Downton Abbey: The Scarlet Letter

Downton-Abbey-Christmas-special-2013Previously on Downton Abbey: Bates possibly literally threw his wife’s rapist under a bus, and the fandom rejoiced; Robert took a trip to America to support his brother-in-law, who was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal; Edith and Rosamond made plans to head to the continent for an extended stay so Edith could have her baby quietly and adopt it out; and Mary, Isobel, and Tom got some romances going. There’s also some weird and creepy unknown history between Thomas and the new maid, Baxter.

Downton. Hughes gets off the phone and tells Daisy the London housekeeper’s ill, so Hughes has to go down and run the townhouse. For some reason, they want Daisy to come down too. Ivy rather messily exposits that Edith went away to Geneva for 8 months, but she looks tired all the time. So, we’re about a year on from the last episode. Which is a bit odd, because Cora was talking about Rose being presented and doing the Season the year before, but she only gets presented and has her coming out in this episode.

Edith and Tom are having a stroll outside so we can get a little further exposition. Tom, reasonably, asks why the London mansion wasn’t sold when Downton was in trouble (we all remember that, right? How Robert basically lost all their money and they were going to have to downsize to a place with only 10 bedrooms?) Edith says selling the place wouldn’t have been enough to save them.

Thomas wanders into the kitchen and asks Daisy if she’s excited to go to the city. She’s not, because she sees no difference between peeling potatoes in Yorkshire or London. He asks her to pass on a message to Baxter: he’s looking forward to the stories she’ll have to tell him. Daisy thinks that’s odd, but he’s certain Baxter will know what it means.

Edith pays a visit to Violet so they can chat about their London-bound travel plans. Edith, sounding seriously depressed, says she’s heading down the following day, so she can buy a new wardrobe now she’s back in shape. Violet kindly comments that she realizes giving the baby away must have been hell (the baby’s a girl, for those curious). And then she steps in it by jovially suggesting Edith’s French must be great after so long in Geneva. ‘That’s right, granny, let’s get back to what really matters,’ Edith says sourly, looking as if she’s been slapped. Fair enough. It’s probably best not to try and make light of a relative’s life-changing and oftentimes devastating decisions.

In London, at Grantham House (which has apparently changed its name, because I definitely remember Cora referring to it as Crawley House back in season 1), Robert’s whining about having to go to some party and Mary whines about ‘the American contingent’ arriving. I see she’s in her usual, nasty Christmas Special form. Cora gently admonishes her to remember that Martha is Mary’s grandmother, not that that slows Mary down, so Cora threatens to make Mary share a bedroom with Edith, to make room for all the guests. Hee! That shuts her bitch of a daughter up. As they get ready to leave, Cora suggests to Carson he arrange a day out for the staff after all this Season craziness is over, and Rose asks for permission to go to the Embassy Club after their appointment.

Lord Merton (Mary’s godfather) drops in unexpectedly on Isobel, who greets him with some unwarranted mocking, noting his dinner clothes and sarcastically remarking she’ll have to run upstairs and bedeck herself in family heirlooms. Wow, Isobel. He replies that, after 30 years with his wife, nasty sarcasm has no effect on him. I like this guy. She then strangely apologises for her humble bowl of soup (??) and he thankfully changes the subject and asks if she’s going to Rose’s ball. She’s been invited, but she doesn’t think she wants to go because it’s not really her scene. He says that’s too bad and leaves her ‘to the delights of her soup.’

Rose and a pretty young friend of hers arrive at the club, where bright young things are kicking up their heels. Her friend notices her father’s there, with the Prince of Wales, who’s wearing his garter star and a sash in a nightclub. No. The future Duke of Windsor was waaaay too fashionable to do that. And that really wasn’t done anyway. Also, this part was apparently cast by someone who’d never seen a picture of the real Prince Edward, because the actor doesn’t even begin to look like the real deal. The girls go over to the table, where everyone’s introduced. Rose’s friend’s name is Madeline, and the prince is accompanied by Freda Dudley Ward, who was on her last legs as his mistress. The Prince knows Rose’s dad, because he put the Prince up while he was touring India. He and Rose chat a bit, and Freda whispers to Rose that the Prince was getting a little grouchy before she showed up, but now he’s much more chipper.

Branson sees off Edith and tells Thomas that he’ll be going to the pub for dinner.

Blake shows up at Grantham House to collect Mary for lunch and an art show viewing.

Back north, Thomas slams a tea tray down and starts bitching to Ivy about Tom deigning to give him orders, when, in the normal course of events, Tom would still be a chauffeur and below Thomas in the house’s pecking order. I’m not sure that’s entirely true—chauffeurs (and grooms and coachmen before them) were somewhat separate from the indoor staff. He might have technically been beneath Carson, but probably not the under-butler. But anyway, Thomas, as usual, is just looking for something to complain about, because that’s really all his character is now.

Edith pulls up at the house with Daisy and Hughes just as Martha and Harold arrive. Edith hops out and warmly greets her grandmother, who’s arrived so early there’s nobody in the house to receive her. Edith rather tightly says that she’s there now and politely asks how the journey was. Martha complains that her maid quit just before they left. Edith asks why. ‘Who knows why these people do what they do?’ Martha shrugs, with incredible snobbery for someone who proclaims herself so modern. Carson escorts her inside so Edith can meet her uncle for the first time. Yes, this is Paul Giamatti’s big moment on Downton, and just let me say, I don’t think he’s putting this down as a career highlight. He was ok, but I’m not sure I’d put this particular performance of his down as great. Ditto Shirley MacLaine. They’ve never met because he’s never found the need to leave America. He makes it clear he’s not pleased to be here and Edith’s face perfectly conveys: Oh, this is going to be a looooong visit.

Harold’s valet, Ethan Slade, arrives belowstairs and immediately latches onto Daisy, asking if she’s a lady’s maid, because they need one, fast, preferably one with skin like a rhino. Hughes explains that Daisy’s the assistant cook. Ethan’s a regular puppydog, all enthusiastic about being in London, which he’s never seen before. He asks Daisy if she’s excited. ‘I’m never excited,’ she deadpans.

