Deception and manipulation were major themes in episode five of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic PBS last night as Downton’s residents battle challenges and conflicts of a personal nature.
We were introduced to a mysterious new patient at Downton’s officer convalescent hospital who claims to be related to the Crawleys; ex-housemaid Ethel, now destitute with an infant, is desperate for support from the father Major Bryant; wheelchair bound Downton heir Matthew has written himself out of everyone’s lives; Lady Mary’s fiancé is showing his true colors; and wicked witch Vera Bates has dropped a house on her husband, valet Mr. Bate’s divorce proceedings. Phew. After last week’s somber episode on the personal losses of war, this episode seemed like a picnic beset by fire ants with everyone on the move and clamoring for survival amongst the fallout. Here is a brief recap from PBS:
Recap of Episode 5 (spoilers)
1918 promises the war drawing to a close, yet uncertainty still reigns. With its ruined aristocratic houses, rationing, and fallen officers, war’s aftermath opens some doors for the present and former servants and slams shut others. Meanwhile, Isobel’s post-war plans create an indomitable, if unlikely, alliance. But when a mysterious stranger arrives, Downton faces more turmoil.
Sir Richard is anxious to take not just Downton’s most beautiful asset, but one of its most treasured as well. In return and against Robert’s wishes, he restores a powerful replacement in its halls. And Vera Bates takes startling action.
“Did they tell you we’re related?” Major Patrick Gordon
“Yes, but I am afraid I’m not much good at family history.” Lady Edith
Here we seen Lady Edith in the dark and being drawn in because someone reaches out to her. Last year, I was not on Team Edith, at all. This season we are seeing a different side to her, more compassionate and vulnerable, and it is swaying my view. The introduction of Patrick Gordon/Crawley is a very uncomfortable plot line for her and all of her family. Is this soldier impersonating her cousin the long lost heir to Downton Abbey who went down with the Titanic in 1912? This is a low blow to poor Edith, considering that he was engaged to her sister Mary who didn’t really love him, but she did. I don’t have a good feeling about where this might go and am quite protective of Edith, since no one seems to care two figs about her, or give her any credence in the household. If she is evolving into the Anne Elliot of Downton, where is her Captain Wentworth?
“Go to a big city. Reinvent a past. You’ve broken the rules my girl. And it’s not good pretending it’s easily mended.” Mr. Hughes
Ethel, one of Downton’s residents, or more correctly ex-residents, is in a tight spot. After being fired for doing the wild thing with an officer, Ethel the ex-housemaid is really pressuring Mrs. Hughes to intercede on her behalf. The father won’t acknowledge the baby and Mrs. Hughes, feeling compassionate about Ethel’s bleak situation, even asks for Lady Cora’s help in inviting the dead father’s parents to Downton in the hopes of an introduction. Ethel continues to act outside of decorum which just pushes everyone’s buttons beyond measure. This situation is out of control too.
“A cease fire will begin on the morning of the 11th.” Lord Grantham
Best news in five years for the Downton residents. Unfortunately, another 11,000 soldiers will die before the news of the armistice reaches them. Factoid via Vic at Jane Austen’s World twitter feed. Life as the British aristocracy knows it, will never surface again.
“If you think you can jilt me or somehow set me aside I tell you now you have given me the power to destroy you, and don’t think I won’t use it.” Sir Richard
Speaking of backbone, Sir Richard’s entire skeleton is poking out of his Saville Row suit in this scene. I was screaming at Lady Mary to flee for her life. Does anyone want to marry someone who threatens you with blackmail even before the ceremony? I don’t think so.
It was interesting to see how both the upstairs and downstairs residents of Downton react to the changes of the impeding close of WWI. We begin to see the final impact of five years of hardship, human loss and economic devastation on England and at Downton. War widows Daisy and Jane face the fact that there are so few young men left that they will most likely not re-marry; many of the injured men like Matthew Crawley and Major Gordon will require long-term care; opportunists like Thomas will be drawn into quick money schemes like the black market; and carpetbaggers like Sir Richard Carlisle will be ready to swoop in and purchase estates from hard hit families. The social and economic structure of the English aristocrats will never be the same.
I am a bit taken aback by the difference in tone of this season from the nuanced and more conversational feel of season one. I am concerned about the over dramatic, soap operaish direction that screenwriter Julian Fellowes has chosen. The plot line introducing Patrick Gordon as the imposter (or not) heir and his non-English manners and speech is over the top and trite. Didn’t this same situation happen in a Dynasty or Dallas episode from the 1980’s? In addition, with the announcement this past week of actress Shirley MacLaine as Cora’s American mother into the cast for season three, will we be witness to two mighty matrons: the Dowager Countess Violet and Cora’s mother verbally sparing? They seem perfectly suited for a throw down of polished English values v progressive American ideals. But please Mr. Fellowes, no cat fight in the Downton fountain.
Images courtesy © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE; text Laurel Ann Nattress, © 2014, Austenprose.com