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!