This week’s Downton Abbey is at times funny and at others a bit dark. Relax, nobody dies in it, but it is a very drama-filled episode. As usual, there’s quite a lot happening both upstairs and down. However, this Downton Abbey, more than most, gives us a lot to reflect on about where we are in the world now, as opposed to the early twentieth century.
I’ll first give you the normal warning. This is a recap and review of Downton Abbey season 3, episode 7. If you haven’t caught to that point, go catch up and read this later because the article does contain SPOILERS for the above episode.
Downton starts out on a happy note. Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle ) is, in fact, released from prison. It’s a nice visual metaphor as he comes out of the darkness, through clanging iron gates, and then into the light of the world. Anna (Joanne Frogget ) is waiting for him in a car (we learn later it was generously supplied by Lord Grantham) as he walks out that last set of iron doors - dressed like quite the gentleman – and into the waiting arms of Anna. Anna thanks God. Mr. Bates thanks God – and Anna. There’s a lovely sweet kiss, before they’re off away in the car to Downton. I’ll admit I was a bit worried it wouldn’t actually happen, so it was a relief to see that story-line come to a close.
As the servants are all having breakfast the chatter is about Mr. Bates returning. Alfred(Matt Milne) and James (Ed Speleers) seem a bit unsure about to how to deal with a man that’s been to prison – even though the evidence was found that proved him innocent. James managed to be snarky about it just as Bates was entering. It’s the beginning of a rough few days for him. There’s a clear division about his return. Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are thrilled, as is Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy ( Sophie McShera). Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is silent, probably has mixed emotions, as Mr. Bates was someone she and Thomas had hated. Now though, any enemy of Thomas Barrows (Rob James-Collier) should be a friend of hers… The exchange between Bates and Thomas is tense, even as the words themselves are polite. Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) although happy to take Bates coat, notices the special treatment Bates gets from the cooks. He immediately asks if they all can get the special treat. It seems like he’ll be having some issues with Bates down the line.
Meanwhile, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), heir apparent Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) are having breakfast as well. That editor in London has written Edith again – he really wants her to write for his paper. Matthew encourages her, Robert is dismissive, and, although wisely silent, Tom agrees with Matthew. (I love his tiny nod as Edith says it would be rude not to at least talk to the man.) Edith informs her father that she will go to London and meet with the man. After she leaves the table Robert Matthew “…don’t encourage her.” Matthew’s emphatic response is that he thinks it’s a good idea.
With that, the theme of Robert not fixing in with the times at hand continues. Mathew has called the agent to look over his plans for revamping the estate, politely adding “with your agreement.” Robert, clearly annoyed says, “I’m glad to hear you still think my agreement has a part to play,” and leaves before Matthew can reply. Once Robert is safely out of the room, Tom dryly asks Matthew, “are you sure you wouldn’t rather just cut and run, like me?”
Tom is an interesting case. Despite his comment to Matthew, the former chauffeur who once hated all this fuss of manners, is, much like Matthew did when he first arrived, starting to take to the manners and mannerisms around him. Consciously, it’s likely in honor and in memory of Sybil, but it’s still interesting to see the effect of living among the upper class seems to have on everyone who encounters it. There are more examples of Tom’s further blending in later on.
Robert is pleased to see Mr. Bates back, greeting him as one would greet a good friend. He basically tells Bates not to worry about anything: they’re arranging a cottage for him and Anna, his job as valet is secure, but while logistics are being worked out just relax, rest up, “read books.” They do make it seem so cosy, these lord and servant relationships, but I suspect Lord Grantham’s portrayal is on the high end of the curve in terms of these things. Perhaps it’s similar to a CEO who’s had the same secretary for years?
Another carry-over from last week is on of my favorite themes: the secret heart of the Dowager Countess. In this episode she’s taking on Cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Ethel (Amy Nuttal) the former prostitute, now again a lady’s maid (and learning to cook as well.) It seems that although Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) was lovely about it at the luncheon, she only did it for Cora’s sake. In truth she’s also appalled by the situation. Interestingly enough, she does seem to understand that Isobel really is trying to help, but she also thinks that Isobel hasn’t thought things through. Aside from the absolute scandal and guilt by association there is by all associated with Ethel, Violet’s argument is that Ethel’s reputation in the town is well-known. There is no amount of doing respectable work that will change it, nor people’s reaction to it. Of course, she is her usual catty self, alluding to Ethel’s “many” skills beyond cooking – directly to Ethel. I know that seems heartless, but remember, I did say the SECRET heart.
