'Downton Abbey' Discussion: Series 5, Episode 2

Edith and the adorable little Marigold. (Photo: (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE)
Edith and the adorable little Marigold. (Photo: (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE)
Previously, on Downton Abbey: Kind of a lot happened, actually. It’s 1924 now and the status quo from Season 4 continues. Mary’s still waffling between her equally dull and/or stalkery suitors and has decided that she’s going to sleep with Lord Gillingham to find out if she really likes him. Edith’s still mooning about over her hidden illegitimate child, which is now not so hidden – and also, walking around – down at the neighbor farmer’s house. Thomas is still blackmailing Baxter, who confesses to Cora she once stole a bunch of jewelry from an employer. Jimmy’s creepy ex-employer visits Downton and he gets fired after he hooks up with her. (Yuck.) Carson is chosen by the villagers to spearhead a local war memorial and he basically blackmails them into including Lord Robert too. Oh, and Edith sets the house on fire. (I said there was a lot.) For more, read the Season 5 premiere recap.)

Allright, y’all. Let’s do this. 

The Search for a War Memorial Site Begins. Carson, Robert and the community crew of random, rude and/or unnamed villagers are all out circling the grounds and surrounding area looking for a site for the new war memorial. Carson is a big fan of turning their existing cricket pitch – site of many an important match – into a memorial and garden, in order to allow grieving family members the chance to reflect at piece. Robert, to the surprise of no one, is sort of annoyed at the prospect of losing the grounds that have been so extensively prepped for cricket to a memorial. He makes the argument that the dead should be remembered everyday, and that any such war memorial site ought to be constructed in the center of town, so that people will see it on their daily errands all the time, and remember. His argument actually has a fair bit of merit to it, but Robert derails it in his normal way, by sounding like an incompetent rich person who just wants to keep his cricket pitch. Carson is, surprisingly, staunchly against Robert on this issue, and it looks like trouble in paradise.

Thomas Has a Sad. Because I have, apparently, finally, done something right in life, Jimmy is leaving Downton. (He’s been sacked for getting caught in bed with Lady Anstruther last week.) Jimmy and Thomas have a rather heartfelt goodbye session outside, and it’s not only the best material Robert James-Collier has had to work with in two years, it’s so good that it actually makes me angry for a minute at the waste this actor and the character of Thomas have become within the world of Downton.

Anyway, Jimmy and Thomas say their farewells, they try to pretend like they’ll write and stay in touch, but we all know it’s a lie, and it’s a bit heartrending. Jimmy tells him, just in case they never see each other again, that Thomas has been a good friend to him, and that he’d have never before believed that he himself could have been friends with a man like him (you know, because he’s gay). He admits the error of that view and says that he’s sad to see the back of him. He hopes that Thomas can find happiness, truly, and it actually seems like he means it. Ugh, sometimes this show is so frustrating. This scene is layered and interesting, and James-Collier’s expressions are incredible, and it’s just… this whole storyline was such a waste for the both of these actors. (You could argue that Thomas’ development has largely been in limbo since O’Brien left in most ways, but that’s a longer post than I can write at the moment.) At any rate, none of this is enough to make me wish Jimmy back again, so here’s hoping that Ed Speelers finds something else to do that is far away from Downton forever, thank you. 

Mary’s Special Art Trip, Or: The Worst Lie in the World. Now that Mary’s decided to go off and have what basically amounts to a naughty weekend with Lord Gililngham, she’s made up some rather elaborate lie about going off with a friend of hers ‘round the countryside on a sketching trip. As Mary has heretofore displayed possibly negative interest in any sort of art or drawing or friendships with other people, it seems unlikely that anyone would actually believe this story, but we’ve seen before that the Crawleys aren’t always the sharpest tools in the shed.

Obviously, Mary is not going sketching with her random friend. Although apparently the random friend is real and has promised to cover for Mary should her family look for her while she’s away exploring all that sex with a man that isn’t her husband has to offer. Anna still seems pretty apprehensive about this whole plan, and looks downright alarmed when Mary tells her that she needs certain…supplies…to make sure that her weekend doesn’t have any unforeseen consequences afterward. Especially as since Mary’s unmarried, she can’t go and purchase said supplies herself and has to send Anna to do it. I’m sure that Anna and Mary have a great – possibly even remarkable friendship – for a rich lady and her servant and they’ve both certainly covered for one another with various matters before now. But, honestly, what ladies maid would ever go and buy sex supplies for their boss? I just. Wow. The other thing that’s annoying is Mary’s attitude – the of course I can’t do it duh air of it all is just sort of off putting, and there’s really not much acknowledgement that Anna’s doing her a massive, completely unrequired favor. 

