Image: BBC

Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Housemaid Rachel died suddenly, leaving her child alone in the world, so Hallam took her in, despite his wife’s objections.

Not a moment after walking through the front door, Hallam’s intercepted by his mother, who bitches about his and Agnes’s plan to name the baby Hector, if it’s a boy, instead of after Hallam’s father. If it’s a girl, she naturally expects the baby to be named after her. Oh, yeah, I’m sure Agnes would be delighted with that. Name speculation is rife throughout the house; even the servants are putting their two cents in.

In other child news, Rachel’s daughter, Lotte, is being looked after by the staff; we see her sitting on the outside steps leading down to the kitchen entrance, looking bored, while Ivy jumps rope and teaches her some alphabet rhyme. She stops and scolds the poor kid for failing to realize she was supposed to jump in when Ivy got to “L”. The fun’s interrupted by the arrival of Pritchard, who pointedly tells Ivy that some cakes have gone missing. Ivy claims they were for Lotte, and since the kid’s apparently not talking, she doesn’t argue this. Pritchard glares at Ivy for a moment before going inside.

Upstairs, Von Ribbentropp (remember him?) phones up Persie, because apparently word of her extracurricular activities has gotten around. Persie gives him some hard-to-get attitude, as she does, and hangs up on him.

Agnes is starting to interview nannies and attempting to entice one with a fancy tea. The woman’s hugely judgy—it seems more like she’s interviewing Hallam and Agnes than the other way around. Agnes can’t help but reveal she and Persie are going to be photographed the following day by Cecil Beaton. The nanny doesn’t care—she wants a proper tour so she can pass judgment on the house.

As they head down to the ground floor, Lotte runs in and takes up position on the bottom step. Hallam introduces her to the nanny, but Not-Mary-Poppins grabs the kid’s face and harshly says she’s got impetigo, some skin thing similar to ringworm, and basically calls her a dirty beggar to her face. Wow, I would love having this woman raise my kid. She passes on the job, and good riddance, I say.

Later, after getting the whole story, Maude dismisses the impetigo as no big deal, but she does think that Lotte should see a specialist, because she hasn’t been talking, and Maude believes the loss of the girl’s mother might have caused a mental blockage. That, or the horrific emotional trauma Ivy’s been thoughtlessly inflicting. Agnes thinks Lotte should be sent back to her actual family, but they can’t seem to find any, despite having made plenty of inquiries. Hallam’s determined that, if any relatives are found, he’ll get them out of Germany. He bursts out of the sitting room and Lotte rolls a marble across the floor to him.

Persie and Spargo are in bed together, in his room, and she tells him he should sneak to her room in the house, because then they’re far more likely to get caught. Oh, so she’s that type. Spargo’s confused and says he doesn’t want to get caught, because some people, Persie, need jobs to live. Persie doesn’t get it, because she just wants to shock her sister, and because she’s a selfish, thoughtless little bitch.

Hallam meets with his boss, who asks if he knows the king’s set Mrs. Simpson up in a house of her own. Hallam knows, and is grateful to the newspapers for keeping quiet about it. Ahh, different times. Evans is sure they won’t stay silent for long, though. He hands Hallam a copy of a letter that reveals the Prime Minister and the cabinet are meeting to discuss this whole king/Mrs. Simpson thing. In the meantime, Hallam’s office is collecting info on Wallis’s supposed relationship with Ribbentropp. Hallam doesn’t think there’s much to them, since there are all kinds of weird rumors about the woman. Evans says it’s important for them to gather intel on Ribbentropp, and to do that, they need time, but once the papers get hold of the story, they’re out of time entirely.

At 165, Agnes starts poking around in a desk in Maude’s room for something and comes across the photograph of Hallam and Pamela that Rachel unearthed. She hands it over to Hallam after he gets home and he smiles fondly as he looks at it, telling her Pamela died of fever on a trip to England to see relatives. Not an uncommon misfortune at the time, I’m sure. Agnes starts asking for details, which Hallam doesn’t have. Poor guy was so young he has precious few memories of her. There’s some more talk about kids in general, and then Agnes admits that having Lotte around makes her uneasy, because she feels almost as if something was circling the house menacingly.

