Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films
Good news from Downton Abbey! Anna and Mr. Bates have finally repaired their relationship. They’ve openly discussed matters previously kept secret. They once again plan to live together in their quaint English cottage. Yes, it’s all going to be just fine now.
Oh, wait, one more thing: Anna needs to divorce Mr. Bates and run from him like the Yorkshire wind because that dude is a psychotic ax murderer. At least that’s what Downton Abbey led us to believe via the ridiculous, horror-movie-style ending to this week’s episode. “Be aware,” Mr. Bates warned Mrs. Hughes in his shadiest tone of his voice, while referring to his plan to smite the man who raped his wife, “Nothing is over and nothing is done with.” The only thing missing from the moment was the ominous sound of that ever-present gong being struck.
There are a number of matters to attend to in this week’s Downton Abbey recap, including an extremely important (read: completely idiotic) analogy that involves Dirty Dancing. But before we can get there, we have to discuss the latest madness involving Anna and Mr. Bates. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury that will eventually convict Bates of murdering somebody: If you didn’t think Downton Abbey had gone too far when Matthew Crawley suddenly recovered from paralysis or got housed by a runaway lorry, surely the nonsense of the current Anna–Mr. Bates situation is proof that the writing on this show is often more out of control than … than … a runaway lorry! (Sorry, I’m too worked up to come up with a more inventive comparison right now.)
For the first half of this episode, as Anna continued to stonewall Bates to a degree that seemed increasingly impossible to sustain, I found myself getting frustrated with her. Congratulations, Downton Abbey: You actually made me mad at a rape victim for refusing to discuss her rape. I wasn’t sure that was possible, but against all preposterous-plot odds, you did it.
Then things took a turn. Frustrated by his wife’s refusal to speak to him, look at him, or live with him, Bates — having finally, finally overheard a telling conversation between Anna and Mrs. Hughes, in classic Downton style — cornered Hughes in her office and demanded that she reveal what Anna was hiding or else Bates would resign and leave forever. Ever loyal, Hughes did her best to stave off the Bates forces attempting to crush her resolve, but eventually she semi-caved and admitted Anna had been attacked. But — BUT — she blamed it on an anonymous intruder and denied that Lord Gillingham’s valet was the man responsible. Which led to a back-and-forth that (kind of) went like this.
Bates: Do you swear?
Hughes: If it makes you feel better, I swear.
Bates: On your mother’s life?
Hughes: My mother is dead.
Bates: On her grave then?
Hughes: She was cremated. There is no grave.
Bates: On her ashes then?
Hughes: To be honest, no one knows where her ashes are. There was a bit of a mix-up in the urn department and —
Bates: [Loud, exasperated sigh] FINE. On her memory, then. Do you swear on your mother’s memory that it was not Lord Gillingham’s valet, which, by the way, is a very good name for an indie rock band? DO YOU SWEAR IT??”
Hughes: All right, you lunatic drama king. I swear it. [Hughes crosses her fingers behind her back.]
Okay, first, the following needs to be said: BACK THE HELL OFF OF ELSIE HUGHES, EVERYONE. She did not ask to be drawn into Anna’s unfortunate web of lies, or involved in the Tom Branson lady’s maid drunk-sex emergency, or subjected to the Spanish Inquisition as performed by Sr. Bates. All that woman wants to do is keep Downton running efficiently and maybe, maybe, cut loose every once in a while with a spot of tea and some nostalgic anecdote sharing with Carson. That’s it. She needs to start locking her office door and immediately dashing away every time anyone begins an exchange with, “Mrs. Hughes, may I have a word?” No, none of you can have any more words with this woman! No. More. Words.
ANYWAY. As previously noted, because of Bates’s browbeating, Hughes had to go the half-truth route and find another scapegoat for the attack. That scapegoat became: random, anonymous bad guy who somehow stumbled into Downton undetected, raped Anna, then took off without ever being seen by anyone. Even if that story made a modicum of sense, wouldn’t Mrs. Hughes and Carson have an obligation to let the rest of the staff know there had been an intruder so they could take appropriate security precautions?
As cockamamie as the Hughes Version of Events sounded, it appeared at first to have resolved things. Bates finally spoke to Anna about what happened to her and displayed the kind of behavior that I said in last week’s recap I hoped to see from him: compassion and consideration for his victimized, shaken wife. For a minute, all seemed well again. Anna was moving back in with Bates! Bates was happy! Mrs. Hughes would be damned for all eternity, but for some purpose!
And then, that line — “Nothing is over and nothing is done with.” Here’s the worst thing about that comment, apart from the fact that it makes Bates sounds like he’s turning into a British version of Robert De Niro’s character in Cape Fear, which actually could be sort of intriguing if he starts stalking Murray and referring to him as “Counselor”: Bates’s behavior proves that Anna was right. She was right not to tell him about the rape because the mere possibility that the weaselly valet did it clearly is sending him into a tailspin of rage. Question: What’s worse, being attacked by a man or being married to a man who is capable of attacking others? Answer: Um, they’re both pretty terrible?
