Previously on Downton Abbey: We learned that war is hell, just in case you weren’t sure. Matthew came by with his new fiancée, who’s already being sneered at by Carson and Violet, even though she seems like a perfectly sweet girl. Bates got dragged off by his horrible wife, Vera, who’ll probably bleed him dry in no time. Both Sybil and Edith decided it was time to start being useful, and Thomas figured out a way to get sent home from the front.
It’s now April 1917, which means we should be expecting some Americans any day now. At Downton, William receives a letter, and Hughes scolds Carson for lighting the fires himself instead of getting one of the maids or William to do it. She accuses him of making more work for himself, and I’m on her side. I feel like he’s doing everything just so he can go about bitching about it, which is annoying as hell.
Upstairs, Robert’s new valet makes a timid suggestion about Robert’s uniform, and Robert bites the man’s head off. Robert then apologizes and drops the fact that the valet, Lang, is recently returned from the trenches. Oh, well done, Robert, yelling at the guy who’s most likely suffering from some form of PTSD. Isn’t it your job to keep up morale? Way to go there.
We learn that Lang was invalided out of the forces, and he worries about people thinking he’s a coward for not being in uniform. Robert tells him to send anyone who dares say anything his way, and he’ll straighten them out. We know how he feels about those people.
In the kitchens, Mrs. Patmore’s reading a letter and looking upset, but when Daisy asks she doesn’t tell her what it says. William comes bursting in to tell Daisy he’s been called up and will be off for his medical exam soon. He asks Daisy to have a picture taken on her day off, so he can take it with him. Aww.
O’Brien and Cora talk about Thomas, who’s recovered as much as he ever will, having been shot right through the hand and all. I’m guessing that would render the hand fairly useless, since that’d shatter an awful lot of bones. The two ladies talk about how nice it’d be to have Thomas work at the hospital near Downton and Cora offers to talk to the doctor.
The front. Matthew tells his sergeant/batman that he’s heading back to England for a couple of months to join a higher-up on a recruitment drive. He’s even getting promoted to Captain. Good deal.
William breaks the news to Cora and Robert that he’ll be leaving, while Carson glowers and makes some passive-aggressive comments that nobody pays any attention to, because this really isn’t the time to be complaining about the lack of footmen in the house. Cora tells William to spend the next few days with his dad, which is nice of her, and she sincerely wishes him well before he goes. Robert shakes his hand and wishes him good luck. After William and Carson go, Robert complains about how his footmen get to go off to war, while he has to sit around at home. For heaven’s sake, Robert, it’s not as if you haven’t done your part for your country. Your footmen are half your age, so it’s not surprising they’re being sent off. You saw active service during the Boer War, didn’t you? Stop complaining and taking your frustration out on the veterans like Lane.
Speaking of Lane, he’s down in the servants’ hall polishing something. In comes O’Brien, who tells him Carson doesn’t like people to polish things there right before meals. Ethel tells her to chill, and when O’Brien notices Lane’s hand shaking as he tries to recap the polish bottle, she quickly tells him it’s fine, he can stay. Hmm. Molesley joins them and makes some awkward small talk before leaving a book he’s picked up for Anna. Well, that’s sweet. The book’s Elizabeth and her German Garden, for those who are interested.
Cora’s taken herself down to the village to ask Dr. Clarkson to pull some strings and get Thomas transferred to the village hospital. Clarkson doesn’t think it’s likely to happen and refuses to help.
Anna finds Carson struggling to pull the cork from a bottle and asks him if he’s doing all right. He snaps at her to leave him alone, then goes out to serve dinner, banging into Violet’s chair as he goes. What’s his deal? Is he drunk or something?
Edith mentions that Matthew’s coming home and Robert offers to throw a dinner party. Mary mentions that she wanted her suitor, Richard Carlisle, to come that same weekend, and Violet suggests they invite Robert’s sister, Rosamond, up as well, to make it a more complete party.
Edith pipes up again and says that she ran into Mrs. Drake, wife of Farmer Drake, in the village and she told Edith that they’ve lost their last able-bodied farm-hand, which has left nobody to drive the tractors. So Edith volunteered. Hee! Go Edith! Violet’s horrified, of course, but Edith’s made up her mind and firmly tells them all she’s doing it. Mary and Robert smile a little, clearly proud of her.
