, trying to get her attention. She rasps that she’s glad he’s there, then tells him that this is much better, because now he won’t have to make a hard decision. Isobel stands by, looking horrified. Lavinia urges Matthew to be happy, then dies, her usefulness as a martyr in the story finally at an end. Did I call that or what? Farewell, Lavinia. You really deserved much better than this story gave you.
Wearing a black armband, Matthew walks up to Downton, where the wedding decorations are being taken down. Ouch. Robert comes out to meet him and, when Matthew asks, he tells him Cora’s doing much better. And Robert’s taken the liberty of making all Lavinia’s funeral arrangements too. Uh, don’t you think you might have consulted her father before you did that? I get that you’re trying to be helpful, but I feel you seriously overstepped your bounds here. Nonetheless, Matthew thanks him. Robert mentions that Mary wanted to see him but Matthew quickly refuses to see her, explaining he doesn’t want to see anyone just now. I don’t know if it’s the makeup or lighting, but Matthew looks like death in this scene.
Hughes is visiting with Carson, who’s doing better, though he’s sad Lavinia’s dead and all.
Robert is paying a visit of his own, to Cora, who’s also doing much better. He tells her how happy he is that she’s better and she’s savvy enough to question that. He says she gave them quite a fright, and she holds out her hand for him to take, asking him if they’re ok now. He reassures her that they are, but she goes on to say that she got so caught up in all the actually important work she was doing that she might have neglected him a bit, and she’s sorry for that. Yes, that’s right, she’s sorry she had to leave him to have lunch by himself a few times to tend to the war wounded, a sin he nearly chose to repay her with by cheating with the maid. He at least has the grace to tell her not to apologize.
Later that night, Ethel shows up, baby free, and tracks down Mrs. Hughes to tell her that she’s going to turn down the Bryants’ offer. She claims Lavinia’s death has given her a certain carpe diem mentality or something like that, so the kid stays with her. “What’s better for him than his mother’s love?” she asks. Food? An education? I’m not saying maternal love isn’t important, but so is eating and decent shelter during the formative years. Hughes doesn’t attempt to persuade her out of the decision, instead offering to write the Bryants herself.
In the midst of all the tragedy, we get a little glimpse of sunshine. Anna meets Bates at the Ripon registry office and they get married. Yay! Why’d they wait so long? If I were here, I’d have dragged him down there the day after Vera kicked it. They’re smiling and happy and it’s really cute.
Robert’s at his desk in the library, doing whatever it is he does, when Jane walks in. Robert starts to say something, but Jane interrupts him to say she’s glad Cora’s better, and he shouldn’t worry, because there was no harm done. “No harm done yet,” Robert says. She picks right up on that and tells him she’s almost packed and she’s given her notice. Well done, Robert. Because you couldn’t reign yourself in, this poor woman’s now out of a job. She’ll now probably have to find one further away, which means she’ll see her kid far less. Nice. Here’s a thought: you’re a grown man with, presumably, some form of self-control equal or greater than that of your average child. So control yourself, Robert. Jesus! It’s not that hard!
But no, that would require some effort, so instead he gives her the name and address of a man of business who might be able to help her son out in future. Isn’t he only, like, ten or twelve? How far in advance are we thinking here? She tearfully thanks him and asks if he’s going to be happy. He tells her that he has no reason to be unhappy, which is almost the same thing. No, it’s not. For heaven’s sake, Robert, find some reason to be content with your life, if you can’t change it entirely. Otherwise you’re just going to keep making other people unhappy, and that’s not fair. She asks to kiss him one last time before she goes, and, grossly, he obliges. Ick. I really used to like him.
Anna’s helping Mary get ready for bed and discussing her secret wedding. She and Bates plan to tell the others soon, just not now. Mary gets up from the dressing table and tells Anna to follow her to a nearby bedroom, which has been set up with a pair of white roses on the bed. Mary had Jane set it up and swore the other maid to secrecy. Mary tells her to smuggle Bates in later, when everyone’s gone to bed. Smiling delightedly, Anna thanks her.
Carson’s finally managed to get up and downstairs, where he finds Thomas locking up the silver pantry. Carson claims he came down to check the silver, but I think he just wants to count it now he’s seen Thomas there. Thomas finishes locking up and says they can get everything ready after breakfast the next day. Carson takes a moment to thank Thomas for pitching in the past few days, adding unnecessarily that he can’t think of how to thank him. Oh, can’t you? Thomas smiles and says he’s sure Carson will find a way. Carson offers his hand to shake and Thomas takes it, smiling genuinely for, I think, the first time ever on this show.