Inside, Patmore’s delighted to see Daisy and hears that Martha’s arrived without a maid. Hughes asks Baxter to help out, and she’s fine with that, but says Martha and Cora will have to make allowances for her only having two hands. Daisy passes along Thomas’s message, which predictably confuses Baxter. I’m starting to think Thomas is slightly crazy and just playing these games and schemes out inside his own head.

Mary and Blake take in the exhibition and Mary asks him what sort of scheme he’s working on these days to beat down the upper classes. Come again? I wouldn’t say that any of his work was really a ‘scheme to bring down the upper classes’, Mary. He’s just a realist who understands that you can’t live indefinitely in an enormous house you can’t pay for. She kind of accuses him of viewing toffs as the villains of every piece in a post-war world. Oh, please. First off, that’s not true at all. Second, rich people have been villains in pieces forever. It wasn’t a 1920s phenomenon. They run into Rose and Gill and Freda and get to chatting. Rose accidentally brings up a party that’s being given at Grantham House that evening, to which she’s invited Gill. Blake hasn’t been invited, nor has Freda, and when Freda comments on it, Mary has no choice but to invite them both. And that prompts the boys to start mildly arguing, until Freda tells them to chill. Mary condescendingly asks Blake if he knows how these evenings work: there’s a dinner first, and then most people start to arrive around half past nine. Maybe I extrapolated a bit much, but I was always under the impression that Blake knew perfectly well how to operate in high society. He may have a fairly blunt way of speaking (then again, so do Mary and Violet), but he does know ‘how things work,’ so it strikes me as very odd that Mary’s behaving like he’s, well, Matthew when he first showed up at Downton. But then, she’s always been one to make assumptions. Typically wrong ones.

At the house, Carson tells Hughes he’s glad she’s there and asks for her opinion of the staff day out. His ideas suck: the unfinished science museum or the crystal palace. Instead of telling him her actual opinion—that these are really boring ideas that the staff will hate—Hughes oddly sets him up by suggesting he go right ahead and try these ideas out on the staff and see how they react. That seems mean to me.

Cora finally gets home and bursts into the sitting room, where Edith and Robert have been entertaining her uncle and grandmother. Martha explains that she’s dragging her son all over Europe on a trip he totally doesn’t want. Fun!

In Downton Village, Tom runs into Sarah Bunting, who immediately tells him he’s been avoiding her. He claims he hasn’t, he’s just been busy these past few months. Hold up, how does he manage to avoid this woman in a village this size for, what, almost a year? Has he just never gone into town? To make up for it, he invites her to join him for dinner at the pub. At that moment, Violet pulls up and asks if Edith got off all right. Tom says she did, and then because Miss Bunting’s right there, he introduces her. Violet is unimpressed and pompously informs the woman that Rose is being presented soon and Violet’s going down to join the after-presentation supper at the Palace, which was totally a thing that did not exist. Light refreshments were laid out for the presentors and presentees, but there wasn’t some big dinner to which various relatives and friends were invited, because that would be insane. There could be hundreds of presentations in a single day, so that would have been way too many people to feed. Violet makes sure Tom’s still coming to London for Rose’s ball and drives off.

Daisy’s a model of efficiency in the kitchen, and Ethan asks if she’s ever considered becoming a chef on her own. She bitchily asks if he always tries to change people’s lives after he’s known them half an hour. Why is everyone being so unnecessarily nasty this episode? Carson comes in and asks Ethan if he’d be willing to pitch in as a footman while he’s there. Ethan’s game, but confused about the English naming convention by which servants of guests are called by their employer’s last name, so he’s being called Levinson. Because he’s Amuuuurican and Amuuuuricans are xenophobic, uncouth, and clueless about how things are done.

Tom and Sarah are having their dinner, and she asks him to show her the house. He’s not entirely comfortable with that, but sees no way out.

During their party, Robert tells Cora he wishes Tom was there. Not because he actually wants Tom there, but because Tom’s bringing Isis. Why didn’t Robert just bring Isis? Rose presents Madeline and Madeline’s dad, Lord Aysgarth, to Martha and Harold. They exchange some smalltalk. Rosamond shows up, accompanied by Mr Sampson, the cardshark whom Robert stupidly invited to the Downton house party. Mary and Gill flirt a tiny bit, and Sampson and Aysgarth chat. Sampson tells Aysgarth that Martha and Harold are superrich and Aysgarth practically launches his daughter in Harold’s direction.

Ethan’s trying to hand out hors d’ouevres, but Carson comes over to yell at him for trying to talk to the guests.

Belowstairs, Hughes meets up with Anna and asks her if she has any clothes she wants to donate to some Russian refugees. Anna promises to paw through the closets.

Cora, Martha, Madeline, and Harold are smalltalking now. Harold says he’s prepared to face the cold baths, warm drinks, and crappy food that England has to offer. Well, he’s a fun houseguest so far. Cora suggests Harold escort Madeline into supper, and then leaves them alone so things can get awkward. Harold says she doesn’t have to accept his escort if she doesn’t want to, but she does.

Elsewhere, Sampson wanders over to Rose and Freda just in time to overhear them making plans to go to the Embassy Club later. They invite him to come along. A little distance away, Gill wonders why Sampson’s there and Mary explains that Rosamond brought him and they couldn’t get rid of him without a scene. Edith wonders if they should make more scenes when things don’t go their way, like the more passionate races do, with their tendency to throw themselves into graves and all that. She thinks they must feel better afterwards. Well, except for all the bruising, presumably.

