Blogging the Abbey, Episode 3

Russell:  Remember a couple of seasons ago when Mrs. Hughes had Maybe Cancer?  Let’s just take a moment to reflect on the wisdom of the writers when they tossed that idea on the (ever-enlarging) “discarded plot devices” pile.  Because it is obvious that Downton Abbey wouldn’t have two stones left standing side by side if it weren’t for Mrs. Hughes.  I wonder she actually gets anything done, between dealing with catastrophes past and present.

Anyhow, this was the week of ill-advised marriage proposals.  I’m sure we’ll get to Lord Flopsywopsybunningham in due course, but I’d like to start with Evil Cackling Lady’s maid.  Apparently she skipped the class during Seduction and Insinuation 101 when they told students not to overplay their hands when using the uterine method of social climbing.  Because while Branson is still exhaling whiskey fumes the next morning, into his room she pops to be all “I could be pregnant because of that sex we had and promise me you’ll marry me if so and maybe put it in writing because I’ve got a notary on retainer and don’t worry about it because I’ll make a good wife I promise just ask my aunt!”  And Branson is all “Yikes.”

So after getting into a conversation with Lady Mary in which she reminds us of why we still like her and tells him to get whatever is making him so lachrymose  off his chest, off he goes to see Mrs. Hughes (who has enough going on already figuring out who raped Anna and giving him stares of death as he leaves the estate).  And, probably from all the pent-up rage at having to fix everyone’s problems, she goes kind of ballistic on Evil Cackling Lady’s Maid and tells her that she, personally, will strip her naked and force her to undergo a medical exam to prove that she’s not really pregnant.  Which, if you think about it, is kind of horrifying but somehow sounds OK coming from Mrs. Hughes. So Braithwaite packs up her vagina and leaves.

Oh, also Alfred wants to go to cooking school.  But Daisy is sad because she loves him but he loveszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Rose: Wait, wait. I was just resting my eyes!

Is it not a little strange that a household, even one of Downton Abbey’s size, seems to maintain a strict two-sociopath quota for the household staff? I know you can’t get good help anymore after the war. But, I mean, really. Time was, the excellent chauffeurs knew their place. They would never be so crass as to interrupt a conversation, they would just marry an earl’s daughter. However, servant shortage and newly lax standards notwithstanding, the percentage of cunning sociopaths employed by Lord and Lady Grantham seems rather high. Especially given that they even had two sociopaths before the war.

Evil Cackling Lady’s Maid’s behavior rang a bit odd, even for a cackling sociopath. I think she needs a really close, perhaps more experienced, sociopath friend to give her a little advice on how to go about Textbook Female Manipulation of Hapless Men 101. ECLM was, apparently, practicing some form of birth control when she slept with Branson. Her reasoning seemed to be that unless she extracted a promise from Branson that he will marry her if she’s pregnant, she should not risk pregnancy and single parenthood. Though were I her cackling sociopathic sympathetic ear (or as sympathetic an ear as a sociopath can be), I would advise her that this plan of action seems to put an awful lot of weight on Branson’s word. I mean, if the guy’s enough of a cad not to marry someone he impregnated in that day and age, isn’t he enough of a cad to make a false promise that he will? ECLM, your best bet of snagging a demi-Grantham (I would go on) is to go for broke and count on his gentlemanliness when you waddle in belly-first. Had ECLM thought to cotton to Tom, I think he could have helped her think this one through.

I, too, was glad to have Lady Mary back, although I’m even fonder of her “Edith is as mysterious as a bucket” one-liners (she’s Maggie Smith-in-training!).  But I’m a little confused by Lord Babblesnigglesworth-on-Blensea’s gentlemanly turn-about. I may well be mistaken about this, but didn’t he say while in the library that he would wait for Lady Mary for one year? Two years? Perhaps an eternity? Well, at least one or two years?

