Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Mrs. Thackeray made a thrilling escape to Pimlico, while Hallam helped Persie escape from Munich once things got a bit rough. Amanjit and Blanche worked to get some kids evacuated from Europe, and Agnes charmed a rich American.
An alarm clock—and not Daisy, sadly—wakes Eunice at 6 a.m. so she can go get tea ready. Also up early is Hallam, who’s suddenly taken up riding every morning.
Later (presumably) Agnes joins Blanche at breakfast and announces she’s going to join some ladies’ exercise class. Blanche really doesn’t care, but she does hope Agnes might take Persie the Useless with her, because she finds her dull and depressing. You and me both, Blanche.
Agnes takes breakfast into Persie’s room herself and gets a bunch of petulant attitude which she manages to ignore. She climbs into bed with her sister, like they used to when they were small, and urges Persie to put her married lover behind her and make a fresh start. Persie’s not interested.
Blanche is unwrapping an Egyptian statue at the BM when a woman with red hair walks up behind her, reciting Shelley’s Ozymandias. Blanche freezes, then turns and reminds the woman—Portia—that it’s been nearly four years since they last met. Portia reminds Blanche that she wrote her a letter last autumn before two cute moppets come running over to Portia, calling her mama, and they are kindly dispatched to look at the Rosetta Stone.
Back home, Agnes has sent for Beryl for help with her hair before the exercise class. It occurs to Agnes that Beryl might be rather wasted in the nursery, so maybe she should swap jobs with Eunice and send Eunice to the nursery and have Beryl look after Agnes and do the housemaid’s work.
Hang on a sec—what? Since when did Eunice do anything upstairs? We’ve only ever seen her working in the kitchen, so I figured she was the kitchen maid. Are we really to believe that this supposedly rather grand and wealthy household has only one housemaid, no kitchen maid, and Agnes has no ladies’ maid? That’s absurd. And I know I mentioned this last year, but there’d be a valet for Hallam as well. This arrangement makes no sense, historically, and having all these jobs overlap would never work.
Beryl accepts and Agnes promises to work out the finer points with Pritchard later.
At the museum, Portia announces that a novel she wrote is going to be published, despite the fact that she promised nobody else would ever see it. Apparently it’s fairly autobiographical. Oh dear. She promises nobody will know that Blanche is one of the characters, and nobody will ever know Portia wrote it, because she’s using a pen name. And lord knows those are always impossible to get past.
Down in the kitchen, the new arrangements are discussed, and yes, I was right, Eunice was originally hired to be a kitchen maid, so what’s all this talk of her being an upstairs maid? I’m thoroughly confused now. Beryl doesn’t seem happy about this either. Pritchard strides in and informs everyone that Beryl is now going to be senior housemaid (senior to whom?) as well as ladies’ maid to Agnes. Beryl gets all upset, like this is a surprise, and asks if she’ll be working longer hours, because if she is, she should get paid more. There will be no raise. Eunice is going to spend her morning with nanny, then return to the kitchen for a while, then back up to the nursery from 2-6, then back to the kitchen for dinner. Who came up with this insane plan? The poor girl’s not going to have a chance to breathe! My God! Beryl protests this as well, saying dinnertime’s busiest in the nursery, but Pritchard doesn’t care and, to be honest, is acting like kind of a jerk for no real reason.
Agnes arrives for her exercise class and is waylaid by the leader, who tells her that they’re doing a little demo in Hyde Park and can’t quite make up the numbers. She makes a big deal about how they consider everyone from all walks of life to be worthy of the classes. Class starts, and it sort of seems like early Pilates. At the house, Beryl and Eunice slave away, while a bunch of rich ladies barely break a sweat and look oh so proud of themselves.
Blanche arrives home, looking agitated, unlocks a desk drawer, and sifts through some letters in there. She also finds a photograph of Portia and what I can only assume is a love letter from her. Before she can reread it, Amanjit busts in to tell her there are 400 more kids who they want to bring over. Blanche puts her things away and asks him to put the info down. He notices her mood and asks if he can help her and she says she’s fine. He leaves the kids’ files with a smile.