While that is going on, Robert is out walking the estate grounds with Cora explaining that with Bates back he needs to figure out what to do about Thomas. While he doesn’t want to just fire him, he is completely clear that Bates is his valet. Cora agrees he can’t fire him outright as he’s done nothing wrong. surely Carson can find something for him to do.
That’s the last thing he and Cora will agree on this episode. Although not being mean about it Cora has the opposite point of view on every issue brought up. In this moment it’s about Tom. Robert can’t wait for him to leave, but Cora’s point of view is that Tom and the baby are now their responsibility, adding that “they owe that to Sybil.” Rather than answer that, Robert defers to having to go meet Matthew and the agent Jarvis.
Back in the servants hall it’s lunch time. Thomas is trying to figure out where he stands job-wise, but Bates is evasive. The big drama at the moment is whether Ivy (Cara Theobald) will go to the movies that night – a special late hour servants showing – with Alfred. She immediately asks if James is going. He isn’t – thinks the film is too sappy. She doesn’t want to go with Alfred alone, and Mrs. Hughes wouldn’t let her go without a chaporone anyway. On top of that she also needs to get permission from Mrs. Patmore. Finally, Ivy agrees to go – assuming she has permission. Alfred’s elated.
Robert’s day isn’t getting better. Thus far his daughter has ignored him and will be going to London to see about taking a middle class job as a journalist. His wife seems to want that Irish chauffeur who’d married their now deceased daughter to stay at Downton as long as possible. Now, in this meeting with Matthew he’s being reminded that not only did he lose all of Cora’s money in a bad business investment, but prior to that he’d been bailing out the property for years using Cora’s money. The assertion that Downton must be “fully self-supporting” in order to survive the future is a sobering one. Especially as it seems the only way to do so is Matthew’s plan to radically change everything.
Things that haven’t changed are the stigma of Ethel’s former life. As the Dowager Countess is being driven home she sees Ethel sobbing coming home from the market, to the point of having to stop and put down her basket. People give her a wide berth when they see her. It’s a sad sight and Violet is clearly troubled by it. Her argument with Isobel, that nothing will change the perception is being proved accurate, but Violet isn’t happy to see it. She’s actually blinking back tears. Yes, Violet does in fact posses a compassionate heart, but she’ll be damned to let anyone know it.
Not only does she have a heart, but she’s a brilliant, scheming mind. She’s having tea with Edith, who is asking for help in calming down Robert about her becoming a journalist. At first Violet resists, saying that she agrees with her son. When she said Edith must find something to do she meant something appropriate to her station as an Earl’s daughter such as, “run a local charity or paint watercolors or something.” (I adore Maggie Smith, I just do!) However, seeing Edith’s determination and in that secret heart of hers understanding Edith’s need and desire to do something and matter in the world, she agrees to help persuade Robert. She also takes the opportunity to ask Edith for a favor. Later we discover that the favor is to place an ad for a ladies maid and cook in a London woman’s magazine. Her thought is that if Ethel were in a place where no one actually knew her past she could truly start over and rebuild her life. Smart woman!
Part of Edith’s task is no doubt not to let Isobel Crawley know what’s being done, as it’s clear that in her zealous crusade she refuses to see that gaining respectable work won’t change the perspective of the township and that Ethel is still suffering. We’re given a peek at just how blindly insistent Isobel is when Ethel comes home clearly upset. Upon hearing that a local market woman refused to serve her and that when the husband finally did he said mean and nasty things about her, Isobel’s response is that they will take their business elsewhere. She just refuses to see or believe that there is no “elsewhere” for Ethel to go in the town of Downton.
A blindness of another sort is occurring in the servants’ quarters as everyone is preparing to serve the dinner. Alfred is excited about taking Ivy to the movies, completely missing the private flirtation between James and Ivy. So when he inquiries into what Mrs. Patmore is doing with a particular dish James chooses to tease him about it. Unfortunately, he does so just in time for Mr. Carson to hear and get a subsequent reprimand. Worse, he gives Alfred the opportunity to lead in the food serving duties as the first footman. James is irate and comments to Ivy that he should be the first footman. Ivy, with Alfred still standing right there, agrees with him. Poor Daisy, who’s been there the entire time, goes into a mini-rant: “Listen to her! You’re taller than him, you’ve been here longer than him. Why are you taking her to the pictures when she talks like that?” Alfred, looking a bit embarrassed, says he’s already bought the tickets. Ivy and James share another amused look. Seems Mrs. Patmore may have been wrong about everyone falling for the wrong people. Only Alfred has.