Tom’s showing Sarah around the house, looking a bit nervous. She asks to look down from the gallery and heads up the stairs. He’s really uncomfortable with this, but she seems unconcerned. She sees all the heraldic shields hanging around the upper story. One side of each is the Crawley arms, and the other side is for each countess. She snarks that she doesn’t see one with a dollar sign, for Cora. Wow. Thomas comes out of the shadows like a creeper and asks if he can help them. Branson freaks out and says they were just going downstairs and he’s taking Sarah home now. Thomas smirks.

Ethan tells Patmore the food went over really well. Most of it was Daisy’s work, and Patmore generously gives her all the credit.

Rose, Freda, and Madeline show up at the club, giggling over a letter Freda showed them. Harold’s there as well, along with Madeline’s father. He urges Harold to dance with his daughter, and he obliges, because he’s apparently used to this sort of thing. Rose spots a friend and Freda disappears as well, so Sampson’s all alone at the table with their purses. He grabs one and starts going through it.

Branson’s having a really uncomfortable breakfast, with Thomas standing right behind him. He tries to explain that what he saw the night before was totally innocent. Thomas makes it clear he’ll think whatever he wants about it, and clenches his fist.

Merton’s back at Isobel’s, so we can learn that she’s going down to London with Violet. Oh, that’ll be a fun pairing for a long roadtrip. He thanks her for writing to him about changing her mind about going to Rose’s ball. He asks what changed her mind and she said she thought it over and realized that these things—balls and presentations—were not aristocratic nonsense but traditions that actually mean something to people. And she was being unbearably smug by looking down on them. Wow, that was actually rather big of her. Now that she’s going, he’s definitely going too.

Edith pays a visit to Rosamond and tells her that she’s got power of attorney over Michael’s business, which she’ll have to start running. Rosamond gently asks if there’s a will out there. There is, but Edith can’t really bear to look into it. She also thinks that Michael’s child should have some rights here, but Rosamond firmly tells her that his child isn’t really his child anymore, she belongs to Mr and Mrs Schroeder and lives in Geneva. Edith says there was no formal agreement but Rosamond tries to shut down that whole line of thinking, telling her that wouldn’t be fair to the Schroeders.

Daisy gets a letter from Alfred, telling her he’s finished his course and gotten a job at the Ritz. Ethan overhears and inquires about this Alfred, and Daisy delightedly fills him in on the details.

Violet and Isobel get ready to head down to London, with Merton there to see Isobel off. Bizarrely, Cora told Violet to come to London without her maid. Why would she do that? Now Baxter’s going to have to take care of three people. That’s just idiotic. Violet’s worried about having to travel on her own and Isobel says she’s never travelled with a maid, so she’s pretty sure she can get them there in one piece. They immediately start to bicker.

Anna hands Hughes an old coat of Bates’s for the Russian refugees. Hughes goes through the pockets and finds an old railway ticket from the day Green was killed, which puts Bates in the city.

Cora, Robert, and Rose make their way to the Palace for Rose’s presentation, past enormous crowds of cheering people, which I don’t really buy. The line of cars would back up for hours, I don’t think people would be waiting around for that, especially in the post-war world.

Inside, Robert goes off with the men, leaving Cora and Rose to get ready for the presentation. Rose is excited, Cora admits to feeling a little nervous, which makes sense, because these presentations were no joke. There was a very specific set of rules, right down to what one wore (definitely three feathers, cocked to one side or not, according to the prevailing fashion, train of a certain length, and a tulle veil to the heels). To even be presented, the presentee’s sponsor had to write to the Lord Chamberlain months in advance, and if she and her presentee were deemed suitable an invitation would be issued. Women could only be presented by another woman who had, herself, already been presented. Typically this was a female relative of some kind, but some hard up and rather enterprising ladies would sell their services as sponsors for girls who didn’t have anyone suitable in the family. And it wasn’t just debs who were presented—married ladies often were too.

Sorry, I’m currently working on a novel set in the pre-war era and I’ve done far more research into this kind of thing than any reasonable person should.

Upstairs, Rose and Cora run into Madeline so we can find out that Madeline’s dad will be along to the after-presentation supper, and that Martha and Harold have scored invitations through Robert, which is absurd.

Back at the house, Hughes asks Carson where Mary is and hears she’s in the library, alone. Ethan shows up, so Hughes makes herself scarce. Once they’re alone, Ethan asks Carson if there’s something between Alfred and Daisy. Why’s he asking Carson? It makes much more sense for him to ask Patmore, who’s actually Daisy’s boss. Carson makes life rough for the poor boy for a little, then tells him there’s nothing going on between Daisy and Alfred. Ethan, relieved, hurries out.

Rose is presented and, accompanied by Cora, approaches the king and queen. Rose curtsies, while Cora just stands there. No, no, no. Cora would definitely have had to curtsey. The Prince tells his father that Rose is Flintshire’s daughter and the king tells Rose her father was most hospitable to the Prince. Rose is gracious, Cora finally curtsies, and then she and Rose turn and walk out of the room. No, no, no, no, no. You NEVER turn your back on royalty. After a girl was presented, she actually had to back up three steps, curtsey again, and back out of the room. It was complicated; they practiced for months. And they had to have their trains (which were a few feet long) weighted so they wouldn’t trip over them. Jesus, you don’t even turn your back on royalty now, how did they get this wrong?

Sigh. Sorry, like I said, I’m pretty deeply into this just now.

Hughes, for some reason, takes the ticket she found to Mary. Why would she do this? She admits that she has no intention of telling Anna about it, and that she’s just handing it off to Mary…because? Any normal person would have destroyed it. Especially any normal person who, like Hughes, thinks whoever killed Green did the world a favour. She’s just making this needlessly complicated.

Rose and Cora join the others at this dinner and Harold eagerly asks if he might get the chance to meet the king and queen. Robert suggests he’d have better luck with the Prince. Martha, meanwhile, is being chatted up by Aysgarth. She seems unimpressed.