Edith bikes over to the Drake farm and tells them she’s reporting for duty. They’re gobsmacked but happy for the help.
Anna wanders into the kitchen and is pulled aside by Mrs. Patmore, who tells her she’s had a letter from her sister, telling Patmore that her nephew’s missing, presumed killed. Anna suggests Patmore ask Robert for help, because he’d have friends in the War Office who might have access to more info.
Lang’s doing a bit of mending in the servants’ hall, watched by Ethel, who gets all flirty until O’Brien shows up and shuts her up, for which I’m strangely grateful. O’Brien glances at Lang’s work and declares it very fine indeed. He explains that he learned from his mother, who was a lady’s maid. O’Brien says his mother clearly knew what she was doing. Look who’s getting all warm and cuddly!
Carson whirls in and tells Lang he’s going to have to pitch in and help wait at table when the guests arrive. Lang looks terrified at the very idea.
Mrs. Patmore’s taken Anna’s advice and taken her nephew’s case to Robert. He promises to do what he can but warns her the answer may not be a happy one. She says she knows, but she’d rather know for sure what happened than just wonder.
Belowstairs, Molesley’s back to ask Anna if she’s had a chance to read the book. She reminds him that he only gave it to her yesterday, so no, she hasn’t. He suggests they get together and discuss it once she’s done with it, and she counters by suggesting they start a full-on book club. That’s obviously not what he wants, and she knows that, but she’s spared further awkwardness by the ringing of the dressing bell.
Robert pokes his head into Cora’s room as she’s getting dressed for dinner and tells her he’s written to Clarkson, reminding him that they pay for the hospital, so he’d better get cracking getting Thomas back there. Cora and O’Brien are both happy to hear it.
At the Drake farm, Edith, with some difficulty, gets the tractor going and pulls out her first stump, as Drake cheers. Afterward, the two of them settle down for a mug of coffee or something in the barn and talk about farming. She observes that farming’s tough, and there’s room for sentiment, but not sentimentality. He compliments her turn of phrase and tells her she should be a writer. Careful, Drake. The written word’s already gotten her into trouble. Mrs. Drake shows up and breaks up their little interlude with some nice, hearty farm food.
Ahh, the return of Thomas. O’Brien comes out and meets him in the courtyard, smiling happily. He’s got his wounded hand in a glove, which he pulls off to show her. It’s a mess. He shrugs that at least it got him home.
Inside, Thomas catches up on the news. He hears that William’s joined up and jokes that he thought William would have died of love for Daisy. Daisy, awesomely, tells him not to be an asshole five seconds inside the door. He further ribs that Carson without footmen is like a ringmaster without ponies, which earns him a rebuke from Mrs. Hughes, who gets a verbal slap of her own when he reminds her that he’s not in service. But you are in the part of the house at least partially under her control, Thomas, so mind your manners, ok?
Ethel’s sitting beside Anna at the table, making googly eyes at Thomas. The two of them flirt a bit, because this girl just can’t help herself, but then Carson comes in and tells Ethel to get topside and help with the luggage, because their guests will be arriving soon. O’Brien tells them they have a visitor, and Carson sharply tells her that he’s seen him, without even looking in Thomas’s direction once. Ha! He leaves and Thomas asks where Bates is. O’Brien tells him he’s gone, and Thomas smirks that not all the changes were bad, then. I have to credit Anna’s supreme self-control that kept her from stabbing him right through the throat with her sewing scissors.
The car comes up the front drive and discharges Carlisle, a middle-aged man in the Sir Antony Strallen mold, and Rosamond. Carlisle’s played by the same actor who played Ser Jorah in Game of Thrones. Carlisle greets Robert and Cora with a smile as Rosamond greets Mary. The others go inside, and Mary asks Rosamond how she liked Carlisle. Rosamond tells her he spent the whole train trip reading his own newspapers. I guess it would have seemed strange if he was reading the competition. They go in, and Cora comes back out to ask Branson to head down to the hospital to tell Sybil to get her ass back to Downton for dinner that night. She complains about how much she’s working and Branson apparently oversteps his bounds by observing that Sybil seems to enjoy it. Cora snaps at him to hop to it.
