'Downton Abbey' Discussion: Series 5, Episode 1

Mary, Tom and Lord Gillingham in their snazzy hunting gear. (Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television 2014 for MASTERPIECE)
Mary, Tom and Lord Gillingham in their snazzy hunting gear. (Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television 2014 for MASTERPIECE)
Previously, on Downton AbbeyThere is too much. Just go investigate the Series 4 recaps for a bit if you need a refresher on last season.

It’s finally here! Downton Abbey Series 5 is finally here! I’m entirely too excited about getting back to these recaps, so let’s just jump right in, shall we? There’s a lot to discuss (surprise surprise) and some of it’s awesome, some of it’s awful and some of it’s kind of weird.

Oh, Look, a Surprise Time Jump, or: Edith’s Daughter Will Probably Be in Grade School Soon. We open Series 5 with one of creator Julian Fellowes’ favorite tricks, the narrative time jump. How much time has passed since Series 4 isn’t explicitly mentioned, but considering that Edith’s child has progressed from an infant to a toddler seemingly overnight, I think we can assume it’s been at least a year or so. 

Edith, meanwhile, is proving to be about as good a secret keeper on the whole “I had an illegitimate baby and hid it down the neighbor farmer’s house” as you’d expect. She’s constantly staring after the child with longing looks, creeping in doorways, visiting the Drewe family for no reason at all and holding the child (whose name is Marigold) in her lap and cooing to her in a way that might inspire a Dateline kidnapping special if this were modern-day America. Of course, Mrs. Drewe doesn’t seem to think that any of this is weird, when it is clearly weird, and instead assumes that Edith has a crush on her husband. Goodness, everything preserve us from that storyline. 

Politics Returns to Downton Abbey. A new, working class Prime Minister (Spoiler: It’s James MacDonald) has been elected   - which, by the way, clarifies that the new season is indeed set in 1924 – and Robert is convinced that this means the British government is now officially out to destroy the landed gentry. Branson is pretty pumped about proceedings, actually, which is unsurprising given his general political bent, but Mary thinks that maybe they should all remain calm and see what happens. Obviously, the point of this is to reintroduce the prospect of Tom and Robert throwing down about politics at dinner into the show again, because that’s pretty much exactly what happens later on in this episode.

But first, Team Downstairs has to air their political views. Jimmy and Thomas are all for it, contending that they’ve never had a prime minister whose understood the plight of the working man before. Mrs. Hughes and Anna agree, while Carson (of course) contends that such knowledge makes no difference to the actual running of government and by the way those people are just wrong, anyway.

Daisy Takes Another Look at Her Life. Now that –thankfully – it appears that both Ivy and Alfred are gone from the Downton kitchens for good (woooo), Mrs. Patmore and Daisy are feeling a bit short staffed. Daisy complains that they never have proper kitchen maids anymore and she basically gets stuck doing everything. Daisy of course does not mention that she’d probably have more help if she’d taken up that offer to move to America and run Harold Levinson’s kitchen, but whatever. That’s so last year. 

Mrs. Hughes sympathizes but explains that many great houses are making do with far less in terms of servants these days, as folks figure out that they’d rather work in factories or shops rather than work in service. Daisy asks Mrs. Patmore if she thinks either of them would ever leave service, but is quickly reminded that she’ll be fine whatever comes because she has Awesome Mr. Mason’s farm to fall back on in the end. Daisy suddenly realizes she doesn’t know anything about farming or doing accounts or how to tackle a new life if that were to come to pass and frets over it. 

Isobel’s Love Life is a Thing Now, Apparently. Isobel Crawley and the Dowager Countess are out on one of their BFF strolls, discussing the state of Isobel’s romantic relationship with Lord Merton, who is still apparently obsessed with her. Isobel, however, is just not that into him, romantically speaking, which is sort of awkward considering he’s asked Violet to help him in his courtship attempts.  

Violet, as it turns out, doesn’t seem herself all that thrilled with the prospect of Isobel as a lady of the county, and drags good old useless Dr. Clarkson back into the mix, apparently as some sort of Isobel dating kryptonite. She fills Clarkson in on the “amusing” fact that Lord Merton’s all about Isobel, in what appears to be a strange attempt to make him jealous. Clarkson does make a bit of a snarky remark about how he didn’t really expect Isobel to be the type of person who wanted to waste her life sitting in drawing room receptions. Violet decides to invite him to luncheon with the two of them later that week, when Isobel, Lord Merton and Lady Shackleton will all be attending. So that’s surely going to go well. 

