Downton Abbey: Season One, Episode Seven

“My lords, ladies and gentlemen. Can I ask for silence. Because, I very much regret to announce that we are at war with Germany.”

It is certainly very easy to place this episode. It takes place in the days leading up to the 4th of August, 1914, which is clearly when the final scene occurs. Before we get there, however, a great many of the story lines we’ve been following all season come to satisfying conclusions.

The very first shot of the very first episode showed Bates making his way to Downton Abbey and, figuratively, leading us to it as well. What a change the past two and a half years have made. Bates has gone from being the lame valet that everyone is trying to have sacked to a valued member of the household. You would think that Thomas and O’Brien would have given up this fight by now, but no. O’Brien has gone out of her way to befriend a woman who can tell her the whole story. She gets it, but once again, all of their scheming leads them nowhere. Bates is so trusted that neither Carson nor Robert are willing to act on the news of the theft until they can get the facts; facts that Bates refuses to divulge.

Leave it to Anna to get to the bottom of it all. Refusing to believe the story in the letter, she runs all over London to get to the truth. Once she has it, she shares it with Robert, not Mr. Carson which is an enormous breach of protocol. It’s a testament to how much Bates loves this woman that he doesn’t resent this invasion of his privacy. The good news is what we’ve always suspected; Bates is innocent and his overly developed sense of honor got him into the mess.

To really throw things into an uproar, Cora discovers that she’s pregnant. Again, we see how much has changed since the Crawleys came to Downton all those months ago. Instead of being overjoyed at the news, which they all would have been two years ago, Matthew is obviously disappointed; Robert has offered Isobel and Matthew the house for life; Isobel is furious and even Carson is worried about Matthew.

Mary and Edith’s feud becomes almost unbelievably bitter and nasty. I was so pleased for Edith when it became clear that Sir Anthony was going to propose. Her being the first of the three girls to get engaged would have been the ultimate revenge, especially as no one (including her mother) thinks she is socially adept. We learn a lot about Edith’s role in the family from the conversation on the stairs. Sybil has been a great success in London; Edith has been helpful. Ouch.

I like Mary, I do. But, in this episode we really see the worst of her. When Mary discovers in London that it was Edith who told the Turkish Ambassador the Pamuk story, she is shocked but doesn’t doubt that Evelyn is telling her the truth. While I am a huge believer in karma and I believe that Edith had something coming to her, having her sister ruin her chance with Sir Anthony is a step too far. When Mary raises her glass to Edith as Sir Anthony walks away, I want to throw something at her.

But, Mary can’t gloat for very long as she has her own romantic mess on her hands. All of the debating around whether or not to marry Matthew is so cold hearted and calculating, but I really thought she would come to her senses in the end. The scene where Mary and Matthew break up always upsets me. Mary is being fickle and ridiculous, but Matthew is so proud and stubborn that he’s willing to throw it all away just to get even with her. These two need their heads knocked together. For the second time, we see Mary break down completely and, like the first episode, it is Carson to whom she turns for comfort.

Speaking of feuds, Isobel and Lady Violet have the greatest confrontation they have ever had over coffee after dinner. It is hilariously funny, but marks a sea change for these two indominatable spirits. By the end of the episode, they are actually talking together by choice and, my goodness, actually agreeing on something.

Similar to all the discussion around electricity in the first episode, the telephone has come to Downton. What a great way to wrap up Gwen’s story. The telephone is modern; so is how Gwen finally gets her secretarial job. Her employer comes from the working class and is willing to talk to someone else from the working class. I love the fact that, after all the discussion about what Gwen should wear to an interview, she gets the job while wearing her maid’s uniform. Sybil, of course, makes it all happen. She applies for Gwen; she sets up the interview; she stands guard over the interview and she is genuinely happy when Gwen is successful. The fact that Gwen hugs Sybil in her excitement says a lot about the relationship these two young women have forged. It was strictly forbidden for a housemaid to touch a member of the family, let alone throw her arms around one’s neck.

Like his daughter, Robert is extraordinarily generous and kind. Rather than throw Mrs. Patmore out, he pays for to go to the best eye hospital in London to have her operation. How unusual an act this is becomes clear when Mrs. Patmore is so shocked she has to sit down. But, she is still insecure about her job and asks Daisy to ensure that Mrs. Bird’s cooking isn’t up to standard. Luckily for all involved, it only the downstairs meal that is ruined, but I admire Daisy for standing by Mrs. Patmore. The woman has been so awful to her over the years, it would have been a wonderful opportunity for Daisy to get rid of her. But, that sweet girl supports the only mother she’s ever known.

O’Brien, egged on by Thomas, leaps to all the wrong conclusions and suspects that Cora is going to get rid of her. I’m not a fan of O’Brien’s, but the scene where she literally looks at herself in the mirror is haunting. It’s too late; Cora has lost the baby and now O’Brien will have to live with that for the rest of her life. Although she is hard on everyone around her, O’Brien is hardest on herself.

Unlike Thomas, who is his usual charming self during this episode. Volunteering for the Territorial Force hospital sounds braver than it actually is. This force was originally created to be the home defense during wartime; in other words, Thomas believes he will not have to go to the front. His speech about the baby is another example of how cold and cruel he can be, but this time William reacts and does what all of us have wanted to do for a very long time; he slugs him. Branson is right, he had that coming.

The end of this episode, and the end of this season, is exceptional. Robert makes the shocking announcement and one by one, the camera pans to each of the people upstairs and downstairs whom we have come to care about. As we witness their shock and horror, we also say goodbye until next year.

