Downton Abbey: We Have So Much to Talk About

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Where to begin? I’m not going to write a full recap this time–if I try, it’ll take me all week because HOKEY SMOKES that was a lot of action packed into one night. Can we dish? Hold on, here’s the obligatory spoiler buffer.

Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey. Image via Wikipedia Commons. Never a dull moment in this place!

WELL. Spanish flu. Stolen kisses. Broken hearts. And poor Mr. Bates, accused of murder as we all feared would be the case. Was Anna right to push forward with their marriage? Does that make the case against him look more suspicious? I totally understood her desire–no, her need–to be able to stand beside him as his wife during a possible arrest and trial.

Do you think it was really a suicide, though? I can see Mrs. Bates determining to frame her husband, and the letter to her friend certainly supports that possibility. But boy is it hard to see that strong-willed, grasping woman deciding to end her own life in order to ruin her hated ex-husband’s.

As for our flu victims, I was really worried it was curtains for Carson. I’m amazed (and delighted) that he pulled through. And glad he had a reconciliation of sorts with Mary. The rift between them, when Mary coldly accused him of abandoning her, was painful to behold. I wanted to smack Mary. Surely she should have been able to see that he was acting out of love and loyalty for her–he could not, would not, allow himself ever to be put in the position of having to spy on her or put Sir Richard’s interests above hers. (That, and his revulsion at the thought of working for a dishonorable employer.)

Mary and Matthew. I thought the moment between them, the dancing, the honesty, the kiss, was quite real and, in its way, beautiful–though simultaneously uncomfortable and frustrating, with his fiance lying seriously ill above them, the wedding only days away. Again I wanted to shake them: why didn’t you have this conversation before?

And then…Lavinia. The sudden downturn, the admission that she had some doubts of her own about being in the role of mistress of Downton Abbey. Matthew isn’t remembering that now, in his grief and guilt, but perhaps he will later. It struck me that in all the ups and downs of the Matthew-and-Mary relationship, I’ve viewed Mary as the difficult party, the one who makes bad decisions and says the wrong thing, or doesn’t say the right thing. But this week, watching Matthew stand at the grave with that dark, grim expression, pronouncing his and Mary’s relationship cursed, it hit me that he is just as difficult, in his way. He broods–of course, life has handed him some occasion for brooding! The war, the paralysis, now Lavinia–and makes sweeping, deeply affecting statements. And Mary reacts by shoving her feelings down as far as she can, like a Revolutionary War-era soldier packing the ammunition into his musket. Mary’s trigger is going to go off someday. Sir Richard had better not be standing in her line of fire when it happens.

O’Brien was one of this week’s most interesting under-the-surface dramas. Her pain and guilt over Cora’s miscarriage is profound. Her loyalty to Cora: so moving. But I was yelling at the TV: don’t tell her NOW, for Pete’s sake! The woman can barely breathe! This is not the time for conscience clearing.

I was so worried about Cora. I’m glad she pulled through. I’ll leave Lord Grantham’s actions to you in the comments. I’m too annoyed with him to write about it. At least he came to his senses.

And who else? Sybil and Branson, lots to talk about there. Best moment: When Branson shattered Lord Grantham with that remark about the upper class always assuming they are they only ones with honor. Reminded me of Mr. Darcy reeling from Lizzy’s statement that his behavior had been ungentlemanly.

Thomas! What a wretched comeuppance. He’s a survivor, though.

Ethel, the baby, the odious grandfather, the weak grandmother. What did you think? I think the best thing about that whole arc was watching the softening of Mrs. Hughes.

Edith. Practically invisible this week. Nary a mention of her vanishing Canadian and crushed heart. Just: “Edith can drive!”

Best Dowager Countess line? So many to choose from this week! I think my vote goes to: “I do hope I’m interrupting something.”

Have at it! Looking forward to your opinions, your theories, your questions, your favorite bon mots.

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51 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: We Have So Much to Talk About

    1. I love that theory. He’s proven that he’s that controlling, so it’s not completely implausible…but the motive (controlling the story, presumably?) seems on the thin side. What if…what if it was Anna? Quiet, gentle, backbone-of-iron Anna? (I don’t really think it was she. Sir Richard is more likely than Anna.)

