A formal occasion: Rupert Frazer as Neville Chamberlain

Previously on Downton Abbey: Carson and Mrs Hughes got married, Thomas’s attempts to become friendly with Andy were rather brusquely rebuffed, Matthew Goode wandered back onto the scene, Robert was having stomach pains, Violet was losing her mind over the damn hospital, Baxter will have to give evidence against the guy who got her stealing, Daisy secured the Drewe farm for Mr Mason, and Edith finally fired her editor.

Daisy helps Mason move in while Tom and Mary walk around the estate and talk about how it’s good Mason’s taking over because it just so happens he’s a pig expert. Well, that’s convenient. Tom mentions plans to build a repair shop at the edge of the estate, which Mary doubts her father will like. She warns Tom to be gentle with Robert. I can’t help but smirk at Tom’s subtle dig at Mary as he observes she ‘hasn’t really done much’ with the repair shop while he was away.

In the kitchen, Patmore suggests she and Daisy take some food over to Mason’s on the official move-in day and lend a hand. Andy steps in and offers to come along, because apparently he has nothing to do at Downton.

Edith gets a highly diverting letter from Bertie in which he asks her to get together with him the next time she’s in London. Robert rather perks up at the mention of a man in his daughter’s life, but Edith reassures him ‘it’s not like that’.

Violet shows up and announces that the minister of health, Neville Chamberlain, is going to swing by and she wants him to hear about this hospital nonsense. Robert, like the rest of the sane people out there, tell her that a) the minister of health has FAR more important things to do than insert himself into a local squabble over some tiny hospital, and b) Chamberlain has no reason to stop at Downton. Oh, but apparently Chamberlain’s wife is Robert’s late father’s goddaughter, which I guess basically makes them all family. Robert still doubts he’ll accept the invitation.

Hughes stops by the kitchen and asks Patmore if she can provide some advice on making dinner, since Carson’s decided to ask for a dinner a deux at their cottage that night. Patmore offers to make up a basket for them. Hughes is delighted, because she hasn’t cooked in ages.

Over lunch Robert tells Mary that Henry Talbot phoned and asked if Mary would come watch him try out a car in a few days. Tom’s all over that and offers to take her, because he actually cares about the cars, whereas Mary just seems bored. Robert then tells everyone that Edith has a date, seeming really quite excited, and Edith once again says it’s not like that. ‘Of course not,’ Mary sneers. Edith, thankfully, basically responds with a: ‘WTF is that supposed to mean, bitch?’ and Mary gets a look on her face that kind of says, ‘oh, yeah, I seem to recall that just last week I declared I would try and stop being such a hateful, snide cow all the time.’

Cora hears about Neville coming north and Violet’s plan to lure him to Downton. Cora hopes this won’t go through, because what a hassle!

Baxter gets a note from Willis saying she’ll have to go to York that week. Molesley hears about it and offers to come along, saying he can get the time off (hey, if Andy can, I guess Molesley can too) and give her some moral support. Anna and Bates hear that Baxter’s going to be a character witness and firmly tell her that character witnesses can make all the difference. They would surely know. While they’re discussing the trial, Thomas asks Andy if he fancies taking a trip to the village later, and Andy abruptly says no.

Upstairs, Merton and Isobel and Clarkson have stopped by so they can share the news that Clarkson’s now maybe, probably in support of the hospital moving after all. Isobel also breaks the news that Chamberlain has accepted the dinner invitation. Wow, that was awfully fast, seeing as how it’s just post-lunch the very day Violet mentioned it to Robert. Edith ridiculously thinks that if Violet can convince Chamberlain to visit a grand house for a dinner she can convince him to condemn the scheme, which is not true at all. There’s a world of difference between accepting a dinner invitation when you’re already in the neighbourhood and ruling on such a petty matter and probably embarrassing yourself. Cora tells the three visitors they’re coming to this dinner too, to support her.

That evening, Bates and Anna ask Andy what his deal is with Thomas. Andy admits that he knows about Thomas’s sexual preferences and he doesn’t want to give him any ideas.

Hughes serves up dinner to Carson, who immediately gets passive aggressive, commenting on how cold the plate is, her choice of a side dish of bubble and squeak, the doneness of the meat, and the sharpness of the knife. Dick. Hughes looks understandably put out.

Denker goes downstairs and bitches to Spratt about Clarkson changing sides and upsetting Violet. He tells her to just chill but she’s got a head of steam on her, for no apparent reason at all, and stomps off to bed. Since when does she care so much about Violet’s feelings?