Edith’s Plan is, as Per Usual, Somewhat Poor. Edith shows up unannounced at the Drewes’ house again, because apparently this is all part of Mr. Drewe’s plan to help her reclaim her child or something, and she fawns all over young Marigold. She chats with the couple for a few minutes about nothing, as Mrs. Drewe looks increasingly uncomfortable, until Mr. Drewe suddenly decides to suggest out of the blue that she should keep an eye on young Marigold as she grows. Edith thinks this idea is awesome, and Mr. Drewe plays up the fact that the child’s a foundling with nothing, no family, and they can only do so much for her when they have kids of their own. Mrs. Drewe doesn’t like this at all, insisting that Marigold is one of their own now and they’re her family now, etc. Drew keeps on pushing about what a blessing Edith could be if she took an interest, a sort of godmother or something, and he sounds like the absolute creepiest kind of used car salesman, so it’s no surprise that his wife is finding this spiel increasingly objectionable. Drewe ignores her, because reasons, and Edith promises to think things over carefully before committing to such a big life change. This is seriously some of the worst acting and scheming ever, and it’s very uncomfortable to watch. Their entire plan seems to turn on Drewe’s wife being a passive idiot, and having no input into any decisions about this child that she’s taken in with no questions asked. No one is winning in this situation.

Edith, in turn, goes to talk to her parents and tell them that she finds the Drewe foundling very endearing and wants to do something for the girl. Robert asks if Drewe has put her up to it and Rose looks disbelieving, but Edith insists it would be a good idea for her to take an active interest.  I guess since she’s a bored spinster or something. Whatever. Anyway, her father remains skeptical and says that she can’t just cast the child aside when she gets bored with it. Edith insists that she won’t, and Robert shrugs, saying that her trust money is hers, so she can do what she likes with it. I feel like someone should maybe be more weirded out by this out of the blue request, it’s very random and not at all like Edith, who has never before displayed any interest in any child ever, not even her own niece and nephew. I mean, we, the audience know why she is now, but her family doesn’t. But, again, I guess it is pretty normal for everyone to basically ignore Edith, so. We shall see. 

The Baxter Saga Continues. Thomas is still haranguing Baxter about being a thief and how her confession to Cora almost got him fired last week. Since she’s not responding to his taunts, Thomas turns his attention to Molesley, who remains her staunchest defender. He mockingly points out that despite his gallantry, Baxter hasn’t actually told him what’s going on. Molesley says that all he needs to know is that Baxter had some troubles in the past and Cora put a stop to Thomas exploiting her pain.

Thomas finally tells Molesley the truth about Baxter’s thieving past, in great detail and it’s so obvious that he’s just doing it to make everyone miserable. He also brings up her time in jail, and makes pointed remarks about how she’s so willing to defend Bates for some reason. Molesley remains loyal, but is clearly shaken that she didn’t tell him about all this. Oh, Molesley.

Carson Discovers He and Mrs. Hughes Have Separate Opinions, Is Confused. Mrs. Hughes asks Carson how the war memorial project is going, and Carson is rather depressed that Robert still hasn’t come around to his way of thinking on the whole garden of tranquility plan he likes so much. Mrs. Hughes sort of sniffs, and Carson forces her to admit that she’s not entirely into the plan, either. She says that the memorial would be better served by being at the heart of village life, so that everyone can think of those that they lost while doing regular daily things. Carson looks offended and tells Mrs. Hughes he’s very disappointed in her. 

He also – later – tells her that he “doesn’t like it” when the two of the are “not on the same side” and looks so incredibly put out by this realization, it’s almost comical. And this is also somehow the most romantic moment the show has had in like two years. (I seriously just can’t. They’re perfect. Julian Fellowes, please let me have this. I will even put up with Horrible Sarah Bunting!)