Persie and Hallam chill in the sitting room, she sipping a gin, he proposing she try getting back into riding. She brings up Friedrich, her lover, and then drops the bombshell that she’s pregnant. Agnes doesn’t know and Persie doesn’t want her to. Hallam asks her what she wants to do and she all-too-readily says an abortion costs 60 guineas. How’d she get that info so fast? Considering abortions were illegal at the time. Hallam’s well aware of that and won’t have any part of it. Persie starts to look a little scared and begs him for help. Actually, abortions could be legally obtained from a doctor if you could get a psychiatrist to attest that the mother’s mental health was in danger from the pregnancy. Wealthy families typically had no trouble finding just those psychiatrists, but neither Persie nor Hallam considers this.
Once again wearing her cool coat, Blanche goes to a bookshop and picks up a copy of Portia’s book, The Golden Blaze, which is dedicated to “One I cannot name.” Oh, yeah, that won’t get tongues wagging at all. Blanche takes it home and reads it, and it’s pretty erotic. Total bestseller material.
Agnes has decided that she’s going to recruit poor Beryl and Eunice to join that damn exercise class so they can be part of the Hyde Park demo. So now they don’t even get their single afternoon off. Man, this woman is clueless. I don’t think she’s meanspirited, she just doesn’t have an inkling of what it’s like not to have anything else to do for the day. The two girls look alarmed and disheartened.
Thack’s not happy about this, and neither is Beryl, but Eunice is resigned because she figures saying no equals getting fired.
Blanche arrives at Portia’s and finds quite a party going on. They steal a moment alone together and Blanche tells her she read the book. And then they start making out. I like the little flower decorations in Portia’s hair (seriously, that’s how invested in this relationship I am). Portia invites her to join the party, which is for the book, but Blanche says no. Their interlude is interrupted by the arrival of Kent—man, is he just everywhere? He has to say goodbye and open a factory or something. Portia bids him farewell fondly and introduces Blanche. Kent leaves, and later talks up the book to Hallam, trying to get him to read it. Hallam dismissively says he has no time for fiction, so Kent lays it out: he should really read it, because it’s not fiction, and it’s about Blanche. Ok, how would he know that? I know he saw Blanche at the house, but that’s quite a leap he just made. Also, he turns out to be oddly well informed of international politics for someone who always seems rather frivolous and spends his afternoons at book parties.
Hallam, pissed off, bursts into the sitting room, dismisses Pritchard, and starts yelling at Blanche for happening to have a friend who wrote a novel, like that’s something she has any control over. Agnes thinks it’s rather thrilling, but when she finds out who the other person involved is, it takes her a loooong time to put two and two together. Hallam figures it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out who the author is and then who Blanche is. Agnes freaks a bit and urges him to talk to the papers and intervene, but it’s too late for that.
The next day, it’s in the gossip section of the Express. Persie thinks this is all hilarious, but Hallam’s still all worked up. Agnes tells him to chill and orders more coffee, while in her room, Blanche reads the papers and that love letter again.
Beryl and Eunice obediently join the exercise class, looking really unhappy about it. Poor Eunice is hopeless.
Hallam and Persie meet in the park to discuss her situation. She refuses to be sent away to have the kid, and Hallam condescendingly tells her this is an adult problem. I think she knows. She firmly tells Hallam she’s not going to have a baby.
Amanjit’s now totally Team Blanche and tells Pritchard that the rest of the staff are not to know about this sordid affair. He, Pritchard, and Thack discuss the situation and Thack says there’s not much hope of keeping this secret for long.
Beryl takes the vacuum to the garage and asks Spargo to have a look at it, because it’s not working properly. He takes it and offers her a seat, which she gratefully takes. He asks for some gossip, and it turns out this thing with Blanche is already having some social repercussions in the form of canceled invitations. Beryl also makes it plain she does not enjoy her new duties because she and Eunice are totally worn out.
Blanche and Portia are draped over sofas talking about beauty and whatever. You know, I have no problem with this kind of a subplot, I really don’t, but it’s being played out in the sappiest, most absurdly romance novel-y way possible that, frankly, every time one of them opens her mouth, I just want to gag.
Persie’s unpacking some recent purchases from Selfridge’s, which Agnes doesn’t totally approve of because she’s noticed Persie’s a bit bigger in the bust these days and the jacket won’t fit. Persie panics and turns the conversation to Blanche, wondering why Agnes doesn’t just kick “the old trout” out. Why doesn’t she just kick you out, Persie? You’re about as useful as Blanche is. Less so, actually. All you do is laze around, spend money that isn’t yours, and cause problems.