      1. I keep wondering if it could be O’Brien seeing to assuage her guilt. She doesn’t know about Sir Richard so she might think of it as a way to save the family.

          1. Me Three!
            It is O’Brien’s fault that Mrs. Bates re-entered the picture. I have wondered if she may have contributed to Mrs. Bates’s suicide?

      2. For Sir Richard, the motive would be to keep an even tighter grip on Mary and to save face too. He tries to fit in with the respectable society even though he doesn’t always succeed so it must be important to him. Would he want the world to know that his wife succumbed to the temptations of a Turkish playboy who then died in her bed? I think it would look badly on him, like he’d been played for a fool. It’s also possible that Vera had dug up some other kind of dirt on him and he had to keep her quiet. Remember the way he threatened Lavinia? You know he has tons of skeletons in his closet!

        1. i too suspected sweet Anna. The writers dont seem too concerned with characters acting uncharacteristically, hence Lord Grantham’s moral flaws, and Anna has a strong motive.

  1. Oh I agree with everything you’ve said. You totally called it on Lord Grantham and maid Jane last week and I didn’t see it. I shall refrain from saying more except that I wanted to smack him as well as Mary in her discourse with Carlson.

    Matthew positively crushed Mary graveside but I do think he’ll come around. I’m a hopeless romantic and trust that true love will prevail. I know you don’t watch previews so I won’t say anything about that.

  2. Sigh. I was so bummed out about Lord Grantham’s actions. He’s always been the rock the family stands on and I loved that about him (and the show). I’m all for character struggle–even among the virtuous–but it all just felt a little too soap opera-ish to me.

    And I, too, wanted to smack Mary. I’m sure I’ll forgive her but right now I think she deserves to be consigned to a life of marriage with Sir Richard. Poor, poor Carson. 😉

    On the more positive end of things, I LOVE O’Brien’s character development and I was so happy when Ethel chose to keep her baby. It did this Mama’s heart good. 😉

    Might I be a wee bit too attached to this show? 😉

  3. Something I didn’t think of till later: Now Lavinia is dead rand can’t reveal evil Sir Richard’s secret! The one he was blackmailing her to keep! That was what I was counting on. Lavinia would spill the secret, then Mary would be on even terms with him.

    Perhaps Lord Grantham will have a chance to be awesome and make sure Bates doesn’t get convicted. I was literally yelling at him and Jane. Though having given in a bit does prepare him for learning about Mary’s lover. I think he’s gonna learn about that soon.

    1. Me too! I was yelling “go away! ” to Jane as she came closer. It was so sad, two depressed people making bad choices to numb their pain. But maybe this will work to help Lord Grantham be more flexible. But I do miss that man of honor.

      1. I think the beginning of Lord Grantham’s slide downward began when he realized he was only expected to “keep up moral” on the home front during the war. His identity was so wrapped up in himself as a soldier that the idea of his not returning to the front meant “useless” in his mind. He became a walking bundle of deflated ego, lost identity and yes, even self-pity. And no one seemed to care as he felt they should. Sad, sad indeed. Really. (shaking my head at him)

        Count me among those screaming at the sceen “YOUR WIFE IS IN BED SICK & NEAR DEATH MAN!” while wanting to give him a good smack up side his thick, muddled head! ACK!

        The irony was watching him so furious at Sybil. Crossing the class lines behind closed doors accepted but not out in the open in honest marriage. Good grief.

        Yes, maybe the ‘bad worked for good’ will be Lord Grantham’s mercy towards Sybil’s choice as well as in the future possibly towards Mary’s secret. We shall see.

        Do look for his helping Jane’s son to come back and haunt him. A letter of recommendation is one thing, but money? Oh my!

  4. Don’t be defeatist and “If you’re going to turn American on me than I shall go downstairs!” from Lord Grantham were my two favorites.

  5. I was glad that Ethel didn’t let the grandparents take Charlie away…

    But this might get me into hot water… but I was so hoping that DA could follow the arc of Sybil deciding to elope, Lord Grantham following through with his decision to not give her money (at least in the meantime) so she as well as we could see the real clash of classes that Sybil would experience– and the realization that she had no idea how much work life was since she had always had the cushion of her family to fall back on (even as a nurse, she returned to Downton).