Oh, Good, Jimmy is Still Here. Jimmy, who is unfortunately still on this show despite being generally uninteresting and possessing no compelling relationships with any other character on the canvas, complains to Thomas that he’s still getting letters from the Dowager Lady Anstruther. In case you’ve forgotten – which you probably have because hardly anyone cares about Jimmy - that’s his previous employer who was rather sort of obsessed with him in a romantic capacity and sent him a Valentine last season. Anyway, apparently she’s still sending him stalker mail, because he’s just that awesome and she misses him or whatever. Jimmy preens a bit about his sexual prowess and Thomas suggests maybe he ought to just go visit her and get it over with or whatever. Ha Ha so many sex jokes this season already. But Jimmy insists that bad things will happen if he gives into her advances again, he just knows it. (So, here’s your chance to guess what will happen during this episode….) 

Robert Gets Snubbed in Favor of Carson. Sort of. A delegation of villagers heads up to the house to see Robert – and also Carson, whose presence they’ve specially requested – to discuss the building of a memorial in honor of the local men who died during the war. Robert assumes that they’re coming to ask him to be chairman of the project or something and is actually a little bit awkward about it, considering that he didn’t really even fight in the war at all

As it turns out, that concern is all for naught as the villagers actually want to ask Carson to head their memorial-building committee. (However, they would like to ask Robert to donate some land to be the site of their memorial, so he’s not getting totally left out of the whole deal.) Carson is so shocked he drops silverware, and Robert does that thing where he acts like he’s not offended and hurt to cover up that he’s actually very offended and hurt.  We know this because he immediately goes to see Violet, and tell her all about the fact that the mean villagers picked Carson over him. Violet sniffs that his father would have just told the villagers what they wanted. Meanwhile, Carson’s upset that he knows Robert’s upset over the whole thing and isn’t comfortable being “placed over him” and wow whoever knew that building a small town memorial could be such a fraught endeavor. 

Yay Tom’s School Teacher Lady Friend is Back, Said No One Ever. Because Lily James needs something to do, Rose has been tapped to deliver some sort of awards presentation at the local school, which appears to be less of an educational institution and more of a charity project for bored aristocrats at this point. She drags Tom along with her, because she knows he was particularly friendly with one of the schoolteachers there. (Robert doesn’t approve of this – surprise, surprise – as he’s still judging Tom about the fact that he invited boring, judgy Sarah Bunting back to see the house that one time last season.)

Speaking of judgy Sarah, she and Tom run into each other for what’s clearly meant to be the first time in a long while, probably even since that night she visited Downton, but it’s unclear. Sarah’s been on a course somewhere, but Tom’s pleased to see her back for some unknown reason, even as she manages to insult county tradition and life at the abbey within five minutes of reappearing.  She is surely going to be a joy this season. Ugh. (The reason I dislike her so much, for the record, actually isn’t due to any lingering loyalty to Sybil or anything like that, but more that she complains so aggressively about how rude and judgy the Crawleys and their like are, but she’s exactly the same, just in reverse, with her hatred of the well-to-do.)

Reminder: Gregson is *Still* Missing. Despite approximately seventy years having passed between now and Michael Gregson’s original disappearance in Germany during his quest for a divorce, no one has managed to find his body or figure out what happened to him in all that time. Mrs. Hughes, however, has discovered a book that used to belong to him in a random spare room at Downton and she delivers it to Edith as a memento of some sort. 

Edith has the book delivered to her bedroom, where she spends some time getting sad and mopey about the fact that Gregson wrote his name in it. Is this show seriously pretending that there’s any way this guy is still alive or what? So much time has passed that it seems unnatural to me that Edith would still this on the edge about it, and it also just seems… very strange that no one has done more to find out about what happened to Gregson at all during all this time. Does it make me a terrible person if I sincerely don’t care anymore about what happened to Gregson? Unless he’s going to show up as some brainwashed member of Hydra or the Avengers at this point, I just can’t think of anything that would make that part of Edith’s storyline interesting again. 