Hallam’s out riding and is surprised to find Persie, mounted, in the park. He’s aghast that she’s out riding in her condition, like he really thinks she won’t do anything to get rid of this kid. Persie gallops towards some brush, probably hoping for a nasty fall and convenient miscarriage, but though the horse stops short, she just catches herself on its neck
Spargo comes across Johnny reading THE NOVEL in a corner of the kitchen. They talk like boys, and then Johnny gives Spargo some romantic advice regarding Beryl.
Beryl and Eunice prepare for bed, both miserable and exhausted.
Hallam’s off to Berlin for a meeting. Before he goes, he tells Persie he’ll give her a few days to reconsider hiding out by the sea and having the kid, and then he’ll involve Agnes. Persie tells him Agnes will just get upset and will want to raise the kid as her own like this is some sort of penny novelette. Hallam tells her she’s behaving like this is a penny novelette, though not nearly as much as Portia and Blanche are.
Agnes finds Beryl scrubbing a hearth and asks her to collect some eggs to give Agnes’s hair a protein rinse. Beryl’s pissed, but she gets the eggs. Before she goes up, Thack reminds her to change into her afternoon dress to be a ladies’ maid. This whole thing is just so stupid I don’t even want to recap it anymore.
Later, Eunice and Beryl meet again in their bedroom, Eunice looking totally defeated. Eunice has mucked up her ankle and something else, so she’s not looking too good. Her mention of it makes Beryl come to a decision, and soon she’s making a visit to the Girls’ Friendly Society, where a lady asks for all sorts of details about her employment and the sudden changes to it, while Beryl nervously tries to confirm that this will all be kept confidential. Beryl mentions that Eunice is the one really suffering here, and that’s why she’s here. That’s rather sweet of her.
Back to Portia and Blanche, and I still can’t seem to make myself care. Portia invites Blanche to spend the weekend at her country place, all alone. So hold up here and let me get this straight: it’s been previously established that Portia’s married to a politician, and that he looked the other way on her affair with Blanche in the past. Are we really expected to believe that, and also that he has no problem with her writing about said affair in such a poorly concealed manner that everyone figured it out in five seconds flat, and that furthermore he’d be cool with Portia taking her female lover to the family home for the weekend? People tended to look rather poorly on these sorts of relationships at the time, so I don’t buy any of this for a minute. There’s no way this guy would be so complacent and get to keep his job. He’d be voted out faster than you can say by-election.
The lady from the GFS shows up at the house and starts poking around and asking questions so she can ascertain the working conditions of the girls. Pritchard tries to take command of the situation (unsuccessfully) and introduces Beryl, but GFS lady says she and Beryl already know each other. So much for confidentiality. The woman dumps on the servants’ lavatory (which Thack hates) and asks to talk to Agnes, whom she takes to the woodshed over all the extra duties, low pay, and stolen afternoon off. And the bed they have to share in their shared room isn’t ok either, morally or sanitarily. GFS threatens to put Agnes on the blacklist and Agnes says she doesn’t care about any blacklist, she cares about doing what’s right by the girls. GFS suggests she start by canceling those stupid classes.
GFS goes to see Eunice and IDs a tooth that seriously needs to come out, so she’s dragged off to the dentist, very reluctantly. Once she’s gone, Amanjit yells at Beryl, like it’s his place to do that at all, saying he’d have her dismissed for disloyalty if he could. Oh, come off it, Amanjit, you’ve got a really cushy position here. The girls were totally in the right to complain about being treated the way they were, it was stupid, mean, and untenable. Beryl refuses to back down and says she was being treated like a machine, and Pritchard essentially says she is, being a servant, and then snaps that this is Belgravia, not Leningrad. I’m not sure what he means by that. People shouldn’t be treated like humans in Belgravia? It’s not like Beryl was asking to sleep in Agnes’s bed or anything, she just wanted what was rightfully hers! Then Thack comes swanning in all excited because they’re going to get some new furniture to chill out on.
Spargo finds Persie randomly poking around in the garage. She brings up their affair and says she thinks about it every time she smells motor oil. He asks her what she wants and she asks if he keeps his newspapers around. He tells her where to find them.
Blanche joins Agnes in the drawing room and learns that her ladyship has given the whole staff the evening off. She’s been spending the time alone drinking, by the sound of her. Blanche mentions that Pamela’s coming home for a visit in a few days. Blanche says she’s feeling a bit frayed these days and Agnes says she thinks Blanche is lovely, and she hopes she won’t back down and run away from Portia.
Upstairs, Persie pores over the newspapers until she finds what she wants and tears it out. It’s an ad for an abortionist, clearly.
