Mary’s in love, Barrow’s in tears, Carson’s pushing his luck, Daisy’s losing her manners, Isobel’s weakening, Lord Grantham’s bored and if looks from Violet could kill, pretty much everyone would be dead.
But the busiest chap on Downton Abbey’s fourth-to-last episode Sunday night was writer Julian Fellowes, who was scurrying about the chessboard at the speed of sound, positioning players on the paths to their finish lines.
He even teased us with an apparent resolution to the hospital story, though we know in our hearts that the King will be replaced by a street mime before the hospital argument ends.
Official word came down that the merger will go through as proposed, and Clarkson successfully proposed that Cora replace Violet as chairman of the board.
Cora agreed, saying she was ready for a job now that she no longer had to raise the girls, an amusing image considering that most Brit aristocrats see their children about as often as they see Halley’s Comet.
In any case, no one was rushing to tell Violet, since this would be roughly as palatable as telling her she would have to wear clown shoes for the rest of her life.
So Violet went on blithely assuming she’d won, and she told Robert and Cora she would be “magnanimous in victory.” As if.
After she learned the truth, she directed Lord Grantham to “tell Cora I do not wish to see her face until I get used to having a traitor in the family.”
Yup, she’s taking it well.
Yet for all that, Violet finished a distant second in the victim sympathy sweepstakes Sunday, because first place went to the unlikeliest character in all of Downton: Evil Thomas.
He had started teaching Andy to read, a rather selfless gesture, and their sessions were late at night, so no one would know Andy can’t read.
Alas, both Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Carson caught on to their get-togethers and misread them.
Carson confronted Barrow. Barrow assured him there was nothing untoward going on. Mr. Carson said he wished he could believe that.
Barrow was already clinging to his job by the tip of his pinky. Now he figured – probably correctly – that Carson was about to stomp on that.
The episode ended with Barrow alone, crying.
Sorry, Violet, Barrow wins.
Meanwhile, Mary and Tom decided to crack the doors of Downton for a one-day open house, where the common folk from the Village could pony up a few pence for charity and see how the 1% lived.
Robert called the idea “crackers.” “What can we offer them to see?” he said. “Lady Grantham knitting? Lady Mary taking a bath?”
Uh, that probably could draw a crowd.
No one cared much for the open house idea, except Tom, Mary and Isobel. Carson warned that if you let the peasants see how the rich live, it only gives them ideas: “Next thing you know, there’s a guillotine in Trafalgar Square.”
What no one realized except Edith’s beau Bertie – an estate agent – is that the family couldn’t just sit around and count the hours until the unwashed masses were shooed away. There needed to be guides, and since the librarian was on holiday, that task fell to Cora, Mary and Edith.
What followed would have warmed Miss Bunting’s heart, wherever it is, since it seemed the Crawleys really didn’t know much about things like, oh, the paintings or the architecture.
A visitor asked Edith about one of the architects, and she said, “He designed many lovely, big buildings.” Another visitor asked Cora about a fireplace design and she said she’d never noticed it before.
Happily, Violet saved the day. When she made an unscheduled entrance, Mary asked her to tell the guests what the Fourth Earl collected besides art.
“Horses and women,” Violet replied as she swept past.
Violet was not there, however, to audition as a docent – though Maggie Smith was magnificent in Lettuce and Lovage.
She was on her way to confront Cora about the hospital board presidency, and since the fire in her eyes could have melted the polar ice cap, that touring group got a bit more of the Downton experience than they perhaps expected.
After the open house ended, Branson reported it had yielded a tidy return. So, like every kid who makes money at a lemonade stand, he suggested to the family that they hold regular open houses.
Everyone except maybe Cora agreed that was the worst idea ever.
Branson said every revenue stream counted these days, which led to a round of gloomy admissions about the problems of keeping large estates afloat.
Mary cut that off by saying any conversation about the end was “weakling talk. . . . Thankfully, George and I are made of sterner stuff than the rest of you.”
Beyond the move to eliminate Barrow, downstairs could have a lower-profile downsizing. The headmaster of the school where Daisy is taking her test asked Molesley if he might like to help part-time.
Molesley, who’s not used to good news of any kind, looked like he’d just won the Irish Sweepstakes.
