Downton Abbey: What Would Sybil Do? (Recap S6 E4)
It’s the day after the butler and the housekeeper got hitched. Robert, Tom, Edith, and Mary are all at breakfast. The arrival of her son-in-law is no reason for Cora to break tradition. She’s taking a tray in her room. The children aren’t there either. Sure everyone was thrilled to see Sybie when Tom showed up, but children at table? Times haven’t changed that much.
Tom wonders if he stole the happy couple’s thunder showing up on their special day. The family insists he could only have made them happier. Because sure why not? The chauffeur who married the boss’ daughter was always a favorite of Mr. Carson. Tom reports he left Boston because ultimately, “America was another country.” Isn’t England also “another country” to the Irish? When did Tom become English? Was it maybe about the time he got used to dressing for dinner and never seeing his daughter?
Edith does a slight bit of Mary snipping when she suggests that surely her sister won’t be working as the agent now that he’s back. Is Edith a little jealous because working was going to be her thing? Tom says he’ll do whatever is best for everyone. Mary says she’ll bring him “up to date” after breakfast. She’s not giving up her power.
Speaking of power, Barrow is lording it over the underlings in his very temporary role of substitute butler while Carson is off on his honeymoon. Sgt Willis stops by but not to talk to Anna or Bates. “Nice change,” Anna says in a bit of self-referential humor we could use more of, and its nice to see her not looking completely miserable for a change. She still hasn’t lost the baby, or told Bates she’s pregnant. Willis is there to see Baxter. They speak in Carson’s office, with Moseley as chaperon, to the chagrin of Mrs. Patmore who’d love to be standing in for Mrs. Hughes. Baxter’s old flame what led her down the garden path is in jail, and may be going to trial for ruining some other woman. Willis wants her to testify that he profited from the jewels she stole, but she doesn’t say she will. He’ll leave her a couple of days to consider it. When he’s gone, she tells Moseley she’s not going to do it. Moseley tries to persuade her by quoting, Edmond Burke, the father of modern conservatism because Julian Fellowes is writing him.
Note to Moseley, being pedantic is NOT a turn on.
Tom tells Mary he’s a capitalist now “American style” because there a man could go to the top in one lifetime and not just by marrying money. Tom will work with her on the estate for now, but he’s thinking about another future not all about Downton. She says he’s her brother, and she’s fine with whatever he does. Will that brother line finally shut up the Tom and Mary ‘shippers?
They discuss Yew Tree Farm, and both agree that it makes sense for the family to take it over and lease out the house. Because sure who wouldn’t want to rent a cozy cottage on a pig farm?
Downstairs Daisy, who is bipolar this season, is going on about how great it is that Mr. Mason will be taking over the farm. Barrow sets her straight based on what he heard upstairs, causing her to immediately curse the Crawleys. Mrs. Patmore calls her Madame Defarge. Anyone notice how well read the staff are?
Violet has invited Lady Shackleton over for dinner as an ally on the hospital matter. Lady S brings her poor relation nephew with her, who turns out to be none other than Henry Talbot, aka Finn from The Good Wife, the man Mary flirted with at the Sinderby’s country soiree. Funny that both Crawley sisters are running into men they met at the same gathering. Not contrived at all!
We learn Henry doesn’t just like cars as in driving them, he’s an actual race car driver, which immediately makes Tom, who has an apparent man crush at first sight, envious. Mary makes no secret of her disinterest in cars, but the viewers of course know why she doesn’t like them, and Henry doesn’t. There’s no way Mary is going to give her heart to another man she might lose behind the wheel.
Violet and Lady S are discussing the chemistry between Mary and Henry, as well as his lack of “prospects” by which they seem to mean both money and a title. Lady S says forty “strong men” would have to die in order for him to get a sir in front of his name. Violet says, “Nothing is impossible.” Robert, who we might remember married Cora for her money, chides them.
Turns out even Lady Shackleton is leaning toward the Cora/Isobel position on the hospital, and Violet is not having any of it. When Edith suggests that cousin Isobel is entitled to put up an argument. Violet shoots back that she’s not entitled to win it.
The hospital business is not going away is it?
Dinner turns into a shouting match, which is great because it’s been a while since we’ve had an exciting meal at Downton. But unlike at some previous gatherings, no one walks out. Before the evening is done, Henry gives Mary his card, and it’s clear his coming with his aunt was no accident.
