In it’s fifth episode this season, Downton Abbey tried some new things, while not shaking things up enough to give Carson a heart attack. The world is rapidly changing, and even Robert is powerless against it. Though for once he’s not fighting it — Edith, strangely, is. But in an episode all about pride and prejudice, both upstairs and downstairs proved capable of a few surprises even while relying heavily on conventions of the past. Hit the jump for why “we must speculate to accumulate.”
There were many types of prejudice on display in this hour (which I watched in advance, meaning I got the UK edit — apologies if I mention or exclude anything that didn’t/did run in the PBS broadcast). The most obvious regards Jack Ross, but the race issue was really compounded by class. Remember of course that in Season One, Mr. Pamuk was a Turkish diplomat, but because of his elevated status, he didn’t raise too many eyebrows. Rose kissing any jazz singer would have been scandalous, but a black jazz singer of course doubles down (but isn’t he swell?). And here Branson is thinking that he won’t be accepted because he’s Irish and former chauffeur … if only he knew what was going on downstairs!
But prejudice manifested itself in many other ways: Violet was prejudiced against Young Peg, and Isobel (and her crusade) against Violet. Mary and Mr. Banks immediately got off on the wrong foot (which is just what Mary likes — a challenge, as well as a difficult personality to pit against her own), each believing the other to be callous and entitled. Even Carson was prejudiced against poor Molesley after the latter didn’t seem to bow and scrape sufficiently for him.
While a few things changed up, so much of this fifth episode felt like retrod plots. Where are things going with Thomas and Baxter? He’s attempting to use her, but he’s getting almost no workable info. Plus, her hostility towards him is reminiscent of his feud with O’Brien, and that puts his character on such a backwards path. Thomas is one of the most interesting characters on the show, and has transformed more than most. Lately though, he seems right back in the swing of Season One, which is a waste.
Similarly, Mary’s sparring with Mr. Banks feels like Season One with Matthew all over again. Matthew at least had charm, something Mr. Banks has not yet shown. He’s a pale imitator at the moment, but unfortunately the best chance to see Mary at her fighting best. Hopefully he’ll be better developed in upcoming episodes, if he is to stick around.
The same feeling of round and round the mulberry bush was also true in Isobel and Violet’s story. They constantly are at each other, despite a deep-seated mutual admiration. At least next week it seems that Isobel will have to care for Violet in Violet’s weakened state. Still, all of these moments feel like wasted opportunities to introduce new plots. There’s been some attempt with Jimmy and Ivy, but again, we don’t know Ivy at all. Jimmy’s behavior also seems out of character and, like Thomas, he seems to be going backwards in his development rather than forwards (and are he and Thomas really not speaking at all anymore? I thought they had patched things up and were allied after last year’s Christmas Special?)
Downton is always enjoyable television, but it doesn’t always hold up under close inspection. The show is good, but it could be so much better. Hopefully the winds of change around the Abbey start extending to the plots as well.
Episode Rating: B-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— So as predicted, Edith is definitely pregnant, which means Gregson is definitely dead. But seriously, if he is, I am just done with this show (not really but … come on!)
— Bates: “Brooders brood.” Anna: “Then brood about me.” These two … when Anna wants to cheer Bates up, he’s talks of murder. When he wants to calm her nerves, she talks about how things will never be the same. They are never on the upswing at the same time.
— A sad conversation between Robert and Edith, but a true one. That and the conversation among Mary, Isobel and Branson were some of the episode’s highlights. More moments like that would be welcomed.
— The previews show Mr. Green back in the mix next week, but I wonder if Jimmy’s moves on Ivy will play some part in Bates’ suspicions. Otherwise, I don’t see the point (unless it was just so Daisy could yell at her and Mrs. Hughes could agree). Ivy is such a shell of a character though it’s hard to know what to think of her, or her motivations.
— “We must speculate to accumulate” – Mary’s American half.
— “She’s welcome to take charge with me” – Evelyn Napier. Oh Evelyn, Mary would run all over you and back before you even knew what had happened. And you’d probably like it!
— Ivy: “But I thought he was nice.” Patmore: “I wonder how many women have said that since the Norman conquest…”
— Patmore saying the thought of Valentino gives her shivers all over, and that disturbing Carson, was hilarious.
— All this talk of sending Branson to America seems like it’s just inserting false drama. The show would lose something without him around, even though he’s had absolutely nothing to do this season.
— “You’ve found something from the past that Carson doesn’t approve of!” – Mrs. Hughes to Jack Ross.
— I don’t understand Carson’s feelings towards Molesley, either. He really can turn on a dime, can’t he? Praising Alfred (and getting praise back) and then shading Jimmy (which was funny) was fine, but doesn’t anyone remember when Alfred called the police on Jimmy and Thomas’ activities, and everyone saw him as a lout? I feel like nothing from the Christmas Special last year was remembered at all except Matthew’s death.
— Mrs. Hughes trolling Thomas about upstairs gossip was priceless.
— “A character? Lady rose? That’s one word for her” – Mrs. Hughes.
— Isobel: “You so hate being wrong.” Violet: “I wouldn’t know, I’m not familiar with the sensation.”
— Did Violet really “win” against Isobel, though? She did hire Young Peg back and apologize, but none of that would have happened had it not been for Isobel and her insistence on his innocence.
— So many beautiful costumes this week! They seem to be getting better and better.
— “I must skedaddle!” – Robert.