We made it! Episode 6! And I wish I could say it was full of fascinating twists and turns and unexpected treats, but who am I kidding? It wasn’t.
Ok, to be fair, Oliver was an unexpected treat. And Susan, a bit. We’ll get to that.
Here’s where we left everyone:
Oliver thought he had the goods on Charles, who was accused by a couple of randoms up in Manchester of being a blackguard and a cheat.
Lady B decided that, to level out the scandal Charles may soon find himself embroiled in, she should announce to the world that he is her grandson. She also let Lady Maria in on this particular secret and invited Lady Maria to stay with her, to get her away from her mother who was still determined to marry her off to John.
John found proof that the marriage between his cousin and Sophia was, in fact, legal and valid. He’s the only one who has this proof, and I’m pretty sure he’s aware of that fact. Remember that.
Anne has Sophia’s (supposedly fake) marriage certificate, which was fortunately saved by Sophia’s former maid and handed off to Anne before the maid headed to the United States.
Anne’s maid, Ellis, colluded with the butler, Turton, to copy the marriage certificate and hand the copy over to John. Susan’s maid has been covering for her mistress while Susan has an affair with John.
Susan is pregnant with John’s baby.
All good? Have we got all that?
James goes up to Manchester to meet with these guys who accused Charles of all these terrible things and it turns out they just straight up lied about all of it. Ok. So, that whole storyline was completely pointless. Seriously, what was the point of that? It didn’t even provide tension, because we all knew that it couldn’t be true, and it was denied pretty quickly so… why was it even here? Did something get cut that would make this make more sense? Because it’s not like we needed this to show us that there’s tension between James and his son. We got that.
Also, I don’t really know why James had to travel all the way up to Manchester just to tell three guys he knows they’re lying and that they’re jerks. This miniseries has had so much padding it’s practically a mattress.
James goes back home and yells at Oliver for stirring the pot. Oliver yells right back at his father for being kind of a dick who never managed to conceal that Oliver disappoints him for not being Sophia.
Maria’s mother, Lady Templemore, stops by Lady B’s to collect her daughter, who refuses to go with her. Lady T is enraged, even more so when Maria tells her she’s broken her engagement with John and will instead be marrying Charles Pope.
Lady B tries to soften the blow by telling Lady T that Pope is her grandson, but hearing that her daughter is now going to marry an illegitimate merchant does not make Lady T any happier.
Maria thinks it’ll all blow over as soon as people have something else to gossip about. That’s kind of true, in the sense that they’ll stop turning over the details of this particular scandal, but believe me, Maria, you’ll feel the repercussions of this for years to come, likely for the rest of your life. With the Brockenhursts at your back, you won’t be entirely excluded from Society, but there are still going to be plenty of families who would shun you and your husband, due to his background. Even those who smile to your face will be cutting and sneering. You and definitely Charles will be made to feel uncomfortable all the time. You’ll become more isolated. And once the Brockenhursts are both dead, you won’t even have that support, because as far as everyone knows right now the fortune and title will pass to John, who will DEFINITELY not want to back the pair of you after you dumped and humiliated him. Plus, there’s likely to be a serious break with your own family over this, which is not good. The fact that she doesn’t anticipate any of this makes her seem really stupid, which she isn’t. It’s just another example of her apparently not existing in her own time and being completely clueless about how things worked in the society she’s lived in her entire life. And, sadly, this will not be the last time this becomes an issue.
Susan goes and tells John that she’s pregnant and he’s the father. He, predictably, doesn’t care all that much. He suggests she get rid of it, as if that was a particularly safe or simple route for women back then.
Instead of punching him right in the nads, she asks what’s bothering him. John proceeds to word-vomit about how Charles Pope is the Brockenhursts’ grandson and is totally the legitimate heir, even though no one else knows any of this yet. And, oh yeah, here are some papers that prove all of this.
OH MY GOD. John, you just said yourself that you’re the ONLY ONE who has the information that could ruin you, and yet you’re spilling the whole story to Susan! What are you doing? AND showing her the proof? What? What? Why? Why would you do this? This has to be one of the worst examples of verbal suicidal stupidity I’ve ever seen committed to the screen. It’s so bad I started yelling at the TV immediately. I didn’t even need time to process the incredible idiocy of this.
This doesn’t even seem to fit his character. John seems to canny and conniving to do this. This is so incredibly sloppy and insulting to the audience.