The next day, Agnes and Persie are tussling over costumes for the Beaton photoshoot—and I will say, it seems strange that Agnes would be having her photo taken by Beaton when she’s so hugely pregnant. It’s not like it is now, when people want pictures of their pregnancies to display. People simply didn’t do that kind of thing back then. Even if they did have a picture to mark the event, I highly doubt they’d have it taken by such a famous, expensive, and hard to book photographer as Beaton.

Ok, onward. The cook’s all excited to have Beaton in the house, because she’s apparently quite a fangirl. Persie and her giant attitude come stomping down the stairs, because she’s being sent out for cosmetics. She waltzes into the garage, where Spargo’s playing with Lotte. He tells her she’s supposed to ring if she wants the car, and she’s to call Maude Lady Holland. Persie asks him why he keeps telling her the rules. Because someone has to, sweetheart. Clearly Agnes can’t be bothered. She’s too busy wheeling prams around her foyer or whatever it is she does all day now besides knit. Spargo shortly tells her he’s sick of her breaking said rules. Um, ok. What’s up with this 180 in attitude? He was all cuddly in bed with her last time we saw him. What gives?

Inside, the cook, Mrs. Thackary, sneaks out of the kitchen and upstairs to the drawing room, which has been all set up for the photoshoot. No way would this have been acceptable, ever. Remember how freaked out the cook was to go upstairs in Downton Abbey? Thackary wanders into the drawing room like she does this all the time.

Of course, Beaton’s there, but they try to create some kind of tension by not telling us who he is. Even though she’s apparently in love with Beaton and his work, Thackary totally fails to realize who he is. Thackary, you moron. Who do you think this unfamiliar man hanging around the photo set up is? Just a random off the street?

Beaton gets inspired and puts her on the chaise lounge he’s set up. She overbites that she’s heard he’s an early version of Photoshop—he can take inches off a waist and a decade off a jawline. Beaton says it’s true, but he does quite a lot beforehand too. He drapes some fabric over her shoulder and compliments her wrists. She complains about her hands, and he gives her a rose to hold, grabs the camera, and that’s when she realizes who he is. Geez, lady! She smiles goofily as he starts snapping away.

Later, she floats back down to the kitchen, where Rose asks her where she’s been. Thackary lies about applying some kind of liniment.

That night, Persie waits for Spargo in his room, dressed only in a silky robe. He comes in and she starts nagging him about having been out at a pub, like she owns him or something. He gives her shit right back, so she switches subjects to his sudden lack of interest in Nazism. Seems he hasn’t been going to meetings, though she has, taking the bus, which she acts like is some awesome, rebellious thing for her to be doing. She sniffs that she has beliefs, unlike him. Spargo says he’s seen the result of those beliefs. He has? What’s he talking about? The true result of those beliefs wouldn’t be revealed for years to come. Is he talking about Rachel’s random death? He melodramas that he has to live with that now, and she snorts that nobody has to live with anything, or accept the status quo. That’s right, Persie, nobody ever has to take responsibility for anything, ever. See how far that attitude gets you in life.

Persie goes back inside to sulk and call Von Ribbentropp, whom she wakes from a post-coital snooze. He is, nevertheless, happy to hear from her.

Hallam too is roused from his slumbers to greet Prince George, who’s swung by with a request: have the chairman of Associated Newspapers over to dinner to convince him to keep this Wallis Simpson thing out of all the papers. George wants to be there too. Hallam asks if Edward would really ditch the throne. George doesn’t really have an answer. Hallam agrees to hold the dinner, even though he doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea.

Even less thrilled is Agnes, who starts bitching immediately when she’s told and asks why George’s wife can’t hold the dinner. Hallam stupidly reminds her that the Duchess of Kent’s very, very pregnant (she also had a very young child on her hands as well, which Agnes does not). Agnes whines and moans about how much work it would be for her to plan a menu. Jesus, lady, shut up, it’s your job! It’s the only thing you have to do! She was the one who wanted to have all kinds of parties in the first episode, and now all she does is sit around. What does she do with her time? Hallam has a job to attend to, and you’re a society hostess wife—hostess!

