I’m not actually sure that this week’s episode of Downton was an episode of Downton. I think I may have accidentally switched to my DVR’s backlog of Game of Thrones.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The episode begins with Tom and Mary going on some kind of walk-and-talk hike through greater Downton, chatting about the latest developments with the estate. Mr. Mason, you’ll remember, has acquired Yew Tree Farm, a good development on the estate because apparently “pigs are his speciality”—a resume highlight if there ever was one.
Edith titters in the library over a letter—a slight spewing of joy that does not go unnoticed by her father. It’s a letter from Bertie Pelham (tee hee!) but Edith insists that it’s not (tee hee!) “like that”—that is to say he’s only a friend. A friend who would take the time to write a letter in an age when a ring on the ol’ telephone probably would have done. Unless he wanted to send her a dick-daguerreotype.
Before he can inquire further, Violet hurries in, looking frightfully over her shoulder for Evil Cora, who is thankfully in the village. It appears that Mr. Neville Chamberlain—the Minister of Health—is paying a visit, and Violet intends to persuade him to side with her on the hospital argument.
Robert’s dubious that the Minister of Health would give Downton so much as the time of day—he is but an Earl, after all, not someone truly fancy like a Duke—but Violet points out that his father was godfather to Mr. Chamberlain’s wife. So as far as Violet’s concerned, they’ve every occasion to dine at Downton—and be drawn into the ongoing plot about the hospital.
Robert’s like—and I’m not even being funny here, he says and I quote, “You’ve got about as much of a chance as a cat in Hell without claws.” Me-yow, Bobby ol’ boy.
Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes-Carson, née Hughes, pops into the kitchen to ask Mrs. Patmore for a favor. It seems that Carson would like to have dinner at their cottage, which would be fine, except Mrs. Hughes hasn’t cooked anything since 1860. Just “the odd thing here and there”—which amounts to toast—but even then, she had the help of that electric toaster she nearly set fire to her office with.
Mrs. Patmore rolls her eyes at the request, but Daisy catches her out and accuses her of being jealous of Mrs. Hughes-Carson’s matrimonial achievements.
Well, maybe she is! I yell at the TV.
“Well, maybe I am!” yells back Mrs. Patmore.
Over luncheon, Robert informs Mary that Henry Talbot phoned, and he’ll be up to look at a car, and he would like her to “watch him do it”—which I’m thinking is a 1920s euphemism for something. Use your imagination.
Cora makes a face from across the table that confirms it was as erotic as I thought.
Everyone in the Crawley family continues to conveniently ignore the fact that Mary’s late husband died in a car crash and she’s got literally every reason to want to avoid this situation, no matter how sexy it is.
Thankfully, Tom swoops in and says he’ll accompany her, saying, “I’d like to see it.”
Suddenly, I’m getting the strangest Tom/Mary vibes. Someone slap me, please.
In case you forgot, Baxter still has to testify about that dirty, rotten scoundrel from her past. Molesley’s offered to accompany her for moral support. He’ll probably hold her hand on the train. And lug her coat for her. And avenge this ass who hurt her. That’d be nice.
Since they’re talking about courtroom drama, Bates and Anna enter, because they have supersonic hearing for that shit now. They proceed to outline Law and Order: Downton for Baxter, because it’s not like she wasn’t nervous enough already without the input of Yorkshire’s Most Wanted.
Poor Dr. Clarkson has arrived with Dickie Merton and Isobel for dinner. They’re all on Cora’s side of this beleaguered hospital argument, and they hope that they can thwart Violet’s plan when the Minister comes for dinner on Friday. By the looks of things, they’re going to need an actual minister there.
In the boot room (Why is Anna there? Those polishing fumes can’t be good for Baby Bates!), Andy confides to the Bateses that he thinks Thomas is gay and might fancy him, which is exactly true and there literally isn’t a soul at Downton who didn’t know this.
Over at The Carsons’, Mrs. Hughes is serving dinner. Carson and his prodigious eyebrows are less than impressed with her culinary skills and begin to rather loudly complain. Mrs. Hughes-Carson’s illusions of marriage begin to crumble into her bubble and squeak.
Now, I didn’t know what the hell “bubble and squeak” was—turns out it’s cabbage and some other veggies—and good on ol’ Hughsie for managing to get that on the table after a full day of work. I’m lucky if I can manage grilled cheese.
Carson continues to gripe from across the table, bitching so hard that he completely misses his wife’s perfectly timed, passive-aggressive, kathunk of squeak as she heaps it bitterly onto her plate. There will be no nookie for Carson this evening.
Edith is off to London. Tom and Mary are off to talk to Mr. Mason about pig-keeping. Mary is wearing one of those little ties I wore in 7th grade when I was going through my emo phase and listened to a lot of Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
Mrs. Hughes laments to Mrs. Patmore about Carson’s ‘tude. “I don’t seem to cook like his mother,” says she. (Did Carson even have a mother? I was under the impression he was just sort of left on the doorstep of Downton dressed head-to-toe in child-sized livery.)
Mrs. Patmore sums up what women everywhere have felt at least one time or another:
Mary and Tom have … something akin to a heart-to-heart before joining Henry Talbot, wherein Mary says, “I don’t mean to sound snobbish but,” and then proceeds to sound snobbish by saying she doesn’t want to marry down.
Tom lovingly points out that between he and Sybil, the ways in which they complemented one another obviously had nothing to do with money. Mary acknowledges their happiness was valid, but it’s still, clearly, not enough for her.