Susan offers him a consolation prize of sorts: yeah, he may have lost the title, but he could marry her! She’ll divorce Oliver and get money from her rich daddy and everything will be fine.
(Actually, no, she couldn’t have divorce Oliver. Oliver would have to divorce her. Divorce was extremely difficult and expensive at this time, and almost impossible for women to get, no matter what the offense. A woman could not divorce her husband for infidelity, or most acts of cruelty, for marital rape, or emotional or financial abuse. I’m pretty sure the only grounds for a woman to obtain a divorce was complete abandonment or insanity on the part of her husband, and even then it was a serious uphill battle. Plus, all her assets belonged to her husband, so she left the marriage with nothing. Men, however, could divorce their wives for infidelity, so it would have had to be on Oliver to get this done. For her to act like she could just easily obtain a divorce is absurd. For John not to point that out is also pretty absurd. Know your own eras, people.)
But here’s where John just completely loses the plot and basically becomes a completely different character. He has the opportunity, here, to save himself, if he just engaged about one full brain cell. He has something Susan wants: his agreement to marry her. Susan lives in the Trenchards’ home, where the original marriage certificate is currently stored. Anyone with a working mind would have used this opportunity to get Susan to fetch those original papers so they could all be destroyed and the secret would have been safe. He could have reneged on his agreement to Susan, because then if she started talking about what she knows, he could have just shrugged her off as a woman scorned talking nonsense. She and the Trenchards don’t have enough standing in Society to be listened to much, so he could have probably weathered it.
But John is, apparently, too dumb to live at this point. Instead, he starts insulting Susan by standing on his family’s ancient lineage and dignity and disparaging her as some lower-class divorcee. It’s an incredibly tired speech–we’ve all heard some slight variation on it about a dozen times at least, and just once I want to hear someone respond to this with: ‘Yeah? My people have been in this country since the days of the Conqueror too, asshole. But at least I can pay my own bills!’
Seeming a bit shell-shocked by this response, Susan asks John to call her a cab. He goes to do so, leaving all those important papers right there on the table. She, naturally, grabs them and climbs right into the cab he’s summoned. Heh.
Back home, she shows them to her maid, Speer, who tells her to hand them over to the Trenchards. Susan goes to James and hands him the papers, claiming some random boy in the street just gave them to her. She also tells him she’s pregnant and he’s delighted.
James takes all of the papers to Anne, who compares them with her own (noting that the copies are in somewhat familiar handwriting) and the pair of them realise that Sophia wasn’t duped after all. As they’re looking at these, Ellis the maid comes in and immediately is like, ‘Oh my God, how did you get those copies I connived to have made?’
Ellis tries throwing Turton under the bus but the Trenchards are like, ‘Yeah, you’re definitely fired.’ She begs them to give her a reference, because without one she’ll never find a new job. I think she’s going to struggle regardless, because if you’re suddenly looking for a job in service after having been with the same employers for more than 25 years, someone’s going to start asking questions.
The Trenchards offer to give her the reference if she tells them who wanted these papers copied. She offers up John. James is not surprised to hear that John went looking for this info. Anne stands in for the audience and points out that the Trenchards really should have looked into this clergyman years ago. James says they couldn’t, because they didn’t know his name, although they would have if they had been at their own daughter’s wedding. Just sayin’.
Anne also wonders why John didn’t just burn this proof the second he got it.
I think that should cover it.
James does, at least, have the sense to say that all this paperwork should be handed over to lawyers before they go shouting it from the rooftops. If only everything were as well thought out as that moment.
Also: James spills the beans about Susan being pregnant. He marvels at the fact that, after 11 years, this miracle should have taken place. Anne’s face is like:
Meanwhile, Oliver is off at a nearby pub (I think the same one where Turton used to meet up with John?) and is found there by… John. John seems surprised to see Oliver there, so either he’s a good actor or he genuinely wasn’t expecting to see him there. Which begs the question: why is he there? Was he hoping to find Turton and ask him to steal back the papers?
Eh, whatever. He manages to get Oliver to agree to help him bring down Pope. Somehow.