Hallam next goes to his mother, who rightly asks why Agnes can’t get off her ass and plan the dinner party. Hallam begs her for help, so Maude acts all put out and says she’ll show up at the dinner as a guest, but Hallam will have to plan the menu himself, since she’s terribly busy with her memoirs.

Ivy comes tromping down the stairs and immediately gets an earful from Pritchard, who informs her he had to serve toast to the Duke of Kent, because all the game pie was gone. The horror! Ivy lies that she gave all the pie to Lotte. First off, stop blaming a mute kid, Ivy. Second, how much do you think she could possibly eat? Pritchard clearly doesn’t believe her.

Belowstairs, Amanjit reads a letter from one of Rachel’s former co-workers, saying they know of no other relations for Lotte to be handed to. Thackary grouses about the kid’s father being dumb enough to get himself thrown in prison, with a wife and child depending on him, and I’m on her side. No political conviction should come ahead of your family. If you’re going to play it like that, maybe you shouldn’t have had the family to begin with.

Thackary’s quickly distracted by the arrival of her Beaton photo in the mail. It’s dreadful, but she thinks it’s amazing. Rose huffs all jealously.

Rose stomps back downstairs, where Thackary’s talking dreamily with Pritchard about her photo session. Rose puts a flea in her ear over the menu debacle, and things start escalating quickly. Thackary makes fun of Rose’s silver teapot, and Rose, struggling to stay calm, reminds her that the teapot was testament to the many years of service she gave the Bellamy family, so it means something to her. Thackary snorts that it was just going to be thrown out, so Rose retaliates by confiscating the picture and locking it in a desk drawer. Thackary decides to play the Telephone game, sending a message to Rose through Pritchard, which is so maddeningly childish. I don’t think I’ve done that since grade school. What’s wrong with these people?

Dinner’s on, the guests have gathered, and small talk has commenced. Maude calls Mrs. Simpson a prostitute, and Persie starts making snide political comments, so it’s going to be a fun meal, I guess. Maude stops beating around the bush and asks Chairman if they can talk about this Simpson situation already.

Downstairs, Pritchard calls for Ivy to carry up the dessert, but Ivy’s too busy slipping out the back door, which is right in front of Pritchard. She’s a moron. Naturally, he spots her and follows her out, where he finds her handing a plate over to Johnny. Hey, Johnny, welcome back! Pritchard sternly tells them he won’t have this—her handing out plates of cold food to vagrants. There’s a tense moment, then he cracks a kindly smile, says Johnny will have hot food, and gestures for him to come inside.

Johnny tucks in and catches up with the others. Spargo asks him what he plans to do now he’s out of the pokey and Johnny has no idea.

Upstairs, Chairman says he’s met Mrs. Simpson, and they’re going to be having lunch, because she wants to properly plan her coming out in the press. I’ll bet she does. He insists she’s not interested in being queen (suuure). Maude says someone needs to suggest a morganatic marriage to her, which would allow Edward to stay on the throne, and she can take one of his lesser titles. Hallam suggests Duchess of Lancaster, and George gets in a great ‘take that’ line by commenting that such a thing should suit her in any way: she gets her king and a coronet to please her “magpie mind.” Hee! Everyone’s sure Simpson would consider the morganatic marriage, and Maude asks Chairman to put it to her, and to keep things out of the papers in the meantime.

In the kitchen, the staff send Johnny on his way, giving him whatever pocket money they can find. After he leaves, Pritchard shakes his head and says he doesn’t like this situation at all.

The next day, Hallam’s reading the papers, noting there’s nothing in them about Simpson yet, thanks to his mother. Agnes gets snippy and brings the spotlight back on herself by talking about her most recent OB appointment, during which the OB decided he’s going to knock her out and use forceps for the delivery. He even patted her hand at the end of the appointment. What a dick! Although I do feel for her on the forceps thing. That sort of thing scares the hell out of me too.

Late that night, the silence of the house is shattered by Lotte screaming her head off in the main hallway outside the family’s bedrooms. Hallam gets to her first and embraces her, sweetly trying to calm her down. Pritchard and Ivy come down, Ivy apologizing all over the place and Pritchard explaining she does this pretty often, on the servants’ floor. Agnes comes out and starts bitching about the kid making a puddle on the floor. She whines that she can’t bear this, and Ivy snaps that they’ve been bearing it, thank you very much. Maude takes control and sends everyone back to bed. Hallam picks up Lotte and carries her back upstairs.

