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Downton Abbey: Season Five, Episode Four

“We mustn’t destroy what we’re trying to protect.”

Although the world is changing at a breakneck pace in these years between the wars, one age old institution has not. Interestingly, the stories that were told this week all had to do with an institution that is still changing and evolving today -- the institution of marriage.

In this episode, we saw all phases of marriage. We witnessed a young girl’s thoughts of it, a difficult courtship, the probable death of a lover, a proposal, a turning down of a proposal, a flirting with someone not one’s spouse, the possibility of past adultery, and the final dissolution of a marriage beyond saving.

Rose has never been my favorite character, but the change in her this season is positive. I admire what she is doing to help the Russians and she seems to have settled down a great deal. I was impressed with the way she coerced her father into agreeing to allow her to marry whom she loves, not whom she should. This would be a big ask for a girl of her age and her social standing. I also admired her father’s admission that he is not one to judge when it comes to marriage.

Because, his marriage has finally fallen apart. In a society where divorce was social and professional suicide, it is possible to imagine just how badly things have disintegrated for these two people to take such a drastic step. In an odd way, it requires a great deal of courage to stand up to all convention. It is clearer now where Rose gets her steel.

Speaking of steely, Sarah and Tom’s courtship hit a major stumbling block. I blame Sarah. As much as I have come to dislike Robert, it was Sarah who was in the wrong at that dinner party. She is, after all, a guest in that house and she behaved atrociously. She forced her point and, after Robert has graciously admitted that she was right, she was downright rude.

I understand why Tom is attracted to her; she and Sybil share many of the same qualities. But she, unlike Tom and (of course) Sybil, is unable to see the good in these people. Yes, they are the ruling class, but they are people who deserve a modicum of respect. By disrespecting them to such a degree, Sarah is disrespecting Tom. He doesn’t deserve it.

Robert was less awful this episode than he usually is. Although he is still fighting any changes at Downton, I liked the compromise he reached with Tom and Mary about building the houses. It does seem that there would be a way to preserve the beauty of the estate while developing it.

His scene with Edith was positively moving. He obviously loves his daughter and is distressed that she is so unhappy. It is rare that we see Robert show emotion to any degree at all; it is lovely when he shows it to someone who obviously needs his love right now.

Edith’s story just gets more sad. It is now becoming increasingly clear that Michael is probably dead and Mrs. Drewe is literally closing the door in her face. Edith is becoming more fragile and brittle with every episode. While she’s never been a tower of strength, it is difficult to watch her sinking deeper into depression all the time.

Mary, on the other hand, has awoken from a dream as she tells Gillingham. She knows that she doesn’t love him and she refuses to tie herself to him. I was a bit taken aback at the way he spoke to her; he very nearly called her a whore. And, the fact that he refuses to accept the reality of their situation worries me. He seemed more than hurt; he seemed controlling.

While Mary is coming into her own, Cora is reaching the end of her patience. Tired of constantly being shuttled aside, she is responding to Bricker’s obvious infatuation and attention. As Cora has a strong moral streak, I will be surprised if she allows this relationship to develop into anything other than a mild flirtation. I understand, however, the temptation.

A temptation, I now believe, to which Lady Violet succumbed back in the day. The fact that Prince Kurigan asked her to run away with him leads me to believe that their relationship progressed to the physical. Her throw away line about the fact that she owes the princess just firmed up my suspicion.

If, in fact, Lady Violet had an affair, it would explain a lot of what has come before. Since the first season, when she learned of Mary’s indiscretion with Pamuk, Lady Violet has always managed to find a way to understand and to come to terms with her granddaughters’ affairs of the heart. Now, we know why.

I loved the scenes this week between Lady Violet and Isobel. The deep respect, if not exactly friendship, these women share is wonderful. Lady Violet takes Isobel for support when she goes to see the Prince; Isobel confides in Lady Violet about Lord Merton’s proposal. What I love about these two women is that, even at their most vulnerable, they can’t help but snark at each other.

We’re halfway through the season and, frankly, not a whole lot has happened. There has not been a great story told nor has there been any significant character development, especially compared to past seasons. I’m still enjoying the series immensely, but it’s because I get to spend time with the characters, not because I am breathless to see what happens next. We almost know, don’t we.

Bits and Bobs:

— Since I posted the last review, I watched The Manners of Downton Abbey. Hosted by Alastair Bruce, the series’ historical advisor, it is a fun account of between the wars customs and habits. There are some very interesting bits about why people acted the way they did and Bruce’s knowledge is extensive. While it is certainly not necessary viewing to enjoy the series, I found it fun.

— Once again, I am going to gloss over the Bates/Anna/did one of them murder Green plot. It’s too dull to spend much time on.

-- Thomas certainly seems to have fallen into something horrible. The syringe made me think of heroin, but I hope I’m wrong. My fear is that the poor man is trying to “cure” his homosexuality; it is fairly clear that Baxter shares that fear. The fact that this woman can be so compassionate towards Thomas shows us just what she is made of.

-- Moseley and the “First Footman” joke went on for far too long. In fact, I found myself rather resenting Mrs. Hughes and Carson for bullying this man who so obviously just wants to move on in the world.

-- I hope Mrs. Patmore finally gets Archie’s name on one of the memorials. I loved the way that Mrs. Patmore stood up to Carson and defended her nephew. Of course, the irony is that now we understand just how bad shell shock was for these poor men.

-- Historical bit: In 1923, a young, decorated World War I veteran and member of the German Workers’ Party attempted a coup in Munich in seize power. The group of men who followed him wore brown shirts and were virulently antisemitic and anti-communist. This young man’s name was Adolf Hitler.

Well Said:

Lady Violet: “Oh, Isobel. I didn’t think it would be like this.”
Isobel: “No, neither did I.”
First names? Lady Violet must be upset.

Lady Violet: “Hope is a tease, designed to prevent us accepting reality.”
Isobel: “Oh, you only say that to sound clever.”
Lady Violet: “I know. You should try it.”

Anna: “I just wish we could all forget about Mr. Green.”
To which, I suspect, we all concur.

Lord Merton: “I really should go down on one knee, but I fear I’d never get up again.”
I’m not sure why, but I found this utterly charming.

Lady Violet: “I never take sides in a broken marriage.”
Shrimpie: “Why is that?”
Lady Violet: “Because however much the couple may strive to be honest, no one is ever in possession of the facts.”

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. Thanks for the review Chris - you always find bits of things that I didn't notice and it increases my enjoyment of the show so much. I agree with you that not much is happening in the show that isn't a retread of previous things but I also agree that I just like hanging out with this family and everyone associated with them. I found Sarah a very interesting character - she not only reminded Tom but also me that I don't really support the existence of such riches in a world of want but I am being charmed by the people and the beauty of it all. Interesting choice to bring her character into the show.

  2. The way Gillingham reacted to being told no confirmed for me that Mary had made the right decision. She doesn't need another Richard in her life. I really hope they don't go with a plotline of Gillingham going for revenge, it would be too much of a recycling of Mary's previous scandal.


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