    I’m also a little disappointed there wasn’t even a mention of the Canadian, even maybe a passing, “gee, we have investigators looking into the matter, nothing showing up.”

  6. So much to talk about!

    Bates and Anna: I think Anna was right to push for the marriage. I don’t think it’s going to hurt his case any more than not being married would because their relationship hasn’t been secret. And I don’t believe Vera committed suicide. She’s too clever and vicious and I suspect she liked herself too much to kill herself even if it meant his ruin. I suspect she might have planned to send that letter and then try to frame him with something else like beating her of she might have faked her death, but I think Sir Richard somehow got in the way of that and had her killed.

    Matthew and Mary: I completely agree. Mary had a moment of brattiness with Carson, but I could forgive her that. Matthew is too brooding for his own good and now will play the melodramatic card. Sigh. Maybe it’s because we never really saw their courtship, but I have a hard time seeing where his affection for Lavinia lies. First I thought maybe it was because she was short and petite that he felt he had to take care of her but that’s not it. The writers really did that relationship a disservice by not giving us more of an insight into the beginning.

    Lord Grantham: I’d like to smack him. That’s all I can say. Ok. Maybe one more thing… nope. Can’t even go there. He’s a prat. And while Cora was so horribly ill! Ugh!

    Daisy: I’m so conflicted about Daisy. There is part of me that wants to say, I understand her turmoil, but then there is another part that wants to say, “Just tell the old man you loved William. He doesn’t have to know that it was only as a friend!” Did anyone think that exchange between her and Thomas was weird? When she asked where he would go? It just seemed odd.

    I have not been a huge fan of Branson’s but I have to admit he won me over this episode for being so strong and yet so reasonable and patient, not fiery and hotheaded. Well, he was at first, but then Mary and Edith when they went to go get them and I have to say that I like the way it ended up. Didn’t see that coming. I figured the run away to Gretna Green scenario is how it would come about. Very pleased!

    Thomas: I’m ashamed to admit it but I thought he deserved what he got. Oooooh. I can’t stand him! I think I have a tiny bit more sympathy for O’Brien, but not much.

    1. I think the exchange between Daisy and Thomas has to do with what happened in season 1 (which I just finished watching with again with my daughter) when he got Daisy to lie for him about Bates stealing the wine and then later when she told the truth it outed Thomas as a liar.

      I know what you mean about Daisy but it was so wrong for Mrs Patmore to push her into the relationship like she did. Poor girl (said with just a touch of Mrs Hughes ;).

      1. Oh, I agree! I can’t stand the way Mrs. Patmore bullies Daisy. But now that she’s in it, I kind of wish she’d just try to comfort poor William’s father a little. What’s the harm?

  7. Y’all are making a strong case for the Sir Richard possibility. I’ve pondered an O’Brien motive too…her desire to protect Lady Cora (and by extension, the Downton status quo) is very strong indeed. And she does seem to regret setting the Mrs. Bates ball in motion. But your Sir Richard scenario has some teeth. Mary’s a business investment for him and I can believe he’d be ruthless in protecting his interests.

    Something I forgot to mention in my post: WHAT was up all the ominous shots of beverages? Someone on FB mentioned the closeups of teacups and that reminded me. It was other things too, milk, wine. Loaves of bread or cake in the pantry at one point? I forget now, but I was hollering at the TV: Look! Nabokov’s gun AGAIN!

    1. I didn’t notice all the shots of glasses and teacups, but it certainly makes me think of arsenic! Perhaps the poisoner is in the house? That seems unlikely, though, because I can’t imagine anyone in the house, except Sir Richard, having the leisure and inclination to regularly visit and poison Mrs. Bates.

      I wished Sir Richard had gotten the Spanish flu. That would have been nice and tidy if he had died, too.

    2. Do we have any indication that O’Brien was in London? I’m not sure exactly where Downton is supposed to be but I think it’s far enough north that she’d need some time to get there and back.