Daisy Goes Back to School. Daisy takes it upon herself to order special books to help her learn math and accounting, because she says that she wants to learn about numbers and sums and budgeting if she’s ever meant to inherit Mr. Mason. She wants to be trusted with real responsibilities, but laments the fact that she can’t make any sense of the math textbook.  It’s quite sad actually, as Daisy seems to have gone utterly down on herself again, but now it’s because she thinks less of herself and feels stupid, rather than is sad over the lack of attention from a boy. Which I guess in a way is an upgrade for her, and one I'm at least willing to give the benefit of the doubt to, as far as storyline potential is concerned. 

Mrs. Patmore is a bit shocked, and doesn’t quite understand why Daisy would be interested in any of this or ever need to know such things in her profession. Neither does Carson. Mrs. Hughes is more sympathetic, pointing out that Daisy may not always be a cook, and even if she is they have to balance budgets too.  Everyone can agree though that this math situation has seriously undermined Daisy’s confidence and no one knows what to do about that. 

Baxter’s Big Secret Comes Out.  Thomas, who clearly has no life or hobbies, is still harassing Baxter to reveal whatever information she knows about Anna and Bates after what surely has to be like twenty seven months now. Baxter keeps refusing, and Thomas keeps pressing her about her big, hidden secret and getting more and more threatening with her. (Honestly how were these two ever friends enough that he helped get her a job?!) Thankfully, Molesley convinces Baxter just to come clean with Cora about her Unmentionable Terrible Secret before Thomas can beat her to it or we all die from not caring about whatever it is. 

So it comes to pass that Baxter confesses to Cora that once upon a time she used to be something of a jewelry thief. She admits that she robbed her previous employer Mrs. Benton, and stole some jewelry – bracelets and rings and all kinds of stuff - while she was out of town. She says she never gave the items back and ended up spending three years in jail because of it.  Cora is deeply shocked, and says she needs time to think about what to do. She does allow that Baxter may remain until she decides whether to keep employing her. 

Baxter’s plan works out quite well however, as when Thomas shows up to tell Cora about her lady’s maid’s nefarious past, she is furious with him. And honestly, can't we all agree - there's literally no way that any of this can be worse than the things Bates has done, and he still gets to stay? (Though, do we really think this is the end of the story? It seems somewhat incomplete to me. Or maybe it's just that I can't believe this was a big buried secret for like two years.)

Time for Edith and Drewe’s Heart to Heart. Drewe and Edith have a secret meeting to discuss Marigold. (Though since it looks like they’re maybe hanging out in the stables, it’s not clear how secret this could possibly be?) Anyway, Drewe tells Edith that he’s figured out that Marigold is her daughter and that’s why she’s so obsessed with the child. He’s surprisingly cool with it though and says he can’t judge her, nor, apparently complain that she completely snowed him last season with her sob story about her friend’s daughter or whatever it was that was a total lie. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much if he guessed it was a lie as soon as she told it? Who knows.

Anyway, Drewe explains that Edith has to stop coming around his house so much because his wife is starting to get suspicious – in fact she thinks Edith has a crush on him and it’s all kind of inappropriate. Edith’s upset, but Drewe’s surprisingly calm, still. He says that all they have to do is come up with a way for her to live the truth without telling the truth. Whatever that means. 

Lord Stalkingham is Back. Tony Gillingham, despite the fact that some undetermined but definitely not insignificant window of time has passed since the end of last season when Mary declared she didn’t know who she’d choose romantically because she liked everyone, has certainly not given up in his quest for Mary’s affections. Nor, as it turns out, has he managed to become less creepy about it. He rings up the Granthams and asks if he can crash at their house during some Northern business trip, because Mary told him it’d be cool if he did that. Robert and Cora says yes, even though it’s their anniversary because their house is huge and also because they want to inspire him with thoughts of marriage or something.

He arrives, and is basically exactly how you remember him from last season: Overly pushy, flirtatious, blah blah. He goes out hunting with Mary and Tom, and gets up to speed on how Mary’s been managing her father and the business of Downton, and goes on about he still wants her to marry him and have a simpler life. Mary tells him that she loves him (my internal monologue: Since when?!) and actually wants to figure out how to marry again. She just wants to be as happy in her second marriage as she was in her first.

Violet’s Lunch Party Seems Like a Super Awkward Time. Violet invites Lady Shackleton, Lord Merton, Isobel and Dr. Clarkson to luncheon, in an attempt to orchestrate some sort of weird matchmaking plan.  She’s doing her best to set up Lord Merton and Lady Shackleton, ostensibly because she doesn’t want Isobel to become a rich ennobled lady or whatever.