More of Robert’s ulcer. Red-herring or is Violet going to outlive her son?
New day: Downstairs Baxter is annoyed at Moseley who told Cora about Sgt Willis’ visit, not in a blackmailing sleazy way like Barrow would have, but for her own good, which is a well-meaning but nevertheless jerky thing to do. Barrow and Baxter are having one of their heart to hearts, in which Barrow admits he does feel hurt when everyone is hating on him and making comments about how he’ll soon be out of their lives. Why would anyone do that? Could it have anything to do with his blackmailing sleaziness, maybe?
Willis is back. He tells Baxter more explicitly about the lives her ex has ruined. Two of his previous victims became prostitutes. One is dead. He explains if her name is on the witness list, he might cop a plea. She finally agrees. Moseley later asks her why. She says she did it for the other women he “ruined,” like he ruined her. Moseley tells her she’s not ruined. Thank you, Moseley for speaking to her directly and not just throwing somebody else’s words at her because you read them in a book.
Aunt Rosamund is visiting and she has a mission. She’s a trustee at, Hillcroft, a college founded for “poor but promising” women. She wants to get Edith involved, and she’s invited the treasurer, Mr. Harding, a successful “self made” man, closer to Edith’s age than to hers to luncheon at Downton. Is this a set up? Are Edith’s prospects so dim her aunt would set her up with a commoner? Nope, he’s got a wife, and when they come to the door, it turns out his wife is Gwen, who back before the war was a maid at Downton, till she ran off and got one of those real jobs that pay money.
Barrow recognizes her and can’t wait to bring the news downstairs.
Are we in for more fun in the dining room?
Tom greets her and she quickly tells him her husband just said they were going to see a Lady Penswick, and she’d forgotten that the lady was Rosamund. She’s not keeping her shameful past from Mr. Harding. She just never mentioned where she was in service. Wait, you mean she didn’t boast about having had the honor of making Lady Mary’s bed?
Mary is the only one who thinks she looks familiar and asks if they’ve met. Gwen says they haven’t really. Mr. Harding credits his wife as being the woman behind Hillcroft. Gwen explains that she’d been a secretary at a telephone company, and how the telephone “changed everything.” She’d gone from on to local government, but she thinks she could have gone further if only she’d had a better education. A clueless agrees that’s it’s an issue. All she ever learned was French and dancing.
Isobel “I coulda been a doctor” Crawley seems to see herself in the younger woman. Everyone is impressed. Isobel pronounces her the embodiment of the 20th century self-made woman. As written, she’s a Tory wet-dream, a plucky lass who pulled herself up by the bootstraps, and is now giving back out of her own generosity, and not because the tax man is forcing her to.
Upon hearing the news about their visitor, Daisy says no one will recognize her because they don’t look at their faces. Mrs. Patmore asks if Karl Marx could be bothered to help with the liver pate. When did Miss Bunting’s restless soul enter her body?
Upstairs, there’s a mention of Mr. Carson, and Barrow, who’s pouring water says, “You remember Mr. Carson, don’t you Mrs. Harding?” Smooth. Real smooth, Thomas. Then he announces that she used to work there. Does this go as he planned? Mary seems a little perturbed. After all, Gwen had “every opportunity” to fess up, and she did ask if they’d met before. Gwen apologizes but says in her own defense they’d never “met.” None of them had ever spoken to her the two years she lived there.
Downstairs everyone is appalled but not surprised at what Barrow has done. Anna tells him that Robert isn’t going to like it. He says that Lady Mary didn’t like being made a fool of. Bates says he was jealous, leading Barrow to an outburst about how Gwen had abandoned service the first chance she got, but he’s stuck it out all these years only to find himself turned out of the house. Baxter tells him he’s his own worst enemy.
The Crawleys are feeling a bit chastened, but things take a turn when Gwen talks about the one Crawley who did know her face – Lady Sybil. It was Sybil who “did everything,” encouraged her, helped her set up interviews, even cornered the telephone man when he came to install the phone line, so he could talk to Gwen about the job. “Her kindness changed my life” she says and it looks like everyone will burst into tears. A choked up Mary, thanks Barrow for reminding them of Gwen’s time there.
