Downton Abbey: The London Season

"My world is coming nearer. And your world? It's slipping further and further away."

The Crawley family is off to London to see Rose make her debut and to attend the season. This episode is hard to place. Historically, the season kicked off with the presentation ball being held after Christmas. Ivy, however, helpfully tells us that Edith has been gone for eight months in Geneva. Assuming that the previous episode took place in August, that would place this one around April or May, 1923. But, the Summer Exhibition is on and everyone is going to the seaside, so it must be later in the year. I give up. Let’s say early summer, 1923.

There was an enormous amount of romance in this episode, but not everyone was happy and in love. Poor Edith. Although she has never been my favorite character, the situation that Edith has found herself in is simply terrible. Forced to leave her child behind in Switzerland, she is trying to put a brave face on at home and is failing. Both her grandmother and her aunt implore her to move on, but she simply can’t.

Her scheme with Drewe seems like a terrible idea to me. For one thing, won’t it be more difficult for Edith to watch her child as the daughter of a farmer, unable to give her the benefits of the family's money or connections? And, what happens the first time she hears this child call someone else Mummy? Not to mention, Drewe seems like a good enough person, but wow does he have power over the family now.

It seems to me that Edith is going to need a great deal of support in the future. This episode showed us that she and Tom have grown to have quite a nice friendship. I can see him being the one who stands by her when this whole business comes to light, as we all know it will.

Rose has obviously recovered well from her ill-fated romance with Jack. Up to her old tricks, it is not long before we see her gallivanting from one club to another and being presented at court. She runs into the Prince of Wales and hijinks ensue. While the story of the letter was a bit contrived and silly, what it did was show us Bates in an entirely different light from the taciturn man in love we have come to know.

Bates may have saved the family from scandal (again!), but this episode showed him to be a forger, a liar, and a pickpocket. The looks he gives first Mrs. Hughes and then Mary when they discuss the last time he was in London made me shiver. As I thought about what this will all mean for the story moving forward, I began to think it a very brave decision. Turning Bates from one half of a great love story to the villain of the piece could be the most interesting story we have seen in a while.

I understand Mrs. Hughes’ and Mary’s wish to have the Green story end. They both care a great deal for Bates and Anna and what Green did was beyond the pale. Mary’s doubts are exactly correct, but she decides to burn the ticket rather than tell what she knows. Oh, dear.

Mary’s story is certainly heating up now that we know that Charles is of the same social class. Various hints were dropped that she is leaning in his direction, but this triangle will most likely be the backbone of next year’s series.

Having said that, the final scene between Mary and Charles set my feminist teeth on edge. Mary has already told Anthony that her job is to take care of Downton for George. Why she then must tell Charles to “let the battle commence” made me want to shout at her. She is not a prize to be handed to the winner of a joust. She is smart, beautiful, and running a large estate. She is better than just being some man’s wife.

Sarah, on the other hand, made me cheer. Her friendship with Tom has finally led to a first date. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, it must be said. Lady Violet can drive the daggers in with a smile and she does so when she bumps into these two on the street. The fact that Sarah did not rise to the bait, but simply went off to have dinner with Tom, just made me want the two of them to work things out even more.

Thomas is doing everything he can to cause trouble, but it seems to have backfired a bit with Tom. The scene where Tom refuses to allow Thomas to sit with him in the car made me smile as did Robert’s not really giving Tom all that hard a time about his bringing someone to the house. I really like the way that Molesley is standing by Baxter in the face of Thomas’s shenanigans as well. It might just be that Thomas has met his match in the unlikeliest of opponents.

It may be because I’m an American, but Ethan is one of my favorite characters introduced into this world for a long time. Young, enthusiastic, willing to try anything, he just kept getting it wrong. Every time he did, I laughed. Daisy can be such a dour person; I loved the juxtaposition of these two. The scene on the beach showed us Daisy at her best, giving the girl she dislikes the most her chance and admitting to Mrs. Patmore how much she liked being flirted with. Good for her!

Isobel seems less keen on Lord Merton than he is on her, but we shall see. The Harold and Madeline romance was nice on one level, but creepy on another. He is, after all, old enough to be her father.

Finally, Carson and Mrs. Hughes seem to finally realize they should be more than just friends and colleagues. I’m not sure how I feel about these two together as I have always enjoyed watching their relationship without the added frisson of romance. Mrs. Hughes handles Carson beautifully (the way she gets him off the idea of a museum as a fun day out is classic), but he has always looked out for her as well. Their walking into the sea, holding hands, was sweet.