Before dinner, while James is off firing the butler, Susan and Anne get some time alone together. Anne correctly guesses that Susan met no boy in the street but got the papers from John, her lover. Susan freely admits it and says that things are definitely over between her and John. Anne asks if Susan plans to stay with Oliver. She does, even though he’ll know the baby isn’t his. She’s confident she can handle him, though. Anne agrees to help her, as long as Susan agrees to spend most of the year living at their place in the country, where Oliver will be happier. Susan agrees.
Oliver and James come in and Anne announces that he and Susan are moving to the countryside to raise their child. Hit by two pieces of very unexpected news at once, Oliver just looks confused. Susan steps in and whispers to him to hold his tongue. He does.
Later, Oliver and his wife finally have some time alone, and this is seriously Susan’s moment. Because she spins this thing so beautifully I almost want to rewind and watch it again. Basically, she sets this out as the only way that Oliver could get the life he really wanted. He wanted a child but couldn’t have one, so she went out and did what she had to do to get him the one thing he wanted. And now, he’ll have the kid, the wife, and the life of the country squire. It’s the ultimate ‘I did this all for you!’ and he falls for it. It’s slightly evil on Susan’s part, but so masterfully done it deserves recognition.
The next day, Anne goes to Lady B’s to tell her that Lord Bellasis was, in fact, a good guy and maybe she was sort of a jerk to suggest otherwise. Lady B is too overjoyed to hold a grudge and suggests they have a dinner as soon as Lord Brockenhurst is back in London and tell Charles the news together. This… seems like kind of a bad plan. I mean, that’s quite the ambush, to have this guy at a dinner at a place where he’s not yet comfortable, amongst people he only kind of knows, and spring this sort of news on him from nowhere? That’s not nice.
But Anne thinks that plan is fine.
Lady T has brought some reinforcements from Ireland: Maria’s brother, the current earl, who is sporting some very anachronistic head and facial hair. It’s so out of sync with everyone else it’s actually really distracting.
Maria insists that he’ll like Charles, who’s a stand-up guy. Her brother, looking bored, pretty much responds thus:
‘Look, Maria, we live in this very rigid class system, and within this system, there are different classes, and they’re not meant to mix. Mixing is much frowned upon, in fact. You, my dear, being the daughter and sister of an earl, are of the upper class. The uppermost, in fact. Whilst Charles Pope, despite being a nice bloke and all, is riding the line between the merchant/gentry class, which is lower than the upper class. You get me? Are you following this? Because it seems to be confusing you a lot, despite the fact that it’s been drilled into you since birth.’
Maria is shocked–shocked, I say!–that her brother isn’t planning her hen night or whatever. I can’t even with this woman anymore.
Her brother suggests she come back to Ireland with him and hang out for six months and see if she still feels the same about Charles. That’s not an altogether unreasonable suggestion, considering she and Charles have only known each other for a few weeks, at most, but she won’t fathom it. Honey, it’s rush jobs like this that land you in a marriage like Susan and Oliver’s.
In a line that really needs more exploration, Maria asks her brother how he can be against her, after all they’ve been through. Wait, what have they been through? This must have been something that was explored more in the book, because this feels totally out of left field and is just left hanging there.
Speaking of family, Charles has dinner with his mother, who has just moved in with him. He tells her all about Maria and how she’s great, but her mother, Lady Templemore, doesn’t approve. His mother–I kid you not–is confused as to why Maria’s last name is Grey but her mother is called Lady Templemore.
You guys, Julian Fellowes thinks we’re all unbearably stupid.
Charles finishes dinner and heads out, because he’s been summoned to a meeting with Oliver at a dodgy pub.
At the Trenchard house, Oliver is jittering at the dinner table and then, out of nowhere, asks if anyone knows what Charles’s home address is. It’s a complete record scratch moment, and everyone’s like, ‘What? Why would you ask that?’
James takes him to his study and Oliver almost immediately admits to having lured Pope somewhere, at John’s behest. James blows up at his son for doing this and then drags him off in the carriage to go to Charles’s office and hopefully intercept him. All Oliver can remember is that the pub was somewhere in the city (yeah, that narrows it down), and had Black or Bird or something in the name? And was near Charles’s office? He thinks?
In the carriage, James finally tells Oliver everything, and Oliver is pretty pissed off that his father kept this all a secret for so long. Yeah, come to think of it, that was a bit stupid. James seems to have had quite the blind spot with his son and it never seems to have occurred to him that 1) Oliver could have handled this news and would have kept the secret to protect his sister, and 2) It would have saved everyone a lot of grief.