Jane apparently can’t wait to get out of there: despite the fact that it’s the dead of night she’s collecting the last of her wages from Hughes, who says she’s sorry Jane’s going. Jane says she’s sorry too, but it’s for the best. They go through housemaids like crazy in this place, don’t they?
Upstairs, Bates and Anna are cuddling post-coitally. “Well, Mrs. Bates, you’ve had your way with me,” Bates observes. Ha! He adds that he hopes she won’t regret this and she tells him she couldn’t ever regret this, no matter what happens. I still love these two together, they’re so cute.
Jarringly, we go right from that to Lavinia’s funeral. Everyone’s there, including the whole household staff, and even Cora, who’s made a remarkable recovery. The vicar finishes up and everyone starts to disperse, aside from Matthew, who stays at the gravesite, looking wrecked. Mary notices and hangs back to talk to him.
The staff starts booking it back to the house, and Carson tells Hughes it looks like they won’t be getting rid of Thomas anytime soon. As they walk past some of the graves, Daisy spots her father-in-law standing by William’s. After some hesitation, she goes to speak to him. He says he’d hoped to run into her at the grave someday, because he thinks she comes there as often as he does. No, she doesn’t, you poor man, because she’s let her guilt complex turn her into kind of a selfish jerk. She explains that she was there for the funeral of “the lady that was going to marry Mr. Crawley.” She seems to care more about this funeral for someone whose name she didn’t even know than for William, who was, after all, at least a pretty good friend of hers, so she should be showing a little something at least. Mr. Mason observes that it’s sad when young people die, which prompts some really fake crying from Daisy. He kindly hands her a handkerchief.
Back at Lavinia’s grave, Mary urges Matthew to tell her if there’s anything she can do. Amazing the things we say to grieving people, isn’t it? We’ve all been in her position, and we’ve all said these rote things, but really, what can we do? Nothing. And we kind of know it. Matthew finally tells her that Lavinia heard them together the other night, and it made her want to cancel the wedding. He’s now sure Lavinia just gave up and died of a broken heart, and it’s permanently poisoned his relationship with Mary, which he now views as cursed. In her grave, poor Lavinia’s just thrown up her hands and sighed: “I just can’t win in this script, can I?” Mary looks horrified by this, and when Carlisle materializes and asks if she wants to head back to the house she clings to him and seems to accept her new life. And Carlisle sincerely tells Matthew he’s sorry about this. I think I could really get to like Carlisle, as long as he doesn’t get screwed up in season 3.
Robert spots Sybil chatting with Branson and decides that a gravesite immediately post-funeral is a totally appropriate place to give his daughter’s unsuitable boyfriend a bunch of crap. He demands to know why Branson’s there and Branson responds that he wanted to pay his respects and see Sybil. Robert asks if Sybil’s going to be skipping town soon and she says she is, actually, since there’s no reason to stay anymore. She adds that she’s sorry they couldn’t part as friends, though. Robert softens ever so slightly and asks Branson if he wants to part as friends. Branson does, but he’s a realist and knows that’s not likely. He and Sybil start to walk away and Robert caves completely, telling them he’ll support this after all. Sybil’s overjoyed and hugs him tightly, smiling happily. Robert informs Branson that, if he mistreats Sybil, he’ll have him torn apart by wild dogs. Isis has some pretty badass relatives, you know. Sybil asks if Robert will come to Ireland for the wedding and he says they’ll see. He’s also going to offer them a bit of money, but not much, because he has to punish the daughter who’s stepping out and exhibiting independence and living a fully useful life. Robert doesn’t like his womenfolk getting too uppity and neglecting their embroidery and long lunches. He holds out his hand and Branson shakes it before taking Sybil’s hand and walking away.
Violet catches up with Robert and confirms he’s given in on this situation. She’s moved right on to spin mode and starts talking about how she might be able to make Branson a bit of a project. There’s also a Branson family amongst the Irish aristocracy they might be able to hitch him onto.
The staff returns to the house and Patmore comes rushing out of the kitchen to tell Bates that there are two men waiting for him in the servants’ hall. Accompanied by Anna, he goes in and is placed under arrest for murder. He goes calmly and tells Anna he loves her. She says she loves him too and kisses him fiercely before he’s perp walked past the servants and out the door. The last shot is of Anna, dressed in black, alone and crying. Well, that was a depressing end.