  8. I had to put a blanket over my head during the Lord Grantham scenes. That is just not Lord Grantham — I do not accept it as canon. 😉 Kind of like how in my world certain Harry Potter characters are not actually dead, because their deaths made no sense in the story arc. Such is my privilege in the audience.

    Soooo many plausible possibilities for Vera Bates’ murder — I can’t see Anna, but Bates, Sir Richard, and O’Brien all seem reasonable. O’Brien seems like she has this latent desire to do the right thing but also no sense of what “too far” is, whether she’s taking revenge or trying to do good.

    The best evidence for Sir Richard is that obviously they have to take him out of the picture somehow.

  9. I just don’t see the O’Brien thing as plausible but in thinking about it, I have a question. Does she know that Cora knows about Mary’s scandal. I can’t remember. Maybe Michelle remembers from season one. She found out from Daisy who saw Anna and Mary moving the body. So she might not know that Cora knows. Does that make it more or less plausible that she might have done Vera in?

    1. I just don’t see how O’Brien could’ve killed mrs Bates. Wasn’t Mrs Bates in London? Has O’Brien been in London? Did she pay somebody? with whose money? I think my vote is for Sr Richard.
      One question, I have been wondering since season one, what is the base for O’Brien and Thomas’ relationship? is just because they are both mean or is there something else I missed?

    2. There’s no indication that O’Brien knows that Cora knows. Not that I recall anyway. Someone please correct me if I am wrong. I think the Sir Richard theory is good –better really. Time will tell.

      The only basis for Thomas and O’Brien’s relationship that we’ve been shown is mutual nastiness.

    3. I too am having trouble remembering what O’Brien did exactly that made her so wracked with guilt. i need to go watch season 1 again. I do like seeing how some of the hostility in her has melted and her attitude seems more of grief and contrition. I think the specter of war has had a sobering effect on her.

          1. Nope, last episode of season 1- the miscarriage is why Cora is lounging on the chaise during the garden party… during which Lord Grantham announces that England has gone to war. (I just watched season 1 too…) It’s an easy mistake to make, that episode had a lot in it, and the moving of the soap was a quick action.

      1. Do go watch it again. Not only does she deliberately do an action that created a a dangerous situation, she leaves the room, starts to do something else, and then has a Look In The Mirror Moment and actually says something like, “This is not who you are, Sarah O’Brien”. She then starts to call out for Cora to stay in the tub when we hear Cora fall. Her devoted care for Cora can probably be traced back to the next time we see her, and is certainly in place by the garden party.

        I think her attempt to confess to Cora while Cora is so sick in this latest episode is reinforcing and explaning that her guilt over having caused the miscarriage- and perhaps not liking who she had become- is behind her change of heart. Which I like, by the way, a change of character for the better. 🙂

  10. I found this episode oddly SATISFYING, possibly because there WAS so much happening in it. It seemed the past couple weeks there was a lot of stalling out of through-running plotlines, and so now with things HAPPENING all over the place it was much more of a treat to watch.

    I surprised myself how happy I was that Bates and Anna finally got married. They spent entirely too long talking about it and almost being able to and then not being able to again, and even though their troubles are clearly far from OVER, at least they made a definite step forward. I agree with the previous commenter that it can’t look THAT bad in court when it was common knowledge beforehand that they wanted to go that way eventually, anyway. And now she has more of a legal right to be there for him!

  11. I wrote about DA on my blog is week … One thing I touched on is that I refuse to believe that Mrs Bates killed herself; and, I do feel it will hurt Mr Bates’ case quite badly that he married Anna so swiftly (within 3-4 months of Mrs Bates’ death). Frankly, I suspect Mr Bates the most at this point.

    In terms of Lord Grantham, it seemed to me, from the way it was filmed, there at the end when he and Jane were talking in the dining room and Carson was there, slipping in and out, knowing glances here and there (Carson at Lord Grantham, and then looking after Jane as she went down the hall (she, offscreen) … It was subtle, but it seems to me that LG has done this before, and that Carson knew (he took it all so in stride, clearly overhearing etc), and that the writers were meaning to indicate such. My son (22, who watches with me), during that scene said: “see? See that? He’s done this before …”. It didn’t surprise me at all, is so in keeping with the era and class. It may be unpleasant to acccept — infidelity always is — but, no surprises, really.