Denker rips Dr. Clarkson a new arsehole in the middle of the village for going against Violet on the hospital matter. Dr. Clarkson is profoundly bothered and vows to tattle on her to the Dowager.
Baxter and Molesley have gone to the courthouse only to have this entire plotline thrown out as quickly as it was brought up. Apparently now she doesn’t have to testify. “It feels a bit … anticlimactic,” sighs Baxter, and I would have to agree.
Edith and Bertie are on some kind of not-a-date-date strolling through London. She invites him over to her flat for the evening. “Come over for a drink and I’ll show it to you,” she says.
“What a racy plan!” Bertie says, thoroughly aroused by the prospect. Does he know she was referring to her swanky flat—?
Henry Talbot revs his engine for Lady Mary. She is visibly upset by the whole thing, but not so upset that she loses sight of the endgame here, and she takes a moment to freshen up her lipstick.
Edith is in her posh London office, and she’s hiring a female editor, and it’s BOSS. They propose a theme for their next issue, “Victorian babies grown into modern women,” which sounds like the plot to a Steampunk short story.
SYBBIE AND GEORGE HAVE LINES IN THIS EPISODE AND THEY ARE PRECIOUS. Cora and DONK show the children some pictures from their travels, and when Robert explains that the Sphinx of Egypt is a creature of secrets, Cora interjects, “Rather like Granny Violet.”
I like sassy Cora. More of this, please.
Edith gets a very sweet kiss from Bertie, and I’VE BOUGHT A TICKET, PACKED MY BAGS, AND BY GOD, I AM BOARDING. THIS. SHIP. Edith looks absolutely gorgeous; she’s got a magnificent gig at the magazine—could it be? Are things finally looking up for our favorite middle child?
Daisy seems a bit miffed that Mr. Mason’s getting on so well with … well, anyone besides her. Mrs. Hughes warns her not to get weird about it, and poor Daisy gets defensive. Poor Daisy, does she even have any family? Wasn’t she like 10 when this show started? She’s got her parental figures in Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason. Just let her live, Mrs. Hughes!
Carson comes in to fetch his wife so that they might go back to their cottage. He catches Mrs. Patmore and requests that she give Mrs. Hughes some cooking lessons, because “it’s been awhile since she’s played with her patty pans.”
Robert’s “indigestion” seems to be worsening, but it’s probably due to this hospital plotline, which, after several weeks of recaps, has succeeded in giving me a guts ache as well.
Thomas catches Andy in his room, slattin’ and slammin’ his books around. It turns out that Andy is illiterate, and much to his surprise, Thomas doesn’t mock him for it. Instead, he offers to teach him so that it won’t be obvious and, therefore, humiliating. Andy thinks he’s probably too stupid to learn, but Thomas has given him a vote of confidence.
The Minister of Health arrives for dinner, and he has a very nice moustache. I hope they set a place at the table for it and offer it a brandy. Maybe it could offset the tension that immediately begins to brew as THE HOSPITAL DEBATE intensifies. Carson’s head must be spinning from all the wine he’s pouring so people can sit through this.
Robert’s finally had enough, and he stands, apologizes, AND THEN PROJECTILE VOMITS BLOOD ACROSS THE TABLE, ALL OVER HIS WIFE.
(Fun fact: Hugh Bonneville said this scene had to be done in a single take, and Elizabeth McGovern’s reaction to the bloodshed was genuine. He wasn’t meant to vomit all over her, but his acting was just that good.)
If one is going to have a burst ulcer, best to happen at a dinner table full of medical professionals. Poor Robert is tended to immediately, an ambulance called for, and the dinner ruined.
The Downton Abbey fandom began referring to this episode on Twitter as The Red Dinner.
And in case you were wondering if this was all just completely overdramatized and gratuitously bloody, the medical answer is: not especially.
“If this is it,” Robert blubbers to Cora, “Just know that I have loved you very, very much.” But obviously he’s not going to die, because we have literally never had this much foreshadowing for a death on this show. Ya fine, Robert.
Still, the entire violent experience has truly shaken up the Crawleys, who have never experienced something quite so vulgar at dinner—and that’s including that time Tom’s girlfriend Miss Bunting spewed her anarchy everywhere.
As Carson muses to his wife downstairs, “Life is short and death is certain.”
Well. That’s cheered me up.
Minor but possibly relevant plot points:
- Mr. Mason wants his daughter-in-law, Daisy, to move in, and she’s not jumped at the chance. Andy has, though—apparently he’s really into farming.
- Violet fired Denker, then unfired her. I don’t know what this was supposed to prove, but I want a reason to tell someone, “You must go, forthwith!”
- I want more scenes of Mary Crawley in a pub. Can she please get together with Henry even just as friends? Next time, let’s get her playing billiards.
- Andy’s illiteracy shames him greatly. Can he overcome his weirdness around Thomas to accept his help?
- “Bad harvest!” Not an episode goes by where my gut doesn’t clench worrying that something will ruin the Bates’ only chance of happiness.
- After her father almost dies, a stunned Mary asks Anna if any gossip involving Marigold is happening in the servants’ hall. Because this is clearly the right opportunity to look for dirt on her sister—? Always the opportunist, Queen Mary.
Abby Norman is an author and journalist in New England. Her work has been featured on Medium, The Huffington Post, and Alternet and recommended by Time Magazine and NPR. Her first book, FLARE, a chronicle of chronic illness, is forthcoming from Nation Books/Perseus. She is represented by Tisse Takagi. Follow her on Twitter @notabbynormal.
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