Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 3: Sympathy Butters No Parsnips

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Ah, Episode Three. Before I get started, I have to remark upon what a gorgeous episode this was. I mean, Downton is always a feast for the eyes, but this one was really something special. I took way too many screencaps because frame after frame was like a Dutch painting—the amazing light, the glowing reds. I could happily turn the sound down and let this play on a loop just to enjoy the lush visuals. Mmm.

As for story, we’re settling in for the ride now, having established some major themes (the continued focus on shifting roles in society; the ache felt by each major character over some kind of unfulfilled longing, and how they’re dealing with it). Now we’ll dive a bit deeper into personal drama and ratchet up the tension on our mystery thread. Particularly welcome this week was a glimpse behind Cora’s placid smile. I think we’ve all been waiting for her show some spirit.

But let’s begin at the beginning. We open in the Liverpool love nest, where Mary and Tony have spent what appears to be a pleasant week enjoying each other’s company. (She says demurely.) Tony is ready to start the wedding march immediately, but Mary is a bit more reticent. And when Tony steps out of the room, the look on Mary’s face speaks volumes. She made this trip in order to assure herself that Tony was indeed the man she’d be happy spending the rest of her life with. And now, although she is certainly comfortable with him, she doesn’t exactly appear…assured.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Back at Downton, the kitchen is alive with Daisy’s happy chatter. She’s feeling so buoyed by her progress in arithmetic, thanks to Miss Bunting’s tutelage, that she’s beginning to set her sights even higher. Mrs. Patmore, however, isn’t hearing her; her attention is riveted by some distressing news contained in a letter. Aw, I hate to see you this way, Mrs. P.

Upstairs, Edith is surprised to see Cora at the breakfast table. It seems she’s up early for an important meeting to discuss church flowers—a suggestion of her less than critical role in Downton affairs, setting up a contrast for later scenes. We’re not the only ones tired of seeing Cora sidelined all the time; she’s sick of it too.

She mentions that Simon Bricker has offered to show the family the Piero della Francesca paintings in the National Gallery, now that he has had the honor of viewing the one owned by the family. Tom and Edith are mildly interested, and Robert encourages her to go up to London but clearly has no interest in visiting the museum herself. Tom mentions an “intriguing proposition” he has received about the estate, and Cora wants to hear more, but Robert can’t be bothered to satisfy her curiosity. She is quietly ticked off. Boy, Elizabeth McGovern is on fire this week, treating us to a range of expressions that rival Maggie Smith’s.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Tom offers Edith a lift to Yew Tree Farm, and as they depart Cora smiles over Edith’s affection for little Marigold Drewe, but Robert snipes that he hopes she isn’t “driving the mother mad.” Well, okay, for once his instincts are on the money, but it’s still kind of a nasty comment since he has no significant interest in Edith’s doings, and Cora shoots him another uncharacteristically critical look. It won’t be the last time she gets annoyed with him this episode. Welcome to my world, Lady G!

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Thomas begs permission from Carson to make a telephone call. I was going to bust on Carson for being so grumbly about having to leave the room to give Thomas some privacy, but then I remembered I’m no saint either if you interrupt me during my cup of tea. But oh, the disgruntled look on Carson’s face when he finds himself in the hall, shut out of his own nook, was priceless.

“Hello,” says Thomas into the receiver, “I’ve been reading your advertisement in The London Magazine, ‘Choose your own path.'” Oho, what have we here? (I’m channeling Mrs. Hughes.)

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
spotted by sprat
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mary and Tony, the souls of discretion, exit their Liverpool hotel together and kiss on the pavement in plain sight of anyone who happens to be looking, such as, oh, say, the Dowager Countess’s butler, Spratt. He’s across the street minding his own business (came to town for his niece’s wedding, we’ll find out later) and is shocked to the core to see Mary so clearly up to hanky-panky.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Isobel is visiting the Dower House. Violet, ringing for tea, asks ever so spontaneously, “Oh! What is the latest from your aging Romeo?” Isobel appears to contemplate poisoning Violet’s tea.

Carson is having another chat with the nice policeman assigned to investigate the late Mr. Green’s connection to Downton folk. A Piccadilly witness heard Green speak to an unidentified party just before he fell into the road. “Why have you come?” said Green to the mystery person. The policeman is following up on reports from Gillingham’s other servants that Green had complained of having been badly treated by someone at Downton, shortly before his death. Carson doubts there is anything to the rumor, because he hasn’t heard about a quarrel and therefore no such quarrel can possibly exist. This made me pause a moment to ponder the ratio of Events That Happen at Downton to Events Carson Is Aware Of. I hope he never finds out the truth of that equation; it would break his heart. Don’t break Carson’s heart, people!

Mary returns home in time for tea. How about those sketches, Mary, Edith wants to know. Where are all the sketches from the famous sketching trip? I love it when Edith gets a jab in at Mary; Mary’s so offhandedly nasty to her all the time.

Now that she’s back, Tom discloses the offer he’s had from a developer who wants to build fifty houses on a chunk of Grantham land. Robert is quite naturally appalled by the concept of ugly little modern homes eating up his estate. Tom, with a more realistic grasp of the account books, thinks it’s a good offer. I don’t know about you, but I’m all in a tizzy. It’s always unnerving to find myself siding with Robert, but you know what happens after they widen the lane to the village green to accommodate the residents of the new development. Starbucks, that’s what. On the other hand, now I really want to live in a place called Pip’s Corner.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mrs. Patmore reveals the contents of her upsetting letter to Mrs. Hughes. Her sister has written to say that her own village’s War Memorial Committee has refused to include her son Archie’s name on the memorial, because he was shot for desertion. Mrs. Patmore wonders if Mrs. Hughes will speak to Mr. Carson about adding poor Archie—who, after all, was only nineteen, and a victim of shellshock—to the names on the Downton statue. Oh dear. This promises to get bumpy.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Speaking of bumpy, Spratt is back at work and tiptoeing awkwardly through rocky territory. He very badly wants to apprise the Dowager Countess of the dirt he has on Mary, but he dares not say so directly. His pained expression and curiously loaded turns of phrase alert Violet to his difficulties, and she badgers him until he works up to spilling the beans—in a roundabout manner, of course. Violet weathers the shock with perfect aplomb, sliding effortlessly into a cover story—Mary and Tony were in Liverpool for a landowners’ conference—that leaves Spratt in a state of utter mortification. Violet tosses in a mild job threat for good measure. But after he leaves the room, her worried-grandmother face spells trouble for Mary.

Anna is terrified the inquiry into Green’s death could lead to Bates finding out about the rape. She really, really doesn’t want him to know. Mrs. Hughes thinks the secret is safe, since the only other person who knows the truth (she thinks) is Lady Mary, who won’t tell. Still, Anna is anxious. (I have my theories about what else she might be worried about besides Bates finding out.) At dinner that evening, she murmurs something to Bates about wondering what it would be like to go away somewhere where no one knows them. He’s puzzled by the notion and she quickly drops it.

Thomas, who got a mysterious call in response to his earlier telephone inquiry, asks Carson for time off with a cover story about his father being at death’s door. Baxter offers sympathy; she knew Thomas’s family as a girl and remembers his father kindly—unlike Thomas. She’s being awfully nice to him, considering how he has treated her lately, but then she really believes his story. I for one can’t wait to find out what he’s up to. What “new path” is he choosing?

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

At bedtime that evening, Baxter begs Cora to make a decision one way or another: is she fired or not? Cora says Baxter is going to have to reveal the missing piece of her story: what happened to the jewels. Tomorrow, in fact. Only after she has all the facts will Cora make a decision.

(I loved this shot of Baxter, former jewel thief, standing there holding the jewels. It happens again later, just before she gets in the car to go up to London with Cora. She has a whole long conversation with Molesley with that jewel box in her hands the whole time. I remember reading somewhere that one of a lady’s maid’s responsibilities was looking after her mistress’s jewels, specifically CARRYING THEM in her hands while traveling. Which just seems like begging for trouble, doesn’t it? I was sure that box was going to go missing on the journey and Baxter would be blamed. Glad I was wrong.)

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Robert comes to bed and Cora, sitting at her dressing table in putting on lotion in a way that always reminds me of Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond, reminisces a little about—of all things—the War. Not the grief and horror, but the busy-ness of it, the way she felt useful. “When I was running everything with Barrow,” she muses. Robert, who would be much more alert to signs of discontent in his dog, rolls his eyes at everything she says.

And when she presses for more information about the house-development offer, he brushes that aside, too: “Nothing to trouble you with.” It’s interesting that Robert came around pretty quickly to Mary taking an active role in running the estate, and now he seems to respect her opinions and even enjoy the discourse. But he’s got Cora slotted into a pretty-face-at-the-dinner-table category. and it’s clear she’s getting fed up with it.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Down the hall, some unusual (but not unsurprising) tension has arisen between Mary and Anna, of all people. Mary wants Anna to hide her contraceptive in the Bates cottage. Anna is as dismayed at that notion as she was about shopping for it last week. Of course Mary takes it completely for granted that Anna will accommodate her wishes, and she’s rather taken aback when Anna mutters something about feeling like she is “abetting sin.” Mary pointedly changes the subject to the policeman’s visit and seems nonplussed to hear about the possible witness and the rumor that Green quarreled with someone at Downton. She assures Anna that the police can’t suspect Bates of any wrongdoing, but her expression belies doubts of some kind or another.

Anna hurries to her coat in the hall and tries to stuff Mary’s goods in her coat pocket. Of course Bates catches her and grills her about it, in his creepy post-Season 3 way. Remember Season 1 Bates? How sweet he was? Even if he’s just attempting to be chummy here, he comes off as suspicious. It’s always Twenty Questions with him. I can’t imagine what their evenings are like at home. “Anna, what are you thinking about right now? How about now? Why do you stir your tea clockwise? Tell me, why did you take a bite of meat before a bite of potato? Why are you holding out on me?”

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mrs. Hughes brings up the Archie question with Mr. Carson, and predictably, he isn’t keen on the idea. He’s sympathetic to the family’s pain, but he’s quite sure the Memorial Committee will never consent to allow a deserter’s name on the statue. Mrs. Hughes is disappointed, although she predicted as much to Mrs. Patmore. Soon after, Carson tries to extend some sympathy to Mrs. Patmore but she scoffs at the gesture—“Sympathy butters no parsnips”—and scurries off to the kitchen in tears, probably to butter the parsnips.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Daisy pounces on Carson to ask for his blessing if she decides to continue her studies and sit her examinations. He sighs permission but speechifies about the foolishness of it, prompting Mrs. Hughes, who by this point is thoroughly irked by his rigidity, to give Daisy a rather heated pep talk about “going as far as God and luck allow her.” Daisy is left a bit baffled, but it’s okay; Butler-Housekeeper Dynamics won’t be on the test.