    I am **still** really hoping that Matthew and Mary do **not** end up with each-other. She and Sir Richard deserve one another.

  12. The close-ups are an interesting ponder. In Julien Fellows other upstairs/downstairs movie, Gosford Park, there were numerous closeups (clues) to the murder to come…

    Thinking…if Anna is married to Mr. Bates she can’t testify against him. Is English law the same? Did she traveled to London to hide poison in the sugar bowl or something like that?

    I was yelling “Noooooooooooooo” at the TV during the Lord Grantham & Jane thing. Have my own suspicions that Jane was not married either, just pretending like Ethel will have to.

    Almost felt sorry for Thomas. He is being so ingratiating now.

    Loved Branson in this episode. So noble.

    Edith: I suspect the Canadian will be back. Wasn’t here for the discussion last week. Will have to go find it. Did you all decide he was that friend who went to Canada and assumed the heir’s identity?

  13. Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Bates… I think she is spiteful enough to have poisoned herself to get him in trouble. We’ve never been given a good reason (that I recall) for her hatred of him, and even his mother thought she was a “nasty piece of work” to begin with. She did make threats about taking him down with her, didn’t she?

    Otherwise, I like the Sir Richard theory. It makes sense for him to want to control who knows and does what and Mrs. Bates was certainly a loose end for him- somewhat. He’d tied her down pretty well, too.

    Like everyone, I’m glad Lord Grantham came to his senses. It did seem like two depressed people making bad choices, and I’m glad his foundation of honor won out in the end. As far as him having done this before… I’d say it’s possible but that it’s been a long time. The interactions between he and Cora, especially in their bedroom were only different once Jane came on the scene. Before that they were generally warm, casual, and teamlike. Jane, and the conflict of opinion concerning Mary and Sir Richard, brought some coldness to those scenes- to the point where Cora asked if they were all right, and since Jane was gone LG could say yes.

    I applaud Anna for pushing things forward, I feel it was a smart move on her part for the reasons stated and I’m glad she was the one to get the idea.

    I have to say I’m a little disappointed with Ethel. It was a very modern, feminist move to have her keep the baby, especially when she had always been one to want to better her position- that will be a lot harder with a child. She could have found better work (even back at Downton, now that Jane is gone…a potential bit of character development for her that way) and known that Charlie would be cared for if she’d given him up. Knowing that the grandmother was sympathetic, she may have worked out a way to see him once in a while, too.

    What Carson said about Mary is interesting, he implied that she wasn’t always so cold, it seemed. I wonder if she’d had to develop the coldness to deal with the social pressures of being an oldest daughter. Mary was already on the older end of the Season Thing before The Turkish Dude Incident, wasn’t she? She’s been around the block a time or two, and it shows. It may be that Mary doesn’t entirely deserve Sir Richard.

    I wonder if Sir Richard would take Edith instead…?

    1. oh no, marriage for Sir Richard is a strategic power play like a chess move. No romance needed. I feel such sympathy for Mary. I feel she constantly lives under such pressure and I wonder if Carson remembers the little girl Mary that didnt have to carry such a heavy burden.

      there is no way Mary and Matthew wont get together in the end. It is the lynchpin of the whole story.

      One thing I remembered in Gosford Park (which was the same writer) was that the Lord Whoever was an amoral womanizer that had a terrible marriage. It was set in the same time, where the social divide between the have and have nots was starting to erode. It was a much more cynical, yucky feeling story than we have seen in DA, but those themes are still there and we may see the writer make protaganists make very un-heroic decisions.

      1. Ok, we are agreed on Sir Richard and the Mary/Matthew situations. Sir Richard’s attitude toward marriage is what made me wonder if he wouldn’t take Edith instead. Alas, I think he’d prefer Mary at this point because he has a hold on her, and probably considers her “his”. He won’t want to let go of something once it’s “his”.

        I haven’t seen Gosford Park, but I’m not surprised at the ickier feeling- you have less time to develop a story with a movie, so you need more conflict. Hence people making bad/icky decisions. So far DA hasn’t had an icky feeling and has only occasionally veered into melodrama (thank you, Matthew in the graveyard). I have high hopes for the characters to act in a natural way as long as the creator doesn’t feel pressured to “keep the hit going” with the show. That’s when the sharks get jumped.

