Downton Abbey: Season One, Episode Five

“It’s always sad when you love someone who doesn’t love you back. No matter who you are.”

It’s difficult to place exactly when this episode takes place, but as the roses are in full bloom, my guess is that it is summer, 1913. The traditional social season ran from April to August, at which time the family would have been in London; so, I am going to take a stab and place this episode in late August, 1913. Like a lazy summer day, this episode doesn’t have any big plot points and simply meanders from story to story. What it does is provide an enormous amount of character development.

Let’s begin with the family upstairs. Pamuk’s death is still a ghostly presence in the house, but now rumors are beginning to surface in London that somehow Mary is not the paragon of virtue she should be. Cora is, understandably, concerned about this turn of events and has increased her efforts to get her daughter married off before these rumors really take hold, even going so far as to suggest Anthony Strallan who is too old and “dull as paint.” Mary won’t even consider it, much to Cora’s irritation.

The fact that Mary is spoiled and still a bit childish comes to the fore this episode. She refuses to listen to her mother, who is speaking the unvarnished truth. Her game with Edith borders on cruel, especially as she is aware that Edith has “fewer advantages,” in other words, is not as pretty or as charming as Mary. Mary’s game backfires immediately. She is clearly beginning to care for Matthew and the fact that they were laughing together at dinner should have told her something. But, she is so intent on showing up Edith that she hurts Matthew who leaves the house. To Mary’s credit, she realizes what she has done, but it is too late. Robert, again, sees more than his eldest does at that moment.

Not to be outdone for long, Edith has an ace up her sleeve and, at the end of the episode, we see her play it. I would love to know where the antipathy between these two girls comes from; since the first episode, it has been clear that they hate each other. No matter how deep that hate runs, however, what Edith does is almost unbelievable. She must know that sending that letter could destroy not only Mary, but the entire family as well. The fact that she doesn’t care at that moment says a lot.

Unlike her sisters, Sybil seems to be a genuinely sweet person whom everyone in the household is fond of; even Daisy comments about how nice she is. Sybil continues to go well out of her way to help Gwen, going so far as to apply for a job on her behalf and to drive her to interview. She is also the one who is concerned about Mrs. Patmore, wanting to go and help her immediately. It is Cora who stops her.

There is quite a bit going on downstairs as well. Similar to the last episode when Daisy was caught up in a game of which she was unaware, she gets caught up again. It has been obvious since it happened that Pamuk’s death and what she witnessed has completely spooked the poor girl, so it was only a matter of time before Daisy had to tell someone, if only to get it off her chest. Considering how young and innocent she is, it’s no wonder that she is so easily manipulated. I just wish she had chosen someone other than Edith in which to confide.

Anna and Bates seem to spend as much time together as they can. I noticed during this re-watch that whenever they are together in the servants’ hall, they are sitting next to each other and they are standing next to each other at the flower show. When they join forces to turn the tables on Thomas and O’Brien, I can’t help but root for them. The smiles they give each other just melt my heart. The scene in the bedroom with their discussion of Patrick and Edith, and the resulting subtext, is very moving. Again, the looks these two exchange say it all.

The highlight, however, is Anna professing her love for Bates as they walk to the flower show. Beautifully acted by these two, the whole conversation is simple and direct. She loves him; he can’t love her because of a big secret in his past. What’s heartbreaking is that Bates obviously does love her, he is just trying to do the right thing because he respects her so much. The way he watches her as the cart drives him away always brings tears to my eyes.

Poor Mrs. Patmore. Finally, we understand why she has been so hard on everyone around her. It is impossible to exaggerate how devastating losing her sight would be for someone in her position. Before the days of a national pension and unable to work, she would quickly be destitute. I also like the side of Carson we get to see. Usually so stiff and formal, he is very kind to Mrs. Patmore and allows her to finally confide what is happening.

My favorite part of this episode is Isobel (who just can’t seem to help herself from righting the world’s wrongs, however minor) vs. Lady Violet (who is perfectly content to maintain the status quo). The scene where the two square off over tea makes me laugh. Isobel will not back down; Lady Violet is defending her wins. What makes this scene so hilarious is that Lady Violet, although she wins, has not done the work to grow the flowers -- her gardener has. To her everlasting credit, Lady Violet awards the Grantham Cup to the man who deserves it. One has the feeling that Isobel’s heartfelt “Bravo!” is as much for Lady Violet as it is for Mr. Molesley, Sr.

Bits and Bobs:

— The London Season no longer exists, per se, but many of the social events that were part of it still do. Five years ago, my friends and I decided to “do the season” and we went to all of the traditional events. It took up pretty much every weekend from May to August, but it was amazing fun.