Harold’s joined Madeline and notes that her father is showing quite an interest in his mother, and then he meanly says that Martha only has an income for life. After she dies, all the money reverts to Harold. Madeline’s obviously getting uncomfortable, and though he notices, Harold continues calling her dad a golddigger, basically. Which is true, but that’s pretty cruel and rude to make a big thing of it, when Madeline seems perfectly sweet. She looks like she wants to cry and rushes off.

Freda finds Rose and asks if she happened to help herself to that letter they found so amusing the other night. Rose says she doesn’t have it and wonders if it was Madeline. Freda says it wasn’t. Rose asks if anyone’s tried the blackmail route yet. Well, if they had, Rose, then presumably she wouldn’t be asking if you had it. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Martha, so Rose introduces Freda. Martha’s heard of her, through the American gossip columns. The British papers, astonishingly enough, were incredibly discreet about the Prince’s affairs during this time. They actually held off reporting anything about Wallis Simpson until almost the day of the abdication. Amazing to think of that now, isn’t it?

Harold finally approaches the Prince, hand outstretched, with a, ‘How do you do? Harold Levinson.’ The Prince, who apparently doesn’t mix much with humans, despite the fact that he apparently frequents nightclubs, stiffly tells Harold that he’s not this ‘Harold Levinson’ that Harold seems to have mistaken him for. Harold clarifies which one of them is the real Harold and the Prince snits at him for calling the Prince Harold and stomps off. Well, that was unnecessarily odd. Then again, the Prince was kind of a weirdo, so I won’t call them out on this. Harold laughs at the weirdness of these Brits.

The next day, Rose brings the whole letter dilemma to Robert. She’s already figured Sampson was probably the one who took the letter, which suggests she’s one of the smartest people in this family.

Ethan tells Daisy that Harold’s invited Madeline to a picnic, to make up for being such a jerk at the Palace. Daisy says that’s not really appropriate, but Ethan says Martha and Madeline’s dad will be there, so it’s all right and proper. He wants Daisy to make the food and serve, but Daisy tells him she doesn’t serve. He’s desperate to have her there, so he offers to serve himself, as long as she gets it ready. Patmore realizes what’s up and tells Daisy to go ahead.

Robert, having gotten the story, asks the very question I was thinking, which is, why did Freda have this incredibly scandalous letter in her handbag? Which she then left unattended on the table? Rose feels badly, because she was the one joking about the letter, which is what made Sampson go pawing through the handbag in the first place. Robert’s horrified and immediately starts plotting to get the letter back, figuring it’s in Sampson’s flat.

Tom’s ready to get on the road, accompanied by Thomas and Ivy, who are going to town to help with Rose’s party. Thomas, wearing the smuggest smile imaginable, tells Tom that it’s going to be a bit of a squash with him and Ivy and Ivy’s basket of kitchen crap in the front of the car. Well, that’s too bad, Thomas. Tom figures Thomas wants to sit in the back and, to my great joy, refuses to let him do so, seeing this for the nasty little power play it is. Thwarted, Thomas opens the car door with maximum attitude.

Daisy’s packing up the picnic, and apparently the party now somehow includes Violet, even though she hates Martha, so I’m not sure why she’d be willingly going on a picnic with her. Oh, and Isobel’s going too. Whatever. They’re headed for the Albert Memorial, which Ethan is unfamiliar with, of course, because, you know, Amuuurican. Amuuuricans can’t be bothered looking at pictures of places they’re super excited about visiting, you know. Or learning anything about said places. Frankly, I think Julian Fellowes hates Americans, they tend to get pretty short shrift in his work. Jimmy’s sent along to help out with the supersized picnic party. As the servants move out, Carson tells Patmore it was nice of her to spare Daisy. She thinks it would do Daisy some good to have a young man pay a little attention to her for a bit. Patmore’s so sweet.

Robert has summoned Bates and asks if he happens to know any forgers from his time in prison. He needs a forged note from Sampson telling the porter of his apartment building to open up his flat. Luckily, they have a sample of Sampson’s writing. Bates says he can get this done pretty fast. Robert promises this isn’t quite as dodgy as it sounds, even though it totally is.

Edith’s back with Rosamond, and it seems like she’s decided she wants the baby back. Rosamond desperately tries to talk her out of it and asks if there’s been any more news of Michael. A little: apparently he took exception to what some brownshirts were saying and got into a fight. That was pretty stupid of him. Sorry, but if you’re going for citizenship in a country, you don’t rock the boat at all. Edith wants to give the child at least half of any inheritance she might receive if Michael’s really dead. Rosamond tells her that the current arrangement is really for the best, and that there’ll be other loves (not if her family has anything to do with it) and that could be ruined if she goes ahead with this.

Hughes comes upon Bates practicing his forging skills and asks him how he likes being in London. He likes it, and he’s missed it, since he hasn’t been since he buried his mother. Hughes tries not to scream: liar, liar! as she quickly leaves.