Eunice is back, with three gold fillings, and Agnes announces that the girls won’t have to take the class anymore. She steps aside with Amanjit and they discuss modernizing the way the household’s run. Agnes realizes that Rose signed guardianship papers for Eunice, because she was only 14 when she came to work at the house after having lived in some group home. Agnes volunteers to go visit Rose and arrange for their transfer. Upstairs, the two girls get their own beds. Man, even in Downton the maids had their own beds. This house is old fashioned.
Ok, this part’s pretty sad. Agnes goes to visit Rose, and the thing is, the actress playing her had a stroke, which is why her part’s been downplayed in this series. And in this scene, it’s really clear that she’s struggling to get a lot of the words out, and it breaks my heart to see it. I didn’t care for her character, but I hate to see any person like this, and it rather makes me wish they’d leave her in peace and just write her out, like they did Eileen Atkins. But I guess it was her choice, ultimately.
Agnes brings flowers and is sweet with Rose and Rose says she’s glad Agnes looks well taken care of.
Thack and Eunice enjoy their new furnishings while Johnny looks on, disappointed.
Rose signs over the paper and bitches a bit about the girls complaining. She also hands back the key to the house, saying she really shouldn’t have it anymore. Oh, see? Sad. Agnes refuses to take it back, saying Rose will need it to let herself in when she comes back. Agnes can barely hold back her tears as she embraces her old housekeeper.
In Germany, Hallam meets with Persie’s former lover, Friedrich, who turns out to be a predictable douche, because, you know, he’s a Nazi and no Nazis were decent people. Hallam tells the guy about the baby and the guy implies that Persie slept her way across Germany, so I guess he’ll be no help. He leaves it to Hallam to play the role of decent guy in this scenario.
Blanche and Portia are at Portia’s place for the weekend, lighting candles and speaking right out of a Barbara Cartland novel and tucking flowers into each others’ hair.
Persie preps herself to go out—perfume, lipstick, the lot—and calls for the car. When they pull up to the address, Spargo asks if this is really where she wants to go.
Blanche and Portia walk through an idyllic wood and Portia is—I swear to god—actually wearing a purple velvet cape like she thinks she’s some kind of wood nymph. They come to a lovely little cottage and Portia breathlessly explains that it’ll be perfect for Blanche. The dialogue gets worse, and so does the line delivery—seriously, Alex Kingston doesn’t believe a word of what she’s saying, and you can tell she kind of hates this. Emilia Fox is making a go of it, but these two have terrible chemistry, and this whole subplot is so shoehorned in and oddly out of sync with other things going on in the episode I can’t seem to care.
Persie emerges from her appointment, looking pale, and tells Spargo to take her to the Dorchester for a brandy. He follows her inside, where she’s clearly in distress, but she refuses to let him help her or let Agnes know what’s going on. He tries to appeal to her personally, but she’ll have none of it. She only asks him to take a message to Hallam.
Portia and Blanche are in bed, talking about writing, and Portia reveals that her plan is thus: to have Blanche take up residence in that cottage so Portia can swing by whenever she likes. Wow, talk about having your lesbian cake and eating it too.
Hallam arrives at the Dorchester to find Persie curled up in bed. She comments that it doesn’t happen like this in penny novelettes, although I think this is exactly how it usually was in those novelettes, except in those the woman usually died. Persie tries to insist that the woman was a professional—she washed her hands in carbolic soap and everything! Hallam goes to ring for a doctor but she reminds him that she’s broken the law. She whimpers that the woman told her it would “just come away.” Oh, dear God. Cringe.
Blanche is pissed at the idea of being treated like a kept woman while Portia stays in the main house with her family, coming and going as she pleases. Portia actually can’t understand why Blanche would object to this totally awful situation, which just makes her seem horribly self-centered. Portia does point out that she’d lose her kids if she divorced her husband, and anyway, she loves the husband. Blanche bitterly observes that the both of them can only have a little part of Portia, while Portia gets to have everything. Yeah, Portia seems pretty unpleasant just now.