After last season’s shocking ending, this one was understated and relatively happy. But, happiness never lasts long at Downton and season five is being filmed. See you all next winter.

Historical Bits and Bobs:

— If you are interested in what being a debutante involved or in more information about the London Season, click away.

— He may only be the Prince of Wales now, but this young man would become Edward VIII, he who abdicated his throne to marry Wallis Simpson. The king and queen to whom Rose were presented are his parents, George V and Queen Mary. The snarky comment the king makes about his son was historically accurate. The relationship between these two men was fraught. The exchange between the Prince and Harold is also historically accurate. The man was not known for his brains.

His grandfather, the one who “winked at every beauty in an opera box” was Edward VII. The eldest son of Victoria and Albert, he was as infamous as his grandson back in the day. His affairs were legendary and included everyone from Lillie Langtry to Winston Churchill’s mother. To show how little times have changed, one of his affairs was with a woman called Alice Keppel. Alice’s great-granddaughter is Camilla Parker Bowles. Edward VII’s great-great-grandson is Prince Charles.

David, as the Prince showed in this episode was called, was something of a playboy. He disdained anything approaching work and much preferred to spend his days frolicking, often with married women. Freda Dudley Ward, the woman whose letter is stolen in this episode, was his mistress for several years. They remained close friends long after the affair ended.

— The Summer Exhibition is held at the Royal Academy of Arts every summer. It is a showcase for artists to sell their works to the public and it is a mob scene.

— The cottages of Newport are, in fact, grand houses. This is just one example. I guess the Americans be understated as well.


— Wat Tyler was the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

— The Alfred Memorial is, indeed, hard to miss.


— A “bread and butter” note is a standard thank you note to a hostess for her hospitality.

— If this series carries on through the Second World War, we will look back on this episode with its “gang of toughs” in “brown shirts” who “go around preaching the most horrible things” as our first mention of the Nazis.

Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe is one of Manet’s most famous paintings.


— A penny lick was a glass that was used for serving ice cream. They were quite nasty as the customer would lick the glass clean and then the vendor would reuse it for another customer, without the benefit of a wash. Yuck.

Well Said:

Lady Violet was given, arguably, her best episode to date. Her exchange of snark with Isobel and later with Martha were both scenes of brilliance. I was tempted to reproduce both scenes in full, but this review is long enough.

Mary: “Your niece is a flapper. Accept it.”

Ethan: “Mr. Carson, my employer is called Levinson, not me."
Carson: “In this house, you both are.”

Harold: “But don’t worry. I’m well prepared for cold baths, warm drinks, and, most of all, the food.”

Isobel: “Well, I felt by dismissing it as trivia, I was being smug and intolerant.”
Lord Merton: “Do they know what they have in you?”
Isobel: “I know what I have in them.”

Robert: “All the public want is a happy marriage at the palace. Is it so much to ask?”

Mrs. Patmore: “Mr. Carson, all women need someone to show a bit of interest every now and then, preferably in a manner that’s not entirely proper.”

Martha: “So, why don’t you come and visit Newport and I will rustle up old, rich widows who want titles much more than I do.”

Baxter: “Your strength has made me strong.”
Molesley: “My what?”

Mrs. Hughes: "We're getting on, Mr. Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little."

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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, Chris. Hope next year you can get them out sooner (didn't you follow English airing dates for other seasons?). By the time I read these I already have the season digested and have moved on.

Well, this season wasn't as hopeless as it looked like after last year's Christmas episode. Let's hope it keeps getting better.

ChrisB said...

Anonymous -- last year was the first year I posted reviews as the show aired. In the lead-up to the third season, I posted retro reviews for the first two seasons. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I follow the US air dates (although I know the rest of the world is earlier) as the only way to follow the UK dates would be to download illegally and I don't do that.

I'm sorry that these reviews came too late for you this year, but I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Hope you will do so next year.

Billie Doux said...

Terrific review, Chris. I always enjoy DA, but I'm starting to wonder if the Fellowes actually has a plan or if he's just making it up as he goes along? :) The thing with Bates just creeped me out. Making him a villain may indeed be the biggest risk they've ever taken with a character, and I'll be interested to see where they go with it.

Juliette said...

Fab review Chris, I love how much context you provide for all these (some of which I know but much I don't, since we're a good 1500 years after my period!).

I can't stand Bates and never could but given certain other shows I like and their current determination to ruin my favourite characters, I have a lot of sympathy with Bates fans who may not be sure where this is going!