Robert’s now brought both Cora and Mary into this whole letter mess, because this is really one of those situations where the more people know about it the better. For some reason, Robert wants Mary to go and fetch the letter while the others distract Sampson. Really? Mary’s the best choice for this? Why? I guess it doesn’t matter. Rose is going to go as well, because sending two well-known, attractive society ladies to a bachelor’s apartment won’t be memorable to anyone who sees them. Robert’s planning to have a card game to act as the distraction. Yes, that’s right, he’s planning on sitting down with a card shark to play another game. And he’s gathering family and friends to play as well. Robert kind of sucks. No wonder he doesn’t seem to have any friends. Cora suggests they ask Gill, because as we know he totally has money to waste on keeping the Crawleys out of trouble. Rose suggests Aysgarth as well, but Robert’s worried about having Martha around, rudely commenting that she’ll make some crack and give the whole thing away. So, don’t tell her what you’re doing, Robert. What kind of crack would she make about what appears to just be a card game? He suggests getting rid of her by having Rosamond take her and Violet and Isobel to the theatre and supper. Oh, and the men will need dinner. He decides to further gild the pot by dangling Harold as another player. To make sure he accepts, Rose suggests they invite Madeline as well. Have we got all this? I have no idea why they couldn’t just wait until the guy left to go to another party or a nightclub or another card game or something, and then go in, or maybe just let Freda and the Prince clean up their own messes. Cora’s not entirely comfortable with sending the two girls to burgle some guy’s flat and suggests Evelyn Napier. Excuse me, Cora? Why in God’s name would Evelyn be willing to do this? I don’t think he wants to date Mary that badly. Unfortunately, he’s in France. Cora next suggests Blake. Seriously? Mary, for once, agrees with me and thinks the Prince should take care of this, but Robert can’t abide the idea of the heir to the throne being mixed up in some scandal he’s sure will haunt him the rest of his days. Oh, please, Robert. This would blow over in no time. It’s just a love letter, how scandalous could it be? It’s not like it’s an illegitimate baby or something. And it’s not like the Prince is married. He’s carrying on an affair, which was something practically expected of upper class men of the time. The world would largely shrug. Freda, if anyone, would be the person most likely to suffer, since she’s a) married and b) a woman, and that double standard can be a bitch. Robert totally exaggerates that their family is responsible for this whole debacle, so it’s up to them to sort it out. Whatever, Robert.

Harold’s loving his picnic, mostly because of the food. Aysgarth asks Martha about her travel plans, expressing envy over her ability to hotel hop without a care for the expense. Madeline brings up Harold’s reputation as a playboy and he readily tells her he likes yachts and pretty girls who want nothing more than a good time and a diamond bracelet. She manages to bring the conversation around to marriage, and when he says he doesn’t know many women who’d want to marry him, she says she doubts that’s true. He guesses it’s because he’s rich, which is probably actually the case, since it’s not like he’s charming, cultured, or terribly polite. She accuses him of trying to offend her again and he backs up, saying he doesn’t want to do that, because he admires her a great deal. She figures he’s not interested in going along with her father’s scheme (which is, I guess, to marry Madeline?) and he says he won’t, and neither will Madeline, because she’s a better person than her dad. She asks if he plans to warn his mother but he chuckles that his mother can take care of herself.

Mary and Rose tell Patmore they’ll be having a few more to dinner and then ask after Bates. Patmore points them to the servants’ hall, where he’s waiting with the finished note. Rose can’t believe Bates’s ‘friend’ got it done so fast, since it apparently hasn’t occurred to anyone that this is Bates’s work to begin with. I take it back about her being the smartest one in the family. Rose skips off but Mary stays behind to see if she can get him to say something incriminating, by the sound of it. He says nothing, so off she goes to find Mrs Hughes and tell her she’s not sure she can stay quiet about the ticket. See, Hughes, this is why I said you should have kept your damn mouth shut about that. She’s suddenly grown a conscience and thinks this is all terribly wrong.

Over tea, Violet hears about the card game and this theatre plan but says she has no interest in the theatre. Isobel’s not interested in going either. Cora says the ladies can just chat, then. This whole plot is so stupid and out of left field that even Violet can sense there’s something strange going on, and she’s only just wandered in. So why is everyone so certain Sampson won’t smell a rat? Isobel suggests another card game with Blake, but Mary and Rose lie really poorly and say that Blake’s taking them to a show. A short one. Now Edith’s realizing that this is all really nuts, so Robert turns his attention to the dog. And then Martha and Harold come in, so Violet can make fun of them for being Americans. Martha’s not particularly enthusiastic about the theatre plan either, but she gets up and says she’ll go upstairs to change. ‘Yes, you should,’ Violet says nastily. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with all these people? That was just totally uncalled for. And Violet, you should change too, because you’re not in eveningwear either.

Down in the kitchens, Ivy whines about how Alfred’s now cooking for famous people, and says he’s escaped from ordinary life. Uh, no he hasn’t, Ivy. He’s still stuck in a kitchen, just like you.

The men arrive for their card game, and as they head in, Thomas pulls Robert aside and tells him that Tom had a young woman upstairs a few days before, making it sound skeevy, of course. Now, you’d think that with Thomas’s history of stealing, molesting fellow servants, lying, and general shit-stirring anyone with two brain cells to rub together would take anything he had to say with more than a grain of salt, but this is Robert we’re talking about, and I don’t think he even has one brain cell. Still, Thomas has become one of this show’s most boring characters for me. He never grows, never expands, just keeps reverting back to his smug, obnoxious old ways and he keeps getting rewarded for it, which is ridiculous. Can he be the next to go, please?

Belowstairs, Carson pitches his outing ideas to the servants and is predictably met with crickets. The poor man flounders desperately. Nice job, Hughes. Anna catches Hughes and asks if she found anything in the pockets of that overcoat, because Bates was a little cross with her for giving it away before he could go through the pockets. Let’s pause for a moment and consider the fact that that train ticket sat in that pocket for a year, or close to. This is a man we know is at least somewhat schooled in criminal ways, and it didn’t occur to him for at least eight months to get rid of the one bit of evidence linking him to a murder? That is so unbelievably stupid. Hughes assures Anna there was nothing in the pockets that matters now.

Molesley notes Thomas sidling up to Baxter and asking if she got his message. She did, but she has nothing to tell him. Molesley intervenes and gives her an excuse to leave. She gratefully thanks him.

Outside the kitchens, Ethan tells Daisy that Harold wants her to come to New York and be his cook. Daisy’s surprised by that.

The game gets started and Sampson brings up Michael’s disappearance, saying he’s a bit glad the man’s not joining them this time, because he’s pretty sure his playing wasn’t entirely aboveboard. Robert mentions Thomas’s insinuations to Tom, who admits he brought Bunting back to the house to look around the house after dinner. Robert does not seem pleased.

The porter escorts Mary and Rose and Blake (why did they bring him in on this? Why him, of all people? Why not send Branson with the ladies, if they needed a male escort? Hell, why not send Branson by himself to retrieve the letter, if you’re so concerned about how it’ll look to have the ladies there?) The porter lets them into the rather sad little flat and they start going through his things.

