I find that my second episode recaps of Downton Abbey always complain about the same thing: how slow the season is going. The day-today of the running of a grand estate is not the stuff high-minded TV is made of. In fact, in the earliest seasons, the show got it right, skipping over entire three-four months spans in an entire episode, because the day-to-day of those who lived in the Manor House weren’t particularly interesting. Wake up, have breakfast served, go to the market, read a book, stare out the window, have dinner served, rinse repeat. So it was interesting that for our last turn round the block, that day-to-day had changed so much I didn’t actually mind the minutiae.
Violet: “If you can’t say anything helpful, Robert, please be silent.”
Though character still wander about declaiming about the changing world, the changing world is right before our eyes. No less than a decade ago, Lady Mary would not be the one wading through her pigs looking for the prize porcine for show. Even as recent as ten years ago, her father would not have done this either. Jarvis, the estate man would have done this for them. (Remember him? He quit in Season 3 when Matthew tried to modernize.) As those downstairs find themselves being offered thing that only the upstairs folk once had access too (we’ll get to that in a moment), so to do the upstairs people find themselves having to get down in the mud, as it were.
But, and this is the thing that grated, is the fact that though we are being presented with Lady Mary as this “modern woman,” it’s hard to forget that she only has this because of men. Not just her father, who stood to the side and open mindedly allowed her to take charge. But her real power comes from her son, who holds the title to the estate. Master George may only be barely out of nappies, but he’s the key that allows his mother to have any sort of position at all. If he died, she would lose the estate to some far away cousin. If he had been a girl, that would have happened when Matthew died. Mary’s son bestows legitimacy upon her. Which is why I find her behavior towards Edith and Marigold to be just quite so grating.
Edith: “As usual, you add two and two and get 53.”
Speaking of Marigold, and we must, I will admit I had hoped that the Drewes would be left behind in Season 5, along with the Mr. Greens, the Lord Gillinghams and the Lady Roses. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Perhaps it was deemed necessary to wrap that story line up but good? Perhaps it was felt that Edith had not suffered enough and needed to look glum and distressed some more. Personally, I’m of the “Leave Edith Alone!” camp. She was not raised to be a modern woman. Unlike Mary she does not have the self-assurance of a title bestowed by marriage and spawning male. It’s bad enough we have to watch her experience proto-workplace sexism. Must we go down the “kidnapping the rich baby” soap opera route as well? At least it was brief, with Mr. Drewe returned the child himself and promising to vacate, leaving Downton with no tenant farmers whatsoever. (Not to mention that the Drewes have done nothing but been used and abused by the Crawley family, and now all they do is apologize to the rich and somehow magically move to a place when there’s little jobs and less money.) Can that be enough of that Season 5 plotline? Thanks.
Speaking of little jobs and less money, how terrible is it to be looking for under-butler work in this time period? Thomas finds out, as he goes to interview, only to be sneered away. The lord of the house isn’t looking for a butler to sleep with, and the lady of the house would rather take on a heterosexual one for her uses, thanks. Sorry Thomas, you’re just stuck at Downton until you get a typewriter. Maybe you should go take some of those exams with Daisy? You too can become a half-baked marxist, and start spouting off in front of the upper classes at the worst possible moments. If nothing else, he could go work for Lady Edith and her newspaper, since she clearly needs some more subservient male figures around her to help her run it.
Mrs. Hughes: “And heaven forfend we lowly folks should do anything to contradict the blessed Lady Mary.”
We can skip over the hospital story, since it’s clearly only there because Maggie Smith needs a reason to fire bitchy one liners at Isobel and vice versa. Also, it became a little clearer this week that Dr. Clarkson’s siding with Violet may be the reason the show finds to put Isobel and Merton back together and this time screw their resolve to marry to the sticking point. (I assume if and when Violet dies, that will also spurn things on.) No, the really interesting bit this week belonged to Anna and Mrs. Hughes, both of whom have discovered that avenues are open to them that were not always so.
Unlike Thomas, who still thinks people are hiring under-butlers, Anna and Mrs. Hughes are opening their eyes to new possibilities. Anna is not stuck the rest of her life having miscarriage after miscarriage. She can go to a London doctor, much like her ladyship does, and have her incompetent cervix fixed. (By the way, gentlemen, yes, that’s the medical term for that condition, even today in 2016.) And Elsie can discover that the Wedding Industrial Complex is just as eager to take her money as it is Lady Rose’s. There’s no need to get married at the Abbey, either upstairs or down. This may be blowing Carson’s mind quite a bit, but I’m sure once she blows his mind in other ways, this will simply become par for the course, shall we say? Either way, I’m putting my money on Mrs. Hughes getting her way on more than just her wedding day, before it’s all said and done.
Bates: “Try to put your feet up”
Anna: “Yes, I’ll be putting my feet up.”
Just, one thing: can we do something about her dress? Lady Mary, let us discuss it with the pigman.