Upstairs Downstairs: A Secondhand Life

Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Sarah joined the household and posed for a douchy artist, almost getting herself and Rose fired.

So, you remember how I was super confused during the last episode because Sarah had mysteriously reappeared, despite having quit in episode one? Turns out, there’s an explanation for all that weirdness. The black and white episodes never aired in the US, presumably because the powers that be figured American audiences had just as little patience for black and white then as they do today. Instead, the re-shot colourised first episode was aired overseas with the ending showing Sarah quitting, and then the black and white episodes were all skipped and they went right to the next colour episode, which Sarah does not feature in. The first episode that aired in the UK had a different ending, with Sarah not quitting. I just caught the wrong episode (thanks a lot, ITV). Also, that must have resulted in a bit of confusion for American audiences, because things happen later in the series that hark back to events from those black and white episodes, so there must have been a bit of headscratching going on.

Anyway, to the episode. Sarah goes about her tidying duties. Looks like the master and mistress are away for a good long while: all the furniture upstairs is draped in sheets. It’s August 1904.

Belowstairs, everyone’s chilling out and enjoying a bit of gin. Hudson’s away as well, along with Bridges, but there are two other servants who belong to the Grahams hanging around and providing a bit of gossip (sounds like the Mr isn’t too concerned with fidelity). The maid brings up the Mistress and the Maids incident, trying to rattle Rose, who toes the family line and rises above, insisting that the Bellamys are just too quality to be upset by something as trivial as the Incident. The other woman, Edith, sniffs that their lives must be really boring, then, but Alfred mentions that Bridges is a bit light-fingered with the chickens and such, so there’s that. Edith finally gets a rise from both Rose and Sarah by saying she heard Lady Marjorie showed up at a ball wearing—wait for it—a dress she’d been seen in previously. Noooooooo! Both maids jump right up and insist it was a brand new dress, just come over from Paris. Edith says her mistress’s dresses all come from Paquin. There now commences one of the strangest dick-measuring contests ever, as each maid insists that her mistress’s dress had the longest train. These people really do have sadly dull lives, don’t they? Rose finally offers to show Edith the dress in question, which is a super bad idea, because I think we all know this is going to go horribly wrong, but everyone’s been into the gin, so up they merrily go, making fun of the posh folk on the way.

While they’re playing in the front hall, someone hammers on the door and they all panic and scurry belowstairs, except for Alfred, who goes to answer the door. It’s a police constable, allegedly (but really that other visiting servant pretending to be a policeman). Everyone has a good laugh before continuing the journey up to Lady M’s room. Alfred and the other manservant remain downstairs to drunkenly play a game of cricket in the hall, using canes as bats.

In Marjorie’s room, Rose anxiously locks the door while Sarah lights the lamps and Edith starts pulling things out of the closet. Sarah joins her and grabs a dress, which Rose thinks is a good colour for her. The Bellamy maids retrieve the ballgown in question, which Edith of course pooh poohs. She dares the girls to put it on, so it can be seen properly, and Sarah takes the dare. And Rose just goes along with it, fairly enthusiastically, which seems really out of character for her. This woman nearly lost her job not two months ago, which really upset her, but now she has no qualms about seriously risking it? I think not. Because if anything happened to that dress, you know who would get the blame (rightly, in this case). Anyway, the girls help Sarah into a corset and the gown, which fits her perfectly, despite the fact that she’s built rather differently from Marjorie.

Back in the servants’ hall, Emily finds a left glass of gin and gives it a try, grimacing in a ridiculously exaggerated manner. The men come downstairs and pour her another glass before inviting her up to play cricket. She doesn’t feel like playing, so the other guy suggests they try a game of ‘guess your weight’ and hefts her into the air. She plays along for a little bit, but then gets annoyed and tells them to get lost. As they leave, she begins drinking straight from the bottle. Wow, that was a swift escalation.