It’s time for Baxter and Cora to head up to London. As Molesley is loading the car, Baxter confides in him about Cora’s ultimatum. He counsels her to tell the truth on the condition that once she does, it has to be over and done with: no more dredging the matter up, no matter what outcome Cora decides.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mary and Robert seem to be returning from a walk, discussing Robert’s plans to surprise Cora in London that evening. They happen upon Bates, who is having a word with Molesley, and although it’s probably a totally benign conversation (“Is it just me, or did those parsnips at lunch taste like tears?”), Bates looks as shifty as can be. I think I need to go watch some Lark Rise to Candleford so I can fall back in love with Brendan Coyle.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Summoned by Grandmama, Mary arrives at the Dower House and is greeted by Spratt, who inquires pointedly about her recent stay in Liverpool. Mary’s discomfort is a delight to behold. Violet lets her flail only for a moment and then tosses her the life preserver of the landowner-conference cover story. Mary pales, realizing she has been busted by her grandmother. When Spratt leaves, Violet chews her out. She’s immensely relieved to learn that Tony wants to marry immediately, and then appalled to hear that Mary is in no hurry. The side-eye in this scene is world class.

Screen shot by Melissa Wiley.
Screen shot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora and Baxter are settling in at Rosamund’s place in London, and Cora declares the now-or-never moment: Baxter needs to let her know what really happened with the stolen jewels, or find a new job. Baxter takes a deep breath and tells her tale. There was a man—a handsome footman by the name of Coyle. She became involved with him and quickly realized he was a cruel person. “He was nasty, and he made me nasty.” It was his idea for her to steal the jewels. She gave them to him and showed up at their arranged meeting point, but of course he didn’t show. She didn’t report him. She did the time and moved on, full of remorse and disgust at how she let Coyle change her.

Cora hears the sad tale with calm sympathy. It’s interesting that this is playing out now, when she’s got some other things going on. She’s feeling useless at home and underappreciated by her husband. But as we saw last week when she chewed out Thomas, she has a lot of fire under the placid surface. She has handled the Baxter business with a consideration and patience not many in her position would have shown under these circumstances. It might be possible to read her response as passive—last week she certainly struggled aloud with her inability to make a decision—but she hasn’t been passive at all, really, just patient. She has given Baxter time to frame a response, and has taken time herself to think the matter over. No impulsive decisions, no emotional reactions. But emotions and impulses, certainly. More than ever I want to know what she was thinking about during all those looking-out-the-window scenes last season.

Sergeant Willis interviews Bates about his movements in York on the day of Green’s death. Bates gives an account of a full day but can’t offer much that might verify his movements: he had a bite to eat here, stopped in a shop there. Willis isn’t much concerned; he thinks he has enough to go on to establish an alibi. He assures Anna not to worry, it’s all routine. Anna’s pretty well petrified, though.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Look at this gorgeous scene. Could be a painting itself. Cora and Bricker are visiting the della Francesca paintings at the National Gallery. Cora impresses Bricker with her insight. She is drawn to the story of the painter, who produced some of his finest works near the end of his life. Cora muses aloud that she envies him that—the ability to create something that would last long after his death. Bricker is clearly smitten with her, and she seems to be enjoying his compliments, but she isn’t flirting back. Just having a pleasant time being taken seriously, for once.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mrs. Drewe returns to her farmhouse expecting to find Edith babysitting Marigold, but the house is empty. Mrs. Drewe immediately panics; she’s sure Edith has taken Marigold away. She tears through the gardens and finds them chatting with her husband by the chicken coop, happy as can be. Edith looks comfortable and happy, more at ease than we ever see her at home. She has even toned down her wardrobe into farmyard neutrals.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mrs. Drewe makes little attempt to hide her agitation. She sends Edith home with the barest nod at politeness and bursts out at her husband: “She can’t have our child!” And Mr. Drewe answers like a blockhead: “You’re being unreasonable.” I get that you don’t want to break your word to Edith, Tim, but telling your wife she’s soft in the head and storming off isn’t going to improve this situation.

Mrs. Hughes and Mary discuss Bates’s alibi. Mrs. Hughes thinks it’s weak—all the places he mentioned visiting are close to the train station and wouldn’t preclude a quick run to London to bump Green off. Mary and Mrs. Hughes both seem certain he is guilty and are worried the police will see holes in his story.

Cora can’t get hold of Rosamund, and Bricker talks her into having dinner with him. Afterward, they walk back to Rosamund’s house, chatting and laughing. Bricker is all but humming “On the Street Where You Live.” Finally we get a welcome bit of backstory on Cora, which makes me realize no one has asked her these questions in all the time we’ve been watching. Her family “wasn’t in the first rank” in Cincinnati, much less New York: her father was Jewish and they were new money. Her mother thought she might have a better chance landing a husband in England, which is exactly how it played out.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Bricker can’t contain his compliments and hopes they might be able to spend more time together. Cora smilingly lets him down. She is frank about having enjoyed the conversation and the attention, and she’s been a little glowy at his rather heavyhanded praise, but she hasn’t flirted back and doesn’t want to encourage him at all. She’s in happy spirits as she enters Rosamund’s house, calling out a cheerful apology about missing dinner, and finds Robert waiting for her in black tie and frown. She’s delighted to see him but he’s very peeved. He enlightens her as to all the reasons he has a right to be angry and then tosses out an insult more withering than his mother on her best day: “That an art expert would find your observations on the work of Piero della Francesca impossible to resist—yes, it is hard to believe.” And then he seems baffled that this offends her.

seriously not amused

Back at Downton, Tom and Mary are enjoying a chummy drink by the fire. Tom thinks Edith seems distracted, but Mary hasn’t noticed. (Shocker.) She does surprise me by expressing some mild interest in Tom’s state of mind, but before I have time to faint, she’s back on herself, articulating the Tony problem. Delightful bit of brotherly teasing from Tom, who saw right through the whole sketching ruse.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mary admits to being less certain of her feelings for Tony, now that she’s gotten to know him better. “He’s a very nice man.” Ouch. Charles Blake’s parting shot last episode scored deeply: you can see that Mary spent the whole time in Liverpool listening to Tony and thinking, You aren’t clever enough for me.

Tom vows to back Mary up if she’ll back him in the Sarah Bunting department. Mary is dubious; she isn’t keen on Miss Bunting, she says bluntly. And she doesn’t want to encourage Tom in thoughts of taking Sybbie to America. But he turns it back on her quite deftly: “If you love me, you’ll support me.” It catches her by surprise—the realization that she does love him. She smiles one of her sweet, real smiles, the kind we so seldom see. Wonderful scene. You can’t move to America now, Tom; you’ve almost made Mary act like a human.

The next day, Cora and Robert return from London—in silence—to find the house abuzz with preparations for a visit from “Rose’s Russians,” the aristocrat-refugees she has taken under her wing. Robert has some souvenirs from his parents’ visit to Russia in 1874 he wants to show them. Mrs. Patmore, arranging some food on the party table, is visibly upset, and Robert asks Carson what’s wrong. Carson informs his Lordship that he wouldn’t be interested, which annoys Robert no end. I know, right? It’s so irritating when you ask people questions like “What was all that about building houses at Pip’s Corner?” and they tell you not to trouble your pretty little head.

Tony Gillingham surprises Mary by crashing the party, which has Violet beaming knowingly. Mary hastens her away. Violet delivers a little lecture on self-control, as only a Victorian grandmama could. Mary rolls her eyes.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Rose, doing some Miss Moneypenny cosplay (that dress is a scream), pops down to the kitchen for some last-minute instructions and bumps into Sarah Bunting, who has arrived for Daisy’s lesson. Of course Daisy’s too busy today, so Rose invites Sarah to stay for the Russians’ visit. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

Cora, dressing for the gathering, lets Baxter know her job is safe. Baxter draws in a sharp breath of relief and fights back tears as she murmurs her gratitude.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora—having had power over a person’s fate and feeling happy to be able to bring that person joy—is still smiling as she joins Robert downstairs and delivers a sweet-voiced jab when he asks her a question. “Does it matter? We both know you place no value on my opinions.” Robert non-apologizes. Cora tells him he doesn’t get to be unjust. He’s flabbergasted again. It’s so shocking to him that she thinks he’s the one in the wrong.

Edith is summoned to the back door for an interview with Mr. Drewe. In his typical laconic way, he tells her she has to stop visiting. Not, “You’re freaking out my wife, can we please let her in on the secret?” Just “Stay away.” My collection of Sad Edith screenshots grows again.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

She rushes past Anna and Mrs. Hughes on the stairs, crying, and their worried glances lead me to wonder what exactly their suspicions might be about Edith’s secrets. They found the baby picture under her pillow after the fire; Mrs. Hughes eyed Edith suspiciously when she was talking to Mr. Drewe the night of the blaze; and now Anna knows she spoke to Drewe outside and returned in tears. And of course everybody knows how much time Edith spends at Yew Tree Farm. I bet they’ve got a whole wrong theory going.

Screen shot by Melissa Wiley.
Screen shot by Melissa Wiley.

Enter the Russians. It takes exactly three minutes in their presence for Sarah Bunting to offend them to the point of a walk-out. Cora saves the day by wooing them back with an invitation to view mementoes of the wedding of Tsar Alexander II’s daughter, which Violet and her husband attended in 1874. Naturally, Robert thanks her by growling an I-told-you-so about Sarah.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

The Russians weep over the relics, which, Violet explains, means they are enjoying themselves. She dazzles Rose with a few details of the 1874 wedding, and among the mementoes she is delighted to find a fan that was given to her at a ball in St. Petersburg. She describes the scene, and her tale is picked up by a bearded gentleman at the end of the table—the dashing Russian prince who gave her the fan those many years ago. He hints at a connection between them. Violet is a bit shaken, and Rose briskly moves the party along to refreshments. Mary makes sure to let us know Robert and Rosamund were born before this Russian sojourn, lest we form any inappropriate ideas. A grin slowly breaks over Isobel’s face as she realizes she now has something to tease Violet with, next time Violet starts up about Lord Merton. Nobody notices Edith never came downstairs.

As the party breaks up, Mary calls her grandmother on having had a romantic adventure of her own. It was perfectly respectable, Violet insists, but Mary feels the ground has leveled a bit.

