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Downton Abbey: Season One, Episode Four

“My fortune is the work of others who labored to build a great dynasty. Do I have the right to destroy their work or impoverish that dynasty? I am a custodian, my dear, not an owner.”

The notice that the fair is coming to town helpfully places this episode in late May, 1913. Six months have passed since the hunt and approximately a year has passed since Matthew and Isobel came to the village. The past casts a long shadow over this episode.

The feud at the hospital between Lady Violet and Isobel rears its head again. Molesley has a rash on his hands and Isobel instantly diagnoses the problem and pushes herself into the hospital to solve it. In a fantastic twist on the previous clash between these two women, it is now Lady Violet’s turn to correctly diagnose the problem, a simple allergy. I love the way she is laughing at Isobel as she walks out the door.

The entail and Mary’s inheriting the money are still being discussed, Lady Violet going so far as to try to rope Matthew into helping them. I’ve always taken this as a sign that Lady Violet is beginning to trust Matthew because, as more than one person points out, it is he who would lose the most if he could find a way to break the entail. Matthew’s relationship with Robert has also changed. Matthew is now confiding in him and asking his advice and Robert treats him paternally. As it becomes clear that the entail will not be broken and that Matthew will inherit, even Carson seems to be warming up to the man and the idea.

Pamuk’s death is still hovering over the people who know the truth about it. Anna and Mary discuss the fact that Cora cannot seem to be able to move past it and Mrs. Patmore makes a comment that Daisy has been off since it happened. Mary seems to still be very affected by the whole affair. She is obviously unhappy and several times we see her put herself down, first to Anna (“I don’t have a heart.”), then to Matthew (“You should learn to forget what I say.”), then to her father (“I’m stubborn.”). Finally, it all becomes too much for her and we see the mask slip. Sobbing, we hear what’s been on her mind, probably for the past six months -- her father loves Matthew more than he loves her and her mother doesn’t love her any more because of Pamuk. While we all tend to exaggerate when we’re that upset, there is a ring of truth to what Mary is saying, evidenced by Cora’s parting shot about Matthew as she walks out of her daughter’s bedroom.

In spite of all this, we get the first hint that Mary is growing to like Matthew. Their conversation at the fair is not only civil, it borders on confidential. Robert seems to understand that something is happening between Mary and Matthew. He gives Matthew a knowing smile when Matthew confides that Mary will resent him at this latest news and he plays matchmaker by going to bed and allowing them time alone in the library. It nearly works. Matthew comes very close to saying much more than I think he is ready to and Mary is, frankly, a bit shocked by what he does say. And, how do these two make a handshake as hot as a kiss?

Besides Matthew and Mary, romance is in the air this week. Even Mrs. Hughes has a small taste of it. Years ago, she made the decision not to marry and to stay on in service. Now, her suitor from all those years ago has come back and asked her to marry him again. While I’m sure she gave the offer serious thought, Mrs. Hughes already has a family of sorts. She and Carson are very much like an old married couple; she treats Bates like a brother and spats with O’Brien like a sister; the younger staff she treats as her children. In fact, I think it is the conversation with William that convinces her to stay.

William wants to ask Daisy to the fair, but he is beaten to the punch by Thomas. Thomas is almost irredeemably nasty in this episode, especially to William. It gets so bad that Gwen is visibly upset by it all and even Daisy begins to suspect that Thomas is not the knight in shining armor she has made him out to be. Daisy is caught up in a game of which she is completely unaware. The scene with Mrs. Patmore talking to Daisy is lovely on two counts. Firstly, it is clear how innocent Daisy truly is; she genuinely has no idea what it is Mrs. Patmore is trying to tell her. But, secondly and more importantly, it is the first time we have seen Mrs. Patmore be gentle with Daisy, almost maternal.

I love how Bates, usually one to respect everyone’s privacy to a fault, inserts himself into this game. He tries to comfort William; he scolds Daisy (who deserves it) and he goes after Thomas in a big way. In his own way, he is looking out for his own. In a gorgeous echo of the first episode, it is now Bates’ turn to bring Anna a tray up to her room. The flowers on the tray are such a lovely gesture and the two of them can say more just by looking at each other than most people can say when they’re actually talking to each other.

As if all this were not enough, another handsome man has entered the household. Branson, the Irish chauffeur who actually reads, can you believe it. Carson’s raised eyebrow when Robert tells him that Branson is allowed to borrow books always makes me smile. Branson is taken with Sybil from the start. The man has good taste. Sybil is obviously very bright and wants to change the world, even if it is just her small part of it. Her agreeing to help Gwen was not idle talk; she is actively helping the girl find a position by giving her clothes and encouraging her when things look bleak.

Her best quality, however, is her bravery. The show goes out on Sybil’s new frock; shockingly, not a skirt. The looks on everyone’s faces from Anna’s giggle, to her grandmother’s horror, to her parents’ shock, to Matthew’s grin are simply priceless. But, best of all, is the smile that Branson gives her as he gazes through the window at her. Now, if that isn’t a metaphor to end this episode, I don’t know what is.

