Downton Dish: Let's Talk Everything You Need to Know about Episode 2

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Series 3 of Downton Abbey rolls on this week with a (sadly) shorter second episode that was (amazingly) packed with almost as much drama as last week’s premiere.

We had another wedding, a mysterious letter, downstairs squabbling, downstairs sleuthing, lots of adorableness and some sadness too. Whew.  You know what to do – click through and let’s discuss all the twists and turns from this week’s episode!

Even More Wedding Planning is Under Way! The servants are all setting up the Downton great hall for Edith’s ridiculously rushed wedding to the man she’s been stalking for months Sir Anthony Strallen. (Sorry in advance: though I liked the two of them together well enough at the end of Series 2, Edith’s teen movie-esque desperation in last week’s premiere has put me completely off this pairing for the moment.)  Edith takes a moment to watch all the preparations happening around her, and you can practically hear the voice in her head shrieking with glee that finally something is happening in that house that’s actually about her. The Dowager Countess appears, wearing a particularly fabulous hat, and Edith then proceeds to tell her grandmother exactly how excited she is that something happening in that house is actually about her, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet or had suddenly gone blind or something. Edith says Anthony is “desperately” excited about marrying her because it’s like restarting his life or something ridiculous like that. Cora and Violet roll their eyes at each other.

Why Does Anyone Even Talk to Thomas? Resident schemers Thomas and O’Brien are still doing their very best ex-best friends rendition of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and it’s actually sort of fun to watch them turn their meanness on one another for a change. Thomas draws first blood this week, informing everyone’s favorite put upon member of the household staff, Mr. Moseley, about “the secret” that O’Brien’s decided to leave Downton for a different position. Why there is not some sort of warning sign in the Downton kitchen that just warns all who enter to not listen to Thomas about ANYTHING ever? Why do people keep falling for this?

Mr. Moseley then tells Cora that he’d like to put forth a candidate for O’Brien’s job because his friend’s daughter is looking for a place. The idea of O’Brien’s departure is clearly a shock to the whole family, but Cora covers and says she’ll be happy to listen to staff suggestions when the time comes. It’s also basically confirmed that everyone else in the family hates O’Brien except Cora, which is just hilarious. Wouldn’t we all like to know why that relationship is so strong or why Cora likes her so much? It can’t just be her ability to do good hair.

Is this Really the End of Downton? Robert’s in the drawing room halfheartedly writing correspondence about the sale of Downton Abbey. Tom, who for some reason appears to be back at the estate tactlessly asks where the family will go once the house is gone. (Maybe he and Sybil never left the estate? But I feel like some time has passed and they’ve been there since before Mary’s wedding. Confused.) We learn Robert has a smaller estate further north that was inherited from a great grandmother that they might be able to do something with. He suggests calling it “Downton Place” and Cora says the family should all go have a picnic there the next day to celebrate Edith’s last day of freedom and check out the place. No one seems terribly excited about this prospect.

Mr. Carson: Supersleuth. Mr. Carson, through a combination of eavesdropping, vague questioning of Dr. Clarkson and educated guesses, figures out that Mrs. Hughes might have cancer. He then confirms this suspicion by questioning Mrs. Patmore because Carson is amazing at getting information out of people without actually asking them a direct question. Anyway, Mr. Carson is adorably worried about Mrs. Hughes, but refuses to let her know that he’s sussed out the truth about her health problems. Instead, Carson goes straight to Cora and asks if she can divert some of Mrs. Hughes’ workload to him and spills the beans that she may be very ill. This leads to a wonderful moving scene sometime later when Cora sends for Mrs. Hughes and tells her that if she does turn out to be ill, she’s welcome to stay at Downton for as long as she needs and Sybil can help her find a suitable nurse if it comes to that. Mrs. Hughes is visibly moved and you totally wish it were acceptable for the two of them to hug it out right then.

Mary: Passive Aggressive Champion. Reggie Swire’s solicitor writes to say that he’s coming to Downton to see Matthew and talk about the whole heir/death certificate/buckets of money situation. Matthew informs Mary of this news and she’s less than pleased about it, because Matthew is adamant that he’s going to give the money away rather than use it to shore up Downton’s finances. Matthew tells Mary he’d like her to decide who or what they should give the money to and she, totally unsurprisingly, is stunned that he would even ask her this, because if she had the choice she’d give it to her father. Matthew grouses a bit more about why can’t Mary just understand his noble intentions, etc. etc, but Mary doesn’t really want to hear that. She says she’s trying to accept his feelings about the money, but she’s not having very much luck at it.