Ok, so I think I made it clear throughout the past eight recaps, but I’m going to repeat it anyway: I was disappointed with this season. It’s not that it was bad television—indeed, compared to most of what’s on it was quite good—but when compared with what came before it, it inevitably suffers. Season one seemed so carefully crafted to me. Sure, it had its silly moments, but somehow they still managed to seem fairly realistic, and they didn’t bug me. The characters were consistent and complex and well thought out. This season had a lot of problems. For one, there was the timeline issue that I mentioned in some earlier posts. And some of the storylines were so soapy they ended up being unintentionally hilarious. A badly burned guy shows up claiming to be the long-lost presumed-dead heir? Suffering from amnesia? Seriously? Matthew’s magically able to walk again?
There were a lot of cop outs. That Matthew thing, for instance. I think it would have been fairly gutsy and more interesting to see him try to come to terms with his radically changed life, as so many others did after the war. How would he have coped, and how would that have affected his relationships with the rest of his family? I would have liked to see that. But no, turns out Clarkson was a terrible doctor and Matthew’s just fine. Yay! And Lavinia’s conveniently dead. Yay!
Poor Lavinia. She really did deserve better, because I think she was played by a fine actress, but she was never given anything to do but to bleat: “If I don’t have him, I’ll die!” and basically be a martyr. Like Bates. I love Bates, but even his act started to get tiresome this season. The new additions to the cast in general seemed fairly pointless: Vera was just a paper-thin bad guy with absolutely no complexity or motivations or anything. She was just there to be hateful. Ethel was annoying and stupid and that was about it. The only one I found really interesting and in any way complex was Carlisle. I’d like to see more of him.
Even the members of the original cast started to suffer. Robert’s whining about having nothing to do and then his failure to find something to do turned me off of him, and I really started to hate him when he pulled an attitude over everyone else busying themselves, leaving poor old him to eat lunch all alone and chase the maid. For God’s sake, read a book or something! Or, here’s an idea: you’ve said your job as Lord Lieutenant is to keep up morale. You’ve got a houseful of wounded soldiers. Why don’t you go spend some time with some of them and, you know, boost morale? We never once saw him doing this, nor was it mentioned, and he seemed unfamiliar with the soldiers, so I think it’s fair to say it never happened. He shut himself up in his library and pouted about other people being in his giant house and interrupting his busy schedule of reading the paper with their ping pong games. Poor man. Branson, too, was hugely wasted, which really disappointed me because I think this season could have been great for him, considering everything that was going on in Ireland. He should have been there, or at least he should have gotten involved in supporting the cause from England. Something. He certainly should have been doing more than kicking around Downton, coming up with incredibly stupid plans, info dumping about the Russian Revolution, and telling Sybil how much he loves her. What a total waste. He seemed like he had the potential to be such a dynamic character and then he turned out to be useless.
History became a bit of an issue this season. There was a lot going on during this time period, but major events, in many cases, received only a brief mention, if even that. The first two years of the war were skipped entirely. We spent more time on rationing than we did on major game-changing battles. The entry of the Americans, which was kind of a big deal, was never mentioned. I know this isn’t supposed to be a World War I documentary, but it almost felt like these people didn’t care about the war at all sometimes. It’s like Fellowes just looked at the Wikipedia entry for World War I and wrote entirely off of that.
I understand what happened here. Series 1 did spectacularly well, far better than anyone anticipated, and they knew they had to strike while the iron was hot, so they put the pressure on Fellowes to whip out another season quickly. He’s a busy guy; he’s got other projects going, so I think he just wasn’t able to spend as much time with this, both on the research and on the writing, as he could with series 1. So characters got sacrificed or were inconsistent. Absurd storylines were introduced, or less-absurd storylines were drawn out and beaten to death until we were sick of them. Timelines went out the window. I’m happy this show has done well, but I’d like to see series 3 do better, because I know the show can be better. So Julian Fellowes, if you’re reading this, please take a moment to step back and question whether we need four new maids or a vengeful ex or someone else to return from the dead, because every moment we have to spend with that nonsense is a moment less we can spend with the characters we’ve come to know and love and who actually seem like real, rounded people. Ease up on the gimmicky stories and cast loading and focus on characterization and story, because that’s where the real heart is. And for God’s sake, give poor Edith a boyfriend already!
That’s it for this season. I’ll be back when series 3 debuts sometime next year. Thanks for reading!