Robert: “Let’s give it a go and see what the future brings.”
While last season took us through nearly six years, this season has only been about six months. Cricket is a summer game, so I am placing this episode in late August or early September 1920. The episode is bookended on the cricket pitch with the team from the House squaring off against the team from the Village. Before we get to the match, however, we wrap up a season’s worth of stories, say goodbye to one character and say hello to another.
Ethel is a character whose story has come to an end, so I am not sorry that she is going. Over the past two seasons, she has grown as a person and I pleased that she has found a position that will enable her to see Charlie once in a while. While the way she went about it was cheeky and, finally, none of her business, Lady Violet was ultimately correct in that Ethel needs a fresh start and now she has one. I wish her all the best.
We meet Rose, Susan and Hugh “Shrimpie” Flintshire’s daughter. A child of her times, she is a flapper going to a jazz club and sleeping with a married man. I did enjoy the scene where Rose is rescued by her family. In spite of the shock and the outrage, they never lose their manners and they behave impeccably towards a man who is behaving abysmally. Breeding shows and all that.
Speaking of married men, Edith’s latest crush is on her new editor. A journalist at heart, she does her homework and goes to London to quit writing for the paper rather than put up with this man flirting with her. He has an excuse, but it is such a cliche that I literally groaned out loud. From Mrs. Rochester to Mrs. de Winter, stories much better written than this one have used the crazy wife as a plot device. Let’s just hope that this is not foreshadowing that Downton Abbey burns to the ground.
Matthew and Mary’s fertility issues are a perfect example of a writer struggling to find conflict for a will-they-won’t-they couple who has. Mary’s reluctance to tell her husband what is wrong borders on the absurd. Granted, things were a bit more reserved then, but they are married and they are sleeping together. Not being able to say the word “uterus” just seems ridiculous. At least now, the problem has been resolved and we can expect an heir within six months.
Robert continues to whine and throw his toys like a child. His character development has been my least favorite part of this season and I find myself getting irritated whenever he is on screen. His clinging to the past has moved beyond understandable into the realm of ridiculous. What it does in this episode, however, is provide for a great scene between Tom and him. It is Tom who finally gets Robert to come around to their way of thinking, provided that Tom play cricket. The smile they share at the end of the scene would have made Sybil very happy.
The best part of this episode is, by far, the Thomas story. I have made no secret of the fact that he is not my favorite character, but he has stepped up in my estimation in the past two episodes. His defense of himself to Carson is simply lovely and I found myself cheering for him. On the flip side, my heart broke for him when he told Bates that all he wanted was to be part of a happy couple.
What I loved so much about this story was that those in the older generation were accepting and willing to help him while the younger generation were much less accepting. Of course, Jimmy is being goaded by O’Brien, but his fear of being seen as “one of them” makes him much less sympathetic. Alfred’s calling the police was truly a step too far, keeping in mind the fact that, at this time, Thomas could have been imprisoned for his actions.
Mrs. Hughes, ever the mother hen, is the one who rallies all the support. She manages to bring Carson around and she tells Bates the truth. While the Bates story this season has been a bore and redundant, it was a nice twist to have him be the one to sort everything out for Thomas. Bates may be many things, but his sense of honor has never faltered. Even Robert, ever the prude, was positively sanguine on the subject.
The past two seasons have each ended grimly with the outbreak of the war and the arrest of Mr. Bates. This one, however, ended on a much happier note. Matthew and Mary are in love and confident that they will produce a child; Bates and Anna are settled into their new home; Thomas not only has a job, he has been promoted.
The closing shot, however, is very sweet. Tom, who has just fielded the ball (it means the same thing in cricket as it does in baseball), is now one of the family. He comes running up to his father-in-law and brother-in-law and everybody slaps backs all around. The sun is shining and all is right at Downton.
Bits and Bobs:
-- Cricket is a wonderful game, not nearly as impenetrable as is so often believed. If you can follow a baseball game, you can follow a cricket match. When I lived in London, I lived right around the corner from Lords. My friends and I spent many, many summer afternoons sitting in the sun watching a match.
-- Although we didn’t get to see him play on screen, Matt Milne (who plays Alfred) was a county cricketer before he took up acting.
-- The Blue Dragon on Greek Street is fictional. Greek Street, dead in the middle of Soho, is very much a real location. It is still filled with great restaurants, bars and clubs. My favorite is Kettners, in the same location since 1867. Edward VII used to entertain Lilly Langtree there and Oscar Wilde used to bring his “dates” there.
-- Although we have never met them, the Flintshires have been in the background since the beginning. It was Susan who broke the news to Lady Violet about Mary’s behavior with Pamuk and it was Shrimpie who arranged it so that William could come to Downton when he was wounded.
-- The blue suit that Mary is wearing in London is simply stunning. The color is perfect for her and it fits her like a glove.
-- “Her ladyship’s soap” is one of the great callbacks of all time.
-- Molesley being bowled out was laugh out loud funny. Even better was his father’s comment about his lack of prowess on the pitch.
Thomas: “I am not foul, Mr. Carson. I am not the same as you, but I am not foul.”
Isobel: “She hates London, so she’s coming to a great-aunt in Yorkshire to have a good time? How original.”
Isobel: “I couldn’t manage an eighteen year old. Not these days. I wouldn’t know what she was talking about.”
Lady Violet: “My husband was a great traveller, so I have spent many happy evenings without understanding a word. The thing is to keep smiling and never look as if you disapprove.”
Isobel pastes a huge smile on her face while Cora giggles at the two of them.
Carson: “I’ve never been called a liberal in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”
Isobel: “Cousin Violet has never let a matter of convenience stand in the way of a principle.”
Lady Violet: “As the kettle said to the pot.”
Matthew: “This is like the outer circle of Dante’s Inferno.”
Rosamund: “The outer circle?”
Rose: “Why are you helping me?”
Matthew: “I am on the side of the downtrodden.”
Lady Violet: “One forgets about parenthood. The on-and-on-ness of it.”
Isobel: “Were you a very involved mother with Robert and Rosamund?”
Lady Violet: “Does it surprise you?”
Isobel: “A bit. I’d imagined them surrounded by nannies and governesses being starched and ironed to spend an hour with you after tea.”
Lady Violet: “Yes, but it was an hour every day.”
Isobel: “I see, yes. How tiring.”
Matthew: “Many schemes offer high rewards; very few deliver them.”
Robert: “There’s a chap in America, what’s his name, Charles Ponzi who offers a huge return after ninety days.”
Isobel: “Of course, if you had had to sell Charlie to the butcher to be chopped up as stew to achieve the same ends, you would have done so.”
Lady Violet: “Happily, it was not needed.”