Previously, on Downton Abbey: Everyone cries. That’s all. Oh, all right, fine – tragedy strikes the Crawley family when Sybil has unexpected complications following the birth of her daughter, Thomas gets a little too up close and personal with the Hottest Footman in Northern England, Isobel’s crusading ways leave her stuck having to eat Ethel’s cooking, and supersleuths Bates and Anna finally clue in to the fact that Vera killed herself (keep your day jobs, kids).
As Series 3 rolls on, it’s not quite clear how Downton is going to manage to top the emotional rollercoaster of last week’s episode, but you’ll have to read on to find out..
The Aftermath of Sybil’s Funeral. Our episode opens with guests leaving Downton following Sybil’s funeral. Tom looks stricken. Cora is still being snappy at Robert. Violet appears incredibly frail. Everyone is drawn and sad. At Crawley House, Isobel fills Ethel in on the details of the service. Always needing something to do even if it is with the best of intentions, Isobel decides she wants to throw a luncheon party for Cora and the girls, to try to take the family out of their grief. Ethel volunteers her culinary um…skills and says that she can make something special for everyone. Isobel, who is currently trying to choke down some Ethel-prepared delicacy and sporting an expression akin to someone eating paste, manages to not actually vomit in front of her new housekeeper and says that they don’t have to decide that right now. Penelope Wilton makes the best faces ever in this scene.
Mary and Anna’s Friendship is Lovely. Mary doesn’t understand why Bates isn’t out of jail yet. Anna tells her that Mr. Murray their lawyer hasn’t gone to see Mrs. Bartlet the Evil Neighbor as yet, and is concerned that perhaps she won’t want to tell Bates’ lawyer the same thing she told Anna about the night Vera died. Anna’s worried they won’t be able to prove that Vera baked the pie that killed her herself and Mary comforts her. She says that this proof of Bates’ innocence is what they’ve all been waiting for and that it might not sort itself out by tomorrow, but that he will be freed. Anna gets choked up and says that it’s so nice of Mary to say “we” about her husband’s situation. Mary takes Anna’s hand and assures her that she truly means it, saying that Downton could really use some good news right now. It’s a lovely little moment that reminds us that despite all the class differences between upstairs and down, real friendships are still possible.
Cora is Not Dealing Very Well. Robert comes upstairs and tells Cora he’d like to stop sleeping in the dressing room if that’s okay with her. Cora says not yet, that she’d much rather be by herself for a while longer and Robert can go back to the horror of whatever awaits him in the dressing room, thanks very much. Robert tries to talk to her again about what happened the night Sybil died, but Cora’s not having it. She accuses her husband of purposefully ignoring Dr. Clarkson’s knowledge of Sybil’s history and preferring Dr. Fancypants because he’s knighted and fashionable and has a practice at a swanky address. She says all these things mattered more to Robert than saving their daughter’s life and that’s what she can’t forgive. Robert asks Cora if she thinks he misses Sybil any less than she does and Cora replies that she thinks he probably misses her more, since he basically blocked their last hope for saving her. YOU KNOW AND KILLED HER AND EVERYTHING. Cora then deploys an epic dramatic sniffle whilst Robert looks devastated.
Oh, dear, it looks like this week I’m going to have to rebrand the standard TOM jar into the CORA jar and start putting a dollar in it every time I yell SHUT UP, CORA at the television screen. Her behavior is so understandable – it’s natural to lash out at the people we know are most likely to forgive us later when we’re hurting – but it’s so hard to watch Robert stand there with the big sad cow eyes while Cora says nasty things to him because no one seems to remember that he’s lost his child too. Yes, what happened to their daughter is a horrible tragedy. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Robert put so much faith in the diagnosis of Dr. Fancypants, but let’s be real for a second here. Sybil’s diagnosis is like the one thing ever in this show that Dr. Clarkson has gotten correct medically. So, yes, I can’t exactly blame Robert for treating Clarkson as the girls’ kindly but sort of random and occasionally spaced uncle that pops by the house for tea sometimes more than a medical professional. Cora keeps going on about how Clarkson knew their history, blah blah, but it’s unclear how or why that fact should outweigh the evidence that he’s not a particularly competent physician? (SHUT UP, CORA. Crap, now I’m out another dollar.) I know, I know, I know that I’m probably in the minority on this, but I suppose someone out there has to keep the Sympathy-for-Robert flag flying.
Awkward Breakfast is Awkward. Tom comes down to breakfast and everyone tries to buck him up. Edith suggests that he should think about getting a local girl in as a nurse, but Tom blurts out that he’s not staying at Downton, or at least he won’t be once he finds a job. Edith changes the subject to the only slightly less contentious topic of the baby’s christening and we learn that Tom is planning to call the baby Sybil, because he wants to remember her mother whenever he looks at her. Anyway, all this segues into Tom and Robert’s inevitable clash about baptizing the baby as a Catholic, because she’s Irish. Like you didn’t know that was coming.