Bits and Bobs:

The Lady was the first magazine in Britain aimed at women. It is still the best publication in which to find domestic help and child care.

— Princip was the young Serb who actually killed the Archduke. The story of how it happened is extraordinary.

— Moorfields is still the best eye hospital in London.

— From Eaton Square to Belgrave Square. Rosamund certainly knows how to buy property.

— Blind Pew is a character in Treasure Island.

— The Black Hand were a nationalist group of Serbs and Croats who strongly resented the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their purported aim was to reunify all of the territories with significant Serb populations.

— The run up to the First World War happened quickly. Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria and his wife were assassinated by The Black Hand on the 28th of June, 1914. On the 28th of July, Austria declared war on Serbia, blaming that government for the assassination. Germany supported Austria and quickly declared war on both Russia and France. England declared war on Germany on the 4th of August, 1914.

Well Said:

Rosamund: “But then, after four seasons, one is less a debutante than a survivor.”

Robert: “I don’t understand what we’ve done differently.”
Cora: “Stop right there! If you want to know more, go down and offer the doctor some whiskey.”

Clarkson: “It’s unusual, obviously.”
Robert: “Unusual? It’s Biblical.”
Clarkson: “Not quite. You understand that women go through a… a certain… change.”
Robert: “Thank you. I know quite as much as I need to about all that.”

Mrs. Hughes: “Mr. Carson, Lady Mary Crawley does not deserve you.”

Lady Violet: “I mean, why would she want to leave me? I’ve been as gentle as a lamb.”
Cora throws her a look. “Most of the time.”

Mrs. Bird: “I’m surprised Lord Grantham knows that I exist, sir.”

Carson: “Mr. Bates, I hope you do not feel that I have treated you unjustly.”
Bates: “On the contrary, Mr. Carson. I am astonished at your kindness.”

Sybil: “Why, Granny, you’re a romantic!”
Lady Violet: “I’ve been called many things, but never that.”

Lady Violet: “Look at Matthew. I do admire him.”
Isobel: “Do you?”
Lady Violet: What have I done wrong now?”
Isobel: “Oh, please. Don’t pretend Mary’s sudden reluctance can’t be traced back to you.”
Lady Violet: “Well, I shall pretend it. I told her to take him. Your quarrel is with my daughter Rosamund, not me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Molesley: “Nice girl, that Anna. Do you know if she has anyone special in her life?”
Bates: “I’d like to say she hasn’t. I would, truly. But, I’m afraid there is someone, yeah.”
Molesley: “And, do you think he’s keen on her or is it worth a go?”
Bates: “Well, he keeps himself to himself. He’s very hard to read at times. But, I’d say he’s keen. I’d say he’s very keen indeed.”

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.

5 comments:

sunbunny said...

I actually sort of love that Mary gets back at Edith. Her response is certainly not proportional: Edith could have destroyed Mary's reputation forever, but Mary only ends one of Edith's prospects. The three sisters' relationships really remind me of the O'Hara sisters. The pretty, bitchy, man-stealing one, the plain, mean one, the sweet one.

On Mary's dealings with Matthew, however, I do want to slap her. Ugh. You love him, you ninny.

I love how everyone is so conflicted over Cora's news. They really have grown to care for Matthew. It's a nice detail.

O'Brien. Oh my God! While obviously, she is awful for doing that to Cora, I like that a different side of her came out afterwards. Before this, she's been pretty unequivocally evil. Now, she has a conscious. It might be slow, but at least it's there.

ChrisB said...

Great comparison to the O'Hara sisters! And, I agree with your assessment of O'Brien. I don't like her, but I find her fascinating.

M said...

The complicated relationship between Mary and Edith is one of the most interesting aspects of the show for me. While both Mary and Edith's actions are reprehensible, what Mary did to Edith feels worse to me. Edith has spent her entire lifetime being compared unfavorably to her cruel sister, and she finally had a chance to exact some revenge on her lifelong bully. I understand her desire to knock Mary down a few pegs in everyone's estimation. Edith may have ruined Mary's chances across the board, but they all think Sir Anthony may be Edith's ONLY chance, so it amounts to the same thing. Also, Mary lied, Edith told the truth. Plus, Mary hurt poor Sir Anthony in the process, without remorse. Of course, Edith has hurt her entire family's reputation, but I understand her anger at them as well. In the end, I may just sympathize with Edith because I don't like Mary. She is horrible and Matthew can do better.

Billie Doux said...

I'm not sure which of the two sisters did the worst. Sending that letter wasn't just a betrayal of Mary -- it was a betrayal of the entire family. But derailing Edith's sole marital possibility was just cruel, and as M pointed out, it also hurt Sir Anthony, an innocent bystander.

Okay, I'm going to go with Edith being the worst. She started it, and she went outside the family. Mary was reacting to what Edith did to her.

O'Brien went from being despicable to being interesting. Like every character on this show, she has depths. It's just too bad that Cora and actually, the entire family, had to suffer for it.

I thought it was appropriate that the series began with a telegram-ful of very bad news, and ended the same way. Nice bookending.

Thanks again, Chris, for getting me into this series. We're halfway through season two and are very much looking forward to season three in January.

Juliette said...

I was thinking what Mary did felt worse and everyone's comments have clarified why - Mary lies, and hurts Sir Antony. I really, really hate misunderstandings based on lies. Edith was very spiteful and what she did was almost as bad, but at least it was the truth.