Naturally he also got some bad news. Baxter had a letter from Peter Coyle, who’s now serving 10 years, asking if she would visit him.
On the surface, that seems about as enticing as a dinner invitation from a cannibal. But we clearly don’t know the whole Baxter-and-Peter story yet, nor does Molesley, since she said she was considering it.
The really nasty story downstairs, though, was Daisy. It even sounds weird to say that, right?
It started when Mr. Mason gave her a note for Mrs. Patmore, thanking Mrs. P. for bringing him tea. Daisy asked why he needed to do that. He said he wanted to. She brought it back to the kitchen, opened it and threw it in the trash.
Mrs. Patmore found it, read it and appreciated it.
Later Mr. Mason brought fresh vegetables for Mrs. Patmore. Daisy impatiently demanded to know why he’d do such a thing.
Gee, dunno. To be nice?
We knew from previous kitchen maids that Daisy doesn’t always play well with others. But with Mrs. Patmore? Seriously?
Or maybe there’s just something in the downstairs water. Mr. Carson ramped up his campaign to irritate Mrs. Hughes, though he wasn’t as overtly rude as Daisy and unlike Daisy, he was clueless about the impact of what he was saying.
He criticized Mrs. Hughes’s cooking, again, and he was also displeased with how she made the bed. Not the proper “sharp corners,” he said, though Mrs. Hughes noted to Mrs. Patmore that she’d been a housekeeper all her life.
“I just want to bring things up to standard,” Mr. Carson said of his rolling critiques. Another episode or two of this and Mrs. Hughes is going to be waiting up for him some night with a rolling pin.
Carson’s money shot, however, came when he went to upstairs to slip the very bored Lord Grantham a nip of a good wine.
Lord Grantham looked at it lovingly and said, sorry, I can’t. Whereupon Carson told Mrs. Hughes they also needed to stop drinking wine, because it would feel “disloyal.”
What Carson really wanted to do, of course, was drink the wine and give up Mrs. Hughes’s cooking.
In other relationship news, Isobel got a visit from a Miss Cruickshank. She’s the fiancé of Lord Merton’s son Larry, the one who treated Isobel like a bug you fish out of your lemonade.
Larry’s arrogant denunciation had led Isobel to break off her engagement to Lord Merton. Now Miss Cruickshank told Isobel the whole family did not share Larry’s heartless sentiments and she hoped Isobel might reconsider Lord Merton’s still-open proposal.
Earlier in the evening Violet had asked if Isobel was “weakening” on her refusal of Lord Merton and Isobel looked uncharacteristically flustered. Hmmmm.
Edith, meanwhile, was doing so well with the magazine that Lord Grantham suggested she might become “one of the interesting women of the day.”
Cora got him to confess that’s something he never would have said 10 years earlier. “The world has changed,” he replied. “And I have changed.”
Edith also continued to care increasingly less what Mary thought, and by Sunday night their brief détente in the wake of Lord Grantham’s burst ulcer had pretty much evaporated.
When Mary asked a dismissive question about Bertie, Edith shot back, “As opposed to your car mechanic?”
Mary later described Bertie as “boring to an Olympian degree.”
Mary did, however, remain fascinated with the Marigold mystery. She told Branson she would see any secrecy by others on that subject as “a betrayal,” and when Branson took the bait and said she shouldn’t view it that way, she correctly deduced that aha, there is a secret.
Mary also grilled Anna again, and Anna seemed curiously evasive, though perhaps she was just puzzled.
Mary’s better news was that she and Henry got caught in the rain in London – rain in London, there’s a shocker – and ducked into a secluded alley, where they chatted briefly before kissing less briefly.
Mary said this was moving faster than she had expected.
Henry replied that while he knew his prospects were “modest at best” and she was a “great catch,” nonetheless “you’re a woman I happen to be falling in love with.”
There must be something about the rain in London. It was also a matchmaker for Rose and Atticus.
Mary did admit to Henry that ever since Matthew was killed in a car crash, cars were not her favorite thing. Henry said she should give them another chance.
The fact she now seemed willing to do that was very good news to Branson, who’s all-in on this affair.
“He’s mad about you and he loves cars,” Branson said. “I rest my case.”
Branson later asked Mary, “Could this be love?”
“Oh, shut up,” Mary replied. Now someone just needs to say that to Daisy.
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