At Charles’s office, they roust an underling whom I guess lives there, and the guy says that Charles only mentioned he had a meeting somewhere near the river that night. They ask if there’s a place called the Black Bird or something and he offers up a pub called the Black Raven. They rush back to their carriage.
At the pub, John’s manservant lures Charles out to the riverside, where John is waiting for him. John dismisses his manservant and lies that Oliver told John to meet him here as well, since he and Charles have a quarrel they need to reconcile. Charles, of course, is gung-ho to fix whatever’s broken here. And then John goes full cartoon villain and tells Charles this can only be resolved with his death. And then he grabs him and wrestles him over the railing and into the river.
I find it very hard to believe that someone like John would actually commit murder. Himself. He seems like the sort of guy who knows shady types, so surely he could contract this sort of thing out.
The Trenchard carriage pulls up and John, instead of getting the hell out of there, just hangs around and waits for John and Oliver to get out of the carriage and approach him. He claims not to know anything about anything, but the very fact that he’s there, in a sketchy part of London where he has no business being, just proves that there’s something up. Which is why he should have just ducked into the shadows and gotten out of there before they even got out of the carriage, instead of standing there straightening his hat.
At that moment, Charles starts screaming for help, so James throws off his jacket and dives into the river to save him. Oliver goes to follow, but John stops him and plays devil-on-the-shoulder, telling Oliver that he could just let this play out, and inherit all his father’s money. John will have his title, and everyone wins! Except for the two dead people, obviously.
Oliver’s all, ‘You swine!’ and dives in, saving his father and his nephew. Oliver is the saviour of the day! (Let’s hope none of them contract typhoid or any other horrible disease from nearly drowning in sewage-filled water.)
Back home, alone with his wife, Oliver weeps that he’s an unworthy son and doesn’t deserve to be a father. Susan is confused, seeing as how he just saved his own father’s life. Oliver admits to having hesitated, and finding himself tempted by John’s words. She points out that everyone is tempted sometimes, but he’s going to make a great dad and she’s super proud of him. So, I guess things are all good with these two, then. He comments that they have a secret now, and she says that they have a box of secrets, now, and will keep it locked, together. Yeah, because that sort of thing has worked pretty well for this family so far.
John disappears, which breaks his mother’s heart and which doesn’t concern his father a jot. That seems pretty callow on Stephen’s part, considering he seemed rather on good terms with his son. The Brockenhursts send a note to Stephen and his wife telling them about the new heir and offering to pay Stephen’s debts one last time. Stephen, of course, decides to use this money to only partially pay his debts, and then use the rest to continue gambling. Of course he does.
And his wife discovers that John stole all the silver from her. This poor woman.
Over dinner with the Brockenhursts, all the Trenchards, Maria, Lady Templemore, Lord Templemore, and his mother, Charles is told the truth. Yeah, this really should have been done in a smaller group. Lord Brockenhurst seems pretty laid back considering he almost certainly just learned all this recently as well. Charles admits to feeling foolish that he never guessed the blood connection, but why the hell would he?
The Templemores, of course, are fine with the marriage now.
And Charles, of course, is going to go ahead with his business. His mother chimes in that he’ll never stop working–you may as well tell a fish not to swim. For some reason, this completely common phrase gets a round of applause from the whole table. These people must have been drinking for a while. Charles toasts his dear mother, Mrs Pope. That’s sweet. Nobody toasts his birth parents, which seems a little odd.
After dinner, the men talk about important things: what to do with John. Despite the fact the man tried to murder him, Charles holds no hard feelings and, in fact, wants to give him a pension. He’s just so good, you know. But nobody is going to stand for John being in Britain, so the poor thing will just have to wander the Continent for the rest of his life. My heart weeps for him.
Maria and Charles get married and, I guess, are heading off to India together. Somehow, this wedding scene underlines how little chemistry these two actors have, which makes it feel really awkward. And the utterly stilted conversation that Anne and Caroline have afterwards about how lovely it is to see two people in love together makes it even more uncomfortable. I feel like even they can’t quite believe the words that are coming out of their mouths. But it’s over. Thank god.
I don’t think I need to go into how I felt about this. This seems to have prompted mixed feelings from a lot of audience people. It’s a Marmite show: some loved it, some hated it. I, sadly, did not love it. I guess for every Downton Abbey there is also a Titanic. Better luck next time.