Meanwhile, upstairs is the making of another storm. Mary walks it to see Tom and the baby before dinner. She’s surprised to find out that he’s already arranged the christening. He had only planned on telling her and Matthew, but Mary suggests the whole family would want to go – even if it is a Catholic church. Tom then asks Mary to be the child’s Godmother, explaining that in the Catholic rules only one of the godparents must be Catholic and his brother is coming up to be the godfather. Mary insists that the brother stay at Downton instead of the village, even though Matthew expresses some concern about the idea as his brother is, “a rough diamond.”
As a note of pastoral bliss we get to see Anna and Mr. Bates walking the grounds – just as the Earl and Countess were earlier. Here too, Mr. Bates is wondering about how things will work out, which cottage they might get, and concern about his job. Unlike Cora, Anna is completely reassuring. It’s an interesting moment to have the servants essentially mimicking the gentry. It’s something to consider when we meet Tom’s brother later on.
For now though, the drama in the servants’ hall continues. James is still fuming about being demoted to second footman for the night. Thomas warns him while it is unfair, James losing his temper won’t help. Mrs. O’Brien sees the exchange – not what was said, but rather the two talking privately. After the footman goes up, she takes the opportunity to feed Thomas more lies about how James is always going on about him. Thomas scoffs at her and says he must be lying.
James apparently heard Thomas’s advice. In a gesture of help, he tells Alfred to arrange the silverware on the serving plate in a way to make it easier for people to take their desired portion. Actually, what it does is unbalance the tray, so when Alfred leans down to serve the Dowager Countess, the edge hits her and causes food to spill everywhere! In a way the accident is good timing as just prior to it Matthew had informed Robert that he’d invited Murray the accountant up to help explain his point, as Matthew felt he hadn’t made things clear enough. Robert is upset that, once again, Matthew has set up another business meeting without consulting him, but before things got too heated, Violet got a lap-full of shrimp. James gleefully takes back his position as first footman.However, the dinner drama continues on. Violet mentions seeing Ethel in the village looking upset. Isobel explains what happened, adding how sad it is that the townspeople are so unforgiving. Robert, unknowingly, takes up his mother’s point by saying that while some are unforgiving, other’s are “insensitive.” After an uncomfortable pause, Cora tries changing the subject. Why she thinks that bringing up Edith’s trip to London the next day will ease tensions is beyond me. Robert incredulous, asks Cora if she supports this journalism nonsense and then asks his mother to say “something sensible” Isobel makes a snide comment that backfires, as Violet says that while she does believe a woman’s place is eventually in the home she “sees no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.” Edith is thrilled, and the table is shocked. Perhaps Violet thought she’d gone a bit overboard, because she then adds that as Edith is getting older it’s possible that she’s just not cut out “for domestic life.” God forbid she seem too nice, right?
So after that bit of awkwardness, Matthew tries to change topics by asking Tom about how his plans are going. Oh boy. First, Tom mentions going to Liverpool to work in his brother’s garage. Mary pipes up asking if it’s the brother that will be staying at Downton. It is, but Robert is surprised to hear that the brother will be staying at Downton – for the christening. At the thought of that event, our Lord Grantham downs a drink.
Downstairs, James finds that his little trick doesn’t have quite the effect he’d hoped as Carson reprimands him for trying to take charge of things by telling Alfred how to arrange the spoons. Furthermore, although he suggests that Alfred might want to stay home from the movies to, “ponder his mistakes” he ultimately allows him and Ivy to go. Essentially, James gets in trouble and Alfred gets to go to the movies. James is not happy.
Upstairs Matthew and Mary are preparing for bed. (Sadly, Matthew is wearing boring black pajamas). There’s a bit of banter about Matthew not being able to win no matter what he does in terms of Downton, but the real point of the scene is that Matthew is really concerned that something may be wrong with him because Mary still isn’t pregnant.