The boys are back at the cricket game when Sarah comes processing down, followed by the other two ladies, also dressed in some of Marjorie’s finery. They all run into the morning room as Emily sneaks upstairs but is quickly scared away back downstairs by the raucous laughter of the others.

Sarah, imitating Marjorie, is keeping everyone entertained while the gin continues to flow. Someone rings the bell, but the only person around to hear it is Emily, who pouts and stomps off. The noise continues to ramp up, until suddenly the door opens and someone who clearly belongs in this part of the house comes in. ‘You rang, milady?’ he says coolly to Sarah as everyone freezes on the spot. ‘Perhaps you’d like something more to drink,’ he suggests before leaving. When asked, Alfred stammers that that’s James, the son of the house. Yeah, we all saw that one coming, right? They go to leave, only to find that James has locked the door. The only one who doesn’t panic is Sarah, who sits down to wait, saying that’s all they can do.

Outside the room, James dresses himself in a footman’s apron, picks up a tray with three bottles of champagne, and brings it into the morning room. Alfred snorts, a little hysterically, and James continues to play the game, insisting on being called Hudson as he offers the champagne around. Nobody takes it, because they have no idea if this is some kind of elaborate trap or what. He insists, though, so Rose takes one. Edith and her companion try to leave, but James basically threatens to tattle on them if they do, so they take the champagne. Sarah raises one hand and snaps her fingers to call him over so she can have her glass. This girl’s got some serious balls, I’ll give her that. James starts up the gramophone but the mood in the room is decidedly funereal. To get it going, he basically force-feeds some of the others their champagne, and then starts pouring more.

The party goes on for some time, until everyone’s seriously drunk and a couple of them are passed out. Looks like only Sarah’s remained sober. James finally leaves them and she jumps to life, rousing the others, telling the guests to get lost and ordering Rose and Alfred to pull themselves together. It’s an uphill battle, but she manages, despite the ballgown hampering her movements. Once everyone’s taken care of, she hurries upstairs, just as James comes up from belowstairs with another bottle of champagne. He sees her head upstairs and follows her, bursting into Marjorie’s boudoir just as she’s taking the dress off. She tries to continue the game of being Marjorie while he’s Hudson, but he’s done with that. She calls him out on doing this so he could have a good story for his friends and he admits to it, saying it serves them all right, gallivanting around the house in that manner. He pouts over some girl who let him down that night and Sarah mockingly asks him about her, guessing she ran off with some other guy. James confirms it and starts making the moves on her, but she pulls away. He sharply tells her to get her own clothes on, and then pretends to leave, only to double back and steal her uniform so he can see her in her undergarments, like the perv he is. Of course, let’s remember that Edwardian undergarments still leave a lot to the imagination, but still. She begs him for her dress back, but when she goes to take it, he holds onto it and, in the tug of war that ensues, the sleeve gets torn right off. She bursts into tears and he sincerely apologises. She yells at him for treating her crappily, so he does what he doubtless considers to be the decent thing and offers her a glass of champagne. Not what she wants. He says he’s sorry again and fetches a dressing gown. She refuses to take it for a while, even as he insists Marjorie won’t notice it’s gone (wanna bet, James? And are you going to explain how it got into Sarah’s possession?) She finally allows him to drape it over her shoulders and asks him not to tell on her and the other servants. Since he feels guilty, James agrees and even admits he took his ruined evening out on her and the others. She says it wasn’t all that bad—she got to wear a pretty dress, after all! He offers to buy her a pretty dress all her own but she’s actually smart enough to turn him down. He pushes hard, asking her why she won’t let him buy her a new dress, new wardrobe, all sorts of nice things! Woah, James, simmer down there. She says she’ll have all those things someday, but she’ll get them for herself. I hate to break it to you , Sarah, but this is exactly how most girls in your position got those things for themselves in 1904. He asks if she’s not happy with her lot and she says she isn’t, is he? He claims to be happy doing what’s expected of him and snaps that it’s none of her business. He immediately softens and admits nobody ever asked what he wanted. She knows just what that’s like, so they can bond now. They’re getting pretty flirty, and finally throw caution to the wind and start kissing. The sound of breaking glass diverts James’s attention and he goes to investigate.