Anna’s Trip to the Store is Comedy Gold. As Anna is apparently a candidate for some sort of servant sainthood, she goes to visit the drugstore to procure some sex weekend supplies for her boss. Allrighty then. And, of course, it’s the most awkward thing in the world. Like an inter-war version of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Anna stumbles through an awful in-store experience – first she has to get rid of a male shopclerk before he can try to sell her anything, then she has to ask for what she wants without ever actually saying the name of the item in question, stress her married status and deal with the thinly-veiled hellfire judgment of the shop woman, who seems to favor, shall we say, abstinence-only education. Anna holds up admirably through it all, until the woman attempts to explain the “instructons” which apparently can be “quite complicated”. At this point, Anna just basically runs away, as I think we all would.

Wow. There is no way in the world that Mary pays her enough for this.

Daisy Gets Tutored. Mrs. Patmore asks Rose if she could help her get in touch with Tom’s school teacher friend, because she’d like to see if Ms. Bunting would be open to taking on extra work. Since she teaches math at the school, she’s hoping to come to an agreement for her to help Daisy with her extracurricular studies. You know, when Daisy’s not busy working in the kitchen and all. There’s some stress around this point since Sarah can only come up after school when it’s the busiest time in that part of the house. This is surely going to go well. But, no matter, Daisy’s thrilled, and Mrs. Patmore seems quietly proud, despite the fact that she’s made more work for herself. Mrs. Patmore is kind of awesome.

Rose’s Quest for the Holy Grail: A Wireless. As we all know, the quest to find poor cousin Rose a storyline on Downton Abbey is always fraught with boring and pointless pitfalls along the way. Her current project is working with Russian refugees who have ended up in York after fleeing the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution. Robert is, of course, a huge sympathizer when it comes to these refugees, and they seem poised to become a rather significant plot point later on this season.

But for this week, Rose is obsessed with getting a wireless for Downton – the obvious reason being that this is Rose, who has always loved music and jazz and fun, and of course that’s why she wants one around. This is, of course, not a good enough reason for Robert, who of course thinks wirelesses suck, and is 100% against having one in the house. He is unmoved by the news that the hospital has had one gifted to the ward and tells Rose no on the subject before she can even get her request out.

Later Cora, who as ever is our stand in for the modern since she is American, asks Robert why he’s so against the idea of a wireless anyway. She thinks having one would be fun, as obviously she would, because, again, American. Robert thinks that the whole idea of a wireless is a thief of life and he can’t imagine how people just sit around wasting time listening to someone talking at them out of a wooden box. He declares it a fad, and predicts that they won’t last. Thank goodness Robert won’t live to see the iPhone, I guess.

Baxter Comes Clean (Again).  Baxter asks Molesley why he’s been so quiet around her, and he confesses that Thomas has told him all about her dark past as a jewel thief. Molesley, adorably, wants to believe the best of Baxter throughout, insisting that she must have had some reason for what she did, like a friend in dire straights or an emergency situation. (It’s very sweet how emotional he gets over all this, actually.) Baxter, to her credit, is brutally honest about what happened – she admits that she was a trusted senior maid to a good lady and that she was basically a common criminal. She says Molesley doesn’t want to believe her capable of such a thing, and that all she can tell him is she isn’t that person now.

Some time later, Baxter finds Molesley outside, sort of looking thoughtful or moping depending on how you want to read it. She apologizes for letting him down, though Molesley says that’s he can’t pass judgment since she made choices and took the consequences for them, and she’s had enough of people browbeating her over that point. Baxter, smiling sadly, says that she’s still not the person Molesley thought she was, and acknowledges that that’s still a blow for him. She says she is a different person now, and only wishes that he could believe she’s changed. Molesley still doesn’t believe that she acted on her own. Baxter doesn’t want to talk about that, which clearly means that she in absolutely no way acted alone, and says that it doesn’t matter anyway because she still made the choice to steal. Molesley tries to argue that circumstances matter, but Baxter doesn’t really care. She says she’d give anything to rewrite that part of her life, but she can’t, not even for Molesley, when she wants to.

Confession time: I am actually emotionally invested in Baxter and Molesley and their story. I mean, I have loved Molesley since forever, but the two of them together are surprisingly sweet.

No One Seems to Notice How Strange Edith’s “Plan” Is. Cora and Robert discuss Edith’s sudden desire to mother the Drewe’s foster daughter. Surprisingly enough, it’s Robert who is the first out of the sympathy gate, insisting that it’s obvious that Edith just wants someone to love now its obvious Gregson is surely dead somewhere and she’s forced to watch her sisters’ children run around all the time.  He says the real issue will be if and when she finally has a child of her own to distract her from young Marigold and Cora says they can all just cross that bridge when we get there. Which, at least the audience knows won’t so much be a problem, but can’t you just imagine how Robert’s going to react when he finds out about why his daughter is so interested in that girl.

