Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: The kitchen maid, Emily, made it very clear she had some serious problems when, after being dumped by her boyfriend, she hanged herself.
It’s October 1907, and apparently London is plagued by some serious fog. And Mrs Bridges is plagued by something as well. She’s acting very oddly, barricading herself in her room, locking the door after leaving, coming down ridiculously late in the morning looking like absolute hell, and throwing around quite a bit of attitude. Any one of those things would normally be enough to get a servant fired, but I guess the Bellamys are feeling generous. Also, Marjorie’s got a dinner party the following week. Even so, she has some strong words with her cook and demands to know why her door was locked.
At that point, Mrs B bursts into histrionics, screams about everyone being against her and blaming her for Emily’s death and insisting on handing in her notice. Jesus, this woman. She’s still making that poor girl’s death all about her. I hate her so much.
Marjorie sits her down and calms her, even as I roll my eyes and think they should all just call her bluff and let her have her tantrum. Once she gets control of herself again, Mrs B whines some more about how haaaaard everything is and how she totally considered Emily to be a daughter.
Lady, if you think that’s how parent-child relationships should be, it’s probably a good thing you never actually had kids of your own. Because your treatment of Emily was never, at any point, anything other than nasty and abusive. But that’s one of the things about this episode: everyone keeps retconning the Bridges/Emily relationship to be some sort of tender connection, in order to justify Mrs B’s completely unjustifiable actions.
While Mrs B is in with Marjorie, the housemaid goes up to the servants’ rooms to sweep up. She hears something in Mrs Bridges’s room and fetches Hudson, who unlocks the door with the master key and finds… a baby. Sitting on the bed, playing with a toy. That has to be the chillest baby in the world, because most babies that age I know would, at some point, have started crying, not least because they’re suddenly with a complete stranger.
It’s clear something untoward is afoot here. Hudson reports in to Marjorie, who summons Richard, who comes home to his wife and cook explaining that the cook decided to just help herself to someone’s child. See, while she was out for her day off, Mrs B saw the baby sitting in its pram outside a greengrocer’s (and before everyone shouts: ‘Bad mother!’ let me just point out that it was super common to leave babies in their prams outside shops, even in cities, until well into the 20th century. I had a lady outside the grocery store recently tell me she totally used to do that with her kids. Hell, they still do that in some Scandinavian countries.) She reached out and touched it, and then decided to just pick it up and take it home with her.
She’s lonely, you see, so she just STOLE SOMEONE’S BABY. And then concealed it, so all her whining about how it was just a momentary lapse in judgement and she didn’t know it was wrong is complete bullshit. She totally knew it was wrong.
She’s dismissed so the Bellamys can discuss
how to cover this up what to do. Richard, being the voice of reason here, says that of course they need to notify the police. Marjorie is horrified by the idea because she has a dinner party next week, and they can’t lose their cook right now even if the woman is guilty of kidnapping, because what a giant pain that would be! Screw you, Marjorie. Richard tries to explain, slowly, for his horrible idiot wife, that somewhere out there is a frantic woman whose child has disappeared, and they really need to return this baby to its rightful parents. She pouts and sulks and then asks Hudson to look up an old friend who’s a policeman and find out who the child’s parents are so they can return the baby quietly. She then has the nerve to look smug, all ‘look how smart I was to handle that!’
Hudson gets the information and presents it to the Bellamys. Marjorie, in her snootiest tone, wonders ‘what sort of people’ the parents are. ‘Oh, middle class, I gather, but apparently respectable,’ Hudson responds, as if most middle class people weren’t respectable. And what does it matter ‘what sort of people’ they are, anyway? That child was obviously well cared for, so it’s not as if they suspect it was being abused or neglected. Whatever. The Bellamys prepare to take the baby back and Marjorie asks her husband how much he thinks they’ll have to pony up to keep these people quiet. ‘I suppose that depends on their position,’ he responds, in a tone that suggests he really hates having to deal with these grubby underlings.
Just so we’re keeping track, now I kind of hate Mrs Bridges, Marjorie, and Richard.
Marjorie and Richard, dressed rather ostentatiously in expensive furs, deliver the baby unto its parents, the Webbers. At first, these people are just really happy to have their kid back, but then Richard starts getting stupid. He hands his card over to Mr W and explains that a member of his household staff ‘had a momentary lapse in judgement’ and stole their kid. Ho ho! Silly servants, amirite? Needless to say, the Webbers are not amused. And when Richard offers up a big ol’ wad of money ‘as compensation’, it goes over like a lead balloon. Mr W obviously sees this for the ‘we’ll just keep it between us’ bribe that it is, despite the Bellamys insisting it’s nothing of the sort. Mr W expresses his annoyance and the Bellamys clutch their pearls and swirl on out.