And then, outside in the estate park, it’s all, if you say “no” now, then I must be a gentleman and marry the show’s second Lady Can’t-Hold-a-Candle-to-Mary. Mary, knowing she will likely regret it, says no. Lord B-on-B strides off across the park to pick up his lightly packed bag (no white tie!), presumably headed immediately to the arms of his wan bride-to-be-to-be. Couldn’t Lady Mary have said, “Be a dear, and give me a wee bit of time? I did lose superhunk Matthew Crawley just six months ago.”

I am a bit struck that for the last two episodes, the children of the young widow and widower are visible only in teensy prams on the horizon, creeping across the screen like the camels in Lawrence of Arabia. It is, apparently, much easier to hire an excellent nanny than a lady’s maid or chauffeur.

Other concerns: when will Vacuous Dancing Cousin attend a dance without being thwarted by boorish men, or grieving or racist relatives? The girl just wants to dance, folks! Give her a Charleston, already.

In the continuing dissonant storyline of Anna’s recovery from rape, I’m sad for Anna, and am sympathetic with her need to move into the house. I am also sorry for Mr. Bates. Do you really think he could not possibly be persuaded to refrain from murder?

Russell:  I, too, noticed the unusual lack of children.  Your eyes are sharper than mine, so I didn’t even spot the prams.  I guess Cora, Isobel, Mary and Tom all do their doting off-camera?

I also noted that Mary didn’t think it seemly to mention that, in addition to her heart being ever so very full of Matthew-love, that maybe she’d like to see how any potential husbands interacted with her child?  No?  Is even thinking such a thing so anachronistic I may as well expect her to check the baby monitor?

For my part, I nearly pulled an eye muscle from all the rolling they were doing during the “I shall never love again as I do right now” bit.  First, that kind of nonsense sounds preposterous coming from anyone older than 17.  Secondly, we’re expected to be moved by his passion after a few measly hours in comparison to the Mary-Matthew romance that spanned, y’know… a World War?!?  Weak sauce.  And finally, as you say, if he loves her so much maybe he should take a risk and break it off with Miss Safety School and see how things go.

As I’ve mulled the wrenching Anna storyline, the more I wish they’d gone a different direction and hope they still might.  Even though I do understand Anna’s desire for secrecy and further understand that’s how many real-life rape victims react, I think the writers could have done better by her.  Couldn’t Mrs. Hughes, in her good sense, have assured Anna that they would take care of her, and make sure the rapist was “safe” in custody before informing Bates?  Couldn’t she have enlisted the help of other trusted, beloved characters?  Carson, maybe?  Or Mary?  Letting us see that Mary cares deeply about Anna, and allowing her to display that kind of loyalty and devotion to someone who has served her so well, would have deepened their relationship and shown the best aspect of her character.  I still hope that’s how things play out.

Rose: I, too, thought that this couple who is, shall we say, of a certain age was moving a tad quickly. I mean, yes, the guy needs the pram of Little Lord Babblesnigglesworth-on-Blensea dotting the horizon of his estate, lest his estate fall to pieces. But the passion of it all, the let-me-kiss-you-at-this-moment-because-I-shall-never-love-again, seemed rushed and awkward.

Speaking of estates falling to pieces, it strikes me now that Lord Grantham is a little blithe about selling off parts of the estate. In my deep knowledge of English peers (which is derived solely from reading British novels), they really really really really don’t like selling bits of the estate. I mean, they don’t have land, they have lands. Got to keep it together, and all. A 20-year mortgage (or whatever it is that Branson and Mary have cooked up) that forestalls sale of some lands seems like it would appeal to an earl. If any readers of this blog are earls, care to comment?

One last word before I sign off. Again, I worry. I worry for Lady Edith. We long for her to live her London life — sophisticated, but not louche. We want her happy, finally finding the older gentleman who will not jilt her at the altar. We thought we found him in Mr. Gregson! Now, however, it seems like this can end only one of two ways, neither of which is pretty. First, as we mentioned last week, he’s headed for Germany at, shall we say, an inopportune time. Be wary, Mr. Gregson, of immediately exchanging all your pounds for marks. Secondly, we have a man who is both a lawyer and a card sharp. Might it not be wise, Lady Edith, to at least glance over the papers he puts in front of your nose to sign before you succumb to his wiles? And then we have Lady Rosamund, darkly warning Edith that her night of insider trading has caused her stock to plummet a full seven years before the entire stock market crashes. Oh, Edith. We just want the best for you!