Before she leaves, Gwen comes downstairs, accompanied by Robert and Tom to say hello. Robert tells Barrow he doesn’t like what he did. Daisy corners Tom and talks to him briefly about Yew Tree, reminding him that Mr. Mason’s son worked at the house and died for his country.
That evening, as Anna helps Mary dress for dinner, Mary says she wishes she could be more like the caring Sybil. Anna doubles over, and worries she’s losing the baby. Is it too late to them to get to the doctor who can do the magic stitch to save the baby? Not if Mary can help it. The last train to London has left already, so Mary gets Tom to drive them to York, telling the family she has her own little doctor’s thing but not to worry. Bates clearly suspects something as they drive away.
Downstairs, when Andrew wonders what the sudden emergency was, Baxter says, “it’s none of our business. Bates replies, “Very true, Mrs. Baxter. For once I agree with you.” What’s up with that? Is that a call back to the time he thought she said something about his whereabouts to the coppers? Wasn’t all that settled when she and Moseley went to every pub in York, not just on an epic pub crawl, like in The World’s End, but to help him prove his whereabouts at the time of the unfortunate Mr. Green’s death? And who wouldn’t love to see the spin-off series where Moseley and Baxter become amateur sleuths?
Daisy, who has been working herself up for a couple of days, is now ready to pop. She’s going upstairs to yell at Cora over the farm. Even Barrow, a fan of the drama, tries to keep her from going, probably out of fear it’ll reflect badly on him. No one can stop her. Baxter goes up with her.
By now it’s after dinner. Edith speculates that Mary’s sudden trip was simply Mary drama. Tom comes home. They all decide Yew Tree will go to Mr. Mason because that’s what Sybil would have wanted, and they’re better off telling Mary about it when it’s a fait accompli. They’re all afraid of her.
As Cora leaves the library, she sees Baxter and Daisy. Before Daisy has a chance to start ranting, Robert comes out and tells her the news about Mr. Mason, which he thought was the reason she was standing there. As Cora and Robert go upstairs, Cora comments she has a feeling she just dodged something, but has no idea what. Who knows what goes on downstairs? Robert grabs his belly again. Is he a goner?
The next morning, Mary thanks the doctor who is “cautiously optimistic” that Anna will now be able to carry the baby to term. While Anna’s resting, Mary goes out to dinner with Henry at some jazzy club because it is the jazz age. They talk more about his being a car man, in case we didn’t get it yet. When is she going to tell him that’s how Matthew died? She’s had every opportunity.
Violet is laying down the justness of her cause to the family. It’s all about protecting their freedoms and keeping things from being controlled by big gobmint, plus something about magna carta. Nobody buys it. Even they know the gig is up for “the great families.” In another words, in case we missed it, it’s not just a not overly-exciting subplot. It’s a symbol.
Carson and uh Mrs. Carson are back. There’s a celebration in the servant’s hall and the family is going downstairs to join them. Violet remarks that she hasn’t been down to the kitchen in twenty years. Isobel asks her if she has her passport. They seem to be back to their normal sparring, and not the bare knuckle boxing.
Mary and Anna are back too, and Anna tells Bates the news. They both enjoy a moment of happiness. Could it be that the Bates are in for some tragedy-free days?
The upstairs people who don’t do all that well with change are extremely relieved when Carson announces that Mrs. Carson will still be called Mrs. Hughes “in this house.” There’s some chatter about Edith’s magazine. She says she’s going to hire a woman editor since most men won’t work for her. Violet balks, but Mary defends her sister. That’s something we’ve never seen before. Could we really be looking at a kinder, gentler Mary?
Carson and Mrs. Hughes-Carson are going to their cottage, but first Carson goes back to his old room to take a look around. Then he grabs the name plate from the door, a keepsake of his bachelor days, when butler’s didn’t marry or commute.
Overall, except for Daisy’s being super annoying, this was a solid episode. The upstairs and downstairs worlds are merging. England still is not, as Tom pointed out, a land of great opportunity, but class lines are shifting, boundaries becoming more fluid. Violet, standing in for the old ways, looks exhausted. An ex-maid can now be a lunch guest, and admired for raising herself up while Robert, the lord of the manner, can drop in below stairs twice. And Mary Crawley can adopt a new mantra, “What would Sybil do?” How long will that last?