The next morning, Maude and Hallam discuss the situation over breakfast (neither Agnes nor Persie, who was also absent the previous evening, are there). Maude says the girl needs some specialized care and asks him to allow her to take her to doctors. Hallam thinks he should be the one to take care of it, but Maude reminds him he’s busy with his actual job, and Agnes is useless, so she’ll be happy to help out.

Belowstairs, Ivy sobs and sobs, guilt ridden over having given Lotte salt water to gargle. The child drank it, though, and apparently got sick. Thackary calls Ivy an idiot and takes Lotte to the kitchen with her. Ivy starts freaking out over the idea that Lotte might be sent to an orphanage, and she knows how awful those places are. Fair enough.

Late that night, Ribbentropp shows up for a little rendezvous with Persie, who sniffs over the thousand year old castle she was born in, and how you can smell it decaying. He says she sounds like a socialist, and she claims to have looked into socialism, but she much prefers Nazism. He tells her Moseley thinks the world of her but she thinks Moseley’s finished. She asks Ribbentropp to tell her about Germany.

The Simpson Situation has hit the papers full force. Eden looks them over with Hallam and says they didn’t turn up any useful info on Simpson, but they found some interesting info on Ribbentropp.

At the house, Pritchard wonders why everyone cares so much about the possible abdication or the king’s doings. Thackary wails that she put canapés in that woman’s mouth, which makes her feel really, really involved in the whole matter. In the background, Spargo’s messing around with a radio. Rose snaps at him to take it upstairs, because the family’s set has broken.

Upstairs, Maude returns from the doctors’ with Lotte and checks in with Agnes. She tells her that Lotte’s silence is entirely psychological, and she needs to see a psychiatrist. Agnes sighs that she doesn’t know what to do, and Maude says she’ll take care of everything.

In the kitchen, Thackary and Amanjit try to get the girl to speak one more time, but she won’t.

Apparently, Agnes finally looked up the word “maternal” in the dictionary, because she’s finally trying to reach out to Lotte herself in a kindly way, instead of complaining endlessly about her. She’s got the child in the drawing room for a puzzle and reminiscing, while Persie smokes and moodily stares out the window. Agnes reveals that her mother died when she was small, so she knows how awful it feels. She died in childbirth, with Persie. So, Persie was evil from the get-go, then? I think it’s to Agnes’s credit that this didn’t in any way poison her feelings for her younger sister. Persie stands there rolling her eyes obnoxiously, forgetting, I guess, that she has functional legs and could just leave the room if this annoys her so much. She finally remembers that she can do this, but before she goes, she grabs the handful of puzzle pieces Lotte’s just handed Agnes, throws them violently on the table, and yells at Agnes to spare the child, and herself. What the hell was that all about?

Maude issues last-minute instructions to Amanjit about her upcoming trip with Lotte. Amanjit begs to go along with her but Maude says no and asks him to trust her to do her best for the kid. Amanjit asks if Lotte will ever return to 165 and Maude says that if she doesn’t speak, she can’t come back. Amanjit sits down to type up a little biography for Lotte, so she doesn’t forget who she is or where she came from. Meanwhile, the staff pack up Lotte’s things and snacks for the trip. Ivy goes to pack Rachel’s silk nightie and Rose asks what a child would want with a woman’s nightgown. Ivy explains that back when she stole it and started wearing it, it smelled like Rachel, but now it smells like her, so maybe Lotte will want it so she can remember Ivy. Let me get this perfectly straight: Ivy took one of the last mementos this child had of her mother, something that at least smelled like her (and smell is a very powerful memory tool), ruined it, and is now giving it back to the kid so she’ll remember her. Ivy is a horrible, selfish, thoughtless little bitch. And Rose apparently agrees that this is a totally sweet gesture, judging from her smile. Once again, what is wrong with these people?

Agnes watches from the sitting room window as Maude and Lotte get into the car out front, watched by the staff. The music suggests I should be finding this all very sad and poignant, and yet, for some reason, I don’t. What’s wrong with me? I cry at everything. I cry at Grey’s Anatomy, for heaven’s sake, but I feel nothing right now.