As the hour gets even later, Thomas is alone in the kitchen when James comes still fuming about Alfred. He confides in Thomas that it’s clear Mr. Carson favors Alfred over him. Thomas teasingly replies, “Well, I love ya.” James laughs and says if he does, he’s on his own. Thomas then inquires about his family, so we find out that James is on his own as both his parents are dead and he’s got no siblings. When Thomas comments it must be lonely, James is immediately on guard – and every more so when Thomas suggests they are alike. Thomas covers himself by saying they both appear. “sure of themselves” but aren’t really. That relaxes James and he and Thomas are joking together when Mrs. O’Brien comes in. James excuses himself, leaving Thomas and Mrs. O’Brien alone.
Thomas, who is usually so sharp about things, hasn’t seemed to notice Mrs. O’Brien is talking with him often these days. This from a woman who’s promise to revenge Thomas’s spreading lies about her leaving and sowing seeds of distrust between her and Countess Cora. Mrs. O’Brien continues her assault of trying to convince Thomas that James has romantic feelings for him also, and suggesting that he and James are already secretly an item. Once again Thomas brushes her off, saying that James is “a proper little ladies man.
What happens next is stunningly put together. While James is upstairs getting ready for bed, Alfred and Ivy have been enjoying the walk home. However, when Alfred makes a play for her, Ivy lets him know she’s interested in James. She’s convinced he’s interested in her also, because he flirts with her. Unless James actually tells her he’s not interested Alfred doesn’t have a shot. At the same time, Thomas, despite his constantly brushing off Mrs. O’Brien’s words, has apparently taken them to heart. He’s agitated, pacing in his room as he roughly tosses off his clothes to get ready for bed. It’s all weaved together with a sad haunting score. As Ivy and Alfred come back into the house, Thomas makes the decision to believe what O’Brien has been saying and slips into James’s room. James is asleep. Thomas sits on the edge of his bed, leans over and kisses him on the mouth – just as Alfred walks into James’s room to discuss Ivy. James is confused at first, but then shocked, disgusted and very angry. He shoves Thomas off of him, yelling bloody murder as he does so. He’s even angrier when he realizes Alfred is there, saying it’s not what he thinks and threatening to beat him up if he mentions this incident to anyone.
As awful as Thomas can be, I do feel badly for him. He’s bewildered when James asks why the hell would he dare to think James would want or allow that. Despite his constant show of disbelief to O’Brien’s words, Thomas had in fact believed they were all true, and he’s devastated to realize they weren’t. The next morning neither Alfred nor James will have anything to do with him, and James makes an obvious flirtatious comment to Ivy at the table. Even though he has to know Carson will reprimand him, he’s making the point to Thomas that he is absolutely a heterosexual man. Naturally the tension is noticed by everyone, and Carson insists that someone had better let him know what’s going on by the end of the day.
On a happier note, Edith’s meeting with the editor is going well. She’s clearly happy to be there, her whole countenance is brighter, more relaxed. Some of that could be because the editor is an attractive man who actually listens to her and takes her seriously, but after everything she’s been through, doesn’t she deserve it? She still doesn’t agree to take the job, but agrees to have lunch with him the next day – after doing an errand for her grandmother (placing the ad about Ethel). I daresay the sparks are flying between these two. Lady Edith’s life is looking up!
At least someone’s is. That night after dinner, all is not well at Downton Abbey. Matthew, Tom and Mary are looking over Matthew’s plan, while Carson is demanding answers from Alfred and James about why they are both spacey and ill at ease with each other. Mary then asks Tom’s opinion about the plan Matthew has laid out. Clearly to both her and Matthew, Tom is no longer that chauffeur that married her sister anymore. He’s an equal. Tom shows his astuteness as he explains why he agrees with Matthew. Robert listening from across the room, brushes off Tom’s comments by calling him a Marxist. Tom actually defends himself – but very politely. The exchange shows that he’s definitely getting more comfortable with how things are done, and, as Violet points out, is changing.
Tom: If you don’t mind me saying so, you have a narrow view of socialism.”
Robert: You seem to have a very broad interpretation of it.”
Violet: “Now, now, children. If Branson is watering down his revolutionary fervor, let us give thanks.”
Mary: (to Violet) Tom. (as in not “Branson”)
Violet even asks if Tom has any experience in farming. He tells her about his grandfather owning a sheep farm. Robert is unimpressed, but I certainly was impressed with Violet showing an interest in Tom. The wonders of the Dowager are just continuing to unfold!