Sybil’s not keen on being called away, because she’s busy, but Thomas is there and can cover for her, so there’s no escaping the dinner now. She hands Thomas some pills for Lieutenant Courtney, a young man sitting up in bed with bandages over his eyes.
Anna reports to Mrs. Hughes before dinner and tells her that Lang seems nervous. Hughes waves it off as stage fright, then sincerely asks Anna how she’s holding up. Anna says she’s doing fine, because at least she’s experienced real love, which not everyone can say. She counts herself as lucky. Damn, that’s a seriously glass-half-full way of looking at the world, isn’t it?
The family and guests—including Matthew and Lavinia—have gathered before dinner. Carlisle says he knows Lavinia: he’s friends with her uncle. Lavinia looks uncomfortable and amends “friends” to “acquaintances”. Sybil pulls Rosamond aside and asks her what she thinks Mary sees in Carlisle. Rosamond thinks it’s his money, but Sybil’s sure there must be more to it than that. Sybil, have you met Mary? She’s just not the sentimental type. If she was, she’d have married Matthew whether he was going to be an earl or not.
Robert and Matthew chat a bit about the war. Robert asks if Matthew’s home for good, but Matthew carefully says he wouldn’t want that. He asks after Robert’s new appointment with the North Riding volunteers and Robert shortly answers that it turns out he’s just a mascot.
Violet, meanwhile, is making small talk with Carlisle, who reveals he doesn’t really care about keeping morale up as much as he cares about selling papers. Well, he is a businessman. Can’t fault him for that. Mary hurries over and tries to intervene before Violet does what she does and starts making veiled insults, but Violet reassures her granddaughter that she and Carlisle are more than evenly matched. Heh.
Things are a bit chaotic downstairs, because Carson can’t find some spoons and the sauce, but Anna tells him that Lang’s bringing the sauce. She gives Lang some last-minute pointers and sends him on his way.
In the dining room, Lang almost immediately screws up, offering the sauce to someone out of order, so Carson loses his temper and tells Lang to give him the sauce. Lang hands it over, and Carson immediately dumps it all over Edith before having what appears to be a heart attack. Everyone gets up and runs over to him, and Isobel tells Edith to go fetch Clarkson. “But what about my dress?” Edith pouts. What? That seems like such a strange, unfeeling thing for her to say. It doesn’t quite gel with how her character’s been developing lately. Let’s forget it ever happened. Off she goes. Violet observes that they never have a dull moment in the house, and Matthew and Sybil take over and haul Carson upstairs. Mrs. Hughes tells the maids to resume dinner service and tells Lang to clean up the dumped sauce. O’Brien quickly steps in and offers to do it instead, so Hughes tells Lang to head back downstairs.
Later that night, Robert reports to Cora that it wasn’t a heart attack after all, but Carson needs a bit of rest. She realizes that he’s been working too hard, and that Lang seemed awfully tense. Robert can’t imagine why that is, since Lang seemed so steady before. Guys, the man just got back from a war so horrific nobody could even begin to imagine it. Why do you think he’s a mess?
Belowstairs, Lang’s standing in front of the closet full of livery, the sounds of explosions and gunfire apparently echoing in his memory. O’Brien surprises him, scaring the hell out of him, and tells him she knows he’s shell-shocked. She’s seen it before: her favorite brother came back with it. He got sent back and now he’s dead. Wow. I thought I’d never find her sympathetic after she caused Cora’s miscarriage last season, but her behavior towards Lang may have actually done it. Lang says they won’t be sending him back, because he’s too messed up, and she tells him he shouldn’t be working yet. He says he needs to work—I think it’s because he needs to stay busy. If he’s not busy, he’s thinking about all the terrible things he’s seen and lived through.
Mrs. Hughes comes in and asks what’s up. O’Brien covers for Lang and Hughes, probably realizing that now is not the time, says they’ll discuss the dinner another day.