— Eaton Square is still a highly prized London address.

— I always smile at Cora’s remark that she thought bringing up daughters was going to be like Little Women. There’s only one family of girls that got along that well, and that was the March family. My guess is that even the Alcott’s didn’t get along that well.

Well Said:

Sybil: “Poor Aunt Rosamond. All alone in that big house. I feel so sorry for her.”
Mary: “I don’t. All alone with plenty of money and a house in Eaton Square? I can’t imagine anything better.”
Robert: “Really, Mary, I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. There will come a day when someone thinks you mean what you say."
Mary: “It can’t come soon enough for me.”

Thomas: “I’ve often wondered if this place is haunted. It ought to be.”
O’Brien: “By the spirits of maids and footmen who died in slavery.”
Bates: “But not, in Thomas’s case, from overwork.”

Mary: “It’s easy to be generous when you have nothing to lose.”

Daisy: “I was only trying to help.”
Mrs. Patmore: “Oh, like Judas was only trying to help, I suppose, when he brought the Roman soldiers to the garden!”

Gwen: “It would only be Anna, and she wouldn’t give me away. She’s like a sister. She’d never betray me.”
Sybil: “Well then, she’s not like my sisters.”

Lady Violet: “The flower show? Oh, I thought I was in for another telling off about the hospital.”
Isobel: “No, this time it’s the flower show.”

Lady Violet: “You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.”
Isobel: “I take that as a compliment.”
Lady Violet: “I must have said it wrong.”

Robert: “Mary can be such a child.”
Cora: “What do you mean, darling?”
Robert: “She thinks if you put a toy down, it’ll still be sitting there when you want to play with it again.”

Anna: “Because… because, I love you, Mr. Bates. I know it’s not ladylike to say it, but I’m not a lady and I don’t pretend to be.”
Bates: “You are a lady to me. And, I never knew a finer one.”

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.

8 comments:

sunbunny said...

I can't believe Edith! I'd been feeling sorry for her. Bullied by her prettier older sister, unloved by the man she loved (engaged to marry said prettier older sister). But she really takes it too far in this episode. I expected her to 'tell on' Mary to one of their parents or perhaps Lady Violet, but putting the information out like that is just beyond the pale.

Continue to adore Maggie Smith's Lady Violet. Who doesn't love witty old ladies?

I would love to live in London, or at least to visit. I think I'd miss my sunshine, though. And Mexican food.

As always, ChrisB, your review was a delight to read!

Billie Doux said...

My favorite part was Isobel and Lady Violet, too. They are just so wonderful together and I love their little conflicts. It seemed that Lady Violet just didn't realize that they were giving her the prize every year because of who she was, or she she knew, but didn't internalize how unfair it was until Isobel pointed it out. I loved Violet giving her prize away.

Bates and Anna. Love them. Come on, Bates, whatever it is, get over it!

Chris, you are on fire! You're almost doing one a day, and these are long, very well written, fun to read reviews!

ChrisB said...

Thank you, ladies, for the compliments. I am having a lot of fun re-watching the show and doing the reviews.

And, sunbunny -- go to London when you get the chance. It's the best city in the world.

Josie Kafka said...

Chris, does "doing the season" mean you got to wear an awesome hat at Ascot?

ChrisB said...

Josie -- I did. We sat in the Royal Enclosure which has a very strict dress code. The men had to wear morning suits with top hats and we had to wear dresses or skirts (that fell below our knees) and hats.

All of the females in our party went to Harrods and bought the greatest hats we could find. it was fabulous!

The best part of the day was a horse called Damn Yankee which was running at something like 20:1. Being the only Yank in the party, I put a tenner on him -- and he won! Helped to pay for the hat...

Anonymous said...

Great review, Chris! And I'm so impressed you sort of did the Season - what a great idea! London is my birthplace (although I don't live in the UK now) but it's never occurred to me to do any of that stuff.

Maggie Smith must have the time of her life doing Lady Violet - she throws herself into it with such glee. I'm a lot less charitable about Mr Bates than you guys, however - I just want to shake him till his teeth rattle to make him stop being so noble.

Gavrielle

Suzanne said...

Great reviews, Chris. This is a lot of fun for me to have them to read right after my very first viewing of the show. My daughter and I just started watching it on Netflix, and we adore it. We finished Season 1 and thanks to you, it looks like we will be able to record Season 2 on PBS in time to catch up for Season 3. Your reviews are lovely just like the show. Thanks for taking so much time to write them.

Juliette said...

Chris, your reviews are opening up lots about British society I thought had died with WW2! though I did get to go to a passing out ball at Sandhurst one year, which involved a fairly strict dress code and was great fun.