While Mary appears to be making a bit of an effort to be understanding about Matthew’s nonsensical desire to give a pile of money away because he still thinks he basically killed his ex-fiancée, she’s sort of failing miserably at it. It’s obvious that this is true because Mary spends a great deal of time in this episode swanning about the house saying things like OH WELL IF ONLY SOMEONE HAD A PILE OF MONEY SIIGGGGGH and deploying some pretty impressive eyerolls. It’s kind of amazing to watch. (Further proof of an observation from last week: Mary is Violet’s daughter long, long before she is Cora’s, in all the ways that count.)

It’s certainly possible – and equally correct – to read Mary’s behavior as exceptionally petulant and immature, but since there’s also something equally ridiculous about Matthew’s insistence that he can’t save the family home without imperiling his soul or whatever, it’s hard to really hold it against her. Matthew’s attempts at noble logic are feeble at best, and at the end of the day if he grabbed that Ouija board that is probably still down in the kitchens somewhere and asked Lavinia, she would say she wanted him to keep the money. 

Anna Gets Her Nancy Drew On. Anna, in her continuing new part time gig as a private investigator, goes to see a woman named Mrs. Bartlet, who was a neighbor of Vera Bates. She also brings her a pile of cash to try and get her to talk about the last few days of Vera’s life. Mrs. Bartlet is a tremendously not nice person, who indirectly calls Anna a trollop (?!?) and informs her that Vera had been afraid of her husband with good reason. She recounts the story of her visit with Vera on the afternoon of her death, emphasizing that she was jumpy and fearful as she headed back to her house to wait for Bates’ return. She also mentions that Vera was making some sort of pastry when she got to her house and spent quite a bit of time trying to scrub the dough out from under her fingernails. (Honestly, show, you might as well just hang flashing lights that she was doing Something Suspicious.) Mrs. Bartlet says that she thought Bates would be hanged for what he did and blames the country “going soft” for his survival. Anna leaves, no closer to solving the mystery.

Also, There's Some Prison Drama. Meanwhile, in the World’s Dullest Prison, Bates it out for some yard time with the other guys – which basically consists of walking around in a circle for a while it appears – when he’s informed that his shady cellmate has it in for him and is going to try and frame him. Random Friendly Prisoner informs him that he needs to search his cell and find out whatever Shady Mean Cellmate put there. Bates finds whatever it is in the knick of time and exchanges a few veiled insults with Shady Mean Cellmate. This storyline is such a waste of Brendan Coyle, can we just get on with it please?

Isobel Crawley’s New Crusade. Isobel Crawley, as we saw briefly last week, has found herself a new hobby as Yorkshire;s Defender of the Unfortunate. The idea behind her latest pet project is a center to help reform and rehabilitate the lives of women who have fallen on hard times personally and financially and have subsequently made some poor life decisions. At what I’ve mentally taking to calling Isobel Crawley’s Home for Wayward Girls, these ladies ostensibly learn skills for the real world and to improve their moral fiber and learn to be, I don’t know, more professional or something. Isobel seems very pleased that she’s helping women in trouble in “the real world” and also seems to take great joy in saying the word PROSTITUTE as loudly as possible, which is extremely awkward.

Former Downton housemaid Ethel – yes, the one who got pregnant and was abandoned by the father of her child – turns up at Mrs. Crawley’s Home for Wayward Girls once again after her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance last week. This time, she manages about six words to Isobel (who helpfully informs Ethel that all the other girls in the room were once PROSTITUTES as well) before losing her nerve and running away. We’ve no idea what she’s about to ask her about though, as Ethel says she’s not interested in Isobel’s patented life-altering and improvement services. So, what’s up? The safe assumption is it’s probably something to do with her son, it would seem.(And is implied in the scene when Isobel goes to visit Ethel and we hear her son in the background.)