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16 thoughts on “Blogging the Abbey, Episode 3

  1. Weren’t they running three sociopaths for a short while? Thomas, ECLB, and the original Nanny? What’s really annoying is that for a short bit of time it looked like they might actually flesh out Thomas to be a real person, not just some guy who’s an ass because he’s got quality villain hair (or something).

    Daisy was bearable when she was clueless and relatively lighthearted. Clueless, frustrated, and bitter makes me want to tune her out.

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    • “Do something interesting with Daisy” is another plot idea that landed on the slag heap, though one I wish they’d actually stuck with. Remember when she had that kind of charming friendship with the father of the dead footman she married for an hour or so? Who encouraged her to think of her own prospects and respect herself? And it looked like she just might?

      Yeah, I kind of liked that plot. But no. She’s basically there to receive occasional supportive remarks from Mrs. Patmore. I wish she’d stop mooning over yet another footman and maybe apply to that cooking school herself.

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    • True, Dave. I should say a two-sociopath minimum.

      I agree that the Daisy-and-the-bereaved-father storyline was a sweet one, and infinitely preferable to her fondness for Alfred. Although Alfred sort of reminds me of Todd from Breaking Bad, so it’s fun to pretend she’s in love with a wannabe meth kingpin.

      Russell, I just re-read your post and it strikes me that you’re right about Mrs. Hughes’ threat. I mean, talk about mismatched tone. In the same episode as Anna recovers from rape, ECLM bats her eyes and tries a “but he seduced me!” line, thus reviving all negative stereotypes of women reporting rape. Then Mrs. Hughes, who is a very sympathetic character, and who is in this case acting with authorial and audience approval, threatens (with little evidence, it turns out) to give ECLM what she’s asking for. That is, have her held down and penetrated with a foreign object against her will. Um.

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    • What’s really annoying is that for a short bit of time it looked like they might actually flesh out Thomas to be a real person

      I thought they did that in seasons 2 and 3. He went to war, he had coffee with Lt. Matthew, he got wounded, he tried to help the blinded officer in hospital, he tried to be an entrepreneur, etc.

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  2. I may well be mistaken about this, but didn’t he say while in the library that he would wait for Lady Mary for one year? Two years? Perhaps an eternity? Well, at least one or two years?

    And then, outside in the estate park, it’s all, if you say “no” now, then I must be a gentleman and marry the show’s second Lady Can’t-Hold-a-Candle-to-Mary.

    I wondered about that, too.

    As for your last point about Mr. Gregson and the papers he had Edith sign, my wife had a similar concern. I suppose it all comes down to what was in the papers.

    Also, something that disturbs me, and maybe it was addressed in an earlier episode and I forgot. Mr. Gregson wants to divorce his wife, who, apparently, is severely mentally ill. Does he plan on somehow supporting her if he finally can get a divorce?

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    • Might it not be wise, Lady Edith, to at least glance over the papers he puts in front of your nose to sign before you succumb to his wiles?

      My immediate thought was, “He just signed everything over to Edith’s control and now he’s traveling abroad? He’s toast.”

      Because the idea that Lady Edith becomes independently wealthy and becomes a player formerly of the house rather than intricately entwined in it would be delicious.

      Too much to ask for, I guess.

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      • I guess we don’t know for sure. It’s also possible that in the next episode or two, everything will resolve itself–Mr. Gregson will return with divorce papers, Edith will cede back control of the property, and Thomas will be up to no good.

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  3. Ah, I stayed up late to watch this tonight just so I could read this post. And I was not disappointed.

    The thing with Lord Wistful is that he is in enormous financial trouble, far far worse than Downton’s. What he *actually* said in the library was “I can wait 2, 3, eternity years if *you can tell me you will have me at the end of it*”. Mary can take as long as she needs to recover, if she promises to marry him once she is ready to marry again. Which struck me as a bit odd, but then again, “I don’t mind years of penury as long as I get my happy ending, but if you can’t promise me it will work out eventually, I should probably save my estate,” is a very Downton-y thing to say.

