There are certain moments and plot elements we’ve come to expect from each season of Downton Abbey: philosophical witticisms from the Dowager Countess, eavesdropping that magically occurs during the most eavesdrop-worthy moments in private conversations, Carson getting his cummerbunds in a twist about stuffy traditions made unfashionable by that punk-bastard known as Time. Oh, and also this: Mr. John Bates either spending time in jail or dealing with the prospect of potential prison time.
In this week’s episode, the penultimate of season five, Downton Abbey flips the script on that last recurring theme. Oh, a Bates gets arrested and sent to jail. Of course that happens. But this time, the wrongly accused party is the Mrs. instead of the Mr.
Anna Bates — one of a handful of Downton Abbey characters who has never done a selfish, mean-spirited thing in her life — is arrested and sent to the slammer for the alleged murder of Mr. Green, the valet who raped her. Of course, a woman can’t just get arrested for killing someone, especially not when a crack Scotland Yard investigator like Mr. Vyner, who suddenly goes from mildly irritating detective into raging jerkhole cop in this episode, is the man on the case. No, there is evidence. And that evidence is … ummm … well, let’s see. According to the beady-eyed witness who kinda sorta saw Mr. Green get pushed into the bus, Anna was in the vicinity of the crime scene when it occurred. Also, she is shorter than Mr. Green, and the witness believes the shove-murderer was not as tall as the victim. And … um … that’s enough to get someone executed for first-degree homicide, right? I mean, I know it is in Texas. But that’ll work in England circa 1924, too, won’t it?
Downton Abbey has always had a problem with making sense out of its crime/mystery plotlines, and this entire, now-two-season-spanning story is a prime example. So was the clearing of John Bates’s involvement in the death of his wife, which was a tangled web of nonsense involving revenge-suicide and the precise timing of a pie-crust poisoning that, to this day, I still don’t fully understand.
But when you get right down to it, creator Julian Fellowes doesn’t care about silly things like whether the details related to police procedure make any kind of sense. He just wants to rain down more bad news on the unluckiest TV couple in recent memory and milk the unjust suffering of a righteous woman for all the melodrama it’s worth. If logic must go out the window to make that happen, then logic shall be chucked.
And boy, is it chucked when Anna finds out that Green was actually a serial rapist. Before the trip to London, Vyner notes that several women have come forward and admitted to being attacked by Green, which seems like the kind of information that would introduce more, not fewer, potential murder suspects into the mix. Vyner dangles that information in front of Anna, apparently in the hope that she’ll admit to having been raped by the man, too. When she doesn’t, he asks her to come to the station in London, at which point she’s thrust into a room with several other women who were presumably raped by that little weasel. All of them must stand there, Usual Suspects–like, while the male witness eyeballs them to figure out which of them supposedly committed murder. I mean, Fellowes is basically trolling us at this point, right? Because putting a bunch of rape victims in a lineup as if they are guilty of committing a crime themselves might be the most outrageous form of victim-blaming I’ve ever seen (or at least that I’ve seen since the last time I looked at my Twitter feed). Where is Gloria Allred when you need her in 1920s-era London, I ask you?
Anyway, bottom line: Anna’s in jail where, in my dreams, I imagine she’s cracking jokes with Taystee and Poussey, but, in reality, she’s probably crying herself to sleep every night while sharing a cell with a woman who’s a larger, scarier cross between O’Brien and Mrs. Patmore. She clearly does not belong there. Which raises the question: Who does? Is it ... Mary?
Again, I have to say, for the record, that I am watching these episodes in advance, but not proceeding to the next episode until after my recap is written. I have no idea what happens in the finale — known as "the Christmas special" in the U.K. — and have somehow managed to avoid spoilers about it. But a friend of mine recently raised the “Mary did it” explanation as a possibility, and in this installment of Downton Abbey, a couple of signposts appear to be guiding us in that direction. The big one is that conversation near the end of the episode, when several characters are doing the Downton Abbey equivalent of a West Wing walk-and-talk. Mary catches up with Bates and says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “It’s not hard to guess,” Bates replies. (Really? I beg to differ, because I have no idea what’s actually going on in this cryptic conversation!) Then Mary points out that Anna will not be convicted because the police have nothing to go on. (Which, again, raises the question: How is Anna in jail?? Also: Does no one at Downton have bail money???) When Bates says, “Nothing they’re sharing with us. But you’re right, m’lady, she will not be convicted,” Mary looks pretty panic-stricken.
Mary’s also the one who insists most steadfastly on Anna’s innocence when the cops show up and haul her away. Her clash with Vyner (“I am no miss. I am Lady Mary Crawley.” “I don’t care if you’re the queen of the upper Nile.”) also feels like a precursor to further conflicts between them. Even Mary’s off-handed comment to Tom about the possibility that she might kill Edith if she’s left alone at Downton with only her sister as a companion (“When you read in the paper that I’m on trial for murder, it will be your fault.”) has an air of foreshadowing about it.
