This episode picks up just days after the one last one ended, so I’m guessing we’re still in July 1920. One of the overriding themes of Downton Abbey is change. Change in the way the classes mix, change in the way women are perceived and treated, change in the acceptance of different religions, change in a patriarchal view of the world. In this episode, we watch both of the patriarchs of this family lose much, if not all, of their power. Change doesn’t always happen in grand, public ways like a world war; sometimes, it happens within the walls of our homes.
Robert has been a particularly unpleasant person this season. Shouting and stomping his way through the world, running roughshod over anyone who threatens his way of life or the status quo. Those who love him, mostly women, have tolerated his views to a degree because they love him, but also because they have all been raised in a world where the men are right and are to be deferred to. As a collective front, however, the women in his life finally stand up to his raging and refuse to do what he wishes.
Convinced that he let her daughter die, Cora rails against Robert every chance she gets. Although he quite clearly blames himself as well, Robert is unable to allow Cora to blame him. Instead of accepting the responsibility for his role in Sybil’s death, he continues to defend his decision and insists that he misses Sybil as much as Cora does. His wife is having none of this and spends the episode avoiding him and standing against him in everything he wants.
Mary, who spent most of the first season fighting against her father’s decision to not break the entail and to marry well, now is the one who most clearly sees his side of things. She is pleased that she will be the Countess of Grantham and wants it be as she knew as a child. Even she, however, stands up to her father by defending the baby’s name and impending religion.
The first hint we get that Robert’s sway over the family is waning is the awful dinner with Travis. These two men firmly believe that the only religion is the Anglican and that all others are somehow not up to snuff. One by one, everyone at the table points out how absurd this view is, but Robert’s response is one of typical rudeness and insensitivity.
It all comes to a head at Isobel’s luncheon. Robert, once again, comes storming in demanding that everyone must leave because they are being waited on by a former prostitute. Three generations of women not only dismiss and mock what he is saying, they refuse to do what he wishes. I especially like the fact that this all happens immediately after Isobel tells Edith that she should defer to her father's wishes and not write for the newspaper.
In a mirror image of Robert, we have Carson downstairs who is as dead set against any kind of change as Robert. Shocked at the idea that women could become bankers and lawyers, he hands down the order that no one is to have anything to do with Isobel’s household because Ethel is working there.
Mrs. Hughes is no longer taking his pronouncements very seriously, ignoring his blustering and his posturing. It is she who allows Ethel into the kitchen to visit with Mrs. Patmore and it is she who helps the others to be more generous of spirit. Likewise, it is Mrs. Patmore who really stands up to him. Directly defying Carson’s orders, she helps Ethel and teaches her how to make some basic food for the luncheon. She and Mrs. Hughes make a formidable team when they stand up to Carson and he is unable to do anything about it. As a result, he takes his frustration and anger out on those younger and unable to fight back by overreacting to Daisy and Jimmy dancing. His treatment of these three young people boarders on the bullying.
In direct opposition to all this patriarchy, we have Mr. Mason who wants Daisy to come to the farm, run it and sell jams and jellies at the fairs. Arguably the most clear-eyed of all the men of his generation, he dismisses Daisy’s excuse that she’s only a woman and he tells her that he doesn’t expect the great houses to go on for much longer. The whole downstairs quadrangle (Daisy loves Alfred who loves Ivy who loves Jimmy who loves no one) is quickly becoming a bore. I like the idea of Daisy moving to the farm as, frankly, her story has run its course and it would nice to think of her off doing something else with someone who truly loves her.
Lady Violet appears to be straddling the old world and the new, but the most important thing for her is to keep the peace. At the dinner with Travis, she refuses to engage directly in the discussion, but makes a comment about her Catholic friend. At Isobel’s luncheon, she is the most shocked at the revelation, yet she doesn’t leave the table and makes a comment about how delicious the dessert looks. This force of nature will have her way, yet she will do it in the most polite way possible.
The ultimate example of her way is the final scene where she has Clarkson tell Robert and Cora that Sybil would most likely have died one way or the other. The language used in this scene is very careful. Clarkson never directly lies, but the story he tells certainly slants the truth and, as he tells the story, the adjectives he uses to describe the chance that Sybil had grow smaller. He continually looks at Lady Violet while he is speaking, who is unable to meet his eyes.
Perhaps this new story will allow Cora some peace and will allow her to save her marriage, which is, I am sure, the reason that Lady Violet does it. Yet, in a world where everyone is dealing with harsh realities and with ever changing mores, this scene felt like a major step back to me and I felt as manipulated as Cora has just been. Watching Robert and Cora sob in each other’s arms is very sad, yet it doesn’t change the fact that Robert has become simply awful and it was lovely to see Cora finally taking a stand. I do hope that this reconciliation does not give either of them a reason to regress to how they were in the past.
Bits and Bobs:
-- Surprise, surprise, Mrs. Bartlett has changed her story and Mr. Murray has to use threats to get her to tell the truth. We have seen it before, but Bates is capable of great violence and proves it by sticking a weapon against Craig’s throat. I am less convinced than ever that he is truly innocent and could not get even slightly excited about the fact that he will be free in a few weeks time.
-- Thomas’s attentions to Jimmy are becoming more obvious, spurned on by O’Brien. I’m not sure if Jimmy is gay or not, but he is certainly not interested in Thomas.
Cora: “Is it over? When one loses a child, is it ever really over?”
Cora: “You believed Tapsell because he’s knighted and fashionable and has a practice in Harley Street. You let all that nonsense weigh against saving our daughter’s life. Which is what I find so very hard to forgive.”
Ethel: “But, surely you’re not afraid I’ll corrupt you, are you?”
Mrs. Patmore: “I am not!”
Mary: “She isn’t a Crawley; she’s a Branson.”
Travis: “Isn’t there something rather un-English about the Roman church?”
Branson: “Well, since I am an Irishman, that’s not likely to bother me.”
Mr. Mason: “He’s seen a diamond and he’s chosen glass.”
Lady Violet: “‘Lie’ is so unmusical a word.”
Cora: “You are always flabbergasted by the unconventional.”