Thomas has Baxter in the servants’ hall and brings up whatever big, bad mysterious secret she’s hiding, telling her she can’t hide behind Molesley forever. She tells him that Molesley has the advantage of him by actually being a nice person. Zing!

Mary returns home and lets herself into the card room, indicating their failure by briefly shaking her head in Robert’s direction. He shuts the game right down. On the way out, Gill guesses they all failed to protect the Prince from his recklessness. They told Gill too?! Why? What’s the point of even getting this letter back at this point, everyone seems to know about it!

He sighs that the press will go to town and Mary says it probably will, but the Prince would have tripped himself up eventually. Blake strolls over, so Gill gracefully hands her off so they can have a moment. Blake’s happy that Mary called on him when she was in trouble. He hopes she’ll do it again, or just call on him for whatever reason. All he wants is a chance with her. She tells him it seems like her lot’s going down while his is on the way up, and she doubts that’ll contribute to a peaceful coexistence. He thinks they could make it work and heads out, telling her he’ll see her at the ball.

Carson reports to Bates that Rose has a message: the note worked, but they didn’t find what they were looking for. Bates immediately offers to go topside and help the gentlemen with their coats. You know, in a scene that took place earlier this very day, Harold was lolling around the park in shirtsleeves, and Madeline was in a light, short-sleeved summer dress. It’s summertime in London, and while London is a bit cooler on average than, say, New York, I still don’t see why the gentlemen would have needed coats. The temperature wouldn’t dip that much at night, and they’d all probably be going right from the door and into cabs or cars anyway.

Hughes catches Carson in the hallway and asks if he’s had any further thoughts about the outing. He wonders if Madame Tussaud’s would be better. By her reaction, I guess not.

Upstairs, Robert takes some time out from idiotic schemes to be a decent parent and asks Edith if she’s ok, because he’s worried about her and can’t really get a good read on her. She reassures him she’d never do anything to hurt him, which confuses him, but she won’t elaborate. Cora, meanwhile, has told Violet about what the evening as really all about. Sampson joins them and comments on Aysgarth’s pursuit of Martha before bidding Cora goodnight and graciously thanking her. Elsewhere in the room, Harold says he’s glad Madeline came and that he hopes to see her at the ball.

As the guests leave, Bates leaps to grab Sampson’s coat and helps him on with it. After the last of them leave, Bates catches Robert and hands over the letter, which Sampson had in his coat pocket. Man, Bates really learned a lot of useful things in prison, didn’t he? Robert goes into the drawing room and triumphantly waves the letter for Mary and Rose. Rose is overjoyed.

Sampson returns home, finds a letter from his desk on the floor, and finally thinks to check his coat pocket for the letter which is no longer there.

While she gets ready for bed, Mary fills Anna in on the whole letter affair, because why not just tell everyone now? I wouldn’t be surprised if she then sat down and wrote a letter to Evelyn in France about it too. And maybe held a séance so Patrick and Matthew wouldn’t miss out. Anyway, Mary tells Anna they’re really in Bates’s debt here, and Anna says he’s just really loyal to the family. Mary reassures her that the family is loyal to him and Anna as well. Anna leaves and Mary, after a moment’s hesitation, burns the incriminating ticket.

Servants scurry about, getting the place ready for the party. Musicians tune up, Carson OCDs over the placement of a punchbowl. Belowstairs, Hughes hangs up a postcard of a beach scene in a prominent spot on the bulletin board.

Guests start to arrive, and Rose joins them, along with Madeline. Harold’s face kind of adorably lights up when he sees her and he edges his way through the crowd in her direction. Cora finds Robert and suggests he and Rose kick off the dancing, but then the Prince and Freda show up, uninvited, and Freda suggests Rose and the Prince get things started. Everyone is only too happy to oblige, because having the future king show up at your coming out ball was pretty unprecedented. Other dancers join them: Mary and Gill, and Cora and Robert. Off to the side, Violet asks Tom if he’s glad he came. He just sort of smiles. She firmly tells him that these are his people and this is his family now. Hey, whatever happened to Tom’s mother? Isn’t she his family too? Tom tells Violet that this may be his family, but they’re not really his people. ‘That sounds like a challenge,’ says Violet. He offers another: an invitation to dance. She accepts, laughing that she knows he can steer. Heh. Blake joins Freda and asks how she managed this and she says she told the Prince that, in his whole life, he’d never owe more to anyone than he does to Rose. Oh, I seriously, seriously doubt that. She didn’t tell him why, though, because he tells her, and he’s a faithful little chap. Actually, by this time, Freda was well on her way out, so he’s not all that faithful.

Elsewhere, Martha has apparently dumped Aysgarth, who can’t believe she doesn’t want to be Lady Aysgarth. Martha brings down some anvils on this thing by telling him she’s super modern and doesn’t hanker after the old days and doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life with people who think she’s loud and common. He asks why she encouraged him and she says she thought he’d liven up the trip. As a consolation prize, she invites him to Newport and promises to rustle up some rich widows for him to hit on.

Harold’s dancing with Madeline and tells her that London has remade him in a different image. She wonders if perhaps it’s just brought out his true nature, and then switches subjects completely and asks him not to judge all of them too harshly, because her father just doesn’t know how to live without money and that’s why he’s so hotly pursuing it. He thanks her for her honesty and says he’s sorry he couldn’t help. She says he has helped: he’s convinced her not to play her father’s games anymore. As a thanks, she gives him some realtalk: he’s a good guy, and is kind of shortchanging himself. He could totally get a nice wife if he wanted one, so he should give himself a bit of credit. He thanks her and asks her to write to him and tell him how things are going. She agrees.

Mary and Gill escape to an adjoining room, which Blake is not happy to see.

Downstairs, Molesley runs into Baxter and tells her that he knows Thomas has something over her, and he doesn’t want to know what it is, but she needs to resist his bullying, because if she gets drawn into the man’s schemes it won’t end well for her.