Charles Blake is Back and He’s Brought a Friend. Charles Blake returns, just in case you were worried that the Mary love triangle situation was actually going to turn out to be a thing that was actually resolved. It turns out he has a friend named Simon Bricker, who is obsessed with art, and simply must come to Downton to see the Della Francesca painting that the Crawleys have in their possession. This is all obviously a thinly veiled ruse to throw himself at Mary again, because duh. But Cora and everyone else is fine with it, because apparently just anyone who knows anyone the Crawleys even vaguely know can just come visit whenever.

Anyway, the boys arrive and Simon Bricker is played by the always wonderful Richard E. Grant, who just loves art apparently, travels extensively and seems quite taken with Cora.  Blake and Mary have the world’s most awkward breakup conversation where he tells her it’s obvious that she’s chosen Tony Gillingham. Mary offhandedly shrugs something about how its only recently that she’s started to “come out of the mist”, which would probably be compelling if it hadn’t been an actual year since the last time she had virtually this same conversation with both of her suitors about how she was choosing herself by not choosing either of them like she was Kelly Taylor in 90210. The truth is – and I say this as someone who generally likes Mary even if I don’t find her behavior all that likeable most of the time – is that she rather likes having a couple attractive rich dudes fighting over her, only now has got bored with it or decided Lord Stalkeringham is hotter or whatever. Either way, I have exactly zero interest in this love triangle now, but it nevertheless remains kind of enjoyable to watch Blake declare he only came to Downton at all to wish Mary luck with Tony in the first place, and sails off to chat with his boring art friend. Sick burn, Charles.

Awkward Dinner Adventures Round Twelve. Another day, another awkward Downton dinner.  While we’re at least spared the physical presence of Sarah Bunting – who turns down Tom’s last minute dinner invitation when he finds her down in the kitchens tutoring Daisy – but we’re not spared her speechifying beforehand. She nevertheless manages to get in a raft of rude and offensive comments about how basically the Crawleys suck anyway, telling Tom that she’s pleased she could encourage him to stand his ground about his opinions and that he doesn’t always have to do what they do anyway, since they suck. She pontificates that Tom will never be his own person as long as he stays at Downton with “these people” because they suck and Sybil was apparently the only one who wasn’t prejudiced and full of narrow thinking. Oh, and the Crawleys suck. Just FYI. (I sincerely want happiness for Tom but good Lord this woman. How is she for real? And also how dare she bring up Sybil like she even knew her? Ugh I can’t even type about this propertly.)

To the surprise of literally no one, Tom now seems especially opinionated after talking to Sarah and gets into it (again) at dinner with Robert about the Russian revolution (again) and the refuges taking shelter in England. He even manages to bring up Cromwell and the Interregnum as some sort of evidence that English people also once killed their own monarch to create political balance. Robert is of course SUPER offended about this and everything’s awkward after that.

Baxter Has Still Not Been Fired. In all midst of all this other drama and moral philosophizing, you may be forgiven for completely forgetting that we still don’t know whether Baxter gets to keep her job. Well, surprise, that’s okay, because Cora apparently still doesn’t know if Baxter gets to keep her job. She is seriously like the most lax employer in England. Everyone hurry up and try to get a job and Downton, y’all, you will literally die before you get fired. Unless you are Jimmy I guess, so don’t sleep with random houseguests. Other than that, you should be fine. 

Anyway, yeah, Cora’s still waffling, even though Baxter says she’s changed and now has no desire to steal expensive jewelry anymore. She says she can’t make a decision until her ladies’ maid tells her the whole truth, which, it’s kind of unclear how Cora has determined exactly that there is more to this story, other than the fact that it’s Downton and there is always more to the story. Cora whines for a bit about how she just really ought to sack Baxter anyone on principle or something but finally decides that she, well...just can't decide. Yes, we just had a whole sene about that. But Cora doesn't know why she can't just decide to sack Baxter, but she can't, so she's going to keep thinking on it, and this is yet another example of how Downton Abbeh=y bears precisely zero resemblance to real life, because Baxter would have been fired for this days ago in the real world. 