The lunch gathering goes very awkwardly – Isobel keeps defending Lord Merton from Clarkson’s criticism, Violet’s butler doesn’t like serving Clarkson, and Clarkson keeps going on about how he and Isobel aren’t from the same tribe as Merton and his friends. I don’t remember Clarkson being this weirdly classist before - a terrible doctor yes, but not a classist - but I guess we’ll just go with it. 

Let’s Celebrate the Granthams’ Anniversary in Style.  Mary and Rose decide to throw a party for Robert and Cora’s 34th anniversary and, in an effort, to make the party exciting and fun for the young folks, they decide to invite some of their friends. Rose also decides to invite Horrible Sarah, because she thinks it would be nice to have a friend of his own present. After much consternation, Horrible Sarah decides to accept the invitation and things go about as well as you’d expect.

Robert is displeased that someone invited Sarah – who behaved inappropriately with Tom by visiting the house – in the first place, and Rose and her friends are all taken aback by Sarah’s abrupt commentary. (She actually tells one of them that she should probably marry a rich man so she doesn’t have to do math.) She then gets into politics with several of the other guests, and is strident in support of the new Labour Prime Minister.

The situation gets worse at dinner when Sarah starts pontificating about her feelings on the war memorial and declares that the war wasn’t worth fighting, generally.  Tom sticks up for her for having an opinion and Isobel says that she just loves it when young people have principles. Robert is livid about this and gets angrier and angrier the more she talks. However, manners win out in the end and everyone’s painfully polite to Sarah, though it’s obvious that with the exception of Tom and Isobel they all hope they never see her again literally ever.

Later, during the regular post-dinner guys drinking whiskey time, Tom apologies for his behavior to Robert. They have a little bro talk about the Sarah situation – Tom insists that he didn’t sleep with her that time Thomas found them together in the house, and Robert admits that he’s worried a friendship with an opinionated girl like that is going to make Tom want to be a revolutionary again, after he’s found a real place to belong with the Crawleys. Tom looks conflicted.

Oh, Hi, Anna Chancellor! For some reason, Jimmy decides to call Lady Anstruther one day, to try and get her off his back about her obsession with her.  Or so he says. Who even knows if this is true, this storyline about how many notes the two of them have or haven’t sent each other is ridiculous. Anyway, this plan doesn’t seem to be a great one since its end result is that his increased contact with her causes her to show up out of nowhere. She writes to Cora that she’d like to visit Downton for tea, and ends up finagling an invitation to stay when she shows up on the day of the Granthams’ anniversary party and her car has mysteriously broken down. (Or so she says, her car appears to be fine to everyone else.)

Lady Anstruthers and Jimmy flirt aggressively, and it’s sort of disturbing, and well beneath the awesome Anna Chancellor’s abilities as an actress. Not to mention kind of gross. Why is this even a storyline? This show has always struggled to find anything worthwhile for Ed Speelers to do during his entire run on this show, but this feels like a new low. Jimmy is trying/not trying/who even knows to resist/encourage/who even knows Lady Anstruther’s advances, but the thing is, I can’t imagine why any viewer would actually find this storyline compelling. Do we care if Jimmy sleeps with his ex-employer or not?

The show certainly seems to think we do, because this storyline just keeps right on going. After Lady A passes Jimmy a surreptitious note at dinner, Thomas, for some unidentified reason that seems to be maybe related to the fact that he still has a crush on him, helps Jimmy sneak into her room that night, because Jimmy’s just a sex addict or something who still wants to hook up with his former employer despite spending all episode denying it. I don’t even know. I wish I could erase this subplot from this episode.

Mary Makes Scandalous Plans. Mary admits to Anna that part of the reason she’s having issues deciding between Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake in the Great Romance Sweepstakes is because she thinks that their class goes about relationships the wrong way. She says that she wishes there were some way to determine if she and Gillingham would be compatible in ALL aspects of their relationship – especially physically, because that’s something that’s, you know, very important to couples and their long-term happiness. Anna is a bit shocked at this kind of frank talk, and claims that she’s too old fashioned to know anything about that.

Luckily, Gillingham sneaks into Mary’s room to see her, with a scandalous proposition meant to solve this very problem. He says that Mary should come away on a trip with him, alone, and they can spend the days getting to know one another, and the nights…err, also getting to know each other, just in a different way. He suggests that if they become lovers, Mary will be able to be sure about their relationship, and they can get married, which as we know is Tony Gillingham’s ultimate goal in life. Mary agrees to this plan surprisingly quickly, with the stipulation that of course no one on earth ever can find out about it.

