It is time, finally, to speak some truths about Downton Abbey. Let's all put away the Austen and the Remains of the Day references, shelve the class politics, forget the word entail, and be honest with ourselves: This is a crazy soap opera. It secretly always has been; Jane Austen would probably kill us for ever comparing her work to a television show that included a Turkish gentleman dying mid-coitus. But Downton took a sharp turn towards Aaron Spelling Land last night, and at this point it's impossible to hide behind the Masterpiece imprimatur and talk down to people who still watch Desperate Housewives. Downton Abbey just pulled out the stranger-from-the-past double-reverse-amnesia plot line on us. There is no high ground anymore. We are all just people, in front of a screen, watching burn victims try to steal money from gullible millionaires.
Is it giving PBS too much credit to wonder if the Patrick Gordon Affair was scheduled purposefully for the same night as the Super Bowl? No one would actually skip Downton altogether, but maybe the whole fake heir English Patient scenario goes down easier after fifteen chicken wings and a Madonna halftime show. (Somewhere near his Emma tree, Julian Fellowes just fainted from disgust. We know how you feel, buddy.) If your comparative viewing did in fact make for a more enjoyable experience, then congratulations, because this wingless recapper is all kinds of annoyed. I hit my head, forgot everything, and turned Canadian, but then I whacked my head again, and I’m cool. I still speak like a Canadian, though. Seriously, P. Gordon? And seriously, Edith? It’s hard to pick the most objectionable aspect of this nonplot, though the cutesy hand signals to Lord Grantham and the absurd brain science would certainly make the list. (We have enough Edwardian medical troubles on our mind with the Matthew Crawley penis situation.) Poor Laura Carmichael must have been tearing her hair out when this script arrived — she’s worked so hard all season to make Edith bearable, and now she’s stuck crying over a gargoyle. For 30 minutes. And then he’s gone again. Back to making pinched faces in the shadows, Edith! For what it’s worth (zero, at this point), we’d argue that resurrecting Patrick Crawley — the real Patrick Crawley, without the bandages — would have made for a fairly spicy and not totally unbelievable inheritance development. (Gets rid of Carlisle, reignites the Mary-Edith war, maybe solves the whole “no Matthew Jr.s” issue.) But we draw the line at Z-list Almasys.
The only bright spot in the whole Patrick Affair is the opportunity it affords Lady Mary to rain regal fury down on the entire household. Good Lord, do not try to take Downton away from Mary Crawley’s beloved, because she will wreck you. Related advice: Do not parade around with Matthew Crawley in front of Richard Carlisle, because he will pin you against a column, threaten you, and then viciously kiss you. Yikes. We remain Team Matthew, in spite of the broken penis and the Crap E-mail from a Dudelike speeches (“If you were not engaged to be married, I wouldn’t let you anywhere near me.” Ugh), but let’s all admit that Mary and Carlisle do make for a terrifying-yet-equal match. And while we’re at it, let’s all agree with Lord Grantham that it is, in fact, totally messed up to throw sad virginal Lavinia under the bus just because Matthew and Mary can’t be in a room without making googly eyes. (Or just openly declaring their love for each other. That garden scene was nuts!) It’s even crueler to pit Lavinia against Lady Mary in War Mode — that poor girl is going to get eaten for dinner with Mrs. Patmore’s rations run out. And then, we fear, Carlisle will publish the Pamuk story and Matthew will dump Mary all over again, just in time for Season Three.
Still, none of this is as troubling as Lord Grantham’s growing infatuation with Jane the widowed housemaid, which, come on. Burn victim and sleeping with the help? Did everyone playing Downton Abbey Bingo just fill your cards? We hope you won something cool, like a fascinator or an autographed portrait of Isis the dog. (Side note: Can anyone tell what kind of dessert Jane serves Lord Grantham during their solo lunch? That looked delicious!)
Downstairs, Bates and Anna still aren’t married, and Bates is still pretty sour about it. Oh, and now his wife is dead , and he made a comment to Lord Grantham about how he wished she were his “late wife,” and so he is probably going to get roped up in her murder investigation, especially if eavesdropping O’Brien noses her way in. (Was that actually Maria Doyle Kennedy splayed on the floor in the final shot? It did not really look like her.) We said this last week, and we’ll say it again: The Banna saga is now totally exhausting. The blank, hateful expressions on Anna’s face this week sum it up nicely — there’s no trace of the warmth that made us cheer for these two in the first place. It’s all a struggle, and it’s about to get messier. No one is having fun.
Also on the downer front: Ethel’s baby-daddy died in the war, and everyone seems to think that the best way to help her is to lecture her constantly about her poor choices. Mrs. Hughes at least tries to track down the giant baby’s grandparents; Carson, meanwhile, just goes in with all sorts of unhelpful comments about how boys will be boys and two-letter words and Ethel got what was coming to her. Since it’s 1918, and Carson is nice to Lady Mary, we’ll cut him some slack, but this was not Carson’s finest moment.
We’ve saved the three bright spots of this episode for last, so now, some happiness. First, the war is over! Hooray! Second, Sybil and Branson are toootally gonna run away together. And Branson looks so genuinely pleased and adorable in the garage scene that even we are won over, just for the sake of cuteness. Two people are in love and happy about it! Remember when this happened all the time in Season One?
Third, and most enjoyably, the Dowager Countess is back to form, zinging Isobel and flashing delicious side-eyes at most everyone she encounters. Isobel’s transformation to grating busybody is still a little puzzling; she was bossy back in the day, but sometimes with reason. It doesn’t really matter, though, because she’s going to go help refugees and Maggie Smith gets to say funny things. Like these:
Shouldn’t she? Or would you like to abolish private houses?
- Cora: She’s such a martyr.
DC: Then we must tempt her with a more enticing scaffold.
- Isobel: Now you’ve struck a chord.
DC: Have I really? Oh, thank heaven.
- Cora: Don’t you agree, Mama?
DC: I cannot find the words to say how I feel
And finally, a discussion question for the group: What, exactly, was Matthew feeling in that last scene? You’re all thinking what we’re thinking, right? Is the penis un-broken?! Everyone make like Banna and light a candle for it, just in case.