For Some Reason, Blake Provides Romantic Advice. For some reason, Mary can’t let it go that Charles managed to get in the last word during their discussion about Gillingham earlier. Just as Blake is trying to make a graceful exit and go to bed, she tells him that she hopes he can manage to be happy for her, if and when her romantic affections do coalesce around his rival. Mary is all class, y’all. (Seriously sometimes I wonder why anyone wants to marry her ever, or how she even has any friends. Matthew was a miracle, girl.)

Anyway, Blake, who seems more together than I ever gave him credit for, smiles and says that nothing would make him happier than Mary’s happiness. But he says she needs to be absolutely sure how she feels before she picks Gillingham for sure, because she’s smarter than he is. He says that might have worked in previous centuries when ladies had to hide their own intelligence, but not now. Mary argues that Blake is wrong, but he just smiles. He’s basically implying that Mary is only into Gillingham because her reason is clouded by the fact that she wants to sleep with him, which is sort of really rude and forward but apparently we’re abandoning everything that looks like proper decorum in this episode so it’s cool.

Mary goes up to bed where Anna is still worried about the whole secret sex weekend plan. Mary emphatically says that she has to go through with this plan because she wants to marry again but the world’s changing and she’s going to actually have to spend time with her future spouse instead of ignoring him like her grandparents. She insists that she has to be sure that she’s right to want Tony Gillngham in her life, and that means all of her life, including her bed.  The thing about all this – for me – is not that Mary’s argument is a bad one, it’s honestly not, and her concerns are certainly understandable one. She’s just being rather a pill about the way she puts forth these ideas, which implies that she not only wants to be allowed to do what she wants to do in the first place, but also to be applauded for her decision to do it by others. And the attitude just makes her unlikeable.

The Modern World Cometh, Again. Rose drops the bombshell on Robert that the King is to broadcast an address to the whole country via the wireless to mark the opening of the British Empire Exhibition. Robert, of course, cannot believe it and seems to feel personally betrayed that his King would do something like this, but finally decides that if the monarch wants to use something like this to speak to his people, they have to listen. 

Carson’s worry about the incessant march of time takes another blow when he and Robert go out on a stroll through the village, and His Lordship shows off the bit of village green where he’d like to have their memorial cross built. Carson is still not convinced that this is the most thoughtful way to remember those that died, and seems affronted by the idea that their village’s dead will be reduced to a stone cross near the marketplace where wives will gather and gossip. Robert again argues that by having the cross so close to everything, people will remember those they lost in their everyday lives.  But this time he luckily gets his position bolstered by a random village woman who takes her son into town with her to visit his father’s grave on every trip she makes to the market, and it helps him remember him. Robert manages to only smug out for like five minutes, which is better than you’d have guessed, probably.

The whole Downton staff gathers around to listen to the King’s broadcast on the wireless that Robert has rented special for the occasion. Rose is, of course, having heart palpitations about how awesome it is, Carson looks vaguely constipated and Mrs. Patmore is super concerned that the people on the other end of the wireless will be able to hear her talking. The King’s speech sparks up a lively debate about whether it’s a good idea or not for the general populace to view the King as a man or a distance figure of rule, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you who came down on what sides of that debate. But at least Rose gets to keep the wireless, which makes you wonder what sort of misery they'll come up with for Lily James to do next week. 

Scandal is Definitely Brewing. Mary arrives at the hotel in Liverpool for her secret sex weekend with Gillingham. She’s super nervous, and is a bit taken aback when she realizes that her boyfriend has set them up in adjoining rooms that have a door between them. She wonders if they ought not to have at least used fake names. Gillingham grins, in a particularly creepy way and says it’s cool, because if you want to make a good lie it needs to be based in truth. So if they get found out, she’s using her real name and staying alone in her room and has no reason not to be in Liverpool. He then (ewe w ew) promises her that they can make love all night after dinner. This is seriously the least romantic thing I have ever seen. Blech.  

Meanwhile, Carson is filling Mrs. Hughes in on the memorial decision and busily trying to make up after their disagreement. He says he can’t stand when they aren’t in accord and Mrs. Hughes is all kinds of flattered and I’m dying and everything is wonderful until a cop shows up to tell both of them that he’s investigating a man who stayed at Downton last year named Mr. Green and that he has some questions for them. OH GREAT, we all say together, since we know that means that we’re in for another DID BATES MURDER plot this year.

The sound you hear is me banging my head on the table.

So – what did you all think? 

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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