Carson Strikes a Blow for Tradition. Carson decides to accept the position on the village community memorial committee, even though he’s a bit apprehensive about the fact that it upends the social order in his world. That said, he also blackmails the committee into taking Robert on as their patron, insisting that he won’t sign on unless the Grantham earl is also involved. Robert is pleased that the villagers want him, and though Carson admits his subterfuge to Mrs. Hughes he doesn’t tell his boss that his involvement is only because the butler insisted.

Carson’s dedication to Robert is seriously the cutest thing.

And Then There’s a Fire. Because of course there is. Edith is crying over the German book with Gregson’s signature in it. She throws it into the fireplace in despair and cries herself to sleep, not noticing when the burning book catches the drapes on fire. The fire spreads pretty rapidly.

Thomas somehow discovers the fire and bursts into Edith’s room to rescue her. Edith is somehow completely unconscious and unresponsive, which seems a bit weird given that she can’t possibly have been asleep that long, but whatever. Ugh, I hate that Thomas got to do something heroic because it’s so going to cancel out the fact that Cora was probably mad enough to fire him before argh. Will no one rid us of this meddlesome servant!?!

Anyway, Thomas saves Edith, alerts Robert and Tom of the whole the house is on fire situation and the Crawleys galvanize into action. Everyone gets outside safely and Robert remembers to order someone to look after Isis; however, he also discovers Jimmy in bed with Lady Anstruther while he’s checking to make sure all the rooms are empty. It’s pretty awkward. But then the local fire brigade shows up, led by none other than Mr. Drewe, who literally seems to do everything on this estate. I hope he’s gotten a raise recently.  

So, this all leads to two intriguing last minute episode twists: Robert tells Carson that Jimmy needs to be fired with a quickness and immediately. He doesn’t say why, and urges Carson to write him a good reference so there’s no hint of scandal about the entire deal. My heart leaps with hope and excitement at this news (will we finally get rid of Jimmy?!) but since I don’t see him actually leaving in a car at this exact moment, I’m going to have to keep holding my breath and crossing all my extremeties until next week. But I so sincerely hope this is a true exit. Jimmy is an immense waste as a character and this guest appearance as a man-hungry widow was kind of embarrassing for Anna Chancellor, an actress who I’ve dearly loved in other things (see: The Hour). I’m going to be sad if she was wasted on Downton just for this horrific Jimmy will sleep with anyone who’s interested plot. Ugggh.)

Edith also gets another chance to talk to Drewe about her illegitimate child. Drewe says that he’s had a brilliant idea, and that’s just for Edith to take an intense interest in the child, and in front of everyone. Because somehow that’s going to get her the opportunity to live with her child openly, I guess. This seems like…not the best plan, but Edith is looking at him like he discovered gravity, so okay. How awkward and weird will this be? Place your bets. 

Oh, and Mrs. Hughes is lurking in the background as Edith and Drewe talk and looks at them suspiciously after she interrupts to tell Edith about her new sleeping arrangements for the night since she set her room on fire. Did she overhear any of this? Does she have any clue about the Marigold situation or does she just think Edith’s got a crush on the estate worker? Hmmm. And Bates is wandering around in a state because there was a fire and Anna weirdly makes a remark to Mary about how Bates just gets so upset about things blah blah this is all really weird. In short: Is that the Bates KILL KILL alarm I hear in the distance? It seems an awkward insertion of the couple into this scene, otherwise. 

This…well. This was on the whole a good episode – a lot of things happened, the use of characters was balanced and there was only one storyline that was so horrible it made me want to stab myself or throw things (Jimmy). There was even movement on the Baxter front, and a couple of dialogue hints that we probably haven’t forgotten the plot from last season where Bates maybe killed a guy either.  

The fact that there’s a lot going on has set up a lot of interesting potential plotlines for the season (Mary’s scandalous love life, Edith’s inevitably dumb plan to bring home her daughter, Daisy’s quest to educate herself, Baxter’s future now that her scurrilous past as a jewel theif has been revealed) and for that I’m willing to forgive it for being, well, slightly more boring than I normally would endorse. But, I’m so excited the show’s back, I’m willing to overlook that too. And I expect big things from this season now we’re off and running.

What did you think? Hit the comments and tell me everything

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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