Eden drops a file on a confused Hallam’s desk, detailing Ribbentropp’s many visits to 165. Hallam insists Ribbentropp’s never been to his home, but Eden knows better, and he knows who Ribbentropp’s been visiting, too. He tells Hallam to get his house in order.

Hallam goes right home, ready for a set-to with Persie, but he’s distracted when he notices that Lotte’s shoes aren’t on the bottom step, as they usually are. He diverts to Agnes instead and yells at her for failing to control her sister and for passing Lotte off to his mother. Agnes snaps that she had other preoccupations. I guess her nails don’t paint themselves. Hallam asks for more information, but Agnes doesn’t know anything about anything and gets all snippy over Maude taking charge of the affair. Agnes, she took charge because you didn’t! You pretty much told her to! You can’t have it both ways—if you want control, then assert yourself and tell Maude to back off, but if you don’t want to be responsible and hand off all your duties to other people, you can’t bitch about it later. Lord, she’s awful.

Next, Hallam questions Amanjit and Spargo. All they know is that Maude was taking a train to Berkshire.

Hallam finally intercepts Maude as she’s returning, wearily going up the stairs. He scolds her for acting without his permission and she tells him she acted in everyone’s best interests, and she shouldn’t need his permission for that.

He grabs Amanjit and goes into Maude’s sitting room/study, where he starts sifting through her papers, telling Amanjit he wants any address relating to Berkshire. Amanjit won’t go through his employer’s stuff without her permission, and he tells Hallam he’ll have to threaten him to get any help. Hallam obliges.

Whatever they find takes Hallam to a large, lovely building out in the countryside with the most beautiful spiral staircase I’ve ever seen. He rings a bell in the front hall and is greeted by a cheerful young woman. He hands over his card and asks to see the girl his mother brought by earlier. The woman directs him to a room at the top of the stairs. Hallam walks up the stairs in slow motion, for some reason, and at the top he finds a bit of wound wool, with the end trailing up the last few steps and under a door. He follows the wool trail and finds himself in a bedroom decorated with framed photographs of his family (including what looks like a fairly recent photo of Maude wearing the tiara). On the bed sits a young woman with Down’s Syndrome. Hallam realizes she’s Pamela, the beloved sister he thought was dead. She knows him, from all the pictures Maude’s kept her supplied with, and she sweetly strokes his cheek as he sits next to her on the bed. The young woman who greeted him comes racing in with Lotte, apologizing for the mix up, but Hallam says it’s fine.

Back home, he hammers on the door of his mother’s room, demanding she come out and speak to him. Amanjit comes out instead and urges Hallam to leave her alone. Hallam heavily sits down on the bottom step, but he can’t have a moment’s peace before Persie comes tromping down and informs him that Agnes told her everything, in between complaining about her back pains. Persie, horribly, says she told Agnes to cheer up, because all the best families have a monster in the attic. Ick. Wonderfully, Hallam says the monster in the attic is Persie, not Pamela. Persie doesn’t care what he thinks. She’s off to Germany, where I’m sure her non-existent German speaking skills will come in really handy. She hands Hallam back the brooch Agnes gave her and starts fixing her hair and makup, not realizing or caring that her selfish and awful behavior has caused all sorts of pain and stress and might have cost her brother-in-law his job. Because she only cares about her. Hallam can’t even deal with her anymore and heads upstairs. Once he’s gone, Spargo comes in and she snappishly tells him to take her suitcases. She softens the tiniest bit and asks him if they have anything to say to each other. Spargo says no, so off she goes, telling him to hurry up.

Hallam pours himself a drink and turns on the radio in the sitting room to hear the king’s abdication announcement. Agnes, meanwhile, bathes her face with a sponge in the bathroom, looking worn out. She goes to return to her bedroom, but then bends and sinks onto a chair, clearly in pain.

Hallam’s joined by the staff in the drawing room (remember, he’s using their radio), so they can all hear the address as well. Which means there’s nobody in the kitchen to hear Agnes frantically ringing for help. Why she doesn’t start screaming her head off I don’t know, but eventually her cries and groans are overheard by Maude, who happens to be passing by. Maude goes into the bathroom, sees what’s up, and guesses it’s a bit late to call the OB. She tells Agnes to brace herself against the bath, draw up her knees, and helps her bear down. Agnes begins to push, gripping her mother-in-law’s sleeves tightly.