Violet climbs into her car behind Isobel, whose expression can only be described as what my daughters call “smugging,” as in, “Mom, she’s smugging at me again!” She lets Violet get settled beside her before inquiring innocently, “Have you made plans to see your admirer again?” Isobel raps on the chauffeur’s window with her cane, because she’s not allowed to brain Isobel with it. Isobel beams all the way down the lane.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

And we’re out! Before I close, are you ready to swap theories about the identity of Green’s murderer? Skip this bit if you don’t want to know mine. Here, have some more Sad Edith instead. Go ahead, take it, I have plenty.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

All righty, then: I think it was Anna who killed Mr. Green. I haven’t looked back at last season to see if she had an opportunity—wasn’t she in London with Mary around that time? I think she confronted him on the street; the push was probably spontaneous and maybe even an accident. But I’d like to go back and watch the last few episodes of Season 4 to test my theory. What do you think?

And what path do you think Thomas is choosing?

Season 5 recaps: Episode 1Episode 2

My Season 4 recaps are at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2: Choosing Sides

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

We open on the burned husk of Edith’s room, where Mrs. Hughes and Anna are tackling the cleanup. Anna discovers a baby photo under Edith’s pillow—Marigold, of course—and hands it to Mrs. Hughes, whose concerned expression out-furrows even Anna’s expressively furrowed brow. O-ho, you can hear her thinking. What have we here?

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Meanwhile, the War Memorial Committee is strolling the village cricket pitch, discussing the possibility of turning it into a Garden of Remembrance. Opinion seems to be split down the middle. Faction 1: Carson and Lady With Awesome Hat, pro-Garden. They think the pitch will make a peaceful spot for quiet reflection. Faction 2: Lord Grantham. “What about the cricket?” Awesome Hat Lady chides him about priorities, but I won’t be too hard on Robert just yet—he makes a non-sports-related point about the advantage of situating the memorial closer to the center of the village where people will see it more often. What’s delightful here is to see Carson butting heads with (1) his revered employer whom he (2) lobbied hard to involve in this committee. Heh.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Back at Downton, Jimmy is saying his last goodbye. His farewell to Thomas is truly moving, and sad Mr. Barrow wasn’t the only one choking back tears. “You’ve been a good friend to me,” Jimmy says earnestly, visibly moved. He wants Thomas to know how much he has valued his friendship. “I’m sad to see the back of you, I am,” he says, climbing into the wagon and rolling away, leaving Thomas standing forlornly in the brick courtyard. I loved this scene. We see so much of Thomas’s Mr. Hyde side, the Evil Under-Butler who bullies, blackmails, and sneers his way around the house. But behind the vicious schemer is an aching, lonely soul, and it’s the glimpses of this broken Dr. Jekyll that save Thomas from being a mustache-twirling melodrama villain. To be sure, he oscillates between identities when it’s convenient to the plot, but still he strikes me as a more fully realized, believable character than, well, Bates, who seems to have a different personality every season. As Mrs. Hughes keeps reminding us (she is positively oracular this season), the old world is slipping away, and when I imagine a future for these characters—beyond the 20s, the 30s, all the way to World War II—it’s Thomas I’m most curious about. Like Jimmy, I would like to see him find happiness someday, having left his vindictiveness behind along with the white gloves.

On we go to lunch with the family, where Isobel gets the episode’s obligatory three-second mention of George out of the way. Mary smiles benignly, agreeing that her son is “rather sweet” and turning swiftly to items ranking much higher on her agenda, such as eviscerating Edith. “I do feel such an idiot,” Edith murmurs about the fire. “Maybe because you behaved like an idiot,” jabs Mary. Cora is unamused. That makes two of us. Hey Mary, remember that time you killed a houseguest with sex? Just saying.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora’s interest in addressing her daughters’ relationship issues, however, extends no farther than the arch of an eyebrow. She whisks on to Item 3, Household News: Charles Blake has written to introduce an art historian friend named Simon Bricker, who wants to view a famous family-heirloom painting we never knew was in the house. Mary pretends she doesn’t care whether or not Charles accompanies Simon on the visit, and Cora decides to include him.

Mary reminds everyone she’s about to trot off for a “Sketching Tour” with “Annabelle Portsmouth,” aka Tony Gillingham. Sketchy indeed, Mare. What a smooth liar she is.

For a stage-setting scene, this little family meal packs in a lot of rich material. Next we have Edith inquiring about the Memorial Committee’s progress, and Robert and Carson both being a little curt in reply. I mention it because of Tom’s line: “It’s difficult to please everyone.” Methinks Tom has some experience in that department. Of course it irritates Robert (as most peacemaking attempts are wont to do), causing him to snarl at Tom when Topic #5, Russian Refugees (Poor Devils) comes up and Tom dares to express sympathy for anyone exiled from his homeland. If there’s anything Robert hates, it’s being reminded that Tom is Irish. Or a former chauffeur. Or a former socialist. Or a person who utters sentences out loud. Come on, Tom. You need to revisit the Approved Tom Topics list. Crop rotation and grain sales, remember? And possibly the weather, as long as your opinion about it matches Robert’s.

And finally (how many courses is this meal, anyway?), Isobel, plot forwarder, introduces this episode’s Rose storyline: In Which Rose Beats Around the Bush Something Awful But Won’t Come Out and Just Ask for a Wireless. This is going to drive Robert crazy. He doesn’t want a wireless in the house. Downfall of civilization, wot wot, people “huddling around a wooden box” listening to someone “burbling inanities.” Cheer up, Robert, the future’s much brighter than that—we huddle in front of flickering screens watching you burble.

All right, everyone had enough lunch? Shall we move on?

Edith, who probably can’t get out of the house fast enough, heads to the Drewe farmhouse to enact Operation Marigold. Mr. Drewe oh so subtly broaches the idea of Edith “taking an interest” in Marigold by becoming her godmother. Never mind that the child already has a godmother, or that Mrs. Drewe is obviously distressed by the whole conversation. Earnest Mr. Drewe, you may be a genius with pigs and farms, but you’re bungling this situation in the worst way. I have to say my least favorite plot device is The Big Misunderstanding (yes, I know it’s a dramatic staple with an august history, but I still can’t stand it), and that’s where we’re heading here. Mrs. Drewe misunderstands Edith’s motives because Mr. Drewe is sworn to secrecy about Marigold’s true identity. If he could just tell his wife the real deal, she’d probably be Edith’s staunchest ally. Instead, we’re going to watch a good marriage suffer.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Now here’s Isobel at tea with Violet and Dr. Clarkson, discussing the new miracle-drug, insulin. (Foreshadowing or historical color?) Did Violet ever invite the doctor to tea before she decided she’d rather see Isobel as his wife than Lord Merton’s? I love what lengths she’s going to. Her methods are uncharacteristically clumsy, however, since her jests about Lord Merton “frisking about Isobel’s skirts” are serving more to discourage Dr. Clarkson than repel Isobel. Isobel is merely irritated, which is her most comfortable state of mind.

Anna and Mary discuss the sneak-away-with-Tony plan. Anna, who disapproves, hates being in on the secret. But not half as much as she hates what comes next: Mary wants a contraceptive, and she wants Anna to get it. She might as well ask Anna to shave her head; that’s how mortifying a prospect this errand is for Mrs. Bates. But of course Mary gets her way, because she’s Mary.

Down in the servants’ hall, Thomas vents his bitter feelings by informing Molesley of Baxter’s past. Jewelry theft, prison, the works. Molesley is dumbfounded and can’t quite hide his dismay from Thomas, who savors the moment—feeble victory though it must be, compared to the jackpot of revenge he thought he was going to get by ratting on Baxter to Lady Grantham. And Thomas’s fury at Baxter stems from his conviction that she has betrayed him by not giving him dirt on Bates. Anyone remember why he hates Bates with such a passion? Because Bates got the valet job in 1912? That’s a mighty long grudge to nurse, Mr. Hyde.

Edith announces to her parents that she plans to “be involved in the future” of the Drewes’ adopted daughter. (Edith: “I want your advice about something.” Cora: “Oh, how flattering!” Cora is totally my favorite this week.) Then, of course, Cora has next to nothing to say about Edith’s plan, and Robert tosses off a tired, “It’s your money.” Now if she’d decided to get a dog, that might have caught his interest.

And nope, Rose, still no wireless.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Carson spies the infamous Sarah Bunting in the kitchen—because this week it’s Mrs. Patmore’s turn to do some scheming. Benevolent, of course, because it’s Mrs. P. She’s got a plan to help Daisy conquer her mortal enemy, arithmetic. Carson disapproves, naturally, but not half as much as he objects to the shocking revelation that Mrs. Hughes shares Lord Grantham’s opinion of the Memorial Committee’s Garden of Remembrance. She’d rather see a memorial “at the heart of village life” where people would pass it frequently. Carson is flabbergasted. “I was disappointed in His Lordship, but I’m more disappointed in you,” he intones; but she isn’t fazed. “Every relationship has its ups and downs,” she counters, leaving him more dumbfounded still.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Anna visits the chemist’s shop and has an excruciating experience purchasing Mary’s birth control. In her mortification, she leaves without waiting for the instructions, so perhaps Mary and Edith will wind up with more in common than they know.

OH NO, THE BOOT ROOM. Run away, Baxter, run away! Molesley admits to being surprised at Baxter’s secret history. He can’t quite take it in; he’s convinced she must have had a very good reason for stealing the jewels. Aren’t we all? Just as she did with Cora, Baxter quietly refuses to shed light on her motives. She can only assure Molesley that she is not the person she used to be. Molesley is taking it all very hard. He’s a bit like Thomas in this, wanting people to stay in the role he’s cast them in. But I imagine good old Mose will come around in time.

"I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly." Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
“I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberly.” Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Violet and Isobel arrive at Lord Merton’s house (“house,” ha) for tea. Lots of loaded lines and sharp looks. Lord Merton and Isobel have compatible tastes in room decor and reading material. Violet has the dubious satisfaction at being right. This time she doesn’t want to be right; she’d rather Lord Merton were interested in anybody than Isobel. If this goes much further she’ll be throwing Cousin Rose into his path next, since the Lady Shackleton plan evidently didn’t take.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Charles Blake and Simon Bricker arrive at Downton, just in time for dinner. Mary seems to rather enjoy discovering that Blake has surmised he wasn’t her pick, but then his grave manner and resigned good wishes seem to disappoint her a little. What’s the fun in having dueling swains if they won’t duel?