Gill asks Mary if there’s any further possibility of a future together, and she admits she feels badly for dangling both him and Blake. She says her whole job right now is holding onto Downton for her son, and that she’s not keen on Blake because she thinks he’s on the other side of that struggle. Mary, no he isn’t. If he were, he’d have let your pigs die. He’s made it very clear that he admires estates and owners who diversify and at least make a go of it. He’s not looking to take your home away! She goes on to say that he’s an outsider who resents her and the people she came from. Gill, being a decent man, tells her that that’s not actually true: Blake’s from Society as well. In fact, he’s the heir to his distant cousin’s estate and baronetcy. Mary can’t believe nobody told her this before and Gill asks her if it makes a difference. Well, yes, we all know how Mary loves money. She claims that it makes a difference to know that he and she are on the same side and I just can’t be bothered to try and follow her idiot logic anymore. If you thought he was against you before, because of the things he said and did, than the fact that he’s the heir to some distant relative’s estate doesn’t actually change any of that, Mary. He still thinks and talks the same way!

Gill sadly guesses the tide just turned against him. She says she thought for a while that she’d never get over Matthew, but now she’s starting to accept that there’ll be a new life for her someday, with someone. Maybe even him.

Merton arrives at the ball, throwing Isobel into a tizzy, for some reason, even though she knew he was going to be there. Violet teases her a little, and then Merton arrives and asks Isobel to dance. She tries to beg off, but he won’t allow it.

Blake notes Mary’s and Gill’s return to the ballroom. Rose drags Gill off for a dance, so Blake partners Mary.

Sad Edith is talking to Tom, who says that the two of them really need to stand up to the rest of the family when necessary. She takes heart and goes to inform her mother and Rosamond that she’s heading home in the morning, and furthermore, she might go back to the Continent for a little. Rosamond carefully asks if someone else could go for her, but Edith tells her that’s absolutely not possible.

Violet and Martha run into each other upstairs so they can have an opportunity to sharpen their claws on each other. Violet mocks Martha for being taken in by Aysgarth and Martha calls her stuck up and says she turned the man down because she has no wish to be a great lady. ‘A decision that must be reinforced whenever you look in the glass,’ says Violet. My GOD, Violet! She really is just a horrible, mean old woman at this point, isn’t she? She’s run out of zingy one-liners, so now she just insults everyone. Horribly. Martha won’t take that lying down and says she’s fine with what she sees in the mirror, because she sees a woman who’s vibrant and modern and living in a world that’s coming into its own, while Violet’s is slipping further and further away. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, Martha. Your world is about to be seriously rocked by the coming Depression, and a lot of your friends are going to find themselves totally wiped out, whereas a lot of the great aristocratic families are still going, even today. Nevertheless, the look on Violet’s face indicates that arrow’s just struck home.

At dawn, Hughes reports to Carson that there are still some people left in the ballroom. He tells her to go get some rest and he’ll take care of it. She brings up the outing again, telling him they really should get that settled, and he says he’s been thinking of just a day by the seaside, though he knows it’s not terribly original. For heaven’s sake with this subplot—why didn’t Hughes just suggest this to him on one of the two occasions he asked for her opinion? Why all the subterfuge? We know these two can communicate like normal humans, they’ve done it before!

Mary sees Blake off and asks him why he never told her about the estate he’s to inherit. He says he’s not entirely sure. Part of it was he didn’t want her to assume they shared the same prejudices just because they came from privileged backgrounds. And later, he wanted to win her over for his own sake. But, sadly for him, it looks like that didn’t happen—she’s only sat up and taken notice when she found out he was the heir to a large fortune. She’s horrible.

Mary admits that Gill told her, which surprises Blake, but Mary thinks that Gill, being decent, wanted to keep this a fair fight. ‘And now, let battle commence,’ Blake says, a bit playfully. Mary repeats it, not playful at all. Ugh.

A complete random—a hallboy, maybe?—delivers some tea for Edith and Farmer Drew. Apparently, Edith has already sketched out her rather harebrained scheme to the man: she’ll go to the Continent to fetch her daughter, then return in a couple of days, hand the baby off to Drew and his wife to raise, and secretly pay them for her upkeep. He seems to think this’ll work just fine, since his wife dotes on kids. So, she gets absolutely no say in this? Edith claims that a friend died and she wound up with the baby, which she’s now handing it off to a tenant farmer. Sure, that makes perfect sense. Drew asks why she can’t have the kid at Downton and Edith hastily says her parents disapproved of her friendship with the mother. He seems to realize that the baby’s really Edith’s and promises to keep this a secret just between the two of them. He offers to cut her out of the narrative completely and to tell his wife that a friend of his died and left him with the kid. ‘She won’t ask any questions,’ he adds. She won’t? Why the hell not? Seriously, who wouldn’t start asking questions if their husband just announced they were taking on someone else’s kid? First off, who is this mysterious friend who trusts you with his baby but who has never been mentioned before? Where’s this mysterious extra cash coming from? I think most women would actually assume the baby was their husband’s, which means a lot of other questions. This is almost as ridiculous as the letter scheme. She tearfully asks if he would really do that for her and he says he would, just for her. Why he seems to owe so much loyalty to Edith is a bit of a mystery, and this whole thing does have a slightly uncomfortable feeling of him paying the family back in a big way for Robert’s generosity about the farm and the back rent. Edith thinks nothing of that and just cries and says it seems like there are some really decent people left in the world.

The staff’s all gathered happily at the seaside. Thomas joins Baxter and says he knows she’s hiding something. She says she’s not and basically tells him to buzz off. He leaves and is replaced by Molesley, whom she thanks for helping her not be so afraid of things anymore. She tells him he’s made her strong, which is probably the first time he’s heard anything like that.