Persie asks if Friedrich had nice things to say and Hallam doesn’t even bother to lie. Then, at very little prompting, he tells a long story about being named Most Helpful Boy when he was at prep school. He had to share the prize, which was a box of tea biscuits, so he let the other kid take the biscuits and he took the box. That doesn’t sound like a fair split at all. Why not split the biscuits? Was the box that cool looking? Anyway, Hallam kept the box for years and years, putting cufflinks and crap like that in it, and of course Agnes never understood the significance of it, because it was just some gross, grubby old biscuit box awarded for something that sounds pretty lame anyway. Most helpful boy? Come on. That sounds like a prize they give out when they can’t think of any other to award you. And it wasn’t even just you—you had to share it. So, one day, Agnes tossed the thing and got a lovely replacement from Hermes, and Hallam’s been stupidly bitter ever since. This story has really no point other than to illustrate suddenly that Agnes doesn’t get him, no doubt setting up the future Hallam/Persie hookup that will make Robert’s tryst with his zombie maid in Downton look passionate and reasonable by comparison. I mean, come on, has Persie, at any point in her life, been anything other than a bother or cause for extreme embarrassment for this man? Why do I feel like we’re being shoved towards this hookup? I hate it.
Persie, who’s sweating now, tells him he needs to be a helpful boy again and help her to the bathroom. He does, remaining outside, calling to her through the door, asking if she needs him to come in. After a while, he just lets himself in and finds her crouched on the floor. She asks him if it’s all over, and he goes and glances in the toilet and tells her it is before flushing. Oh, UGH! Sorry, but that’s just horrifying. She begins to cry and he kneels down and comforts her.
Much later, he wakes suddenly in the bed beside her (chastely, of course). He gently removes her hand, which was on his shoulder, and looks conflicted before leaving. I wonder if Agnes ever questioned where he was all night.
Back home, Blanche stares blankly and sadly into the distance before springing to life, shoving that damn book in a drawer, and throwing something across the room, sobbing. Pamela appears in the doorway, looking worried, and Agnes quickly intervenes, sending Pamela up to nanny and asking Blanche if she wants to be alone. Blanche hollowly says she is alone and Agnes embraces her, saying she’s not. Blanche cries. Lots of crying tonight.
Hallam’s still at the hotel, actually, and now on the phone with someone, saying Persie suffered a miscarriage. Guess he called the doctor after all. After that, he leaves, waking Spargo, who’s spent the night in the car, poor man. Hallam thanks Spargo for waiting and says they’ll both just say the flight was delayed.
Agnes pulls a pretty new frock from its box as Beryl arrives, answering her ring. Agnes tells her the dress is for Pamela and needs ironing. Beryl takes it and offers to help Pamela with her hair as well. Beryl goes on to say that she and Eunice feel bad about dropping out of that stupid Hyde Park demo, so they’ll do it. Agnes thanks her sincerely as she hands over the dress.
Amanjit and some of the others listen to bad news on the radio—Germans are going to start moving into Czechoslovakia. Hallam’s listening to the radio as well, as Persie comes in silently and puts a biscuit tin on the table next to him. Oh, yes, their love will be real because she understands his love of biscuit tins. Frankly, I’d rather have the Hermes. I’m with Agnes.
Pamela, Blanche, and Agnes clink champagne glasses before dinner.
And then we’re in Hyde Park, where all the ladies are marching and demonstrating how well they can sweep their arms and whatever. There are some jumping jacks, and I’m still trying to figure out why they so desperately needed two extra people for this, since everyone’s just in one big group doing moves in unison. Who’d notice if there were two fewer?
And that’s it for this week. You know, I’m really having issues with this show. It’s better than season one, for sure, but something’s not quite working here. Plotlines aren’t being woven through properly, they’re just being plunked in and then yanked back out whenever they get overworked. Like Thack’s sudden displeasure, quitting, and return last week. What was that? And honestly, the various actions going on this week did not seem to go together. There was the lesbian subplot, which was so poorly handled (in my opinion) that it just seemed designed to titillate, which is offensive and is just what I was afraid of. That was all lushly, rather stupidly romantic. Not to mention farfetched. And the servants’ rebellion seemed rather sudden—Beryl never had an issue with her job before this week. And what was Eunice’s actual position anyway? Thack crowing about the new furniture being paired up with that rather harrowing abortion subplot just didn’t work. I’m sorry, but this episode was all over the place. I was so jerked around from here to there I feel like I’ve got whiplash. And this Hallam-Persie thing makes me feel kinda gross. Remember him calling her the monster in the attic last season? Remember her being the monster in the attic…pretty much forever? Even this episode she was deeply unpleasant. I don’t know. They need to shape up and come up with better threads than “Hitler’s bad!” to make me really care about these people. Downton had plenty of stupid, one-off plots this season, but it had enough intertwining ones to keep the action gong and to bring me back every week. This one needs a lot of work.