Rose realizes that Sarah Bunting is still downstairs after Daisy’s math lesson and thinks they ought to invite her to stay to dinner. Cora agrees, but Robert is downright nasty about it. Boy, he does. not. like Miss Bunting. Well, Sarah’s no fool. When Tom asks her to stay, she declines, not wanting to subject everyone to another pitched battle. Tom walks her to the car—he insists she accept the ride home—and she gives him a very encouraging speech about still being the man whose forward-thinking ideals inspired Sybil Crawley to run away with the chauffeur. Molesley stands glumly alongside the car, doing his footmanly duty, too caught up in thoughts of Baxter to pay much attention to the seeds of revolution being planted right beside him. Even in tails, Tom looks more relaxed than we’ve seen in a while.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Oh dear, Tom’s having opinions again. Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

That is, until five minutes later when Robert makes a snide remark about Miss Bunting. At dinner, the tension ratchets up even more. Sarah may not be there to challenge Robert, but Tom defends her position on the Russian aristocrat-refugees Rose is collecting clothes for. Like Sarah, Tom doesn’t condone the violence of the revolutionaries who sent them running for their lives, but he sympathizes with the desire to topple an unjust regime. Robert bristles. Tom invokes King Charles I, who was beheaded by his subjects. Now Carson is bristling. Oh great, now Robert’s going to turn purple again. Cora intervenes to distract her quarrelsome menfolk; she’s sure Mr. Bricker can’t wait to view that painting, as promised. But he seems rather taken by the view of Cora herself. He’s been flirting with her all through dinner.

In the hall, Rose pounces on Robert with the news that none other than the King Himself is going to speak on the wireless—an address to the nation. Well, this takes Robert aback. And just when he’s all fired up with loyalty to the Crown! Carson doubts that His Majesty’s subjects have a duty to listen to the address, but Robert disagrees. Perhaps if they only rent a wireless for the occasion, the walls of Downton will remain intact. Carson isn’t so sure.

Down in the kitchen, Daisy is all fired up over understanding math, thanks to brilliant Miss Bunting’s brilliant tutelage. “You mean Our Lady of the Numbers?” chortles Mrs. Patmore. A Patmore chortle is a wonderful thing. Come live in my house, Mrs. Patmore.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Cora shows Mr. Bricker the celebrated painting, which was hustled out of France in 1789. Once again Mr. Bricker seems as taken with Cora as he is with the art treasure. Robert pokes his head in, frowns, and summons Isis away.

Baxter and Molesley have another frank conversation, in the courtyard where Thomas and Jimmy said goodbye. Boot room = broken hearts; courtyard = heart-to-hearts, got it. Molesley badly wants to believe Baxter had a noble reason for committing her crime; Baxter won’t talk about her motives at all—though she hints that perhaps there was another person involved. She seems pretty well resigned to her fate. She’s seen this moment coming for weeks.

Cora can’t let it go either; as Baxter tucks her in for the night, Cora waffles back and forth about what she ought to do. She feels like she ought to sack Baxter—”Employ a jewel thief to look after my jewels? It makes no sense”—but she doesn’t want to, for reasons she can’t explain. So she’ll just grump about it a little. You know, to Baxter, the person she can’t decide whether or not to fire.

Mary and Charles are alone in the library. Charles, ever the gentleman, wants to call it a night, but Mary’s going to need a little more knife-twisting before she can sleep well. “But I hope you’ll be happy for me,” she says, apropos of nothing, “if it is Tony, in the end.” You mean Tony, the guy you’re running off to spend a week with in a quiet hotel? That Tony? And Charles, sounding already weary of a conversation they haven’t begun yet, makes the most beautiful counter-attack. “Please be absolutely sure before you decide,” he cautions Mary, knocking the complacent smile right off her face. “You’re cleverer than he is.”

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

A hit, a most palpable hit! Mary’s been preoccupied lately on the question of physical compatibility, but she’s very susceptible on this point too. She knows she’s got brains. She tries to rally, insisting Tony is “quite as clever” as she is, but now Charles has her doubting. “You aren’t being fair,” she pouts. Charles knows he’s hit a nerve and leaves her to simmer in her doubt. Well played, Mr. Blake.

In the bedroom, Robert is grumbling over Tom’s behavior—all that awful Miss Bunting’s fault, of course. Cora disagrees; she suspects Sarah’s friendship is simply giving Tom encouragement to speak what he really thinks. Robert’s in no mood to listen to a defense of Tom’s contrary viewpoints. He’s terribly worried that Tom is going to take Sybbie away to America—and I’d have more sympathy with him on this point if we ever, ever saw him displaying any real affection for Sybbie. He’s already declared he’s not much interested in talking to her until she’s older. So what he’s really upset about losing is the Idea of Sybbie, not the actual little girl. She’s one more piece of the past that these wretched, future-minded people around him are trying to take away. The King speaking on the wireless; a Labour government; a village committee headed by his own butler—it’s cats and dogs sleeping together. Speaking of dogs, Mr. Bricker had better stop flirting with Isis, Robert snarls. With Isis! Oh Robert. That’s just sad.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

The next day, Carson and Robert head to the village to consider an alternate site for the Memorial. Carson remains opposed to the idea of a central location; he worries that the statue will become trivialized—or worse, invisible—by being in so busy and common a spot. But he has said that he’d rather be convinced than defeated, and convinced he is, by a chance conversation with a village woman whose son is taking a moment to visit the grave of his father—a war casualty—across the lane from the site Robert wants for the Memorial. The Garden of Remembrance is out.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Much excitement in the house as the wireless is being set up. Carson’s just about fed up—too many concessions in one day—but everyone else is humming with excitement. And when the entire household is gathered before the contraption and the King’s voice comes across the wire, it’s quite a moving moment. It is the Dowager Countess who rises to her feet first, acknowledging that wireless has brought them into the King’s presence, in a way. The whole company follows her lead. Look, there are Sybbie and George, who would be in their nineties now, in 2015—present at the dawn of radio.

Also, look! There are Sybbie and George. They exist!

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

“Well, you have heard the voice of His Majesty, King George V,” announces Robert, sounding quite won over to the virtues of the machine. Isobel likes how human it makes the king seem, hearing his voice like that, but Violet is uncomfortable with the idea of stripping the myth from the monarchy. The conversation is a little tired after the palpable thrill of the event. The Everything Is Changing theme has been hit pretty hard this week. And last.

Afterward, Anna shares a nice moment with Thomas in the servants’ hall. He’s feeling more isolated than ever, missing Jimmy. Taking his revenge on Baxter doesn’t seem to have brought him much satisfaction. Anna extends some sympathy and he almost warms for a moment, but then Bates comes in and Thomas is back in glare mode, breathing smoke like a dragon in case we failed to pick up on the hostility.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Mary has missed the great wireless event: she’s off to Liverpool for her liaison with Tony. He impresses her with adjoining rooms, and they take pains to spell out their plans in very clear terms. These two always sound like business partners agreeing on a strategy. Once again we’re checking off items on an agenda. Yawn. You know, I think I came into this season leaning toward Team Tony, but I like it better when Mary has a sparring partner. Charles’s behavior in the library—classy but frank—earned him some points with me this week.

Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

Back at Downton, Carson is pleased to be back on the same page with Mrs. Hughes re the Memorial. She is pleased that he’s pleased. And then: enter the policeman. Nothing to be alarmed about, just a routine inquiry about the late Mr. Green, who visited this house shortly before his death. Sure, that was months ago, but it seems..dun dun DUN…there was a witness. Not just a traffic accident after all. Which we all knew. Since I no longer believe Bates was the culprit, I’ve got a new suspect in mind. You?

Oh hey, and Rose, you can keep the wireless! The end.

 Missed last week’s recap? Catch up here

My Season 4 recaps are at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 1: Fear, Fire, Foes

three gowns
Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

At long last, the Season 5 recaps begin. Super-sized episode = takes one million years to write. Let’s dive in, shall we?

We left off in the summer of 1923, with Cousin Oliver Rose making a splash at her coming-out ball, Edith resolving to place her baby in the care of the worthy Mr. Drewe of Yew Tree Farm, and Mary stringing along two equally promising suitors. The new season opens about six months later, in early 1924. Bachelor #1, Tony Gillingham, is still making Romeo eyes at Mary at every opportunity, but Bachelor #2, the progressive Charles Blake, seems to have evaporated—for now, at least.

The primary theme of Season 4 had to do with the changing social order following WWI, and how successfully the various characters were adapting to the changes. That theme returns in full force in this episode, and in fact, we’ll hear it stated quite plainly by multiple characters—Robert in particular, but variations on the theme will be articulated by everyone from Carson to Tom to the disdainful eyebrows of Violet’s butler, Spratt.

edith and marigold
“I just love to see her gurgling away, so peaceful and happy.” Screenshot by Melissa Wiley.

We begin with Edith on her bike, heading to Yew Tree Farm to visit her daughter, Marigold. Of course, only Mr. Drewe knows of Edith’s secret interest in his foster daughter. His wife mistakes the impetus behind Edith’s frequent visits for an affection for Mr. Drewe himself, and the tension is beginning to worry the doughty farmer, who doesn’t want his wife leaping to wrong conclusions, but is sworn to secrecy about Edith’s connection to the child. He knows—and we know, because we saw him put two and two together in the final episode of last season—that Marigold is really Edith’s illegitimate daughter, not the daughter of a close friend, as she is pretending. So we have layers of secrets enfolding these characters, and Edith seems on the verge of tears at all times. She is pleased to see Marigold so happy and healthy, but it just about kills her to tear herself away.

Back at the Abbey, Robert is grumbling over the outcome of a recent election. The End Times are upon him; A Labour government is in. And so we find Lord Grantham exactly as we left him: distressed over social change. It will be “the destruction of people like us,” he mutters—his theme song. In the next breath, we learn that his granddaughter Sybbie calls him “Donk,” as in the ass in Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Subtle. Poor Robert, stuck full of pins. It isn’t a dignified name, he grumbles; and let’s put a pin in that, because his injured dignity will play a recurring role in tonight’s episode. Continue reading Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 1: Fear, Fire, Foes

Ready to Get Your Downton On?

Stop the presses: there appear to be children in this photo. Image source:
Stop the presses: there appear to be children in this photo. Image source:

Hello, my lovelies! It’s time for another season of our poshest, soapiest soap opera. I’ll be recapping each week’s episode here; look for my posts on Monday mornings.

