FINALLY. Drama. This episode delivered in multiple ways, and yea and verily, I am pleased. We didn’t quite get a Red Wedding, but I could see Mrs. Winterton eventually giving us one. All I ask for is constant and intense melodrama and, every now and then, for someone to be murdered. If I get one more ladies’ tea that doesn’t involve arch comments and subtle sniping, I will protest outside Julian Fellowes’s country estate.
I’m so excited to be able to talk about things actually happening. Wheels are in motion! Only not the train wheels, because I think the railway workers are on strike. As George Russell’s workers soon will be! We only get a fleeting glance at that story line this week, primarily in the form of a political cartoon. Can you imagine if someone drew you in the style of an 1880s political caricature? What an honor. In this one, George is crushing the workers beneath the iron press of low wages. Checks out.
George is running around trying to get back into the good graces of Bertha, who is still mad at him because he lied by omission about former lady’s maid Miss Turner being super naked in his bed. You deserve this, George! Work for your forgiveness! (He does.) Bertha needs support on multiple fronts because the Metropolitan Opera has run out of money, and also Mrs. Winterton is hogging the Duke of Buckingham.
Speaking of the Met, we get to see it, and it’s very pretty! Also, Kelli O’Hara, a.k.a. Aurora, stands on its stage, and that’s so fun because she’s performed there. Well. Not there there. The Met they’re building is the Old Met, which was torn down in 1967 after the current Met was built. Also — we’re all assuming that despite what he said, George just paid to get the Met finished in time for the opening, right? Sounds like the kind of highly romantic thing he would do for Bertha. Y’know, when he’s not concealing crucial facts from her.
Bertha is also dealing with Larry’s “I’m in my 20s” shenanigans, which just seem exhausting. Larry is going full-on Ashton Kutcher with Demi Moore as he continues to sex up Mrs. Blane. They say they love each other, which — maybe! I don’t know! I guess so! But does that matter? I feel like I become a coldhearted pragmatist when issues like this come up in fiction. Fortunately, that puts me exactly in line with Bertha, who tells Mrs. Blane that she can’t give him an heir (debatable, but okay), and in 20 years, “he’ll be waiting for you to die.” Which is harsh, but maybe true?? I know some people are very “root for love at all costs,” but sexual passion fades, and they’ve known each other for maybe a few weeks? When Mrs. Blane tearfully breaks it off with Larry at her doorstep (love it), he says that he thought they were going to get married and live together forever. You need to experience more of life, Larry! This is an era in which divorce bears dire social consequences. The only way I would continue to support Larry and Mrs. Blane is if they run off to Italy together. It would be very fun, and I think they should do it.
In the world of Things That Really Matter: Peggy and T. Thomas Fortune arrive in Tuskegee, Alabama, to report on the Tuskegee Institute, or what will eventually be called that, and then Tuskegee University. Fortune immediately butts heads with Booker T. Washington about incremental change being good or bad (a relevant point!). Later, they all have dinner with his wife, Fannie Smith Washington, whom I was delighted to recognize from Julia! There are more ideological clashes between Fortune and Washington, which Peggy tries to mitigate. This debate will continue for a century-plus, Peggy! The exchange between the two men seems accurate to history because of Washington’s emphasis on everyone just getting along and Fortune’s “philosophy of militant agitation.” My one qualm with all of this, which I have not yet addressed, is that, per the photo of Fortune on Wikipedia, the version of him on the show is not enough of a nerd.
The relationships are getting more interesting. George and Bertha are back to making out in the parlor, thank you very much, writers; Larry has his May-October (maybe September?) romance; Marian and Cousin Dashiell are … I’m not sure what yet because she has indicated basically no interest; Ada and Reverend Forte are moving extremely briskly; and then Oscar and Maud are a mystery. I should rather say that Maud’s dilemma is a mystery. Did I miss it in a previous episode? She keeps alluding to having to do business for her father. Maud also seems fairly religious, which Marian talks to her about at a church fundraiser as they walk through a doorway FESTOONED with tassels. I do like Oscar and Maud, but we then run into the issue of her potentially living a lie, as previously threatened with Gladys. I need two gays to marry each other and live their separate gay lives together! Can we just have Maud be gay? Then she and Oscar can have a gentle and platonic marriage, and Julian Fellowes can have lesbians on one of his shows for the very first time (note: I have not fact-checked this beyond Googling “Downton Abbey lesbian”). I guess Jane Addams was referenced this week, and she was super gay, so maybe she’ll pop up later. Also, while Addams’s deservedly famous Hull House will not be founded for a few years, she believed art was integral to community building, so Marian could have found an art-focused job there, despite what this “Miss Barnes” says.
Ada’s relationship with Reverend Forte is rushed to the point that I’m concerned he has an attic wife. Haven’t they met like four times?? Sure, they had a “laughing in the rain” scene, but that does not a marriage make. I cannot believe he proposes to her. And that she immediately says yes! Ada, we have half a season left! Surely there are some kind of dramatic revelations to be made about the reverend. Or at least, I sincerely hope so.
But the main event is Bertha vs. Winterton. Shit goes down!! First, the Academy box that Mrs. Winterton has been flaunting in Bertha’s face is snatched from her grip by Mrs. Astor, something that I took an unhealthy amount of satisfaction in. That’ll teach you to try to rip apart our main couple, vile temptress! (Oh my God, please note that I do not carry these feelings into the real world.) Mr. Winterton, a Very Old Man, has no idea of his wife’s past as a lady’s maid, and when he tells her he doesn’t understand why the box was taken, Mrs. Winterton assumes Bertha squealed on her to Mrs. Astor. I guess she could have?? But I don’t think we actually know how Mrs. Astor knew. Probably through her whisper network. So Mrs. Winterton is down a box. But then! Not only does Bertha cunningly swap place cards with her at the reception for the Duke of Buckingham, but Bertha swoops in and steals him! Now he will be the Russells’ guest at Newport.
A confession about me is I love when characters get furious and throw things into a fire. I say this based on this episode and when Mari threw Kenny’s birthday cake into the fire on Bachelor in Paradise because she was mad at Demi. What a great season that was. Also, Mari and Kenny are married now! Fire cake worked! By that logic, throwing the newspaper announcing Buckingham’s defection to the Russells into the fire should bring him back to the Wintertons. Only time will tell. After said newspaper incinerating, Winterton says she’ll upset Bertha if it’s the last thing she does. Yessss! YEEEEEESSS! My only note is that “upset” is too mild. I need “ruin” and will also accept “destroy.” Her husband says there will be other dukes, and Winterton flies into a fury and storms up the stairs, screaming Veruca Saltily that she doesn’t want other dukes; she wants this duke, and the witch has stolen him from her.
BEST EPISODE ENDING YET. This is what we needed: an unstable and vengeful character to wreak havoc on our precious social systems. Go forth, Winterton!
Things to Gossip About at Mrs. Astor’s Next Ball
• No carrot hats have been seen in weeks; is this cause for concern? Did Gladys ruin what was assuredly a trend?
• Is there a chance the duke is a huckster? Yes, you’re right; that word is appropriate for this time period.
• I heard there was a tremendous floral tablescape at the reception for the duke, and not to complain, but I haven’t experienced a tremendous floral tablescape in I don’t know how long. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s just not right.
• Is it bad that we delight in the hoarding of opera boxes? Probably not, right? No — no, we’re fine.