Downton Abbey RECAP: The More Things Change... (S5:E1)
The Crowleys survived the Great War and the Spanish flu, but season five opens with a much bigger threat. This time, marrying a wealthy American half-Jewess or your poor relation cousin who is the actual heir won’t be enough to save Downton. It’s 1924, and omigod–THERE’S A LABOUR GOVERNMENT. The peasants are revolting! They are also leaving “service” for jobs that pay actual wages and have set hours. Lord Grantham is expecting a siege at any moment from people “devoted to the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for.”
Otherwise, things haven’t changed since our last visit. Downstairs, Mrs Hughes and Carson never admit their love for each other because English and duty. Thomas schemes. Mrs Patmore cooks. Daisy prattles. Upstairs, Mary is still super mean to her sister. Tom has forgotten he’s an Irish socialist. Lady Rose–a.k.a. Sybil-Lite–is still a fixture. How is she related to everyone again? And what trouble will she be getting into next?
Edith’s beau with the crazy-wife-in-the-attic is still missing and presumed dead–though I’m pretty sure he’s going to come back like Ronald Coleman in Random Harvest at some ridiculously inconvenient moment. She has left her spawn–now a toddler named Marigold–with her friend, Farmer Tim. Mrs. Tim only knows that “Her mother was an old friend of Tim.” Is there some reason Mrs. Tim can’t be trusted with the truth? This is what we call a “soap opera problem” which means it’s a problem that would NOT exist if people talked about what’s really going on. When Edith drops by to visit–ALL THE TIME–and fawns like crazy over the baby, of course Mrs. Tim thinks the lonely Lady Edith has a ginormous crush on her husband or is maybe just a really creepy child-obsessed stalker.
Remember fish-out-of-water Isobel Crawley and her strong middle-class values? She’s being courted by the recently widowed Lord Merton. Despite his posh accent, she kind of likes him. What does the dowager think of this? On the surface she is delighted for cousin! And isn’t it always about the surface–and not the barely suppressed rage underneath?
Meantime at the Abbey, everyone’s getting ready for a formal dinner in honor of Robert and Cora’s 34th wedding anniversary. That makes 34 years since Martha Levinson brought Cora over to trade her fortune for a title and Robert did his duty for England and married an heiress. Ain’t love grand!
Handsome James the Footman is in a tizzy because his old employer, Lady Anthrax, is coming for a visit. She’s lonely and wants to play footsy with him. Who does he entrust with this information? Thomas, of course! Because why not tell the creepy blackmailer who is kind of obsessed with you?
We are reminded yet again that the times they are a-changing when a delegation from the village asks Carson–NOT Robert–to head a committee charged with planning a war memorial. Robert tries to put on a brave face, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before they cart him off and put him up against a wall.
If only it were that easy!
Yes, gentle reader, I do hold a grudge against his lordship. I realize many of you think Lord Grantham is not that bad. He supported his (probably murderous) butler Bates, he did not have sex with that woman in season two, and he doesn’t care that Thomas is into dudes. He even loves his dog! But you know who else loved his dog?
I’m not saying Robert is evil, but he is stupid and stubborn–and it was his decision to go with Dr. Lord Fancy-Pants over good ol’ Dr. Clarkson that led to Sybil’s death. I will never forgive him, even if his family seems to have developed amnesia.
Rose, Edith and Tom (who is not Thomas, and why the hell did the writers of the show do that?) go off to the village school to give out awards. Robert worries that Tom will see that damn socialist school teacher again, which is “disappointing” because Robert had hoped Tom had learned how to be a twit. He does see her, but things are a little awkward, maybe because she managed to piss off his father-in-law/employer the last time they met.
Well, that was an exciting day!
Come evening, Mary tries to talk to Robert about “crop rotations” because even she understands that the gold-digging business isn’t what it used to be. Men are more interested in chorus girls than titled ladies, so they probably should try to get some money out of all that land they own. (Must be those enterprising American genes coming through.)
In the shadows Thomas is threatening Baxter–Cora’s maid. He got her the job and has something on her. Crap, Thomas. Why do you have to be so evil?
Mrs. Patmore’s assistant, Daisy, is LITERALLY burning the midnight oil, taking a correspondence course so she can learn to keep the books on her father-in-law’s farm–because times they are a-changing and Labour government. Think there’s a theme here?
The next day, Mr. Tim and Edith discuss the Marigold situation. Looks like Edith didn’t actually tell him she was Marigold’s mother, but he figured it out because he is not an idiot like Lord Grantham. But instead of asking Edith’s permission to tell his wife the truth, he tells Edith they must come up a with a way to “live the truth without telling anyone the truth.” Right, because that sounds so much easier than just telling his wife.
Then, because everybody is up in everybody else’s business, Mrs Hughes, Mrs Patmore AND Carson all have to discuss Daisy’s studies. Hughes thinks it’s fine for Daisy to learn a thing or two. Carson thinks it’s a bad thing because class warfare.
Anna is helping Mary get dressed because it’s so hard to do it by yourself, and they are having one of those intimate discussions about Mary’s life they have because Lady Mary is the center of the universe. They talk about the sex and how the world’s gone mad today and good’s bad today and anything goes. Mary is both repelled by this and fascinated. She tells Anna, “Lady Cunard’s daughter was so graphic I almost fainted.” How long has Charles been dead? No wonder Mary seems so brittle.