At Downton, the Downtonians discuss their plans for the day over breakfast. The only real thing of note is that Mary has suddenly, magically developed some doubts about Mason, because he’s old and pigs can be dangerous. Did that seriously not occur to anyone else before you handed him the farm and he started moving in?

Below, Patmore and Daisy pack a basket for Mason and Hughes complains about her new husband being a jerk. Willis shows up to fetch Baxter and Hughes asks him to watch out for her. He says he’ll do his best, but ‘we’re out to catch a nasty fish and he’s bound to thrash around a bit.’ Oh, dear lord. Oh, wait, it gets worse. Baxter comes in with this gem: ‘And we’ll all be caught in the spray.’ That is the most tortured metaphor I’ve heard in a long time. And I don’t even think it works. Who cares if you get sprayed with a little water?

Patmore wishes her luck and everyone looks tense as she leaves.

Tom and Mary talk about the proposed site of the repair shed, and then move on to her relationship with Henry. She thinks Henry and Tom have more in common than she and Henry do, which is almost certainly true. Tom asks if the relationship is serious and she admits he’s nice and attractive. Wow, that’s pretty tepid. So your answer is ‘no’, then? ‘I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but I won’t marry down.’ Honey, what you did just there is the 1925 equivalent of someone saying something nasty on social media but punctuating it with a smiley face: the excuse in there doesn’t actually negate the unpleasantness of the message. You do sound snobbish. You are snobbish. And funnily enough, you were the one accusing Cora of snobbery not too long ago. I see this is not going to be one of Mary’s self-aware weeks. Tom points out that Matthew wasn’t grand, but she reminds him that he was the heir to an earldom, so he fit her particular bill to a T. Tom agrees that two people in a relationship should be balanced, but that balance doesn’t necessarily have to mean money and position. He thinks of himself and Sybil as having been evenly matched, because they were both strong in their beliefs.

Denker passes Clarkson in the village and immediately lights into him for throwing over Violet, who’s been ‘running this village since you were eating porridge in the glen with your mummy.’ Wow, nice bit of racism there, Denker. Clarkson’s like, ‘how the hell is any of this your business? And haven’t you been in service long enough to know that this shit will get you fired because it’s wildly inappropriate?’ And why does Denker care so much about this all of a sudden? This hasn’t been introduced organically at all, it’s just suddenly there. Why? Why is it here? She accuses him of treason, because she doesn’t know what that word means, and he warns her that this is unacceptable and will come back to bite her in the ass soon. God, I hope so. What a pointless, annoying character.

Baxter arrives at the courtroom and greets Molesley, who’s delighted to receive the news that the plea has been changed to guilty, so this was all for nothing. What? What?! WHAT?!?!?!?!! ARRRRRRRGH! Ok, I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this, because this show is notorious for teasing things endlessly and then not showing us the potentially best scenes (remember Edith receiving official word of Michael’s death offscreen last season?) But COME ON! You’ve been teasing out this incredibly devilish guy for several episodes now, and building this whole thing up, and now not only has it just fizzled to nothing, we don’t even get to see him? Nothing? What the heck has the audience done to Julian Fellowes to make him hate them so much?[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]What the heck has the audience done to Julian Fellowes to make him hate them so much?[/cryout-pullquote]

Anyway, Baxter is relieved and admits this all feels anticlimactic. I’ll say. Molesley jokingly offers to go ask the guy to change his plea again. She laughs. That’s it.

Mason comments that it’s nice to see a woman bustling around the kitchen, as Patmore unpacks the hamper. Tom and Mary show up and after some pleasantries ask if Mason’s up to the job. He’s got help in the form of Andy, who has apparently decided that he really wants to be a pig farmer someday, and since he doesn’t have anything to do at Downton, he’s just going to come wandering on down whenever he’s needed. I thought the house was short-staffed? How does he have all this time to be away? Actually, how is it that both Andy and Moleseley, the only two footmen, can be away from the house at the same time right now? That was quite a no-no. Mary’s surprised to hear that Andy’s interested in pigs but this seems like a fine plan to her, so that’s settled. Even though Andy doesn’t look all that musclebound either, if we’re being honest.

Bertie and Edith wander through the park and talk about Bertie’s employer, who likes to paint young men. Mmm hmmm. Edith invites him over to her flat for a drink that evening, followed by dinner and dancing at the place of his choosing. Well, well, look who’s being all modern!