Since we’re probably all thinking it, I’ll just say it: Why is Ethel even back on this show? Her storyline seemed mostly wrapped up at the end of last season and it seems impossible to imagine that fans the world over were just clamoring for this character’s return. Surely with a cast as large as this there are better storylines and characters we could be spending our valuable episode time on. Perhaps this means I’m heartless but I have virtually negative interest in whatever caused Ethel’s fall from grace into the world of PROSTITUTION and I certainly don’t care if her cause becomes Isobel’s next pet project du jour. Ethel was repeatedly both boring and irritating in Series 2 and there is little to indicate that this fact is going to change in Series 3.

A Dead Man’s Letter. Matthew receives a letter from Mr. Swire’s solicitor. It turns out that Reggie wrote a note for each of his three potential heirs, to be delivered should it turn out they’d won the inheritance lottery. Matthew can’t decide whether to open it. He (for reals) doesn’t want to face the “paean of praise” he’s sure the letter will contain and feel even guiltier about the way he treated Lavinia. Shut up, Matthew. So, it’s Mary who opens the letter, only to discover that it seems Mr. Swire knew a great deal of the truth about Matthew’s relationship with his daughter.

Mary says it’s clear that Lavinia must have written to her father on her last day, after she’d tried to get Matthew to call off the wedding. The letter says that she commended Matthew’s to her father’s care and praised him for sacrificing his own happiness to stay with her. Mr. Swire goes on to explain that he’s adding Matthew to his list of heirs in honor of Lavinia, though he doesn’t think anything will come of it. He also specifically instructs Matthew to not allow grief or guilt to impact his acceptance of the money should it come to him, because Mr. Swire is acting with full knowledge of everything that went down. (And also, Matthew’s objections to it are stupid in the first place, but that’s my letter not his, I suppose.)

Matthew asks extremely snottily whether or not Mary wrote it. He then says he’s not actually accusing her of faking it, but he thinks someone must have, because Lavinia couldn’t have gotten a letter out of the house while she was so ill without someone knowing. Mary, determined to prove that Mr. Swire’s letter is legitimate, goes downstairs to quiz the servants about whether any of them might have tried to pass a letter outside Downton while Lavinia was there. Everyone in the kitchen says no. All looks lost, until Daisy wanders into the room, hears what’s up and admits that she actually did send a letter for Lavinia, and that the sick lady gave it to her while she was in her room fixing the fire. Matthew sighs, smiles and Downton is saved, hurrah! The two of them agree to keep this news to themselves for a bit because they don’t want to steal Edith’s thunder on her wedding day.

Moseley and O’Brien and Thomas Oh My. Poor Mr. Moseley is ratted out by Carson – who asks O’Brien exactly what she’s told him (because Cora mentioned it to him earlier.) Digging the whole ever deeper, Moseley announces to the rest of the downstairs staff that O’Brien’s leaving. This, being news to O’Brien, accordingly makes her extremely angry. Thomas hurriedly informs Carson it’s time for the dressing gong before Moseley can tell everyone he’s actually the one that started the rumor. Everyone rushes off and O’Brien flounces off with a death glare and an “I’ll deal with you later” for poor Moseley. He (quite rightly) looks terrified.

O’Brien tells Cora she’s not leaving and that there was some sort of misunderstanding. Cora doesn’t care and tells her she’s still disappointed in her anyway because…reasons, I guess? Moseley is hanging around downstairs waiting for O’Brien’s return and he immediately starts apologizing and groveling and saying that he didn’t mean any harm. He also gets the chance to tell her that Thomas is the one who told her about her supposedly leaving in the first place. O’Brien decides to let Moseley go, telling him that she knows it wasn’t his fault and they’ll forget about it. She does give him a warning to pass along to Thomas, which means that we’re basically in for a Godzilla versus Mothra style battle royale between the two of them in the next couple of weeks.

Oh, Edith. You Poor Dear. Edith’s wedding day is here and she’s super excited, because finally the people in her family and the surrounding town are going to have to acknowledge her existence.  She looks lovely in her gorgeous dress and has a really sweet scene with both her sisters where she specifically mentions how fantastic it is that they’re all married and happy and la la la and they should take a photo together to commemorate this moment. This should be your first indication that something is about to go very wrong, because that statement’s basically the equivalent of shouting “I’ll be right back!” in a horror film before you wander off to get stabbed by a guy with a hook for a hand.

