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Downton Abbey: Season Two, Episode Four

“Oh darling, darling, don’t be such a baby. This isn’t Fairyland. What did you think? You’d marry the chauffeur and we’d all come to tea?”

The title card places this episode in 1918, but is not more specific than that. Although one gets the sense that the war is finally beginning to wind down, the end still a feels a way off. My guess is that this is relatively early in the year, late winter or early spring, so it has been approximately seven or eight months since we saw the house turned into the convalescent home.

The tension between Cora and Isobel has not diminished in the slightest and, in fact, comes to a head this episode. As I said in my last review, I believe that Isobel is the cause of much of the problem; but, Cora seems to be doing her part now. I believe it is because, for the first time, Cora feels as though she is doing something useful; something other than wearing clothes, drinking tea and running the house. The pride that comes from running the hospital takes over and she loses sight of Isobel’s feelings.

Their final confrontation shows just how badly this relationship has broken down; they spat at each other like children. I always wish they would just talk to each other like the adult women they are, but both are too proud and, now, too entrenched in her own point of view. Although I do believe that he is trying to be as neutral as possible, Dr. Clarkson ultimately sides with Cora. Not surprisingly. It is, after all, her husband who supports both the doctor and his hospital.

Isobel leaves for Paris which leaves her staff with nothing to do. Molesley has been trying for so long to get to the big house and Isobel’s leaving provides the perfect opportunity for him to do just that. I love the way he volunteers to help, hoping that his services will soon become indispensable. But, once again, he is thwarted at the eleventh hour.

Mrs. Bird, on the other hand, devotes her time and her resources to the soup kitchen. I’m glad that Molesley is such a big part of that as, to date, all we have seen him do for the war effort is lie to get out of going to the front. It is fun to watch the evolution of the soup kitchen. Mrs. Patmore and Daisy (who have obviously become friends) start to help out and to provide the food. O’Brien, not surprisingly, tries to stir up trouble, but it ends up backfiring on her. Cora is simply magnificent in the scene where she discovers what is happening and the fact that she forces O’Brien to help out always makes me laugh out loud.

Unlike her mother, doing something useful appears to have mellowed Edith a great deal. She is obviously keeping busy helping the soldiers and I find it interesting that Daisy would approach her, and not one of her sisters, when William goes missing. Edith is becoming known as the one who can solve problems. She is also now the one in whom her father confides the news that Matthew and William are missing.

The thing I like best about the new Edith is how she is thinking for herself and making choices based not on animosity, jealousy or spite, but on what she thinks is best. Standing against her father to tell Mary the truth about Matthew is not something this young woman would have done a year or so ago. It is also revealing of how much Mary has changed. She understands why Edith has done what she has and doesn’t pour blame or scorn down on her sister’s head.

A great deal of this episode revolves around the young women and the consequences they face when they become involved with a young man. Lady Violet is still harking on about Lavinia. Mary, who is the more adult here, is getting bored on the subject. She goes so far as to write Matthew that she is going to accept Richard. But, as soon as Matthew goes missing, it is clear that, although she is outwardly accepting Lavinia, Mary is still in love with Matthew. The look of relief on her face when he walks into the concert, the look he gives back to her, their singing together, the subtext of their conversation all shout that these two people need to come to their senses before they each marry the wrong person.

Contrary to what Branson says to Sybil, I don’t believe that she is in love with him, at least not yet. I think she is drawn to him and I think she responds to the parts of herself that he brings out, but those feelings are not strong enough to commit to him. Ironically, I believe that it is Sybil’s conversation with Mary in the bedroom that plants the idea in her head that maybe, just maybe, she can allow herself to explore the feelings she does have for him.

The conversation between Branson and Sybil in the garage tells us so much. Firstly, they are on his turf; he would not be welcome in the house, especially as Sybil’s beau. More importantly, we must remember how very young Sybil is and being asked to give up one’s whole world is a big ask. But, all Branson can see is how much he loves this girl. As a result, he is less than understanding about what it is that she is trying to tell him. It also doesn’t help his case that he puts down her work. Bad move, my friend.

Ethel, who has been heading for real trouble since we met her, meets it head on. She falls for Major Bryant’s lines and sleeps with him. As a result, she is thrown out of the house. What a bombshell at the end of the show. This poor girl is now facing the worst possible consequence to her actions. Major Bryant? Not so much. He is still in the house, still employed and blissfully ignorant of his coming child.

