We know from the previous episode that it was going to be a few weeks until Mr. Bates came home and this episode opens with just that event. I place this episode, therefore, some weeks after Robert’s meltdown at Isobel’s, or around August 1920.
Like so much of what has happened this season, this episode was about the younger generation finding its way and having to fight the older on every front. The most obvious example is Matthew trying desperately to convince Robert that the management of the estate must change or it will go under. It is obvious that he is right and everyone sees it except for Robert and Jarvis who leaves under protest when even Murray takes Matthew’s side. Tellingly, it is now clear that even Mary has seen that Matthew is right. Although she is the most old school of the new generation, she sees that big changes must be made and she sees that she must support her husband over her father.
Robert over the course of this season has become my least favorite character and each time he opens his mouth I just want to smack it closed. His rudeness is shocking and he continually makes everyone around him uncomfortable. He refuses to concede any ground whatsoever on any situation whatsoever and it is becoming ridiculous. His comments during Kieran’s visit, but most especially about the Mass and the chorus of “Molly Malone,” are unforgivable. I give Tom enormous credit that he is able to see past his horror of a father-in-law and speak to him with respect.
Throughout this episode, it is Tom who is shown to be the voice of reason and the others are beginning to listen to him. Tom manages to get his brother upstairs by invoking family, which is incredible when one considers how awful some of the family have been to him since he married into it. Tom may not feel as though he is one of them, but he will respect them. He not only forces his brother to come upstairs, but he persuades Robert to go to the christening and he sides with Matthew on the running of the estate. And, he does so calmly and rationally.
Edith is still being courted by the editor of the newspaper and is struggling to find any support from her family, other than her brothers-in-law. Like Edith, the exchange over the dinner table makes me sigh deeply as well. This is a world in which a woman’s worth is valued by how well she marries, not how well she writes or succeeds in the outside world. I do like the fact that Edith is not bowing to the pressure and, at a later dinner, simply announces what she is doing without asking anyone's permission.
As much as I have disliked her in the past, I do feel for Ethel. It must be simply awful to be so ostracized in such a small village. It is Lady Violet who truly understands what must be done and takes it upon herself to ensure that Ethel truly gets a fresh start. For someone who is notorious for sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, Isobel certainly doesn’t like the tables being turned on her and others taking it upon themselves to decide what is best. As angry as she is, however, Isobel is not too proud to simply ask Ethel whether she is happy. Ethel’s very careful answer gives Isobel something to think about.
The heart and soul of this episode is Thomas. Through the years, we have seen him be at least one of the most unpleasant people in this household. Yet, we have also seen glimpses of what lies beneath all the nastiness, the pain and the self-loathing that drive him so strongly. Here is a deeply unhappy and lonely young man; it is easy to understand why the idea of a relationship with Jimmy is one he can’t help but hope for. Thomas is so infatuated that all he can see is what he wants to be true and O’Brien plays right into this wish, telling Thomas exactly what he wants to hear.
Even so, Thomas struggles with whether to go into Jimmy’s room until he finally can’t resist the temptation any more. What is so touching about the scene is that Thomas does not go into that room with thoughts of lust; it is with thoughts of love. Just look at the way he looks at Jimmy and leans down to kiss him; it is tender. His consternation when Jimmy rebuffs him is real as is his confusion.
The tension the next day is unbearable and is picked up on by simply everyone. Jimmy is an ass with Ivy trying to prove a point; Alfred is confused and Thomas is heartbroken. O’Brien keeps pushing Alfred, not content to just break Thomas’s heart; she wants him gone. The two conversations with Carson are fantastic. Neither young man lies; in fact, each tells the unvarnished truth. Alfred refuses to implicate Jimmy and nor does Thomas. Thomas doesn’t try to cover up his sexuality and he doesn’t back down when Carson calls him, or at least his world, revolting. There is a great deal of bravery in that young man and I found myself respecting him more than I ever have in the past.
Bits and Bobs:
-- Way Down East is a silent film directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. It was a huge commercial success.
-- King Alfred the Great was king from 871 to 899. The first one to be called the King of the Anglo-Saxons, history sees him as one of the greatest of all English kings. Legend has it that Alfred was concentrating so hard on how to beat the Vikings out of England that he let the cakes (probably loaves of bread) burn. This story is most likely fiction, similar to Robert the Bruce and his spider.
-- How did they find the cutest baby in the world to play Baby Sybil? She is simply adorable.
-- The platter of food Alfred carries in and, unfortunately, drops looks amazing. Lobster, chicken and who knows what else. Yummy!
-- Homosexuality was illegal in England and Wales until 1967. If you were caught performing a homosexual act, you could be imprisoned. Even worse, anyone with homosexual leanings was deemed to be mentally ill and could be sent away to an asylum until they were “cured.” During the 1920s, some people led openly gay lives (Noel Coward springs to mind), but they all tended to be bohemian, not footmen in one of the grand houses.
-- The restaurant where Edith and Mr. Gregson have lunch, Rules, has been in the same spot since 1798 and is still there making it the oldest restaurant in London. Famous for its game, it is very old school and very good. It looks as though that scene was shot in the actual restaurant. If not, all credit to the set designer.
-- Although Bates is home, he still doesn’t have much to do and Thomas is still acting as the valet. Perhaps it is time for Bates and Anna to go and open up that hotel.
-- The downstairs quadrangle muddles on, but I loved Daisy’s pointing out to Alfred how awful Ivy is to him. Good point, my girl.
Edith: “I don’t want to fall out with Papa, but I don’t want to be invisible, either. I’ve had enough of it.”
Tom: “He’s a bit of a rough diamond.”
Mary: “I’m very fond of diamonds.”
Isobel: “Let’s hear how a woman’s place is in the home.”
Lady Violet: “I do think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.”
Edith: “Oh, Granny! Thank you.”
Isobel: “Have you changed your pills?”
Lady Violet: “And, another thing. I mean, Edith isn’t getting any younger. Perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”
Thomas: “Funny, we’re quite a pair. We both like to look very sure of ourselves, but we’re not so sure underneath, are we?”
Mr.Murray: “The past is not much of a model. The third Earl nearly went bankrupt, the fourth only saved the estate by dying and what would you have all done in the ‘90s without Lady Grantham’s money?”
Lady Violet: “Oh, well that is an easy caveat to accept because I’m never wrong.”
Carson: “Human nature’s a funny business, isn’t it.”
Mrs. Hughes: “Now, why didn’t the poets come to you, Mr. Carson? They’d have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble.”
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.