Henry races a car around a track while Mary whimpers about the risks these drivers take and tells Tom she really hates it. Totally reasonable. Also, Henry, this is a shitty second date for a woman who lost her husband in a car accident. Tom tells her there’s no such thing as safe motor racing or safe love. Oh, these lines are killing me.

Henry comes to a stop after winning and announces he’s found his new car. He’s going to celebrate by heading out to a pub. While he goes to change, Tom basically tells Mary to stop being such a sourpuss and do something for someone else, just this once. She seems a little surprised by the notion.

Mason and the others check out the pigs and Mason offers to lend Andy some books on pig care.

Edith interviews editors, and as is always the case in movies and TV shows, the very last one is her girl. Edith notes that the two of them were born in the same year: 1892, which can’t be right, because the show started in 1912, when Mary, the elder sister, was about 18 or 19, having only just had her first London Season. Again, Fellowes can’t keep track of his own timeline, even though people watching the show can manage.

Anyway, they were both born in 1892, which means they must be two sides of the same coin! They start talking about having been born at the tail-end of the Victorian era, and Edith thinks that might be worth exploring: Victorian babies growing into modern women. Edith, I think you just proved you are not, in fact, ready to be an editor yourself, because that’s kind of awful. I mean, everyone is in a fairly different era by the time they’ve reached their 30’s than the era they were born in. You haven’t morphed, you just grew up. It’s not like someone who was already an adult in the Victorian era adapting splendidly to the flapper lifestyle in 1925.

Mason says he wishes Daisy would live at the farm with him. Daisy offers to think about it. Andy thinks that would be heaven. Mason gives him the books and Andy promises to give them a look.

Robert and Cora play with the kids and Robert confirms that Chamberlain is coming to dinner that week and this is all a huge pain in the ass. He asks Cora if she could just back off and let Violet have her own way, but Cora tells him she’s been doing that for 30 years (since 1895, then? Three years after Edith was born?) and this is too important. Seriously. Actual human beings’ lives are at stake here. Robert winces and clutches his stomach and moans a little bit about this. I don’t blame him. It’s giving me a stomachache.

Violet gets a letter from Clarkson that greatly distresses her. She tells Isobel that Denker has disgraced herself and will have to be fired. Denker is sent for and admits she did confront Clarkson. Violet says that’s totally not her business and it’s inappropriate for her to go attacking local doctors out in public. She orders Denker to leave first thing in the morning. Denker is shocked, and so is Isobel, but Violet’s mind is made up. I can’t believe that after all the ridiculous crap that woman’s pulled, this is what gets her fired.[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]I can’t believe that after all the crap Denker has pulled, this is what gets her fired.[/cryout-pullquote]

Henry fetches pints for himself and Tom and Mary admits she doesn’t really do pubs very often. Yeah, I bet not. Tom starts talking about the car and how much he’d love to drive it. Henry’s cool with that. Henry randomly brings up Evelyn Napier, and I’ll allow it because I kind of loved old Evelyn. Apparently he’s still single and still pining for Mary (why?). Ok, that makes me kind of sad. Mary says he’ll pine in vain and Henry awesomely calles her La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Oooh, someone’s finally got her pegged. Tom asks what that means. It means ‘heartless bitch,’ Tom. Henry describes it in slightly nicer terms. I guess Mary doesn’t really know what it means, because she just sits there smiling like Henry just gave her a compliment. Henry suggests she and Evelyn and he get together for dinner the next time they’re all in London, because that won’t be awkward at all, and Tom’s basically like, ‘Jesus, go have sex already!’

Back at Downton, Andy almost literally sweats over one of Mason’s books. Thomas asks what he’s up to and Andy explains what he’s doing. Thomas asks which book he plans to start with and Andy says he’ll go with the ‘red one.’ Thomas clearly realises what’s up and asks who wrote that one. Andy just hands it to him so he can see for himself. Thomas checks it out, hands it back, and leaves.

Bertie raves about Michael’s awesome flat and Edith plays audience stand-in and tells him she’d like a life away from Downton. Downton’s all Mary’s now, so Edith needs to strike out on her own. I’m glad she’s finally realising it. They chatter about Chamberlain’s visit and she praises Bertie’s choice of dinner spot (Café de Paris). As he helps her into her coat, he kisses her and I kind of fist pump and realise I’m way more invested in this relationship than anything Mary’s getting up to with Henry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still upset with her for her thoughtless treatment of the Drewes, but Edith has always been one of my favourites, even going back to series one, and I’ve always wanted to see her happy, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that this relationship pans out. Talk about having to earn your happy ending.