Anna has been keeping Bates’ secret that he is back in Yorkshire. Poor Daisy is, once again, the reason a secret is revealed to the wider world. This slip, however, shows us how much she is maturing. She doesn’t shirk when she is called in front of Carson and Mrs. Hughes and she doesn’t back down from Thomas. Carson and Robert are both furious at Thomas for keeping the news from them, an interesting contrast to how protective they both are of Anna before they learn that she already knows the secret. I’ve always thought the conversation between Anna and Robert is a lovely scene. At the beginning he is paternal; by the end, he is the one confiding in her.

One of my favorite scenes in the entire Downton story is the one between Robert and Bates at the pub. These two men have such a history together and are such good friends that watching them make up from their quarrel is simply lovely. They do fall back into old patterns quickly. Bates is still trying to protect Robert from the truth; Robert is confiding in Bates in a way he doesn’t do with anyone else -- not even Cora.

The good news is that Bates is home. Everyone is pleased to have him there, but the smile on Anna’s face and the way she can’t help herself from touching is arm when he walks in is heartwarming. At least one of our couples is heading in the right direction.

Bits and Bobs:

— While the Branson and Sybil romance is lovely and we can root for them all we want, it is important to remember that this is fiction. A romance between the chauffeur and the daughter of the house would have been unthinkable and, frankly, would never have gotten as far as this one already has.

— Mrs. Hughes firing Ethel “without notice and without a character” is severe, indeed. Not only has Ethel lost her home and her job, without a reference the chances that she will be able to find another are almost nil.

— Michelle Dockery has a lovely voice; Dan Stevens less so.

Well Said:

Mary: “Really, Granny. How can you say that I’m too worldly but Sybil’s not worldly enough? You cannot be so contrary.”
Lady Violet: “I’m a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”

Branson: “Truth is, I’ll stay at Downton until you want to run away with me.”
Sybil: “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Branson: “You’re too scared to admit it, but you’re in love with me.”

Mary: “Darling, what’s the matter with you? I’m on your side.”
Sybil: “Then be on my side!”

William: “But what are we patrolling for?”
Matthew: “You’ve been taking those logic pills again. This is the army, Mason. We’re going on patrol because we’re going on patrol.”

Robert: “I misjudged you, Bates, and I abused you when we parted. I should have had more faith. I’m sorry.”
Bates: “God knows you’ve shown more faith in me than I had any right to.”

Thomas: “I take orders from Major Clarkson. He runs this place on behalf of the army medical corps.”
Bates: “Yet another reason to pray for peace.”
Neither Carson nor Mrs. Hughes can hide their smiles.

Sybil: “Why are you smiling? I thought you’d be angry.”
Branson: “Because that’s the first time you’ve ever spoken about ‘us.'”

Anna: “I’ll be patient and bear anything. Except for you to go away again.”
Bates: “No, that’s done. You’re stuck with now. For good and proper.”

Edith: “I’m not trying to upset you, truly.”
Mary: “For once in my life, I believe you.”

O’Brien: “You mean you’re going to let them get away with it?”
Cora: “Oh, more than that. I’m going to help them. And, so are you.”

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 think you meant "Ethel" in the 12th paragraph; not "Edith." :)

    I like Branson and Sybil. He is a little too pushy a little too fast, but the actors have great chemistry. I love the scene where Matthew interrupts the concert. It's so cheesy and melodramatic, but I love it anyway. Mary's face is priceless.

  2. Oh dear God! These senior moments are coming too often these days.

    Thanks for the catch. All fixed now.

  3. I have a question about the time period. Cora and Violet were talking about how Mary was running out of time to get married in season one. I'm assuming the war and ensuing lack of marriageable men changed that assessment. Is there an approximate age when one began to be considered an old maid? I know in Regency-period England it was 27.

  4. Sybil is such a good, kind person, which is why I worry about her relationship with Branson. I don't think he treats her with much respect. He is constantly critical and condescending, and I worry that she is just a trophy for him. Moving from a world where she is underestimated for being a woman to a world where she is misjudged due to her upbringing doesn't seem like much of an improvement.

  5. sunbunny -- that is a really good question that I had to research a bit. Turns out the First World War changed everything. Until then, if I woman wasn't married by the time she was 25, people began to look on her as past her sell by date. We know that Mary has been "out" in society for four years when the war begins which would make her approximately 22 at the end of the first season.

    Because the war wiped out virtually a generation of men, a fair number of women were not able to marry. The social stigma that had accompanied being unmarried waned dramatically after the war.

    Hope this answers your question.

    M -- I see your point, but I do believe that Branson genuinely loves Sybil. I think he pushes it a bit far sometimes, but the genuine emotions are there.

  6. Even though Isobel had made a big hairy thing of herself and Cora was in the right, I felt badly when Isobel left.

    Loved the impromptu soup kitchen, and the way everyone joined in, especially Cora, was genuinely heartwarming.

    The ending, with Matthew and William walking into the concert, made me cry.


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