Bits and Bobs:

— Erysipelas is a rash caused by a bacterial growth. Today, it is easily cured with antibiotics. Tincture of steel and solution of nitrate of silver both sound as though the remedy were worse than the rash.

— Beecham’s Powder was an OTC cold and flu medicine, very popular in its time.

— The whole bit with Lady Violet and the chair is simply hilarious, especially Matthew’s struggling to maintain his composure. I have watched those thirty seconds often and I laugh out loud every time I do.

— We learn that housekeepers and cooks are called “Mrs.” even though they never married.

Well Said:

Anna: “What about you? What about your heart?”
Mary: “Haven’t you heard? I don’t have a heart. Everyone knows that.”
Anna: “Not me, m’lady.”

Robert: “He seems a bright spark after poor, old Taylor. And to think Taylor’s gone off to run a tea shop. I cannot feel it will make for a very restful retirement, can you?”
Carson: “I would rather be put to death, m’lord.”

Lady Violet: “Good heavens! What am I sitting on?”
Matthew: “A swivel chair.”
Lady Violet: “Oh, another modern brainwave?”
Matthew: “Not very modern. They were invented by Thomas Jefferson.”
Lady Violet: “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”
Matthew: “I’ll fetch a different one.”
Lady Violet: “No, no, no, no. I’m a good sailor.”

Mary: “My life makes me angry, not you.”

Lady Violet: “Sybil, darling, why would you want to go to a real school? You’re not a doctor’s daughter.”
Sybil: “But, nobody learns anything from a governess apart from French and how to curtsey.”
Lady Violet: “What else do you need? Are you thinking of a career in banking?”
Sybil: “No, but it is a noble profession.”
Cora: “Things are different in America.”
Lady Violet: “I know. They live in wigwams.”
Cora: “And when they come out of them, they go to school.”

Matthew: “The question is, what do I say to Cousin Violet?”
Robert: “Oh, don’t worry about that. I can handle her.”
Lady Violet: “Really? Well, if you can, you must have learned to very recently.”

Mary: “And, I mean nothing in all this.”
Matthew: “On the contrary. You mean a great deal. A very... great deal.”

Sybil: “Is there anything more thrilling than a new frock?”

Mrs. Hughes: “Leaving? When would I ever find the time?”

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.


  1. I continue to like Mary, Sybil, and the show overall more and more.

    Lady Violet vs. the swivel chair was hilarious, as was her walking in on Robert claiming he can handle her. Love Maggie Smith.

    I really didn't like Mary at first but I've definitely warmed up to her. The worry that she's being replaced by Matthew came across as so genuine, it really made me want to give the poor thing a hug.

  2. The wigwam scene is one of my favorites of the whole series and it's not even an important one. Every time I see it, I wish the camera would follow Lady Violet into the room instead of moving over to Mary and Matthew--I know, I'm supposed to care about their relationship, and I do, but I really want to know what more she has to say about Americans!

    I also love everyone's reactions to the new "frock!" Sybil is my favorite of the upstairs people and this scene just adds to that.

    Great review, as always, ChrisB!

  3. I am so rooting for Bates and Anna. They're absolutely lovely together. And I was hoping Mrs. Hughes would return to her old flame, although it seemed more likely that she wouldn't want to leave her Downton family. And I was rooting for Sybil. She seems to be the best of the three sisters.

    I think this was the episode where it occurred to me that I didn't see any of the characters as the actors who are playing them. It feels like we have a secret camera in this house, doesn't it?

  4. Billie: I think seeing the characters rather than the actors is probably easier if you don't see a lot of British TV. The actor who plays Bates played a very similar character in the period drama Lark Rise To Candleford and I have trouble keeping them apart - the limp is the only clue:).


  5. sunbunny and Billie -- I am so pleased that the two of you are enjoying this show so much. I feel as if I have repaid part of the debt I owe both of you for the amazing shows both of you have persuaded me to watch!

    a.m. -- I love the wigwam scene as well, especially Cora’s retort. Try as I did, I couldn’t work it into the review itself, so I had to settle for just transposing the entire thing at the end.

    Gavrielle -- your comment about Brendan Coyle made me smile. The first time I watched Downton, I struggled to see Bates as a romantic figure because Coyle has always played father figures in the shows that I have loved him in (North and South, Starlings and my favorite, Lark Rise). It’s a testament to his acting that, eventually, I was able to see him only as Bates, at least while watching this show.

    Thanks to you all for the comments. They enhance the pleasure of writing these reviews tenfold.

  6. Chris,

    Re-"quoting" you as a mirror :

    (even though I do NOT watch D Abbey)

    Thanks to you and all (writers) for the reviews. They enhance the pleasure of watching some of my fave TV shows tenfold.


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