Patmore and Daisy catch Hughes up on the happenings of the day and Daisy gets super weird, insisting that Mason’s just fine on his own and must have been longing for them to leave. Uh, ok, Daisy. Hughes guesses that Daisy isn’t too keen on him getting close to Patmore, maybe because it would be strange for Daisy if her stand-in dad and stand-in mum got together? I don’t know. Carson comes in and thanks Patmore for their supper the other night, adding that he would appreciate it if she could run his wife through her paces in the kitchen, because she’s clearly incompetent. He says this while Hughes is standing right there, basically talking right past her in the most offensive way possible.

Denker must be desperate, because she’s gone to Spratt to ask for help getting her job back. He’s not interested in helping her out, because why should he? At last, some character consistency!

Robert once again whines about this upcoming dinner and says that there’ll be hell to pay if his mother loses. Also, Robert doesn’t feel well, because he’s got indigestion or something. Cora offers to play host if he’s not up to it, but he’s too British to bow out of something so important. He must soldier on! At least half this episode is scenes of people telling us things we already know over and over and over again. LOTS of padding here.

Thomas hears Andy yelling in frustration and goes to see what’s up. Andy admits he threw his book across the room and Thomas guesses this is all because Andy can’t read. Andy angrily admits it and tells Thomas to go ahead and laugh about it. Thomas isn’t laughing and asks why Andy didn’t learn at school and Andy says he screwed around too much and only needed to learn to write his name to make it in service. But now things are different. Thomas offers to help teach him to read and write, and the others needn’t know a thing. He bids Andy goodnight, but before he goes, Andy apologises for having been so unfriendly. Really nice scene between those two. Applause to both actors.

Denker once again goes to Spratt and threatens to tell everyone about him sheltering his runaway nephew there. Spratt, cornered, agrees to have a word with Violet.

Bates and Anna gossip about Mary and Henry. Anna doesn’t think there’s much there, because Mary’s too full of her own importance for Henry. Talk turns to the kid and Anna urges him not to get too excited, though they’re clearly both optimistic.

Spratt has managed to talk Violet around, so Denker has another chance. Great. She’s going to continue holding that nephew over Spratt’s head, though, because she’s hateful.

Time for our posh dinner. Violet changes the seating around, the others catch up on gossip, Chamberlain shows up last and is graciously greeted by Robert and Cora and Violet, who draws Chamberlain aside and introduces him to Isobel. Tom thankfully rescues him by calling him over for a cocktail and Merton warns Chamberlain he’s in for some rigorous debate. You’d think that by now Downton’s disastrous dinner parties would be sufficiently legendary he’d be prepared for a hellish time.

Over dinner, Violet shrills that ‘the system’ has worked well for over a hundred years (not really…) and why should they change for the sake of change? They’re not. They’re changing because they’re modernising and sometimes modernisation requires change and adjustments. It’s not like the York hospital just thought it would be a lark to assimilate the Downton hospital. Even Clarkson tells her this isn’t the case at all. Chamberlain kind of calls this bickering unseemly. I feel like there’s an appeasement joke to be made here. In the middle of all the fighting, Robert starts looking uncomfortable and asks if they can stop this, because it’s so awful, it’s actually made his stomach explode. And then he vomits a fountain of blood hilariously all over the table and Cora. Clarkson goes to help, Isobel calls for napkins, Carson rings for an ambulance. Wouldn’t it be faster to put Robert in one of the cars that’s already at the Abbey? They’re not going to hit traffic in this little village and need a siren, right? Apparently, Robert’s ‘indigestion’ was actually an ulcer, which burst (interestingly, Rudolph Valentino would die of that exact same thing only a year later, at the age of 31). Robert gasps to Cora that, if this is it, he wants her to know that he’s always loved her. You know, except for that time he almost slept with the maid while his wife was dying. She reassures him that this is not it, holding it together admirably considering she’s covered in blood.

Belowstairs, Carson throws out orders to the worried staffers (‘Miss Baxter, Anna, fetch their ladyships’ coats. Don’t forget Lady Edith.’) Carson’s clearly shaken, but in case we couldn’t tell, Patmore’s here to tell us that he’s shaken. She decides to send some coffee upstairs, because what else are you going to do?