In the drawing room, Pritchard can’t take it anymore and leaves in disgust. He strides down the corridor and hears Agnes as well, so he goes and knocks politely on the bathroom door and asks if he can help. Maude calls him in and he assesses the situation, calmly removes his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, washes his hands, straightens the towel, and informs the ladies he was in the ambulance service in the war and knows just what to do. Pritchard’s awesome! He sends Maude to get the tools the OB had already laid out in the bedroom, talks Agnes through some Lamaze, then delivers her son. He’d better get the best Christmas bonus ever.

Later, Agnes is cleaned up and in bed, cuddling the baby, Hallam beside her. She remarks that Persie looked just like the baby when she was born. Let’s hope the similarities end there. They have a sweet family moment, and finally I feel a little touched.

In the kitchen, Rose announces the baby’s weight (just over 7 lbs) and name: Hector Greville Holland. The staff all snort at the name but heap praise on Pritchard, who’s modest and says any passing policeman could have done it. Policemen can deliver babies? You learn something new every day. There’s a knock on the kitchen door, and Rose wonders what Johnny’s doing back. Pritchard, grinning, says he’s planning on asking Hallam for quite a big favor, as he goes to let Johnny in. If Hallam doesn’t give this man whatever the hell he wants, he doesn’t deserve him.

Hallam’s had to leave his little family to take a weepy call from George, who sobs that his brother’s off the throne and another brother’s on it and it’s all a mess and he just doesn’t even know where to start forgiving Edward. Hallam rather coldly says that George can’t forgive him, but George says he must, because this is his brother, and the love doesn’t just turn off.

Hallam apparently takes this to heart and goes to see his mother, who explains that what they did with Pamela was just what people did at the time. Indeed, it’s what people did with family members who were ‘different’ for many decades after this is set. To her credit, it was clearly a difficult thing for her to do. Hallam asks why Maude never told him the truth and she, rather confusingly, says that she was afraid Hallam would love Pamela too much, or something like that. I’m not sure I follow her logic at all.

Christmastime. Thackary decorates belowstairs with holly, as Johnny comes dashing downstairs to report all the fires have been cleaned and stoked. As he goes out to get more coal, Rose hands Thackary’s photograph back to her, then suggests they sit down to a pot of tea (served from Rose’s silver teapot, of course).

Upstairs, the family’s opening presents, with Pamela and Lotte in attendance. Lotte gets a new school uniform, because she can magically talk again. It’s a Christmas miracle! And Agnes is all maternal now and says that Lotte can spend all her holidays at 165. Pritchard comes in and invites the family out to the landing, where they watch, along with the servants, as the star is placed on the top of the huge tree in the foyer. Everyone smiles, and all is right with the world. Except for the fact that the king abdicated and caused a crisis and a lot of stress, and there’s all sorts of nastiness already going on in Germany that’ll plunge the world into a horrific war in the years to come, and there’s still a depression on and all, but hey! It’s Christmas! Yay!

So, that’s the new Upstairs Downstairs. I wanted to like it, I really did, but I didn’t (obviously). And that ending just felt off. I know this aired in the UK around Christmas and they wanted some nice shiny ending, but it felt odd, considering everything that was happening in the world at the time. Things weren’t bright and shiny at all. It’ll be interesting to see how series 2 deals with all of this, and whether any of the characters becomes more interesting or likable. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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4 thoughts on “Upstairs Downstairs: The Cuckoo

  1. Feel much the same as the writer. I looked forward to watching this series. But I was disappointed. It wasn’t done as cleverly as the first.

  2. I loved the detail in your synopsis. It was almost as good as seeing the whole thing over. I had much the same reaction to the characters except that I was more sympathetic to them.

    Anyway, I loved the synopsis (Very good job!) ,one of the best I have ever read, but I disagreed entirely with the final appraisal.

  3. Agreed with pretty much everything you said. It just wasn’t very good, I’m sorry to say.

    Bring on Downton!

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