If you need to brush up on last season, I recapped it at Bonny Glen. Here’s where we left off:

The primary task of every character this season was to decide what world to live in: the old pre-War England, or the new. Robert has clung to the past like a toddler clutching his mother’s leg. Even Carson has accepted change with more dignity than his employer. Thomas, too, seems stuck in a past built on pecking order and rank. I wondered if his trip to America would open up new prospects for him, but it seems he came back more hidebound and bitter than ever. He wants esteem in the old order, and it’s fading away before he can climb to the top of his ladder. Cora seems to be fading away right along with it; she’s much less vital a person than she was during the war. Violet may not approve of all the ways in which society is changing, but she’s rolling with the change much more amiably than might have been expected, and I didn’t think Martha’s barbs about “your world is ending, mine is beginning” were entirely fair or accurate. Violet is accepting social change tolerably well; it’s Martha’s style she objects to, and her idiom. And her personality. And her face.

Mary has decided to orient herself toward the future for the sake of keeping Downton intact for her son—and that’s an interesting twist on progressivism. She’s open to new ideas only because she wants to maintain the status quo. It’s a nice little paradox and I’d like to see Mary grapple with that problem rather than her question of whom to marry whenever she feels like marrying again. But in the end, it’s the outliers I care about—Edith and Tom.

And here’s a master list of my previous Downton Abbey recaps, both here at GeekMom (Seasons 2 and 3) and over on Bonny Glen (Season 4). Episode numbers are PBS reckoning, not UK.

Season 4 • Episode 1 (UK 1/2) •  2 (UK 3) • 3 (UK 4) • 4 (UK 5) • 5 (UK 6) • 6 (UK 7) • 7 (UK 8) • 8 (UK Christmas Special)

Season 3 • Episode 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Season 2 • Episode 5, “The Canadian Patient”Episode 6, “The Spanish Flu” •  Christmas Special (2011)

A Downton Abbey Christmas Wish List

Image: – preview. The perfect album cover; just look at that holiday dress.

By now, most of you would probably be severely irritated by me; most of my coworkers are. I began listening to Christmas music on September 30, which is about three weeks after I usually begin. Nothing can dampen my affection for holiday music, even in the absence of the holiday. One must begin this early after all, if one is to listen to all existing recordings of “White Christmas” in time.

If I wasn’t already in the mood for some sleigh bells, the news that there is to potentially be a Downton Abbey Christmas album would be enough to get me going. Now this announcement comes via The Sun, one of the UK’s most inflammatory publications, so it may all come to naught. But now that the idea has been planted in my mind, there is nothing to deter me. Tie in the fact that Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is in a band called Sadie and the Hotheads, and I’ve just pre-ordered something that doesn’t exist.

So, powers that be, here is what I would like to see from a Downton Abbey Christmas album:

1. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but not with regular 12 accumulations. I want something more like “The Twelve Days of Downton.” This would include “three female heirs, two eligible bachelors, and Edith in a pear tree.” Poor Edith. It would be sung by the whole cast, of course.

2. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Carson and Mrs Hughes.

3. “White Christmas” sung by the Dowager Countess.

4. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” sung by the Dowager Countess and Mrs Crawley.

5. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” sung by Lady Edith .

6.  “There’s No Place Like Home (for the holidays)” sung by Matthew Crawley—come on Dan Stevens, just one song?

7. “Blue Christmas” sung by Tom Branson. There has to be a weepy one.

8. “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” sung by Mrs Patmore and Daisy.

9.  “Last Christmas” sung by Lord Gillingham.

10. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the whole cast.

11. “When a Child is Born” sung by Lord Grantham.

12. “All I Want for Christmas is You” sung by Daisy.

13. “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?)” sung by Thomas.

14. “Fairytale of New York” sung by Lady and Lord Grantham.

Last, but certainly not least…

15. “Santa Baby” sung by Lady Mary.

I am far too excited by this prospect. What would be on your Downton Christmas wish list?

What Downton Abbey Season Five Can Do For Me!

Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE

Our beloved Downton Abbey returns to U.S. screens on January 4, 2015, but comes to the UK this weekend. Executive Producer Gareth Neame has already confirmed a brief cameo by George Clooney; what more could I ask of season five you might say? Plenty, I can ask plenty.

Image: preview

– We need a “good” ladies maid for Lady Grantham. Baxter is lovely, and I’m sure there’s some wonderfully evil Thomas story lines to come, but no one can hold a candle to Miss O’Brien. We need an evil ladies maid to juxtapose with Anna.

– The children in this picture look eerily like Children of the Corn with a British accent. While I’m not keen on more children’s story lines, a few involving Mr. Carson, I think, would be wonderful. Sneaking down for snacks maybe, hiding behind the curtains. I see Mr. Carson being more of a Grandad to Lord Grantham’s Grandpapa.

– Molsley, what is left to be said about poor old Molsley. Well let’s kill two birds with one stone, shall we; let’s see him set up shop somewhere with Baxter. Get rid of the complaining and the niceties in one fell swoop.

– Lady Mary’s love interests were I think played out to their fullest in Season Four. Certainly she needs to pick a suitor, and while part of me still adores Evelyn Napier, I have to hope for the dashing Lord Gillingham. More Gillingham, I say, more Gillingham. I worry that she will marry Harry (Gillingham) but mess around with Ike (Blake).

– I hope Griggs comes back and they get the baby; Edith needs a happy ending. I fear Griggs will come back but have become a Nazi, and Edith will have to make a horrible choice.

– For Anna and Bates, I would like to see children, if only to explore the differences between upstairs and downstairs more. I’m guessing Anna won’t get much maternity leave. It might also take their minds of the murderous tendencies or Mr. Bates.

Image: preview

– Simon Bricker, played by the delightful Richard E. Grant, will appear in four episodes. An art historian and house guest, I fear he is intended as a love interest for Cora. I hope he is a love interest for Edith, after turning away the Nazi Griggs. She does like her older men.

– Tom Branson seems to be getting into the swing of things as man about the estate. I’d like to see him embrace the lifestyle a little more for Sibbie. I’m a sucker for a daddy-daughter storyline. He might not have laid aside the revolutionary for Sybil, but for Sibbie? I think we’ll see more upward mobility on his part.

– An illegitimate child from Lord Grantham’s youth to complicate the inheritance? We haven’t had an inheritance complication in a while.

– Three words. More. Paul. Giamatti.

So what are you hoping for from Season Five?

The Cliffs of Insanity: Superheroes On Television Still Need Work

Agent Grant Ward of S.H.I.E.L.D., copyright Marvel Entertainment & ABC Television.


Welcome to this week’s installment climbing the cliffs of insanity, where I take a trip through some superheroes on television. We’ll touch on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Gotham, and Flash.

I was liking S.H.I.E.L.D. Now I’m sort of angry about where the show is going and definitely angry about the rape of Agent Ward and how it’s played out so far.

I liked Arrow last season, liked the beginning of this season but now I’m getting bored. However, Barry Allen was great when he guest-starred on Arrow, so I’m hoping the upcoming Flash series will be one to watch.

And Gotham? Gotham is like someone reached into my head and create a show just for me.

But first, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Ward.

Agent Ward was raped on this episode. Lorelei, an Asgardian escapee, took over his mind, made him fall in love with her, and the spent a night having sex. This is non-consensual sex. This is rape.

It’s not a place I expected A0S to ever go. I’m not thrilled it did, simply because the show has been very PG since it started and I began to assume it was always geared to an all-ages audience. However, having gone there, I hoped the show would deal with the implications of what happened to Ward.

No, instead, he was the one apologizing and no one seemed to be concerned about his trauma. In fact, May slugged him.

It’s possible they will deal with Ward’s trauma sometime later this season but there were no indications of that in this episode. Instead, it showcased the double-standard regarding male rape, that men are always happy to get some, and if the women is beautiful, they can’t be traumatized. Even though it was clear Ward is more than a little attached to his lover, Agent Melinda May.

It reminded me strongly of how Tom Branson’s situation was handled in Downton Abbey this season. The scheming maid plied Tom with whiskey and then snuck into his room for sex. She had full knowledge that he was drunk and took advantage of it.

In both cases, if the genders were reversed, there would be an uproar. There certainly was one over Anna’s violent rape in that same episode of Downton Abbey. Imagine if Melinda May had been grabbed by Loki and hypnotized into having sex? Uproar! I suspect the only uproar over male rape would be if the raped happened by another man. Say, if Loki had raped Hawkeye in The Avengers as well as mind-controlling him.

Instead, several people I spoke to this week shrugged off Ward’s rape. Hey, the big hunky agent had some hot sex with a hot villain. What’s the problem?

In Comics, Women, and Rape and Women, Television, and Rape, I wrote that much of problems associated with depicting rape in popular entertainment centered around rape not being about the victim but how the *man* reacts to the rape. Downton Abbey‘s rape was handled exactly that way, with everyone worried about Bates killing someone rather than how Anna was coping. It was all about Bates. Tom’s situation was at least about Tom, rather than someone else.

But it looks like Ward’s rape may be more about the reaction from May and, if so, would follow in that pattern.

That’s extremely disappointing in a show that I’ve come to enjoy, especially since I watch it with the whole family.

(And we won’t even mention the murder of those two guards either, though at least the show was handling that…)

And onto a certain emerald arch…

Arrow writers, you have failed this show.

First, I confess, I have a horrible fangirl SQUEE! happening every time the Arrow and Black Canary go into action together. Omigod, Arrow and Canary are riding a motorcycle together after the bad guys. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary exchange weapons mid-fight. SQUEE. Arrow and Canary talk morality together. SQUEE.

Well, you get the picture. But I need more than that. New York Times Bestseller Author details some of the reasons in this great post about Arrow’s storytelling.

For me, while failure is probably too strong a word, the storytelling certainly has lost its way.

I’m in the minority, at least among comic fans, because the consensus among them seems to be “greatest superhero show ever.” (I think they’re underestimating original Bionic Woman, myself.) They love the nods to the comics, they love the superhero action, and seem to forgive a number of incredibly idiotic plot developments like Moira’s trial for genocide being over in ONE DAY and then a bank backing Moira’s subsequent run for mayor.

And, of course, that’s putting aside Oliver’s refusal to talk to his mother after she confesses a secret that he’d already said wouldn’t change his mind about her. I suppose you could argue it’s character development but not if we’re back to last year’s relationship all over again. That’s going backwards.

Basically, the show is giving a lot of fanboy SQUEE moments too, so it’s forgiven by fanboys and fangirls.