That night in bed Robert complains to Cora about Matthew setting up the business meeting without consulting him. Rather than sympathy, Cora reminds him that he’s the one who said Downton was a duel-monarchy now – because of Matthew’s investment. Did he not mean it? Exasperated, Robert adds Matthew to the list of things Cora is against him on: Matthew, the christening and Edith. Cora doesn’t deny it, instead she points out that even his mother agreed about Edith.
Edith at lunch the next day is absolutely glowing. I have to say in this episode we’ve seen more of Edith’s personality than we’ve seen in the entire season to date. Being away from her family definitely agrees with her! As she and the editor talk frankly and flirtatiously. Edith remarks that “It’s a relief to know I’m not an object of pity to the entire world.” Exactly, Edith. The world is much larger than that of Downton. Luckily, she’ll be discovering more of that, as she’s accepted the job as a magazine writer.
It won’t be great news to Robert as his business meeting has not gone well. This time the meeting is Matthew, Robert, the agent, and the accountant. It turns out the issue Lord Grantham has with Matthew’s plan isn’t the plan itself, but the speed in which it would be put in place. He wants to ease the tenants into the new shape of things – as they’ve done in the past. It’s the wrong phrase to use. The account agrees with Matthew, and proceeds to goes much further than Matthew did about the mismanagement of funds, saying the four Lord Granthams before Robert had also screwed up the estates financing. It’s an amusing little bit, but Robert seems to take this a bit better than he did from Matthew. The agent however is not taking it well, and when Matthew takes up the conversation and says the estate has been run badly for years, he stands up and resigns. Still, Lord Grantham has at least come around to agreeing that things do need to change – which is the one thing that Mary wanted Matthew to be able to accomplish. The situation does leave Matthew with a bit of a problem though. The agent is the one who deals with the tenants and the farming lands on a day-to-day basis. How is he supposed to manage without one? Well, I think the audience knows the answer, it’s just a question of when it’s going to dawn on someone!
Speaking of Tom, the changes in him are brought into sharp relief by the arrival of his brother, Kieran. Mrs. Hughes drags Mr. Carson from his office to deal with an emergency – Kieran is in the servants’ quarters, laughing and joking at their dinner table. She’s already sent for Tom, who arrives downstairs with Mary, causing all the servants to stand at attention and become silent. Only Kieran sits in defiance. Tom tells him he needs to come upstairs, but Kieran says he doesn’t want to and will eat dinner downstairs with the servants. Lady Mary asks him to come up also, saying the family is looking forward to meeting him. Kieran makes a joke about her invitation, and then tells Tom that he should come downstairs to eat as well, taunting him about becoming too high class to eat in the servants hall. Amazingly, Tom doesn’t yell, although he does grit his teeth a bit. In a low deathly voice he tells his brother it has nothing to do with being grand, it’s manners. He will not allow his brother to snub his mother-in-law’s dinner invitation, so he’d better get upstairs. There’s a brief stare-down before Kieran gets up to follow his brother. Once they are gone, Mrs. Hughes tries to head off the negativity of Mr. Carson towards Tom. To her surprise, he actually things Tom response was “exemplary.” Yep, Tom is definitely starting to really fit in.
Now, it’s on to another drama-filled evening. As so much is going on simultaneously at this point, I’ll just go through the evening’s story-lines - trust me, it’s a long evening!
As Mary and Matthew get ready for dinner, he tells her about the horrible meeting and that the Agent had quit. It’s a loving and romantic scene. Matthew asks for Mary’s support through this ordeal because he knows what he’s doing is right for Downton, and will ensure for their children – if they have any – but he needs her on his side. He’s aware that Mary has been torn between him and her father. He explains it’s not about choosing whom you love, it’s her belief in what’s best that matters. That’s what he’s asking, for her to believe in him. It’s an emotional request, and Mary kisses him rather passionately (for a Downton Abby kiss) and says, “there, will that convince you.” She also assures him that they will have children.
Lady Edith is also getting ready for dinner. She is happy and sparkly – love her pink dress, it really suits her. For the first time Edith seems to really like herself, and it’s a great change. The dinner itself awkward of course. Robert quizzes Kieran about his business. It’s a grim picture to the Crawley’s: a car repair shop with rooms for living above it, with a park nearby. Violet, always able to provide the amusing incorrect comments compares the evening to a night spent at a tradesmen’s hotel after their train got caught in a blizzard. Mary then brings up the christening, asking if they were all going. The Dowager says yes – if “Branson – Tom – wants me to.” Tom replies “he would be honored.” Robert, however, says he’s not going as Tom wouldn’t want him there and besides, he wouldn’t know what to do. He then makes a joke about Catholic masses. Only Kieran laughs – which shows just how rude and inappropriate Robert is being.