Daisy awkwardly tells Ethan she’s not going to America. He asks if she knows why he proposed the idea and she says she thinks she does, but she’s still not going. She does, however, appreciate his interest and thanks him for it. Ivy jumps in and offers to go and be Harold’s cook instead. So, I guess we’re losing Ivy now. Can’t say I’m too crushed by that. Ivy and Ethan leave and Patmore tells Daisy that that was kindly done. Daisy shrugs that Ivy should go to America if that’s what she really wants. Patmore asks if Daisy’s upset about the whole thing, but Daisy giggles that it feels nice to have a boy interested in her.

Anna and Bates stroll in the sun and she brings up the coat. He says he just wishes she’d let him go through the pockets first. She apologises and offers to make it up to him. He suggests she buy him a penny lick. Nah, too easy.

Carson, his trousers rolled up almost to his knees, steps into the sea. Hughes urges him to wade in further, but he frets about getting his trousers wet or falling over. She tells him to relax and just hold her hand, so they can go together. Oh…oh God, please, no. No, please…

He agrees to hold her hand, and she delivers a supremely awkward line: ‘You can always hold my hand if it’ll make you feel a bit steady.’ He observes that she made that sound risqué (she totally didn’t), and then they join hands, with the camera lovingly zooming in on the moment. Oh, please, please, please don’t ship these two! Seriously, no. It’s not that I don’t like Carson and Hughes, it’s just that I don’t like them together as a couple. I’ve always liked that they seem to share a genuine friendship, which was never complicated by anything romantic. It’s allowed them to be really honest with each other (except for this episode, I’m afraid). Plus, both have made it clear that they value their careers over any romantic entanglements.

So, last year we had SCOTLAND, obnoxious people, and perhaps one of the most unintentionally hilarious onscreen deaths I’ve ever seen. This year, we had AMERICANS, obnoxious people and…not much else. Honestly, I found this a bit dull. The whole letter situation was just completely absurd, like something out of a bad comedy after a while. And I’m struggling to care about most of the subplots on the show. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I couldn’t care less who Mary ends up with. Hell, I can’t even figure out why these men are so gaga over her anyway. She’s pretty, but that’s about where her charms end. She’s also nasty, seems to have few interests or pursuits, has a pretty questionable past, and is heiress to nothing. Her son will inherit Downton, but she gets little. So, I’m not really understanding her eligibility here. Edith’s storyline has just become fairly bleak and implausible. I find it hard to believe that she could suddenly decide to go away to the Continent for a convenient eight months and nobody in her family would have suspected a thing. For sure Cora would have been clued in that something was up. Nobody thought to question that? Come on. And now Farmer Drew’s just going to appear with a new baby? I don’t buy it.

But most of these are things we can quibble about in season 5. Hopefully Violet will get her spirit back and just stop being horrible, and Thomas can start showing some actual, lasting character growth that remains with him for more than an episode or two. Though considering Julian Fellowes’s track record with this show, I’m not holding my breath there. But, we’ll see.

Onward into 2014—happy New Year, everybody!


6 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: The Scarlet Letter

  1. I like Harold and Madeleine and hope they are featured PROMINENTLY in Season 5. Mary is boring. Laura Carmichael is a very good actress, but they need a happier happenstance for Edith. Harold and Madeleine, hopefully, can bring the excitement of romantic comedy to the show. It worked for Sabrina. And Giamatti is a fantastic actor. And Poppy Drayton is preferable to watching Rose dance mindlessly all over the place.

  2. The thing that boggled me the most about this Special was HOW Bates didn’t get rid of his incriminating ticket as soon as he did the dirty deed. This show, honestly. It should have ended after the last special.

    I think they need to cut back on the “let’s make fun of how ridiculous the Americans are” on this show. I was really offended for Cora when Violet said, in front of her no less, that the sooner Martha and Harold cross the seas to go back, the better. Cora just smiled. Man, if someone said that about my mom, I wouldn’t just roll my eyes and smile. I don’t get Cora sometimes. I don’t get any of these people.

    Lastly, I adore Julian Ovenden and definitely was rooting for him over Gill, but after Mary completely changing tack once she found out he’s a) loaded and b) upper class, pfft. Run away Julian. Run away. It’s unfortunate that Mary is still such a terrible person. And yeah, I don’t know what could’ve happened in the space of a year that Mary went from being friendly with Blake to getting all “oh you are against me.” But then again, why do I bother making sense out of anything in Downton Abbey?

    I really don’t feel like making the effort to watch series 5, but I know I will do it.

    1. Bates is an idiot. You’d think that someone who learned a trick or two in prison would have learned to get rid of incriminating evidence. Kind of criminal 101, right?

      WRT Cora, I think she’s just been subjected to Violet’s nastiness for so long that she just doesn’t notice it anymore. Of course, she doesn’t seem to notice much of anything (she seriously didn’t realise something was up with Edith? Come ON!)

      I can’t say I’m surprised by Mary’s about face. He should run. They all should. Honestly, I don’t know why such a sour, unpleasant woman never has trouble attracting men. Guess looks really are everything sometimes.

      1. I used to think Julian Fellowes was a pretty good writer, but after Downton (and reading your recaps of the Titanic miniseries), I think I’ll just hold on to the goodness that was Gosford Park and the first season of Downton and ignore everything else. I mean, you can’t have done GP and pretty decent TV with the first season of Downton and then be lazy enough to expect your viewers to believe that Bates would have kept an incriminating ticket stub for 8 months to a year!

        That said, Bates IS an idiot. Anna could do so much better than him.

        Cora’s a terrible mother. I really wish there was more awesome!Cora from last season after Sybil’s death. She was amazing then. She really was just a background character this season, wasn’t she? Well, I guess she gets to wear pretty costumes and all that, so whatever. Her and Thomas both just had nothing to do at all this season. Lame.

        I used to like Mary, despite her bitchiness, because that was just her thing. (I love Edith though, and always got annoyed at how mean Mary was/is to Edith.) But after this Xmas Special…yeah, whatever.

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