But those moments aren’t enough. The first season had a very specific focus and character arc for Oliver and those closest to him. The overall single Big Bad gave it focus. This season was supposed to be about Oliver’s journey to becoming a hero. But the Big Bad is diffuse this year. Yes, there’s Slade Wilson (love you, Manu Bennet), but there’s also Merlyn lurking about, and then we lost focus dealing with Laurel’s ridiculous breakdowns, Diggle’s been pushed to the side, and what the heck happened to Summer Glau and running Queen Industries?

There’s a lot of stuff going on, it’s halfway through the season, and it’s not getting any more coherent.

Give me more than a SQUEE show, okay?

Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment
Grant Gustin as the Flash, show copyright Warner Bros. & DC Entertainment

Let’s hope Flash does better. In the meantime, everyone is debating the Scarlet Speedster’s costume.

And now to a show whose very concept made me lose my mind, in a good way…

Gotham. Without Batman.

Yes, I realize that will send most people scratching their heads because what kind of show can you make set in Gotham City without Batman.

You focus on Jim Gordon and his battle against corruption in the years before Batman.

I have a thing for police shows and I especially love the cops in superhero fiction. Gordon is my favorite among those. Since the publication of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Gordon’s role has slowly become more prominent in the Bat-universe and, while he had some dumb moments in the recent Batman films, he still came across as a strong character and now one firmly rooted in public consciousness as something of an action hero.

Gotham logo courtesy Fox.

A superhero police procedural with a strong season-long arc about Gordon trying (and somewhat failing) to take on corruption all by itself is a strong concept for television. And the casting has me excited, as they’ve gone outside the box to create a diverse cast, even race-bending Sarah Essen and giving Barbara Kean, Jim’s fiancee, an actual job as a doctor. (In the comics, she’s just a long-suffering wife who eventually divorces him.)

Fox, which will air Gotham, has this summary of the show’s plans for the first season. Gordon (Ben McKenzie) starting out as a detective, paired with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and investigating the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne?

Hell, yes.

And I will  just cross my fingers and hope the show brings more quality writing and characterization than S.H.I.E.L.D and Arrow.

10 Ways To Get Your Post Downton Fix

Image: Sarah Pinault at The Severn Valley Railway

In the wake of Downton Abbey many people are feeling a lack of the mother tongue in their life. A dowager deficiency. A countess conundrum. I like to call it PDSD – Post Downton Stress Disorder.

As a Brit myself, I suffer less than most. I have relatives I can call for a smattering of Hugh Bonneville language, and a Great Aunt who could easily pass for a modern day Dowager, the wonderful aspects that is. In a pinch, the friend of a friend is the personal assistant to the current residents of Highclere Castle so I can live vicariously through that distant and somewhat random connection.

For those of you with the misfortune to speak the language of the colonies, here are a few things that I imported from England and inserted into my American life, somewhat. They might come from the village more than the big house, but they might just help with the Downton Blues.

1. Proper tea bags. We’re not talking Lipton, I’m not even talking Twinings here. Your standard British household will more than likely have a box of PG Tips, Tetley, or Typhoo, or their equivalent store brand. All of these are readily available on Amazon. Tea should be taken hot and internally at least once every two hours.

2. A bacon sandwich. For a proper bacon sandwich, you will need the thickest, most un-American Bacon you can find, and some nice white bread. And no, I do not think Canadian Bacon is a decent substitution. For the pièce de résistance, you need to invest in a bottle of “Brown Sauce.” Much like Twinkies, this condiment will survive the harshest nuclear disaster, and should be used liberally with bacon.

3. Start your day with a nice bubble bath instead of a shower. In my entire childhood, I knew only one person with a shower in their house. Everyone else had big bath tubs. So if you want to stew in some Britishness, a bath is your best bet. But make sure you use appropriate bubbles, and don’t just pour your shower gel under the tap/faucet.

4. NPR might be the closest thing over here to the British Broadcasting Corporation, but with the availability of Internet Radio, I would suggest the following British Radio programs not to be missed:

5. Several words should be inserted into your daily vocabulary. These include, but are not limited to “rather,” “quite,” “queue,” and “lovely jubbly.”

6. When eating a sandwich, be it an Italian or a Meatball sub, you should always spread butter liberally on both pieces of bread before adding the fixings. An old trick to stop the juices of the contents leaking into the bread. Note, the aforementioned “Brown Sauce” is only for use on sandwiches involving Bacon.

7. Walk somewhere. This is not appropriate for the northern states, but a daily jaunt is an inevitable part of life across the pond. Walk to the corner shop (gas station), the post office (if you can find one), or the bookie (casino) if you can. And always take an umbrella; it will rain.

8. Have a pancake breakfast, but your pancakes should resemble crepes and not be fluffy. They certainly should not include buttermilk, and should come nowhere near maple syrup. A teaspoon of sugar and a decent quirt of lemon juice is sufficient topping for a British pancake.

9. A duvet on your bed is a must. The kind you stuff inside a duvet cover, not the kind that is pre-printed with something pretty. No matter the weather, there must be something with weight and fluffy thickness on your bed. Multiple blankets will not do, standard American comforters will not do. Something with a 9.5 tog is recommended. I have found that the standard British duvet most closely resembles an American mattress pad.

10. Use public transportation. Okay, this one I haven’t translated to my American life because I live in Maine, and public transportation is virtually non-existent. But dagnabit if you can’t get anywhere in England by virtue of rail or bus. It was one of the joys of my youth to get a day pass with friends and go “bus hopping,” an activity that would terrify most modern parents!

Also don’t forget to cook your steaks badly, neglect to clean your teeth, and keep a picture of the queen on your nightstand, ahem.

If these aren’t quite your cup of tea, try checking out some other classics of British television, that you might not have been exposed to before:

  • PorridgeStarring the late and great Ronnie Barker, Porridge is a half hour comedy about the prisoners of HM Slade Prison. It aired between 1974 and 1977.
  • Open All HoursAnother Ronnie Barker classic; you can’t go wrong with Ronnie Barker. A half hour comedy about the exploits of a penny pinching grocer from Yorkshire.
  • You Rang M’Lord. This could probably be described as the Three Stooges of the Downton Abbey world. A lot of slapstick and raunchy humor in this one.
  • Carry On... The Carry On movies were a hugely popular franchise in Britain during my childhood and for decades prior. Again, the raunchy humor rules, but several of the movies give you a decent look at Britain in the seventies. Think Mel Brooks with a British accent.
  • Black Books. The eccentric life of a cranky bookstore owner and those close to him, in proximity that is; he’s far too cranky for friends. If you like Simon Pegg, you will love this show. He’s in it once, it’s not his show, but you will love it.
  • The House of Eliot. From the creators of Upstairs Downstairs. Two sisters, left penniless by their father, attempt to find independence and self-employment in the 1920s.
  • To The Manor Born. The original Mary and Matthew, watch as Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton and Richard De Vere butt heads and then… no spoilers here.

Melissa Wiley’s Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 6 Recap


I’ve been so remiss. A month ago, I had shared Melissa Wiley’s Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 1 recap, and then I kinda fell off the face of the earth while I was over here enjoying Downton Abbey every week on my local PBS station.

I’d like to think I had a few excuses, such as ski trips, that left me too exhausted to do any GeekMom writing after the three-hour drives home. But that was only for two of the weekends…

Enjoy last night’s recap here, but I feel I owe you more. I need to share with you the highlight of my Monday mornings.

Without further ado, I present a full catch-up list of Melissa’s fabulous Downton Abbey Season 4 recaps (presented in U.S. episode numbering). There ARE spoilers, so make sure you’ve watched the episode first!

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6


Destination: Downton Abbey

Destination Downton Abbey © Destination Board Games
Destination Downton Abbey © Destination Board Games

Downton Abbey is one of the most popular shows on television right now and so it was only natural that a spin-off board game would be in the works somewhere. Unfortunately, many licensed games are rushed onto the market with little playtesting, making them somewhat weak and forgettable.

Luckily for Downton fans, British games manufacturer Destination have secured the rights to the series and produced another in their series of popular, fun-to-play family games.

The gameplay of Downton Abbey: The Board Game is obviously similar to the other Destination games, some of which have been reviewed previously on GeekMom. In Downton you take on the role of either a maid or a footman (sorry, you can only play as a downstairs member of the household) and begin working through your list of chores.

Each player starts with three destination cards, each one worth a number of “Downton Bells.” To collect your bells you must visit the appropriate room on the board such as the Dining Room (“serve dinner to the family and guests”) or Lady Cora’s Sitting Room (“take a telegram that has arrived for Lady Cora”). Once there you discard the card, collect the stated number of bells and take the next destination card from the pile, keeping your hand at three cards. Once there are no more destination cards available, players must visit their final destinations then race back to the Servant’s Hall by exact count. The first player to enter wins themselves an extra ten bells. Players then count up their total bells and whoever collected the most is declared the winner.

The board and cards © Destination Board Games
The board and cards © Destination Board Games

As you travel around the house you might land on two different card spaces. Carson Cards can be both helpful or hindrances; they can force you to move to a certain location on the board, grant extra turns, or force you to miss turns. The cards can also grant or remove bells depending on your character’s actions. My maid “let slip a secret of the family” losing herself four bells however she also gained two bells by locating “the missing Snuff Box.”

The other kind of card you might pick up are letter cards. These cards are some of the most well-themed parts of the game; the reverse looks like a handwritten envelope with a stamp addressed to the Servant’s Quarters, and each card features a short letter. These cards work almost exactly like Carson Cards with the same sorts of benefits and risks from picking them up.

Downton Abbey is a simple board game that will work well for a family to play together. There is enough potential for strategy to keep adults entertained but children will be able to play easily too as soon as they are able to read the cards. If you need a gift for a Downton fan then you really can’t go wrong with this. (P.S., I’m still waiting for that sci-fi franchise edition—Supernatural perhaps?!)

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Women, Television, & Rape

Downton Abbey Series 3
Downton Abbey Series 3–that’s when the melodrama really kicked into gear. © Carnival Films & Masterpiece

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity.

This week was a banner week for women in television, and I say that will all due sarcasm.

First, there was The Mary Sue’s post on the Celluloid Ceiling Report, showing nothing had changed for women in Hollywood in the last sixteen years, despite supposed efforts to move women in decision-making positions in Hollywood.

Then I read a brilliant essay by an Oscar-nominated director–“Hello, my name is Lexi Alexander, Difficult Bitch. Nice to meet you!”–who called b.s. on Hollywood’s supposed attempts at diversity.

And, finally, the news that a possible Wonder Woman show was nixed by the CW network before even a pilot was filmed.

Because, you know, Wonder Woman is “tricky.”

And then there was episode 2 of season 4 of Downton Abbey.