Mary makes her way to Carson’s room and settles down by his bedside, asking him how he’s feeling. He’s sorry he spoiled things for Carlisle, but she reassures him Carlisle seemed to find it exciting. Carson asks if they’ll be seeing much more of Carlisle, but Mary isn’t sure yet. Carson brings up Matthew and advises her to tell him how she feels, because if she doesn’t and Matthew dies, she’ll regret it forever. Mary brings up Lavinia, and Carson sneers that nobody could prefer Lavinia to Mary. Ass! Seriously, what a rude thing to say! Just because Lavinia’s not in Burke’s Peerage! I’m really not liking Carson this hour, between his meanness and his martyrdom complex. Mrs. Hughes comes in with medicine and Mary says her goodnights and leaves.
Thomas is practicing his bedside manner with Courtney, the blind lieutenant. Thomas asks Courtney what he did before the war and Courtney says he was up at Oxford, preparing to be a gentleman who could do all sorts of fun things that he’ll never be able to do again, like hunt and fish. Thomas tries to reassure him that there have been cases of gas blindness wearing off, but Courtney knows it’s rare, and it happens earlier than the stage he’s in now, so he’s accepted he’s toast. Realizing there’s not much he can do here, Thomas excuses himself.
Robert and Cora and Mary and Carlisle are out for a morning walk. Robert asks after Rosamond and Cora tells him she’s reported to Violet, presumably to talk the old lady around to the idea of Carlisle joining the family. Mary and Carlisle hang back because Carlisle got the wrong type of tweed and he’s overheating. He tells her he realizes he doesn’t know all the little hidden rules of the aristocracy, but he’s willing to learn, though he’s not willing to be ashamed of being self-made. I kind of like this guy.
Rosamond’s having a face-to-face with Violet and lays it out plain: Mary’s reputation has taken a beating, so she needs a suitable husband. Violet doesn’t know if Carlisle’s suitable or not, because nobody knows much about him. Rosamond says he’s rich and powerful, and anything else can be sorted out by Mary later. Violet sniffs that Rosamond would know, which gets Rosamond in a snit, because she insists her own rich, rough-edged husband was a gentleman. Violet reminds her that his grandfather was a manufacturer, and although his mother was the daughter of a baronet, it wasn’t a very important one. Violet sighs over Matthew choosing Lavinia, and I really think it’s time for these people to move on already.
Thomas is reading Courtney a letter from home, but Courtney cuts him off, realizing the letter just details how his younger brother’s totally replacing him. Thomas advises him not to become a victim. He hints at his own past of being bullied because he was “different”. When did that happen? All I remember was him being the bully. Ok, he’s starting to seem human, and he’s clearly bonding with Courtney, so I’ll let it go.
Rosamond’s walking back to the house when she overhears Lavinia and Carlisle arguing in the garden. It sounds like he has some touchy information that he’s not afraid to use against her somehow. Rosamond interrupts briefly, then takes off to write some letters.
Edith’s back at the farm, taking a break. Drake offers her a bottle of beer, apologizing for not having a glass. She doesn’t care, swigging right from the bottle before offering to teach him to drive. He demurs, then starts to talk about how awesome and lovely Edith is, just as his wife comes around the corner of the hay cart they’re leaning against and breaks up their little interlude.
Thomas and Sybil are helping Courtney learn to walk with his cane and navigate around obstacles. The doctor arrives and compliments his progress before breaking the news that he’ll be leaving for the convalescent hospital at Farley Hall soon. Courtney begs not to be sent away, and Thomas speaks up for him, but Courtney’s bed is needed for the wounded. The doctor claps Courtney on the shoulder and tells Thomas to report to his office.
In the office, the doctor starts ripping Thomas a new one, but Thomas stands his ground, telling Clarkson he thinks Courtney is depressed and sending him away might not be the best idea. Sybil bursts in to give her opinion, but the doctor tells them both to shut up, get lost, and get Courtney ready to leave.
Hughes informs Carson the maids will be serving at dinner, which pisses him off, but there’s nothing to be done about it. He doesn’t even get to pick out the wine—Robert’s already done that. Carson hates feeling useless.