Tom doesn’t let Robert get away with putting the blame on him though. Instead, he tells Robert, and the family, that he does want Robert there – because he knows Sybil would want him there. It’s so polite and heartfelt – not to mention absolutely true – there’s no way Robert can not go. Besides, Tom’s words remind Robert of the facts. That little girl is all he has left of his youngest child. He agrees to go, saving face by saying he’ll do it if Cora thinks it’s important. Matthew then asks Edith how London went. Realizing there’s not going to be a “right” time to make her announcement, she tells the table that she’s taken the magazine job. Our dear Violet points out that since they already have a country solicitor (Matthew) and a car mechanic (Tom) it was only a matter of time before the family gained a journalist.
At the same time, Mrs. O’Brien is down in the servant’s quarters. As the servants travel up and down serving dinner she works on convincing Alfred that he has to tell Mr. Carson what happened. Her argument is that if he doesn’t and Mr. Carson finds out Alfred would be in more trouble. She pushes the religious aspect as well, reminding him that the behavior is one “against God and man.” She also pushes the idea that James is just as guilty as Thomas, but Alfred doesn’t agree with that one. She does however convince him that he should tell Mr. Carson what happened. O’Brien is thrilled – her plan to get Thomas in trouble has worked! She suggests Alfred enjoy watching the fall-out, but that’s not his personality at all.
Upstairs the sagas are continuing. When Isobel finds out that Violet has had Edith put out an advertisement to get Ethel a new job in London she’s incensed. Furthermore, she’s not buying Edith’s assertion that her grandmother did it for Ethel’s sake, as Violet doesn’t care about people like Ethel at all. Violet then snags Mr. Carson, who is going downstairs to fetch “beer” for Kieran, and tells him to ask Mrs. Hughes to meet her in the hallway. She, Edith and Isobel then meet with Ethel’s in the village she’s doomed to be unhappy, and compares Ethel’s plight to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” With Violet’s plan Ethel can have a shot of really starting over. Isobel naturally doesn’t want to hear any of this, and latches on to the fact that they’ve gone and done these things behind her back. Still, she agrees to talk to Ethel and then quickly leaves. Back in her own home, Isobel asks Ethel if she is happy. Ethel replies that “She supposes she’s happier than what she was before.” Isobel starts to say something but then stops and just says goodnight. My interpretation is that she realized that Violet was right, because Ethel’s answer isn’t that she’s happy, rather it’s that things are better than what they were.
As that was going on, in the drawing room, the beer incident of Kieran asking for beer instead of wine had given Robert another moment to make fun of Tom, but Cora used it to blame Robert for the fact that Tom will be returning to that lifestyle he’s making fun of. It’s a lifestyle that Sybil did not want Tom to return to – she’d told her so. Later, after all the everyone has gone to bed, Cora, Robert and Violet are left sitting together. Violet brings up the subject of the agent leaving. Robert laments about who can possibly replace him. Violet tells him it’s obviously Tom – it solves all their problems. Cora sees the idea as brilliant, because Tom and Matthew are the same age (I assume she means they’ll understand the new ways better). Robert thinks it nonsense. His first defense is that Tom knows nothing about farming, but of course, they’d just found out about his grandfather, which gives him more experience than the old agent. That gives him pause, but I love Violet’s second argument best: ”You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow in a garage with that drunken gorilla.” I think that was my line of the night! Cora adds that they owe it to Sybil. Robert does see the logic of it, and agrees to do it on two conditions. The first is that Matthew must agree, the second is that the two women both admit it when they realize you were wrong. At that Violet gives the closest to an outright laugh that I’ve ever seen from her and says, “Well, that’s an easy caveat to accept because I’m never wrong.” I hate to admit it, but truthfully, she rarely is.