First, for those of you saying, “But, wait, you gave away a spoiler with your title,” you’re right, I did.

One, because this event absolutely deserves a trigger warning for the roughly one-third of the female population who have been the victim of sexual assaults, and two because if I told you that a horrible thing happened to a woman on DA and she didn’t die, you’d know exactly what I was talking about anyway.

That’s how prevalent rape is as a plot device. And, make no mistake, this is rape as plot device in a soap opera, not a serious look at how women dealt with rape in the 1920s.

I ranted a while back in a cliffs of insanity column, on Comics, Women, and Rape, and how it’s used as the worse thing that can happen to the men in the life of the woman who’s been assaulted. Of course, misuse of rape as a plot device isn’t limited to comics. Television has issues too. Not just Downton Abbey. This season also saw a female cop nearly raped by an acquaintance on Blue Bloods, which would have been an interesting storyline except for the fact that the episode was about what a great guy her partner was, as he man-splained why she should report the assault.

I theorize that the lack of women writing, producing, and directing our popular entertainment may have something to do with all of this.

DA isn’t part of Hollywood, being a British production, but series creator and writer Julian Fellowes has fallen prey to the same kind of mistake. He has done some interviews explaining why he choose for the brutal rape of Anna to happen in Season 4, mainly resting his position on that rape is traditionally a problem for women and would especially be an issue for women in the 1920s, just as women inheriting an estate is.

Well, I agree. Rape was definitely a problem in the 1920s (it is still a problem now) and especially in the servant class who had no power to punish the rapists. Women who were raped were  absolutely viewed as soiled and wrong.

But all that is beside the point because DA has completely lost the right to pull the realism card to defend the rape.

To start:

1. There’s the miraculous cure of injuries from World War I.

Sure, the poor footman who had cannon fodder stamped on his head died horribly yet in true soap opera fashion, of course, marrying his true love for a last moment of happiness. That is so pure soap opera melodrama, it’s not funny.

Then Matthew is sadly paralyzed–more melodrama–yet still manages to look as gorgeous and healthy as before his injuries. We see him be stoic and self-sacrificing. Do we see him struggling to use the bathroom? Clean himself? No, all we see him is manly declare that he’s no good for Mary because he might not be able to have children. We don’t see him lose any dignity at all. And then, magically, he’s cured. Oops, misdiagnosis. No lasting trauma, no thing. Again, absolutely pure soap opera.

For good measure, I give you poor Thomas’ hand. He took a bullet right through the middle of it. For a while, it bothered him. But then, it didn’t. All better. No problem with fine motor movements that might keep him from doing the job of a valet, no mention of a lingering pain. Yes, that’s realistic. Not.

2. The servant/master relationships on DA are by no means realistic.

When push comes to shove, the lords of DA show their humanity by helping out the poor servants who have so little. Always, it seems.  Even when one of the maids has a baby out of wedlock with one of the lordly hospital patients, they lend their home for a meeting between the maid and the upper-class grandparents. They also step up for the cowardly, incompetent Moslesley.

No one at DA is in fear of Robert swiving the servant girls–he nobly refuses!–and no one is even in fear of Carson hitting the women or otherwise abusing his position. He’s too good. He’s too pure.

This isn’t a realistic depiction of a manor house of the time period. It’s a soap opera with the trappings–excellent trappings–of the time period. I like the melodrama but let’s not pretend it isn’t what it is.

3. Rape is realistic because it was a problem of the time.

Absolutely true in real life.

Except in DA, until Anna’s rape, we never got a hint of how the women have to account for perhaps being raped. Oh, they’re careful not to be alone with men but that seems social convention, not any serious worry.

Mary let a strange man in her room. Cousin Rose has been dressing as a servant to better appeal to a hot gardener, even Sybil often spent time alone with the chauffeur, who somehow restrained himself from even trying to kiss the poor girl and instead waited years for her to say, “Hey, no problem, let’s get married.”

If you’re going to be realistic, you have to be consistently realistic. DA has consistently taken a soap opera treatment of the plot, even of tragedy.

Now we’ll take how realistic Anna’s rape, and its aftermath, is in the episode it takes place.

1. For realism’s sake, Anna would already be wary of strange men who seem overly friendly. Women would have to be of that time period. She’s one of the smartest characters on the show, and she’d know when someone was flirting with her, and that it would be inappropriate.

2. She wouldn’t need her husband to point this out to her and, even if she did, the realism of the times would make her stop and think, “You know, he might be right, I should be more careful.” Because, realism says it’s a very real problem and this is a man she’s just met.

3. Anna is brutally and horrifyingly raped and beaten. (I’ll give the show that: the scene was staged for maximum terror. It’s more realistically depicted than even Sybil’s death because if you’re dying in childbirth, that whole bed is going to be messy, there’s going to be throw-up and, well, childbirth is more than just sweating and screaming. It’s really, really, really messy.)

But having been so beaten, she pulls it together awfully fast.

–She gets Mrs. Hughes to help her change clothes.

–She gives her husband an excuse for the wound on her head.

–She walks home under her own power.

Anna after the rape.
Anna after her rape. Yep, that definitely looks like injuries from a floor/table. © Carnival Films & Masterpiece.

If we want realism, a person who’s been that brutally beaten is going to be in shock. She might even have a concussion. She’s going to be bruised on her legs, her wrists, and the area between her legs. None of these other injuries show, either directly or indirectly. She walks just fine, for example.

She’s going to be in emotional shock. Anna sort of is when Hughes finds her but then she pulls it together enough to say a curt word to her rapist instead of cringing back in horror just minutes after the deed is done?

No. She’s not. She’s going to still be incoherent and terrified.

4. Bates is a war veteran. He’s very smart and clever. He’s also, especially in this episode, very protective of Anna.

When he sees her shaken up with a nasty wound, does he grab her and hold her (or at least try) and find out what’s really wrong? Nope. Does he recognize the difference between hitting the floor/table and injuries made with fists, as he should? No. Does he see the bruises on her wrists? Oops, no, because apparently, they’re NOT THERE.

Does he notice some fear from his wife when they talk to the rapist in the hallway? No, but I’ll give him a pass for this one because Anna is apparently immune to emotional shock–even the minor kind her husband might notice–because, uh, writer reasons.

Instead, he accepts what she’s said without trying to get close to her and lets a woman who supposedly just fainted walk home alone. In the dark.

Yeah, right.

Absolute realism fail.

Absolute story fail.

But, I thought, I’ll read ahead. Maybe the rest of the season deals with it better. Apparently not. Anna moves out without telling Bates why she can’t be touched. (And Bates is smart enough to guess what this might mean.) Then the big reunion seems to be about Bates assuring her he still loves her. Oh, well, how nice of him.

As a comparison: when I watch Spartacus, I expect brutality, even rape. I also expect the show to deal with that brutality maturely, and it did, very, very well.

When I watch Downton Abbey, I expect to get melodrama. I don’t expect a horrible rape thrown in as a plot device  to keep the Anna/Bates relationship interesting. There is a story promise inherent in the way a show is presented. Spartacus never broke it.

Downton Abbey has.

Melissa Wiley’s Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 1 Recap


Are you craving GeekMom Melissa Wiley’s Downton Abbey recaps? Look no further than her personal blog for a discussion of this week’s two hour U.S. season premiere.

Sadly, Lissa had to leave GeekMom at the start of this year so she could pursue new projects. She plans to continue writing Downton Abbey open threads on her own blog, but would like to emphasize that she is not necessarily publishing them immediately after each episode. She loves engaging with other DA fans (as do I!).

In previous seasons, I looked forward to her recaps just as much as I did each DA episode. I’m so thrilled she’s chosen to continue them.

Melissa’s previous Downton Abbey recaps can be found here.

6 Downton Abbey Needlepoint Projects While You Wait

Downton Abbey Cross Stitch
Image by Jules Sherred.

If you are eagerly anticipating the series four premiere of Downton Abbey on Sunday, why not pass the time working on one of these six needlepoint projects?

Downton Abbey Embroidery
Image by April Heather Art.

1. Lady Mary, Edith, and Sybil, Plus Matthew Set of Four Embroidery Patterns

Designed by April Heather Art, this instant download PDF contains all of the information you will need in order to stitch ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil, plus Matthew. Even if you’ve never before embraced this art form, April has included basic stitch instructions. Each of these four designs will measure approximately 8-by-10 inches. And if this set isn’t your particular cup of tea, April Heather Art has a number of other embroidery pattern sets from which to choose.

Downton Abbey 2fer
Image by cottagenestinteriros.

2. Downton Abbey Cross-Stitch Pattern Two-Fer

A traditional sampler and a pattern of the great Highclere Castle: Two great ways to capture the era. Created by cottagenestinteriros, the “Downton Alphabet” pattern measures 7.56-by-9.78 inches when stitched on 18-count aida cloth. The “Down with Downton” pattern measures 8.5-by-7.5 inches when stitched on 14-count aida cloth. These patterns will fit in 8-by-10, and 10-by-10-inch frames, respectively. The instant download PDF contains a full DMC color chart with full color symbols, floss counts, and a supply list. If your local craft store lacks a good selection of cross-stitch supplies, then I recommend purchasing all of your supplies online from Everything CrossStitch. That is where I purchase all of my supplies.

If you’d prefer only one of these patterns, then the “Down with Downton” pattern and the Downton Alphabet” pattern are each sold separately.

Dowager Countess Quote
Image by crossstichheroes.

3. Dowager Countess Quote

Many of my favorite Downton Abbey quotes come from the mouth of the Dowager Countess. I think many of us cannot wait until we are older so that we can be free to be that person. Designed by crossstichheroes, this pattern contains a quote from one of my personal favorite Downton Abbey moments.

The color chart includes a legend for both DMC and Anchor floss. The pattern is also perfect for framing, either in a regular picture frame or hoop. When stitched on 14-count aida fabric, it will fit in a 5-by-7-inch frame or a 7-inch hoop; 18-count will fit a 4-by-6-inch frame or a 6-inch hoop; and when stitched on 22-count, it will fit in a 3.5-by-5-inch frame or a 5-inch hoop.

Mini Cushion Cross Stitch
Image by SheenaRogersDesigns.

4. A Visit to Downton Abbey Mini Cushion Cross-Stitch

It may not be enough to frame pieces of Downton Abbey. You may want to include Highclere Castle as an accent to your furnishings. When finished, this Downton Abbey mini cushion, designed by SheenaRogersDesigns, will measure 6-by-6 inches when stitched on 14-count aida fabric. Included in the instant download is a cover sheet with color photo of the finished product; stitching instructions; a list of required materials, including DMC thread quantities and instructions on how to make the cushion; and a large chart and DMC floss key. Most of the pattern uses whole stitches. However, there is a little bit of back stitching involved.

