Unlike seasons past, this one seems to be taking place in a tight timeframe. While we are used to large leaps of time between episodes, so far this year it hasn’t happened. We know from the last episode that Edith wanted to be married within a month, so I am placing this episode in May, 1920.
I rather wish they would speed up the timeline again as the slow pace of this season seems to have affected the story lines as well. Similar to last week, some of the stories appeared to be different takes on stories we have already seen, some were just silly; but, there were a couple that I found charming and that moved me.
The best example of stories we have already seen is Isobel working with the prostitutes. While I do believe the woman has a good heart and that she genuinely means well, she tends to force herself and her help on people who don’t necessarily want it. The scene where the prostitutes are ignoring her as she tries to teach them to sew makes me smile. All they want is food; nothing is going to change what they do for a living.
Ethel is dithering, even when Isobel turns up at her door. We see proof positive of her chosen career this week, but she refuses to accept Isobel’s help, even for Charlie’s sake. Again, I wonder what happened with Mrs. Hughes helping her. It feels as though when Ethel chose to keep Charlie, Mrs. Hughes stopped giving her food. The telling detail was that Mrs. Hughes is unsure about where Ethel is currently living.
Now that Bates and Anna are married, we need another downstairs romance. It appears that Daisy has a crush on Alfred, who, as far as I can tell, is completely oblivious to the girl. This story feels a bit like Daisy’s crush on Thomas back in season one. Additionally, it seems like Mrs. Patmore is still getting involved in Daisy’s life by keeping Alfred away from her. While I would like Daisy to find some real romance in her life to make up for all the guilt she feels about William, this story of hers has been told.
Anna’s and Bates’ story seems to have stalled as well. The Free Bates campaign is in full swing. Anna travels to London to meet with Mrs. Bartlett about Vera’s last hours, even going so far as to give her money. This detail struck me as naive in the extreme, knowing Vera and her sort as we do, and we have seen enough of the Bates’s family money go to these types. Of course, nothing comes of the meeting and we are right back where we started.
Bates, meanwhile, is being set up by his cellmate. Luckily he finds the drugs before the guards can find them on him. This is a story line I don’t understand at all. Why is Bates being set up and what does his cellmate hope to gain from it? The Bates story this week felt forced into the episode, as though we are not meant to forget about him while he is not at the house.
While the money situation is a new story, the whole thing just gets more melodramatic and, I’m afraid, has cast a pall over the first part of this season for me. A trip to the new house doesn’t sway Matthew, but then there is that ridiculous letter from Reggie in which he assures Matthew that he knew the truth but that it didn’t matter. The whole idea of Lavinia posting a letter just hours before she died is so absurd that even Fellowes seems to have struggled with it. The convoluted way we learn how she did it feels like someone saying to him as he is writing this section, “You need to explain every detail of how that letter was sent, otherwise the viewers won’t buy the story.” Frankly, I still don’t. But, Lavinia did manage to post the letter and now Matthew can accept the money guilt free. Yuck.
The scene where Matthew tells Robert bothers me as well. Matthew is about to give Robert enough money to save the estate, yet he is willing to do it with no strings attached. For someone who has been set up as the business brain in the family, this borders on the stupid. Everyone knows that Robert can’t manage huge sums of money, so why Matthew allows him the chance to lose his money as well as Cora’s astonishes me. It is Robert who comes up with the idea of joint ownership of the estate, but he effectively blackmails Matthew into accepting his terms. Not the gratitude one might expect under the circumstances, but it is easy to see where this story is headed. I hope the old world vs. new world running of the estate is more compelling than saving it was.
There were, however, several stories this week that I liked and that seemed to be going somewhere new. O’Brien and Thomas in an open war with each other could be more fun to watch than the two of them conspiring together. I wasn’t sure what Thomas was hoping to gain from starting the rumor that O’Brien was leaving as it seemed to be such an easy thing for her to fix. I understood, however, when I saw Cora’s reaction. Thomas, who appears to be getting even more chummy with Robert, has driven a wedge between O’Brien and the source of her power. Thomas looked worried when O’Brien threatened him. I can’t say I blame him.
As much as I have disliked Edith in the past, watching her prepare for her wedding was simply lovely. She was obviously so excited and so pleased to be the center of attention for a change. Anthony, on the other hand, continues to worry about his infirmary and his age and brings the subject up again with Robert. I blame her father for ruining Edith’s wedding. If Robert could have had a bit more generosity of spirit when talking to Anthony, I do believe Edith would now be happily married. Instead, she is humiliated before the entire village. Even the servants pity her, although the scene where they get to eat her wedding feast made me smile.
Through the course of this episode, we watch Edith change significantly. In the course of a day, she moves from being a happy bride to a resigned spinster. The scene where she is crying after the wedding brought tears to my eyes. Jealous of her married, pregnant sisters, she can’t bear to be around them and sobs out her heartbreak to her mother. Most poignant of all, however, is the next morning. She climbs out of bed, resignation to her fate written all over her. Isobel is right; she needs to find something to do. Edith is at her best when she is working.
Although he has been annoying me no end recently, I liked the story this week of Carson discovering that Mrs. Hughes is ill. Having no luck with Dr. Clarkson, he manages to wheedle the truth out of Mrs. Patmore whose expression when she discovers what has happened made me laugh. In typical Carson fashion, rather than respect Mrs. Hughes’ wishes to keep her illness to himself, he runs off to tell Cora. I must say that Cora was extremely kind and compassionate towards Mrs. Hughes; it’s a side of her I admire.
We saw another side of Carson this week as well. He obviously cares a great deal for Mrs. Hughes and was genuinely worried and wanting to help her. He doesn’t go about it very well, but his heart is certainly in the right place. And, we can all rest easy now that we know that the tumor is benign (although, was there ever any real doubt?). Carson’s singing in relief at the news is a wonderful character beat, as is the closing shot of Mrs. Hughes smiling at him.
Bits and Bobs:
-- Jean Patou was a French fashion designer very popular after the war. He is still known today for his perfume, Joy. Lucile was the professional name of Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon who was one of the first English designers to become internationally known. She became infamous for surviving the sinking of the Titanic, but then unbelievably, was booked on the Lusitania for its fateful voyage. She cancelled at the last minute because she was ill.
-- “Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron” is an old English folk song. What is so lovely about Carson choosing this particular song is the final line of the song, “She stole my heart away.”
Daisy: “I couldn’t get over how outspoken she was. But, you liked that, didn’t you?”
Alfred: “I suppose I did. It felt… modern. She said what she felt, even though she was a woman. I did like it.”
Daisy: “Maybe I should be more outspoken, say what I really think.”
Robert: “I must say, it’s a relief to have some men in the family at last.”
Edith: “I won’t sleep a wink.”
Sybil: “Tonight or tomorrow?”
Lady Violet: “Sybil, vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”
Sybil: “Well, you started it.”
Mrs. Hughes: “Did you tell him?”
Mrs. Patmore: “I would prefer to say I put him out of his misery.”
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.