Mary’s getting ready for dinner, with Rosamond hovering about. Rosamond asks how Carlisle and Lavinia know each other and Mary shrugs that they must have met in London. Rosamond hustles out as Anna comes in to put the finishing touches on Mary’s outfit. Mary tells her about Carson’s advice to tell Matthew how she feels and asks what Anna thinks. Anna says she’s pretty sure one regrets being honest less often than one regrets telling lies.
Over at the hospital, there’s a big pool of blood next to Courtney’s bed, and he’s now quite dead, his wrist slashed. A nurse raises the alarm, and we see Thomas alone somewhere, crying. Ahh, so it was him crying in the preview. I never thought I’d see the day.
The doctor discusses the matter with Isobel and Sybil, guessing Courtney got his hands on a razor and smuggled it to bed with him. How did a blind soldier manage to find a razor in the first place without slashing himself up or being noticed? The doctor thinks there was no way to have prevented it, but Sybil thinks it’s because they were going to send him away. The doctor, to his credit, is upset about this, but he’s not sure what they can do: the hospital’s too small to have convalescents around. Isobel suggests they turn Downton into a closer convalescent hospital, and Sybil offers to put it before her parents.
Mary’s seeing Carlisle off at the train station. Before he boards the train, he tells her he wants to marry her, because he thinks they’d make a good team. Honestly, I think this is the type of match Mary really should make. She’s just not sentimental, and there’s no use pretending she is. If she’s going to marry at all, a more businesslike arrangement like this one just makes sense. He’ll provide her with money and she’ll provide him with social cachet. Even trade. She wonders if love shouldn’t have something to do with it, and he says he could talk about love, but they both know they’d make a good pair. She promises to think about it. Oh, dear. Poor man. Carlisle, don’t expect an answer anytime soon.
Branson shows up at the hospital just as a new shipment of soldiers is coming in. He’s brought a basket of snacks for Sybil, but his timing sucks. She’s busy with the new wounded; even Matthew’s pitching in, while Branson just stands there with a picnic basket. You know, I kind of feel like Sybil would look more kindly on him if he was actually contributing in some way to the war effort. The fact that he’s just hanging around Downton and driving a car for rich people has to seem kind of pathetic, when almost everyone else is mucking in. Even I’m starting to find him kind of lame, and I like Branson.
Branson asks Sybil if this is anything like she thought it would be, and she admits it’s much, much worse, but she feels useful for the first time, and she likes that. He wonders if she’d ever go back to her life as it was before the war, and she tells him she could never do that.
On her way home from the station, Mary swings by Crawley House and finds Lavinia in the garden, weeping. Lavinia tells her that Matthew’s leaving a day early, and even though he’s not going back to the front right away, he’ll go back someday, and she’s scared to death that he’ll be killed. There’s really not much Mary can say to that. Matthew comes home, and Lavinia takes off into the house. He chats with Mary a bit, and she tells him that she came to see him. He asks what she needs and she loses her nerve, confirming that Matthew’s coming to dinner that night instead of pouring out her heart to him. Probably for the best, it’d just make things awkward.
Molesley’s back at Downton, and now he’s worked up the courage to actually ask Anna out. She gently lets him down because she’s still in love with Bates. She rather creepily describes the feeling as being similar to losing a child, but we get the idea. Molesley accepts it and they part as friends.
Edith’s still down at the farm, stacking grain sacks or something by lanternlight in the barn. Drake comes in and tells her he’ll have to start inventing tasks to keep her around, and she urges him to do so. He tells her he’d hate it if she stayed away, and she returns the sentiment before they come together and kiss. Woah! Who’d have thought that Edith would be the first Crawley sister to cross the class divide? They get all giggly and flirty, because they don’t realize that Mrs. Drake’s been watching this whole thing from the house. Oh dear.