Downstairs, he finds Alfred cleaning up a tray of broken champagne flutes. James yells at him for trying to clean up while drunk and orders him to bed, actually kicking him over when he continues to clean up. Nice.

Back upstairs, Sarah’s sitting at Marjorie’s dressing table with a glass of champagne, waiting for James. She gets bored and goes downstairs to see what’s what and finds the shattered flutes and James in the morning room, smoking a cigar. He tells her to go get a dustpan and mop and clear up the mess out in the hall. Playtime’s over. And man, this guy goes all over the map, doesn’t he?

Sarah obediently goes downstairs to fetch her cleaning things (still dressed in Marjorie’s dressing gown, mind). The others are nursing their hangovers at the table. Rose eyes her. ‘Picking up the pieces?’ she asks. Bitch. How about you get off your ass and help out? You all participated in that little party, you know.

At the end of the day, Rose is in bed, telling Sarah she’s gone off her head. Sarah’s preparing to leave the house forever, saying she can’t stay there after the previous night. Rose tells her James won’t talk, but Sarah doesn’t care about that. She tells Rose she’s going to stay with her cousin and she’s out of service for good, because she’s not going to rot away in an attic wearing crappy clothes. Rose either chooses to overlook the fact that she just got slammed, or she doesn’t notice. She warns Sarah there’s no security out there in the world, and very few jobs for women. Sarah thinks she can just learn to type and become a secretary or something. Sure, just like that! Worked for Gwen, right? She tells Rose this whole crazy story about some girl who worked in a teashop and one of her regulars asked her to marry him and they went off to live happily ever after. Rose tells her that’s fiction but Sarah’s determined. She doesn’t want to live her life through wealthy people. ‘I don’t want a secondhand life, Rose!’ she shrieks. And then, because this scene hasn’t been convoluted enough, she tells the story of how her father used to take her down to the hospital, where they’d scrounge scraps from the plates of the patients. Nice. Rose tries playing bad cop, telling Sarah nobody would look twice at her, because she’s nothing much. Sarah points out that James looked at her twice, and then starts lying about how he’s going to set her up in a little flat of her own and leave the army and be with her always. And after they’re married, Rose can come along and be her lady’s maid! Rose sceptically asks if she really believes that. Sarah shakes her head, saying she’s not interested in James because he doesn’t know what he wants. She asks Rose to put the dressing gown back in Marjorie’s room. Sarah asks if she can have her magazine back, which Rose is reading. Rose responds by childishly tearing it and several of the others to bits and then immediately feels badly about that because apparently they meant a lot to Sarah. She begs Sarah to stay and they can talk over a cup of tea. Sarah turns her down and Rose gets really pathetic, cowering at the foot of the bed and begging Sarah to stay because she doesn’t know what she’d do without her, because Sarah’s all Rose has. Jesus, why is she so attached to this woman? They’ve only known each other a few months, and there have been others before Sarah. Was Rose this clingy with them too? And why’s she so loyal? Sarah almost cost her her job. Twice now. And she didn’t seem so fond of her when she was first hired. Although, taking this together with some of the later episodes, I kind of wonder if there’s a hint of lesbianism going on, or at least a bit of a lesbian crush coming from Rose. It might explain this clinginess a little better.

Anyway, Sarah wails ‘Roooose!’ in a really annoying way, and then hugs her and says she has to go, so Rose’ll just have to suck it up. And then go she does. Rose sits down and weeps over the boots Sarah left behind.

Emily’s turning down the lights in the servants’ hall when Sarah comes down. She’s leaving in the middle of the night? That seems unwise. Sarah informs Emily she’s going out by the front door, and upstairs she heads. She runs into James in the hall, says bye to him, and leaves.