The saddest part of the evening is downstairs. Alfred goes to Carson and tells him what happened. Carson is appalled, although I think a bit disappointed that James isn’t also at fault, but Alfred insists he isn’t. He’s such an honest guy, Alfred. Here he has the perfect opportunity to get rid of his rival for Ivy, but he doesn’t take it. Mr. Carson tells Alfred he’s not to say a word about what happened, he wants no talk of it in the servants’ hall. I guess he forgot that Mrs. O’Brien also knows. He also tells Alfred that he must deal with what he saw like a man. In other words, brush off the vision of what he saw and move on.
When Carson is questioning Thomas on the matter, the first thing we hear is Carson saying Thomas’s behavior is a criminal offense. Thomas defends himself by saying they, “hadn’t done anything” which I take as meaning it’s sodomy that’s the criminal offense. Carson, still on a roll, snaps that it’s still an offense because he was hoping, ”to do something” and he should be “horse-whipped.” He gives Thomas a chance to deny the story, or offer some kind of defense for his actions, but Thomas offers only the truth. That he was drawn to James and thought James felt the same way – but he was wrong. Carson (still looking for a reason to sack James I think) says “It seems an odd mistake to make.” Thomas softly explains that it’s not, because one has to try and read the signs as best they can, because no one dare speak out.” Carson cuts him off, saying he wants to hear nothing of his “revolting” world. All he wants to know is if James is truly innocent in the situation. Now here’s an interesting thing. Once Thomas insists James is truly innocent Carson does not fire him on the spot. He says he needs time to consider and it will depend if James wants to press charges or not. At Thomas’s terrified look, Carson says, “I doubt it’ll come to that.” Thomas leaves, just in time for Mrs. Hughes to see him. She comes into Carson’s office wondering why Thomas is so grim-faced. Carson is still in a bit of a shock I think but pulls himself together, only to say something rather odd: ”Human nature is a funny business, isn’t it?”
Hmm…. this scene makes me wonder. Why didn’t Carson just fire him? Mrs. Hughes fired Ethel immediately for her moral impropriety. Then he makes that strange comment….could Carson also be gay? Perhaps he’s just become more compassionate. We’ll have to wait and see!
The last scene of episode seven is a happy one! Hooray! It’s the christening and everyone comes out of the church looking lovely. As the family gathers for a group shot, Edith remarks how strange it feels to be there without Sybil. Cora smiles and says Sybil is watching, but Mary sighs and says she wishes she could believe that. There’s a certain irony in the fact that Mary is the baby’s godmother, and obviously doesn’t believe in God. Meanwhile Robert has offered the job of Agent to Tom. He’s a bit hesitant – but Robert’s says to consider it a christening present from Sybil – turning the reasoning Tom used to get Robert to the christening back on Tom. After the group shot the photographer suggests one with the grandfather, great grandmother and the baby. Robert and Violet are happy to do so, but then the photographer suggested the priest who christened her should be in the shot as well! As Robert cringes, Cora teases him, asking if he’s afraid he’ll be converted when he’s not looking.
In terms of a review, there are a few things that stood out for me this week, but I’d like to just focus on two of them. It’s amazing how much we in the US still deal with many of the issues presented today. (I can’t speak for other countries.) The first issue is how Ethel’s plight is still enacted all the time. A woman with a reputation of sexual promiscuity will still be socially shunned in most cultures, prostitution is even worse. Women still talk about “getting to a certain age” and not being married. It’s fine to postpone marriage, and great for women to work – expected really – but the idea that a woman my not want to get married isn’t a popular one. Violet was ahead of her time by even suggesting that some women aren’t cut out for it.
The second issue is what happened to Thomas. When I think about how careful he has to be in his life, at the view the world has about men like him, I have more compassion for his character. Would he have been such a conniving, self-serving guy if his entire being wasn’t subjected to being called evil and having to hide who he is in order to escape the law? His life is one that would foster bitterness and ill will in most people.
It hasn’t been that long that people in the U.S. have been able to feel comfortable in saying that they’re gay. While being gay is a far more accepted idea than it near a century ago, there are still many places in the world where two men caught together sexually is punishable crime. This includes the U.S.. Although many states have ratified the right for gay people to marry, and there are openly gay couples on TV, and in prominent positions across many industries, there are still at least 14 states with sodomy laws on the books, and gay-bashing being a crime certainly hasn’t stopped it from happening. There is still much more ground to be covered in terms of acceptance.
So, that’s Downton Abbey this week. As for next week, I am really curious to see how Carson deals with Thomas, and if Lady Edith continues to flourish in her new job! Also, how well do you think Tom will do in his new position? Let me know what you think!