Grantham Arms Cross Stitch Bookmark
Image by AdLeones.

5. Downton Abbey “Grantham Arms” Cross-Stitch Bookmark

I think it’s safe to say that people look upon the Grantham’s library with envy. Your library may not be as grand as the Grantham’s, but it is deserving of an upper-class bookmark, all the same. Designed by AdLeones, the “Grantham Arms” cross-stitch bookmark will measure 1.75-by-9.25 inches when stitched on 18-count aida fabric. This pattern is a little more complicated as it includes whole stitches, quarter stitches, three-quarter stitches, back stitches, and French knots.

Favorite Quotes
Image by April Heather Art.

6. Favorite Quotes From Your Favorite Characters

Last, but certainly not least, April Heather Art has some more embroidery goodness for you to enjoy. Included in this set are six of April’s favorite Downton Abbey quotes, courtesy of the delightful Dowager Countess. Again, I think it is safe to say that the following quotes are also some of our favorites:

  • “Stop whining and find something to do.”
  • “I’m a woman; I can be as contrary as I choose.”
  • “Don’t be a defeatist dear, it’s very middle class.”
  • “Why must everyday involve a fight with an American?”
  • “What is a weekend?”
  • “So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Downton Abbey Costumes Coming to Delaware’s Winterthur Museum

Downton Abbey Series 3
The “Costumes of Downton Abbey” will open at Winterthur on March 1, 2014. Image: Nick Briggs, Carnival Film, and Television Limited 2012.

Chances are you never had “go to Delaware” on your bucket list. You may want to bump that up to the top of your places to visit for the New Year. Winterthur Museum, located in the city of Wilmington, is planning to open “Costumes of Downton Abbey this March.

The exhibit will display 40 costumes and accessories that were actually worn in the popular period drama. Each piece is on loan from Cosprop, a costumier out of London.

“The first time I looked at the costumes up close, I was amazed at the incredible detail,” says Maggie Lidz, one of the three co-curators of the exhibition. “They are surprisingly ornate. This is going to be one of the most beautiful exhibitions ever held at Winterthur.”

Image: Nick Briggs, Carnival Film and Television Limited 2010.

Lidz went to London back in July to choose the pieces that will be on display. The idea behind the exhibit isn’t just to look at the pretty costumes, but also compare the fictional British world of Downton Abbey to the real-life American counterpart Winterthur in the first half of the 20th century. In other words, you can expect to see Lady Sybil’s harem pants, Lady Mary’s engagement dress, and Lady Edith’s wedding dress right next to H. F. du Pont’s Saville Row evening jacket and the du Pont family’s 1874 Tiffany silver tea service.

The exhibit will be organized chronologically, allowing visitors to move through the times of day, both upstairs and downstairs. Winterthur will also host a series of companion lectures, workshops, and events.

If you’ve never been the museum, this is the perfect excuse. Located in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, I can honestly say that Winterthur is a pretty gorgeous place to visit any time of year. Tickets for the museum are priced at $18 for adults, $16 for students and seniors, and $5 for ages 2–11. Besides the Downtown Abbey exhibit, that ticket will also get you access to the 175-room house as well as the Winterthur Garden and Galleries, special exhibitions, a narrated tram tour (weather permitting), the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens, and the Enchanted Woods children’s garden.

If you’re planning to make a special trip, know that “Costumes of Downton Abbey” will open at Winterthur on March 1, 2014, and run through January 4, 2015.

Relax With the Crawleys in Behind The Scenes at Downton Abbey

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, Image: St. Martin's Press
Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey, Image: St. Martin’s Press

Season Four of Downton Abbey doesn’t premiere in the U.S. until January 5th, but if you just can’t wait that long for its return, then you’ll love Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey.

This beautiful book is loaded with full-color photographs of the cast, sets, and many costumes used to create the period drama. It also has interviews and behind-the-scenes details about how they so perfectly capture life at Downton Abbey.

It’s not actually at a place called Downton Abbey, but at Highclere Castle and more often than you’d expect at Ealing Studios. You’ll get a look at how they transform those locations into the Downton Abbey we all love and how they add to the real furniture and décor to make it perfect for the period.

There’s not a person out there who hasn’t marveled at the incredible costumes seen on screen and there are loads of details about the work that goes into making it all look just so. Learn how they recreate period costumes and make styles of dress unique to each character and how the evolving fashions reflect the changes the characters experience each season.

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey also has some interesting behind-the-scenes details about just how much effort it takes to recreate something like a single dinner. Ever wondered how much food they need to prepare to get through filming a meal? This book will answer that question.

Fans of Downton Abbey will love getting a deeper look at the characters, costumes, and locations that bring their series to life, but be warned. This book covers seasons one through four, so if you haven’t seen the fourth season, then you may want to wait until the show returns in the U.S. on January 5th before you crack open the pages.

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey is now available for $29.99.

GeekMom received this book for review purposes.

Mouseton Abbey: The Missing Diamond by Nick Page

Photo © Make Believe Press, 2013.
Photo © Make Believe Press, 2013.

When I saw this sitting on the shelves of my local bookstore I absolutely had to have it.

Downton Abbey, a source of much obsession here at GeekMom, doesn’t return to the American airwaves until January 5th. But you can ease the pain during this time with Mouseton Abbey, the absolutely charming new picture book from Make Believe Ideas.

I can’t even explain how delightful this book is. The plot is kind of irrelevant to the overall enjoyment of it (for adult fans, at least), but the story centers on the bumbling and forgetful Earl of Stilton. After misplacing all kinds of everyday things he loses the family’s precious Great Big Cheesy Diamond right before the big Cheesemas celebration. And he blames everyone else for it—his daughters (Lady Ricotta, Lady Mozzarella, and Lady Fontina), Mrs. Cheshire the cook, Wensley Dale the butler. Eventually the diamond is recovered and Cheesemas is saved! It’s a sweet story that I can’t wait to read with my daughter during the holiday season—using my best English accent, of course.

Photo © Make Believe Press, 2013.
Photo © Make Believe Press, 2013.

The story is neat, but the real reason this book wins is the hand-knitted cast of mouse characters against ink drawn backgrounds. The details in the backgrounds are clever, and it’s just too much fun to see favorite characters transformed into mouse versions with awesome names. This is strictly a children’s book take on the Downton Abbey theme, though, which probably explains why Mrs. O’Brien and Thomas have not been re-imagined as mice here. It might be a little difficult to translate their elaborate scheming over cigarettes into a children’s book.

I sincerely hope this is just the first of many adventures with the cast of Mouseton. There is so much they could do with this cast of characters.

5 Geeky Beverages Inspired by Your Favorite Shows

Sherlock Holmes © BBC

When a show or movie reaches out and grabs its fans, they can be inspired to create amazing things. Geek fandom is known for crafting exquisite costumes, food, jewelry, and more, all for the love of a show. I recently discovered some geek-inspired beverages—officially licensed and not—that are perfect for grabbing a cup and settling in to re-watch your favorite episodes.

Sherlock Tea from Adagio Teas

Adagio Teas makes a wide variety of blends based on many different tastes and fandoms. At Adagio you’ll find tea blends inspired by movies like Harry Potter and the rebooted Star Trek, and shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and True Blood, all packaged in tins with striking fan art.

Moriartea by Adagio Teas © Adagio Teas

The Sherlock-inspired teas caught my eye immediately. Some of the most memorable scenes in BBC’s Sherlock happen when a character has a cuppa in his hand. There are 31 blends created by Cara McGee, so fans of both the show and the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will find something to suit their tastes. Fans who dream about a particular relationship on the BBC show will even find something that’s just their cup of tea.

I’m dying to try the MORIARTEA, described as a “spicy chai backed by more ginger. Guaranteed to burn the heart out of you. Because that’s what people BREW.”

TARDIS Mug © ThinkGeek / BBC

Doctor Who Tea from Adagio Teas

Cara McGee of Adagio also created twelve tea blends inspired by Doctor Who. One of Adagio’s highest ranked fandom blends is the TARDIS tea, which sounds absolutely lovely: “Ethereal earl grey and enchanting black berry with notes of vanilla.”

You’ll also find blends created with the ninth, tenth, and eleventh Doctors in mind, and brews imbued with the essences of Captain Jack Harkness and companions Amy Pond, Rose Tyler, and Martha Jones. Cara McGee seems to be a true Whovian. Her ode to River Song in the form of a tea blend says simply for its delightful description, “I could describe this tea, but that would be spoilers.”

And if you find yourself in need of a good cup of a tea—I hear it’s just the thing for heating the synapses—you can pick up a TARDIS mug from ThinkGeek to complete the experience.

Take the Black Stout © Ommegang / HBO

Game of Thrones Beer from Brewery Ommegang

If you’re looking for something a little stronger than tea, look no further than the officially licensed Game of Thrones beer crafted by Brewery Ommegang.

The brewmasters kicked off their beer series with a blonde ale that embodies the Lannisters. “Iron Throne is certainly fair in color and soft in appearance, yet it still possesses a complexity and bite to be on guard for,” said brewmaster Phil Leinhart on the ale’s official web site.

The Iron Throne Ale sold out quickly, but luckily the brewery promises that their next beer in the series will be available in larger quantities to satisfy the throngs of Game of Thrones fans. The Black Stout, inspired by the Night’s Watch, is a brew described by Ommegang’s Mike McManus as “a hearty and robust beer to fortify those heroically standing watch at the Wall. Like their lives, the beer is dark, complex and bold.”

Star Trek Wines from Vinport

Vinport is offering several wines based on fan-favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series. Produced by the Viansa Winery in Sonoma, California, these red wines are a limited edition that are currently on pre-sale.

Star Trek Wines © Vinport / CBS

The labels, created by artist Juan Ortiz, use a minimalist look to capture “The Trouble With Tribbles,” “Mirror Mirror,” and “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Downton Abbey Wine from Wines That Rock

If you prefer a wine inspired by the past rather than the future, you’ll be happy to hear that a licensed Downton Abbey wine is coming soon from Wines That Rock. Although little is known about the wine, Wines That Rock assures fans that the Bordeaux clarets and whites will be authentic, thanks to a team-up with a vineyard with “over 130 years of experience in creating the world’s best wines so these are wines the Crawley family would have been proud to serve at Downton.”

The wine should be released in time for the premiere of the fourth season of the show on PBS.