  14. Poor Lavinia–killed off ala Hazel Bellamy in the original (and ONLY) “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Loved Maggie Smith starting to “spin” the marriage with the “wrong class.” Disappointed in his Lordship. Happy for Carson. Still don’t trust Thomas!!

  15. Hmmm, where to start?


    Thankfully, he did stop thinking about the maid, thanks to Bates’ timely interruption. If that hadn’t happened, who knows? Yes, it was two lonely, depressed people making an extremely bad decision, but I also think the writers used it as part of the story arc to bring him to resolution/acceptance/some level of understanding about Sybil and Branson — but I think that was a poor choice on the writers’ part. They could have had him come around in a different way. His attraction to Jane seemed a bit contrived to me.

    On the other hand, because such big chunks of time pass (and we don’t see them) we didn’t really *see* any disintegration of his relationship with Cora — they told us more than they showed us, and maybe that’s why his descent into loneliness and feeling useless didn’t work for us.

    SO glad Bates and Anna married. I don’t think there’s any way Anna killed Vera. No, no, no, that just couldn’t be! But then, I didn’t think Lord Grantham would be tempted to that affair either. Please, writers, don’t make another poor choice!

    One of my favorite lines from that episode was when Sir Richard told Mary that (since the chauffeur was gone) he could drive the car and she said, “Preferably OVER the chauffeur.”

    I loved Branson and Sybil in this one.

    Like many of you, I wanted to smack Mary when Carson did her the favor of informing her about Sir Richard’s attempted spying and she got petulant with him. Mary! Do you want to lose your dessert wine, too!

    Another favorite line — when Sybil said, “Granny, you can’t possibly want things to go back to the way they were?” and the Dowager Countess retorted, “I certainly do, and as quickly as possible!”

    And, all time favorite line from that episode:

    Anna (to Mary): “Can you keep a secret? Well, yes, I know you can…” 🙂

    1. Also — terribly sad to me that Lavinia died. I actually really liked her, loved her devotion to Matthew, her commitment to him. It was just extremely sad and unlucky for her that Matthew never got over Mary. Matthew and Mary’s moment was tender and sweet but so awful, given Lavinia’s condition at that time.

      We were pretty certain that Lavinia would die but the others would be fine — my husband reminded me that the Spanish flu often killed youngish adults, but the very-young and older people often survived it.

    2. Oh Karen, I laughed so hard I scared the baby when I read the beginning of your comment!

      The jumps in time have me all in a tizzy too and have made certain actions and protestations hard to believe. It’s why I find it so hard to believe in Lavinia’s devotion to Matthew. We never saw it take root and grow, it just jumped out at us when they walked through the door in Episode One.

  16. Hey, I just thought of something. I wonder if part of Daisy’s issue with stringing William (and now his father) along has to do with her learning that lying had no part of a good family situation- ironically, from William back in Season one. She has a conversation with William about his good relationship with his parents during which he tells her about not lying. That conversation is what convinces Daisy that she should not have lied for Thomas, which leads her to tell Carson the truth.

    And then she ends up paying William back by lying to him about so much… no wonder she is so stressed over the whole deal!

  17. About Sir Richard and Mrs Bates…wasn’t he late often in visiting Downton? Could this one of his delays ….

    1. Hmmmm, good point. I do wonder if Mrs. Bates felt she truly were defeated if taking her life as a way to ruin Mr. Bates in the process would not have been her final horrid blow. As mentioned, her taking Mr. Bates down with her. After all, according to Mr. Bates it was Mrs. Bates that asked him to get the rat poison. Oh it could go either way. I do not think, though, that Anna did it. Just do not see that.(oh please no!)

  18. I’ve been wondering how any of them got the Spanish flu in the first place. Perhaps all the close-ups of the glasses and cups are suggesting it came in via the wine/tea???

  19. I’m curious as to whom Mrs. Bates had her affair with! What if it was Sir Richard? hmm. Maybe he plotted this all along once he found out Mary’s secret.

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