    Mrs. Hughes’ speech was rather horrifying for me right away; I felt a bit better when I realized she already knew when she was making it that she would never actually DO that. It was a bluff, pure and simple. And yet, it still seemed rather awful. As Rose mentions, the juxtaposition with Anna is quite horrid.

    Speaking of Anna, I thought that the trauma and jumpiness and etc were very well-acted, and I was grateful they didn’t just sweep all of that under the rug (say by having her ONLY be weird around Bates). But I do think it’s a bit dreadful that “gee, you’re beaten and miserable, let’s give you TWICE as much work to do” is the order of the day. I don’t disbelieve that it would be, but it was extremely uncomfortable watching Mary be too uncomfortable to press her.

    I am idly wondering whether Edith will turn up pregnant after all the hints and omens. Also wondering whether the papers he had her sign actually turned all his stuff over to her or something equally generous – a gift she wouldn’t accept if she were paying attention – I agree that he would put one over on her, but I really do want to believe he is a fundamentally decent man.

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    • I am idly wondering whether Edith will turn up pregnant after all the hints and omens.

      Nope, too many kids only making appearances on the horizon as it is on the show right now.

      I mean, I’m all for kids and all, but from a “writing the show” perspective, I think the writers will shy away.

      Also wondering whether the papers he had her sign actually turned all his stuff over to her or something equally generous – a gift she wouldn’t accept if she were paying attention – I agree that he would put one over on her, but I really do want to believe he is a fundamentally decent man.

      Yes, see you’re there with me on that first part.

      There’s no credible reason for him to be a scoundrel (not that credible reasons are necessary, granted). She’s not in line to get anything, her dowry was well established to be “bufkus” early in the first season, IIRC. There’s no scoundrel target there. I’m sticking with him being on the up and up.

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    • What he *actually* said in the library was “I can wait 2, 3, eternity years if *you can tell me you will have me at the end of it*”. Mary can take as long as she needs to recover, if she promises to marry him once she is ready to marry again.

      Your interpretation/memory of what was said is probably the most plausible one.

      As for Edith possibly being pregnant….that might happen. But in this age before reliable birth control,* many of the people on the show (*cough* Mary and the Turk *cough*) seem to avoid pregnancy or pregnancy scares unless the plot calls for it. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see if it’s convenient for the screenwriters to make her pregnant.

      I, too, thought Mrs. Hughes’s threat was troubling, although I got the OP’s point that coming from her, it sounded less awful than it probably would have coming from someone else. For me, some of this goes back to that post Rose wrote a long time ago (before I had even begun to netflix the series and catch up to where you all are at) about the ahistoricity of the show and about its portrayal of master/servant relations. Here, we have the good servant who’s in charge of other servants, threatening a subordinate with a physically invasive procedure, and we’re meant to side with the one in charge because the subordinate is a bad person. As a bad person, the badness of the subordinate is made worse by the fact (as far as I can recall) that she has either no redeeming qualities or moments or that the audience is given little to no insight how she might have come to the position where the decisions she makes might seem to make sense to her. Even Thomas is given (very slightly) more consideration in that respect.

      *Yes, I realize that c. 1920, most of the forms of birth control we’re familiar with today, except the pill, were available in some guise. I do question their effectiveness, however, and other than the brief reference to Edna’s book on “Married Love,” I don’t remember seeing much reference to actual practices. It seems they all mostly follow the “close your eyes and hope for the best” approach.

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      • Yes, please forgive me the actually and the quotes for an obvious paraphrase. I think it’s my way of rebelling against *still* being in school, where one is held to academic standards of discourse all the time. Bleah.

        I’m quite certain of my interpretation / memory, though: for one thing, I had just finished watching the show 30 seconds before I started writing my comment, and for another, I found the entire conversation very odd, and watched it twice over in a row. (Woot, streaming video.)

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