Mrs W just wants to let it go, reminding her husband that people like that always come out on top and it’s not worth it to make trouble. But Mr W is clearly no idiot and is obviously tired of rich people parading around thinking they can just buy their way out of anything, and he goes to the police. And I say, good for him. As he himself says, someone stole their baby, and anyone who does something like that is either a criminal or disturbed, and either way, they should probably not be out mixing with the law-abiding citizens of the world. Because really, what’s to keep Mrs Bridges from just snatching another kid when the whim takes her? She’s made no indication that she wouldn’t do so. What’s to keep her from taking anything? ‘I liked what I saw, so I helped myself and didn’t think anyone would mind,’ is not something most people wanted to hear their servants say. And yet, the Bellamys don’t seem to have any issue with it.
The next morning, Inspector Case shows up on the Bellamys’ doorstep and, after giving Richard a hard time (justifiably) for clearly trying to sweep this whole matter under the rug, he arrests Mrs Bridges. Marjorie continues to whine about how much of a hassle this is because she has a dinner party next week, people! And lord knows, you can’t ever rearrange a dinner party! And I’d like to point out that nobody seems to be sympathising with the people who had their baby kidnapped. Yes, they got their baby back, but when it actually happened, they didn’t know that’s how it would end up. That poor woman came out of a shop and found her baby just gone and had to spend 24 hours being frantic, wondering if her kid was even still alive. And yet, we’re expected to completely overlook her distress and feel all sorry for Mrs Bridges because she’s actually being made to face the consequences of her actions?
But Hudson has a plan! A couple of plans, actually. First, he goes to see Mr W, because he has apparently learned nothing whatsoever from the past day or so. He tries to convince (with some fairly threatening overtures, I might add) Mr W not to testify against Mrs Bridges. I mean, come on, let’s not make a big deal out of this whole thing, right?
I guess the writer was afraid we’d feel too much sympathy for Mr W, so now they make him an asshole who insults Hudson and his job and Hudson toes the family line and talks about how proud he is to work for one of the finest families in the land. Nothing fine about them this episode, Hudson. They’re selfish, snobbish, small-minded, and thinking only of how they can use their connections to rescue their little party. They suck, and so do you.
That doesn’t work, so it’s time for Plan B. Hudson goes to court the following day, where it doesn’t seem like things are going Mrs Bridges’s way. Since she clearly didn’t know who the kid belonged to, obviously she had no intention of returning it, ever, so this was a kidnapping, as opposed to a baby borrowing, which I guess was ok in 1907.
Hudson takes the stand and tells everyone how Mrs Bridges has been under a lot of stress lately, which I guess led to some sort of psychotic break. But then he muddies the waters by going on to say that she’s lonely and has no one else in her life, so he’ll be in her life! He’ll agree to marry her, and then she’ll… have someone? So she won’t want to take people’s babies anymore? She’ll be attached to a man, who will make sure she doesn’t commit anymore felonies? I’m not really sure what the logic is here, but it doesn’t matter, because the judge is all, ‘ok, fine, off you go to cook your dinners, Mrs B. Be good, now!’ Thus proving Mrs Webber’s point that people like this always come out on top.
Back at Eton Place the Bellamys laugh about what a silly lark this has been and how well it came out after all! And they congratulate Hudson and Mrs Bridges on their engagement (which isn’t going to materialise into anything more anytime soon) and send some champagne down for the servants to enjoy, as if any of this is something to celebrate. Mrs B gets on with her work, apparently now completely cured of her funk/depression/whatever the hell that was, because that’s how things work.
Except, it’s not. None of this is how anything works. That is not how shock and depression work. You don’t just magically get better. No employer, particularly one involved in politics, would keep a servant who’d caused this sort of a scandal around (and mark my words, news of this would have definitely gotten out. The other servants knew exactly what was happening, and servants gossiped in between houses. Richard’s opponents would have had a field day with him trying to bribe Mr Webber and treating a respectable middle-class family so shabbily.) No judge, unless he was being pressured to do so from a higher-up, would have just let someone go who was clearly guilty of a crime. It doesn’t matter that she had ‘a momentary lapse.’ Once that moment had passed, she did nothing to try and return the baby to its parents. She was made to return it because she was found out. She tried to cover the whole thing up and then whined and cried about how hard this was on her and never once showed any remorse for what she’d done, except insofar as it impacted her. She never apologised to those parents for taking their kid and causing them agonising pain. Ugh.
God, this episode. I hate everyone. I feel icky. I need a palate cleanser.
K, that helps.