Anyway, the wedding gets under way and Edith comes down the aisle all smiles. But then….the vicar starts talking and makes it about three words into his “dearly beloved” spiel before Sir Anthony blurts out that he can’t do it, that he can’t marry Edith. Poor Edith looks shocked and confused, while Robert looks angry. Anthony says that he just can’t marry her and let her throw away her life on an old man and that everyone knows the two of them being together is wrong. 

So, why exactly does Sir Anthony decide to call it off? They’ve already got the family to come round on it, he seems excited to see Edith, calls her pet names and generally seems to be looking forward to marrying her. Granted, they had that awkward dinner party conversation where Edith said she wanted him to basically be her pet project in life (though she called it “my life’s work,” which is even creepier.) But, though he may have been shaken by that conversation, until this moment there was no hint that he’d even be thinking about not going through with the wedding until he out of the blue has something approximating a breakdown at the altar and starts parroting everything Edith’s family has been saying for ages and rushes off. Will we ever see him again? Will we ever find out why he had such a sudden change of heart? The arguments of the Granthams against this match aren’t necessarily entirely wrong, but Anthony’s certainly no worse a choice for Edith than Tom is for Sybil and, most importantly, there was exactly zero hint during any of his scenes throughout the other forty minutes of this episode that he was considering calling things off. It’s as much of a shock for us as it is for Edith because it comes out of absolutely nowhere and seems to go against practically everything we’ve seen from this character this season. Yes, Edith’s relentless pushiness about their relationship was pretty annoying, but it’s not like he seemed to have a huge problem with it, either. So what is his deal? Or is this just a way to keep storylines moving forward? (After all, all three sisters married and happy doesn’t leave a lot of room to move with four or five episodes still to go in a season, does it.) Thoughts on this?

I also feel really bad for making fun of Edith all the way up until this point because her pain and misery is heartbreakingly sad to watch. Laura Carmichael’s performance is wonderful in these few minutes, she portrays every moment of Edith’s denial, dawning realization and heartbreak perfectly, as well as her obvious conviction that she’s just never going to get a happy ending. But what WILL be ahead for Edith now? Are we all ready to accept her as a spinster forever? Surely she deserves better than that.

Totally shallow observation: Tom wore a morning coat to the ceremony without fighting about it! So cute! (And it’s nice to see him trying.)

Everyone Cheer Up, Downton is Saved! Matthew and Robert have a super cute father-son style chat after the aborted wedding. Robert despondently says that it’s time to start planning the business of leaving Downton, but his son-in-law says that doesn’t actually need to happen anymore. Matthew says he’s going to accept Reggie Swire’s money and give it all to Robert to save Downton and the look on Robert’s face is so confused and shocked and sweet at the same time. Robert tries to protest that he can’t take Matthew’s money, so Matthew will have to become a joint owner in the estate with him, as a provision of him taking the money. They sort of manly handshake it out (just hug already!) and it’s all sorts of adorable. Hugh Bonneville and Dan Stevens are really fantastic in this scene together and it’s so, so obvious how much Robert adores Matthew and loves having a son, in a way, no matter how much he loves his daughters. They’re so sweet together, and it’s nice that the episode ends on a somewhat happy note to balance out Edith’s misery.

More Good News: Plus, Carson and Mrs. Hughes are Adorable. Mrs. Hughes goes to see Dr. Clarkson to find out her test results. Mr. Carson offers to go with her, but she says she has to do this on her own. Carson watches her leave the kitchen with the saddest puppy dog look on his face. What on earth would he do without her? But, luckily, we don’t have to worry about that, because Mrs. Hughes is just fine. The ladies return to the house and Mrs. Patmore informs Carson that everything’s really fine and he’s super happy and also adamant that Mrs. Hughes not be told that he ever knew about her cancer scare at all. (Clearly, Carson thinks he is a far, far better actor than he actually is, but everyone decides to let him keep up this charade.)

Mrs. Hughes covertly watches Mr. Carson polishing the silver for a minute and he’s actually singing while doing it, because he’s so happy she’s okay. Mrs. Hughes almost starts crying, I almost start crying and that’s where we end our episode for the week. It’s a moment that’s virtually impossible to watch without melting. They’re adorable.

And….that’s it for this week. Thoughts? Where do we go from here now that Edith’s hearbroken and Downton’s out of danger? Speculate away in the comments.

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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