Really, what would represent the deterioration of the aristocracy more effectively than seeing the Crawley’s most cherished daughter reduced to serving time in the clink? Here’s the problem, though: A look back at the events in episode seven of last season doesn’t quite support the notion of Mary as murderer, although they don’t fully contradict it, either. In that episode, we see Mary and Anna go to London, where Mary dissuaded Jack Ross from marrying Rose, and later met with Tony, at which time she asked him to fire Green for reasons she refused to explain. (Have the police questioned Tony, like, once? Because if they have, it seems like he might have mentioned that Mary asked him to fire Green right before Green bit it. At the very least, Tony should have had a conversation with Mary about the fact that he planned to withhold that information from the police. Instead, they’ve been too busy doing it and breaking up to talk about any of this.)
Back to what happened on that fateful day: Mary told Tony she had to catch the last train out of the city to be home in time for the bazaar, but we never saw her (nor Anna) in London after that. Tony showed up at the bazaar the next day to tell her Green died after a bus accident, and Mary seemed surprised to hear this. Also like Anna, she seemed suspicious that Bates was involved, which does contradict the notion that she’s the guilty one. But as previously established, Downton Abbey doesn’t always make total sense. So who knows? Maybe she shoved Green and ran — you know, like she was playing a human version of Ding-Dong Ditch — but didn’t notice that he fell into the path of an oncoming bus. The one thing we do know is that the impact of the bus is what ultimately killed Green, proving once again that people don’t kill people, buses kill people. That bus deserves to be in prison, dammit, not Anna Bates!
Oh, but enough about this, because it’s making me crazy enough to throw myself in the path of an oncoming bus. Let’s turn to the really big news, which is that Rose and Atticus get married in this episode despite the fact that certain people do everything they can to stop it. And by everything, yes, I do mean throwing a prostitute at the problem, because duh. That’s always the first resort.
As “unexpected” as it sounds, Rose’s mother isn’t wild about Rose marrying a Jew, while Atticus’s father, Lord Sinderby, is very displeased that his son is wedding a gentile. (According to a recent interview in the Forward, this situation was inspired in part by Fellowes’s own experience dating a Jewish girl.) Lord Sinderby deals with his concern by being rude and generally skulking about while bearing a strong resemblance to Dr. Evil. But Susan Flintshire, mother of Rose and soon-to-be-ex of Shrimpie, is much more proactive than that. She decides to hire a flapper/hooker to throw herself at Atticus while being photographed, then send pictures of their alleged dalliance to her daughter in an attempt at what the Beastie Boys so memorably referred to as SABOTAGE!
Yet at no point does Rose approach her mother and say, “I can’t stand it. I know you planned it.” She never even figures out her mother set up Atticus even though it can't possibly be more obvious.
If all the back-and-forth religious prejudice weren’t bad enough, Lord Sinderby’s extremely stringent anti-divorce policy make things even worse. As Sinderbey announces during a pre-wedding dinner, “To me, divorce signifies weakness, degradation, scandal, failure, perversity, lack of manners, halitosis, and a propensity toward flatulence.” (Fine, he only says some of that. But you know he was thinking all of it.) That means that Susan and Shrimpie have to keep their pending divorce under wraps … that is, until Susan blurts it out on the wedding day in one final, final attempt to royally eff up everything for her daughter. But it doesn’t work. They get married anyway, and Rose wears a really pretty dress to the reception, and no one even bothers to point out that the real reason Rose and Atticus probably shouldn’t be getting married is that they’ve known each other for all of ten minutes.
It’s all a lot of soap-opera silliness, really, as are the following other developments, presented here in Downton Abbey recap lightning-round mode:
- Daisy gives notice and decides to move to London. Then she doesn’t.
- Tom decides he’s going to move to Massachusetts, and though he hasn’t done it yet, it looks like he actually might.
- Robert establishes a lovely plaque for Patmore’s nephew Archie as part of the war memorial, which makes Patmore cry and feel grateful. Every once in a while, Donk does the right thing.
- The Dowager Countess may be considering resuming her passionate affair with Prince Kuragin, while Isobel may be rethinking her decision not to marry Lord Merton. If everything goes as planned, Violet and Isobel will be going on double dates to Inspiration Point any day now.
- Danker, Violet’s new maid, gets her drink on and takes advantage of Andy the footman temp. Thomas intervenes and does that weird thing where he seems vaguely noble and heroic, which is confusing since he’s usually such an ass. But don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll be back to being an inexplicable prick again come next week.
- Most important, Robert finally notices something familiar about Marigold. At first, it seems like he may be realizing that the child reminds him of Edith when she was a little girl. But let’s get serious: Why should anything remind him of his actual daughter when no one in the family even looks at her long enough to memorize her facial features? No, no, he tells Cora. He thinks Marigold totally looks like Gregson, a guy he’s met maybe twice in his life. Ah, classic Downton. In any case, he now knows Marigold is his granddaughter, and he’s totally cool with it. He’d better be because he’s going to need to be on good terms with Edith if (when?) his other daughter becomes the Crawley family equivalent of Uncle Jailbird Joey.