I still don’t think Bates would hurt Anna, at least not based on the evidence we’ve seen. Then again, perhaps that’s what we would have thought if we had encountered Bates and his first wife early in their relationship. I know, I know: He had nothing to do with feeding her that arsenic pie. Wait … he definitely didn’t, right?
The bottom line is that this plotline is threatening to derail this entire season of Downton Abbey if it hasn’t already. So let’s talk about other things before I fly into a murderous rage myself.
* Lady Mary cried about Lord Gillingham, then perked up when Evelyn Napier arrived. At first I assumed those Gillingham tears were indicative of genuine romantic feelings for him, which seemed absurd considering their relationship hasn’t fully developed. Upon further consideration, though, it seems more likely that her sadness was only partly about Gillingham and more about the prospect of other people moving on and marrying well, while she gets left behind as the widow who can’t push forward. That also may explain why she looked extra-happy to see Evelyn Napier, who popped in for an unexpected visit. You remember him: he’s the guy who tried to pursue Mary back in season one but was edged out of suitor contention by his friend, good ‘ol Kemal Pamuk. Back then, Mary found Napier boring. Perhaps now she realizes, as I did while watching this episode, that he actually possesses an appealing, young-Hugh-Grant-ish quality?
* In other news, Mary and Edith have become the sisters from Dirty Dancing. In the past couple of episodes, the once-thick tension between Edith and Mary, which briefly thinned following the death of Sybil, has begun to grow substantial again. It was most noticeable in this episode when Tom told the Crawleys that he feels like he’s living where he doesn’t belong. “Join the club,” piped up Edith, to which Mary immediately replied, “Oh, stop moaning.” When Mary used to say things like that to Edith, it seemed rude, but semi-understandable because old Edith was, well, kind of drippy. But new Edith, as previously noted on Vulture, is amazing. She’s smart, independent, confident (well, when she’s not around her family), well-dressed, and sexy. But Mary’s still treating her like the boring whiner formerly known as Edith.
That’s when it hit me: Oh my God. Edith is now Baby from Dirty Dancing to Mary’s Lisa! Mary is the pretty one who assumes her sister is “about as mysterious as a bucket.” Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her immediate family, Edith is totally getting some from her lover, sneaking back to her aunt’s London home in the wee hours the same way Baby tiptoed back to her bed after a Catskills romp with Johnny Castle. And, just like Baby, Edith had to fight to win her father’s approval of her man, something she actually secured before doing the deed, which differs a little bit from Baby’s story. Okay, fine, there’s also at least one other obvious difference: Robert and Cora have always favored Mary over Edith, which makes her a bit more Baby than Lisa.
* Also back to their old fighting ways: Isobel and Dowager Countess. One of the chief delights in this episode was watching Isobel and the D.C. snip at each other again, even if it was over something as silly as a random village boy accused of stealing a letter opener. Given the deep admiration of Isobel’s virtue that Violet expressed in last week’s episode, did it make sense for her to say to Isobel: “I wonder your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock”? Not entirely, no. But, oh, the laughter.
* What is the deal with Baxter? In the time that passed between the events of last week’s episode and this week’s, Cora hired a new lady’s maid named Baxter. On the surface, she seems great: She knows how to work one of those high-tech sewing machine thingies and she’s been cordial to her colleagues. But apparently she got the job because of some devil’s bargain she struck with Thomas, who wants to pump top-secret Crawley-related information out of her. Or something? Look, all I know is that O’Brien is gone because actress Siobhan Finneran left the series, and apparently that means every subsequent maid to Lady Grantham has to be a foil for Thomas with whom he can connive and scheme. Downton Abbey will clone O’Brien, by God, if it has to run through 87 Lady Grantham maids to make it work.
* Alfred will not be putting on the Ritz. He didn’t pass his big cooking test at London’s Ritz Hotel, much to Daisy’s barely concealed joy. It would have been weird if he had passed, wouldn’t it? He didn’t seem to have enough experience yet to hang with the French foodie-types that surrounded him during that cooking exam. Unfortunately, Alfred’s inability to become a chef meant that Molesley – clueless, forever down-on-his-luck Joseph Molesley – didn’t get to replace Alfred as footman. “As it is, you’ve missed your chance,” Carson smugly told him. “As I usually do,” Molesley replied. And thus concluded another episode of That Darn Molesley!
* Lastly: Holy crap, I actually agree with Lord Grantham about something. For once, Robert’s insistence on following Downton tradition actually made sense. It was nice that he helped Mr. Drew get rid of his debt and continue being a tenant of the estate. Sure, it would have been better if Robert had been totally upfront with Mary and Tom about his plans. But on Downton Abbey, the best you can expect is partial honesty: a dad who tells you he plans to keep a tenant, but doesn’t mention he’s loaning the guy money; a new lady’s maid who seems like a delight but doesn’t disclose that she’s in cahoots with the worst under-butler in the world; a spouse who finally admits she was raped but doesn’t reveal the real perpetrator; and another spouse who has no plans to tell his wife that he’s hellbent on revenge.