Rose and Edith decide to invite Miss Bunting to dinner because Tom should have a life and they don’t know how much Robert HATES her. This should be fun.
Violet is having a luncheon. She’s invited Isobel and Lord Merton and Dr. Clarkson, who used to be sort of in love with Isabel, and Lady Shackleton, who is a recently widowed member of the upper crust and more suitable for Lord Merton as they both suffer from lockjaw.
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble,” Isobel says because she is no fool.
Violet definitely has too much time on her hands. This is what happens when you are a hundred years old and don’t have mah-jong or even bingo.
Meantime at the big house, Thomas is pressuring Miss Baxter. He knows she knows something that he doesn’t which connects his archenemy Mr. Bates to Mr. Green–Tony’s servant what got murdered–so he threatens to tell Cora all about Miss Baxter’s past. Mosley, the unfortunate footman whom no one appreciates, overhears. He doesn’t know what Miss Baxter did, but he totally lurves her. He has tried to color away his gray and wound up with blue-black hair. Despite looking slightly ridiculous, he gives her sound advice: TELL CORA WHATEVER IT IS BEFORE THOMAS DOES!
Mary has a moment alone with Tony in which she tells him, “I do love you in my cold and unfeeling way.” If only there were some way she could be certain they’d be happy together! She’s a prize, that one.
Despite not actually knowing the Crawleys, James’ old “mistress”–nudge, nudge, wink, wink–has finagled an invitation to the party and a bed for the night at the Abbey. She has no intention of sleeping alone.
While helping Cora get ready for the party, Baxter begins her sordid tale. She stole jewels from a previous employer. She got caught and couldn’t return them. She spent three years in prison. Before she can go any further, Robert enters the room, and the confession stops.
At the dinner, Robert pays tribute to the lovely wife he married for her fortune. Someone mentions the memorial, and Miss Bunting interrupts with a comment about the “pointless war.” Then Robert gets angry. Then Tom says something because he has to defend her, and suddenly everybody in America is getting Thanksgiving flashbacks.
And it gets even more like a family gathering gone wrong when Edith is brooding in a corner and Mary tells her, “Cheer up. You’re putting quite the damper on the evening.”
Thomas decides this is the perfect moment to tell Cora all about Baxter’s past. But Cora tells him she knows exactly what he’s up to and he may not have a future at Downton.
Miss Bunting insists on saying goodnight to the servants. Daisy is amazed by her book learning. Is this season going to be Educating Daisy? Because that would be AWESOME. Later, Tom and Robert have a moment together in which Tom assures Robert he won’t become a “hater” again, and bros before hos.
Cora tries to get the rest of Baxter’s story. But she won’t say much. (You know she was doing it for some bounder.) Cora tells her she’s not ready to make a decision about whether or not she can stay–which is rich people for “It’s hard to get good help now that the poor have other options.”
Downstairs, Carson tells Mosley, “I do not know why you have treated your hair with a special substance, but I can only say the effect on your appearance is not what you would have it. Take steps, Mr. Mosley, take steps!” This may be the line that changes everything, the next “He’s not that into you.” Ever wonder why you didn’t get the promotion? Maybe those pajamas you thought were “edgy” office attire, weren’t. Perhaps the effect on your appearance was not what you would have it. If only they’d told you instead of just giving you the severance package. You could have taken steps!
Back upstairs, Edith is still miserable because that’s her thing. She’s in bed reading a book that belonged to Gregson. She throws it down and doesn’t notice it knocked something out of the fireplace. (That something was fire.) Oops!
Thomas and James are loitering in the hallway. James is going to Lady Anthrax’s bedroom because Thomas has advised them this is the course of action least likely to cause trouble. Thomas will be the lookout. They notice Tony going into Mary’s room. Better be careful, Tony. The last man who tried that died in Mary’s bed. Tony does not attempt to sex her up. Instead he proposes he and Mary go away and become lovers so she can be “sure” before she becomes Mrs. Lady Tony. She acts shocked, which seems strange given she was hinting pretty clearly at something like this. But that’s Mary. What does she say? “No one must ever find out.”
Still in the hallway, Thomas notices smoke coming out of Edith’s room. He bursts in and carries her from the bed while yelling loudly enough to rouse Robert.
As Thomas carries Edith outside to get air and Tom gets the children out of the nursery, Robert knocks on doors warning the guests to get out. He bursts in on James and Lady Anthrax in bed.
Cora is so grateful to Thomas for saving her daughter’s life that she tells him he’s definitely not fired.
The fire brigade arrives quickly, and the blaze is put out. The damage is mostly to Edith’s room, so everyone is going back to the house. Anna runs over from the cottage. How does Mary describe the fire? “Lady Edith decided to set fire to her room. But we’re fine.” And you thought you had sibling issues?
Lady Anthrax tells Robert she’ll be “sneaking out” before breakfast. Robert tells Carson that James is totally fired but will get a good reference to avoid “talk.”
Farmer Tim is one of the firemen, and Edith goes over to talk to him about the Marigold situation because that won’t look suspicious at all! Looks like Mrs Hughes may have overheard something.
So Mary and Tony may be doing it soon. This business with Edith and her daughter can’t end well. The Green murder is still hovering over the Bateses. Daisy is trying to improve herself, and Isabel may be moving up socially. Not exactly a cliffhanger, but then again it’s Downton, not Scandal.