The ambulance arrives and Chamberlain takes the opportunity to say his goodnights. He offers to consider the hospital plan but Cora tells him to just let it be. She hisses to Violet not to be mad at her and Violet tells her she has other things on her mind. Cora snaps that there have been too many secrets and Violet figures she’s talking about Marigold. How did they get to that subject? Strange. Mary overhears them. Robert is carried out on a stretcher and Cora and the girls follow. Merton offers Isobel and Violet a lift home in his car.

Only Tom and Chamberlain are left, which strikes me as being rather amusingly awkward, especially considering Chamberlain wasn’t exactly Ireland’s best friend. Tom asks what got Chamberlain to come that night and Chamberlain says his brother-in-law’s an infamous prankster, and some years ago Chamberlain joined in one prank and it wouldn’t do for the papers to get hold of something like that. Well, you can’t be that worried about it if you’re telling random people you just met at dinner about it. His car arrives, he shakes Tom’s hand and leaves.

The staff wait up for news, and because Fellowes doesn’t understand how this ‘tension’ thing works, it comes immediately. Robert has had a gastrectomy and will be just fine. Of course he will be.  Again, build up, build up, and…nothing.

Mary and Edith return home and Edith suggests they take it in turns visiting their father the next day. Edith comments that this is a stark reminder that in a moment your whole life can change. ‘Yes,’ Mary zombies, ‘it only takes a moment and your whole life can change.’ I nearly start vomiting blood at this dialogue. Yeesh. Edith goes to check on the kids and Mary tells Tom that Robert will be fine but from now on she and Tom will have to just take over the running of the estate. Wow, she did that with rather unseemly haste. She says that all the worry was what brought on the ulcer in the first place. Worry about what, exactly?

Mary goes to get ready for bed and asks Anna if there’s any gossip belowstairs about Marigold. If Anna knows anything, she plays really coy.

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9 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: The Hurl of Grantham

  1. This is the funniest damn thing I have read in ages. It rivals Viv Groskop of The Guardian. Well done! I hope you’ve summarized other seasons. I’m off to have a look.

  2. I don’t care for the Denker character either, but why is the comment to Clarkson about “eating porridge in the glen with your mummy” racist?
    Looks like Andy is jonesing for the farm life. I can see a story line developing that pairs him with Daisy as the two of them help Mason farm pigs and live happily ever after. Or at least as happily as someone can be when he lives with Daisy.

    1. Insulting a person by nastily referencing offensive sterotypes about their race is generally considered to be racist behaviour. Consider this: if she were speaking to an African American man and said ‘eating watermelon with your mammy’, that’d be pretty racist, wouldn’t it?

      1. Agreed, the watermelon/mammy example is an offensive stereotype.
        I don’t see the racist overtones in what Denker (a white female) said to Clarkson (a white male) in her “since you were eating porridge in the glen with your mummy” remark. I interpret that to mean the same thing as since you were “a babe in arms.”
        I must be missing something about either characters’ biographies or British culture. If you can fill me in, I’d appreciate it– I really would like to know.

        1. Race isn’t just about skin colour (though we tend to associate racism as being white against darker-complected people because that’s been so prevalent in recent history); there are different races of white people. The Scots (of which Clarkson is one) are considered to be of a different race, historically, than the English (which is what Denker is). The fraught history between the English and the Scots only heightens this and makes her insults that much worse. Yes, in a sense, she is saying ‘since you were small’, but if that’s all she meant, she could have just said that. Instead, she chose words that deliberately invoked the English notion that the Scots are savage and impoverished, sitting around in the dirt eating poor people food (porridge was not a breakfast of the well-off. It’s what servants, small children, and poor people used to eat).

          We can quibble about whether this counts as racism or not (since ‘race’ is starting to fall out of fashion as a way to describe groups of people since its meaning is fairly fluid and basically boils down to: someone I perceive as being fundamentally different from me) but it certainly counts as bigotry, which is much the same thing. It was meant as a hateful statement and she deserved to get into trouble over it, just like that horrible nanny who was insulting baby Sibbie a couple of seasons back deserved to get fired (everyone referred to her as the ‘racist nanny’ because she was doing exactly what Denker was doing here: expressing hate for someone of a different race than her, though in that case it was Irish).

  3. Small editorial correction to this para “Baxter goes downstairs and bitches to Spratt about Clarkson changing sides and upsetting Violet. He tells her to just chill but she’s got a head of steam on her, for no apparent reason at all, and stomps off to bed. Since when does she care so much about Violet’s feelings?”. It’s not Baxter, it’s Denker.

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