While the staff’s getting ready for dinner, Robert comes down to the kitchen and gently asks Mrs. Patmore if he can have a word with her. They settle down in Mrs. Hughes’s sitting room, and he informs her he’s had word of her nephew, and it’s not good. She starts to babble a bit, saying she knew all along he was dead, but Robert interrupts to tell her that it’s actually worse than she thinks. She wonders what’s worse than being dead, and he breaks the news that her nephew was shot for cowardice. Yes, nothing motivates frightened men like shooting them dead. Mrs. Patmore starts to cry, so Robert calls in Mrs. Hughes, telling her that Patmore’s nephew has been killed. Patmore starts to tell Hughes the rest of the story, but he cuts her off and says there’s no need for any more of the story to come out, because it’s not for all of them to judge.
Sybil has put the idea of making Downton a convalescent hospital to the family, and of course Violet’s against it, worrying about people pilfering the silver and relapsing in their drawing room and whatnot. Mary supports the idea, but Cora’s not keen until Violet absolutely forbids them from following through with it. That gets Cora’s hackles up, and she tells her mother-in-law that this is hers and Robert’s house and they’ll make this decision, thank you. Violet plays the “poor me” card but Cora refuses to play that game.
Robert and Matthew are in the dining room alone, having their after-dinner brandies. Robert asks Matthew what it was like at the hospital. Matthew tells him that, at the front, men pray to be spared, and if that’s not to be the case, they pray for a quick, clean kill. And for the men at the hospital, that wasn’t the case. Oooof.
William’s back! He wanders into the kitchens all dressed up in his uniform, fresh off his training and eager to get over to Europe to fight the Hun. This is so not the time to be talking about this in front of poor Mrs. Patmore. But of course he doesn’t know that.
William goes next to visit Anna and Lane in the servants’ hall. Anna greets him warmly and tells him he looks smart before she dashes off to serve dinner, leaving him alone with Lane. Lane recognizes that Williams’ all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for a fight. William agrees that he’s happy to be going to fight, because he believes in what they’re fighting for. And what was that, William? What exactly do you think you’re fighting for? Because here’s the deal behind World War I: a bunch of countries made a lot of alliances in an attempt to maintain the balance of power in Europe, which eventually meant they got dragged into a conflict that had nothing to do with them. Eastern Europe turned into a powderkeg as Austria-Hungary and Russia started engaging in a land grab and the Ottoman Empire slowly collapsed. The heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated by a Serbian who was pissed at Austria for having seized Bosnia, so Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which prompted Russia to declare war on Austria-Hungary, which set off the Germans, which set off the French, which set off the British. There you have it: A whole continent trashed and a generation nearly wiped out because of hurt feelings, greed, and century-old political treaties. So, what cause are you fighting for, William? I’m guessing that, in his mind, it all stops at: guys in pointy helmets=bad.
The gentlemen have joined the ladies in the drawing room, and Matthew’s hanging out with Mary. He observes that Edith seems happy lately, and Mary rather sneeringly says that Edith’s found joy in farm labor. Whereas you’ve found joy in doing absolutely nothing at all, Mary, so shut the hell up. Matthew asks about Carlisle, but she doesn’t tell him what she thinks her answer will be.
Belowstairs, William’s keeping everyone entertained with stories from his training. Daisy escapes briefly to the kitchen and tells Patmore she thinks William’s gotten the impression they’re sweethearts, but she doesn’t feel that way about him. Oh, geez, Daisy, where do you think he got that idea? Don’t go kissing boys with crushes on you to cheer them up, they tend to get the wrong impression! Patmore tells her not to burst his bubble, because she can’t go sending him off to war with a broken heart. Save your dumping for the Armistice, Daisy.
Anna’s helping Mary get ready for bed, and Mary tells her she plans to accept the proposal. Then she backs off slightly and asks Anna if she thinks Mary should. Anna tells her it’s none of her business, but if Mary loves him, she should go for it. Mary sighs that it’s not quite as simple as that and asks if Anna loved Bates more than anyone else. Anna says she did, and Mary says that someday Anna will probably meet someone else and marry and sure, he’ll be second best, but you can still make a reasonably happy life that way. Anna doesn’t think so, and now it looks like Mary may be rethinking her decision.
At breakfast the next day, Robert reads a letter from Mrs. Drake, informing them that the Drakes have found someone else to hire, so they won’t be needing Edith anymore. She looks devastated. Poor Edith, she can never be happy for more than a few days, can she?