Ethel Corrupts Seeks Out Mrs. Patmore. Ethel stops Mrs. Patmore on the street and fills her in on the whole working for Isobel situation. She also informs her that Isobel’s going to give a luncheon to show sympathy for Cora and her daughters. Ethel admits that while she has been taken on at Crawley House as a cook-housekeeper, she’s not so great at the cooking part of her job, and was wondering if Mrs. Patmore might be willing to help her make something special for this event and she punctuates her request with this sort of adorable little “Pleeaaaaase” that actually makes me like her for what may be the first time ever. Mrs. Patmore tells Ethel that Mr. Carson’s made it very clear that no one’s to have anything to do with her because of her whole scandalous PROSTITUTE past. Ethel says that Isobel shouldn’t be punished for being kind to her and wanting to do something nice for a grieving family. Mrs. Patmore, of course, caves almost immediately and smuggles some recipes to Ethel to help out.
This Bates Storyline Makes Me Feel Like I’m in Prison. Because I know you’ve all been waiting for it, off we go back to the Incarceration Facility Where Joy Goes to Die, and the least interesting storyline in existence ever. Bates is out in the yard walking around in a circle with the other nameless prisoners when a Traitorous Guard appears. Random Traitorous Guard immediately gets all super creepy with Bates, telling him that he looks downcast and wonders if some scheme to improve his lot has gone awry isn’t that a shame HA HA HA /evil laugh. I made up the last bit, but it might as well have been in there.
Because okay, none of the other guards think this behavior is weird or overhear any of his vaguely threatening comments toward an inmate. Fine, whatever. I don’t even care anymore. Someone make this Bates-in-prison plot stop. You can have all the money in my SHUT UP, [CHARACTER] jars.
Robert and Violet are Kind of Adorable. Robert then goes to see his mother, who wants to know if he’s thought about what kind of relationship they’ll have with Sybil’s child if Tom manages to move to Liverpool – and what sort of influence they will (or won’t) have on her upbringing. Violet wants to know what Cora thinks about the situation and Robert has to admit that he doesn’t exactly have the marriage of the year at the moment. He says his wife is wretchedly unhappy and Violet can’t blame a parent who mourns their child. The two of them then proceed to have the most awkward and sort of charmingly sweet conversation about the state of the Crawleys’ marriage and what can be done about it.
Violet says that people in their position don’t have unhappy marriages and suggests that perhaps they need some distance from one another until they’re better able to deal with things. (She mentions that Cora could go visit “that woman” in New York, perhaps. I love Violet.) The Dowager then actually has a super fantastic human moment with her son where she tells Robert that she doesn’t talk about emotions much, but that doesn’t’ mean she doesn’t know how much what he’s going through hurts. They’re adorable together. I so want to know more about Robert’s backstory and what the Crawley family dynamic was like when he was younger. What sort of mother was Violet, really?
Downstairs Love Triangle of Snore. There’s a really boring storyline going on this week with the downstairs crew – Daisy’s pining for Alfred who’s flirting with Ivy who’s making cow eyes at Jimmy who doesn’t care. Obviously it’s a really compelling and exciting zzzzzzzzz. Does anyone care at all about this? Anyone? Do the three of them actually do any work around the house? They always seem to just be loitering in the kitchen.
The Catholic Fight Continues. The argument about whether baby Sybil should be raised in the faith of her father continues. Mary tells Robert that he’s wrong, saying that the baby is a Branson, not a Crawley, so it doesn’t matter what generations of their family have done or would think of it. Poor Mr. Travis the vicar comes to dinner and there’s plenty of awkward conversation about religion and how it is practiced in other countries. The only worthwhile part of this whole scene is the fabulous moment when Violet announces that she’s great friends with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who is apparently “more Catholic than the Pope”. (Fun fact: This is actually true. The Howard family and their descendants were well known for dedication to the Church and its faith going all the way back to King Richard III.) Mary finally informs her father that Sybil told her she was fine with the baby being baptized Catholic on the day she died. Why she could not have done this ages ago and spared us several of these exceptionally awkward conversations I don’t know. Robert is shocked, Tom is happy and Cora takes the opportunity to get in another barb about her husband never understanding the unconventional. (Another dollar for the Cora jar, wooooo!)
Mr. Murray Actually Does Some Lawyering. Mr. Murray finally goes to see Vera Bates’ creepy neighbor Mrs. Bartlet and attempts to get her to confirm the story she told Anna. Of course, Mrs. Bartlet denies everything she said before, including the time at which she talked to Vera and the whole discovery of the baking of the pie that would ultimately kill her. She says she never said any of it. Mr. Murray wonders why she even agreed to meet with him in the first place. Mrs. Bartlet says something about it being time Murray saw how real people live, which makes absolutely no sense at all. Does she even know who Murray is? Ugh, whatever.
Murray goes back to see Bates and Anna at the Incarceration Facility Where Joy Goes to Die and tells them that Mrs. Bartlet denied everything, which they’d been expecting. Somehow from this they extrapolate that someone has frightened or bribed the woman into changing her story – why, I don’t know, as it’s certainly just as likely that her actions are motivated by the fact that she hates Bates and is a sort of horrible person, but Murray claims it’s a big deal for “a woman like that” to lie to a lawyer. He says that perhaps they can persuade her to return to the path of truth and rightness and Bates says he’ll take care of it. I’ve lost track of how bizarre and nonsensical this plot has become, so I don’t even care that logically this has holes you could drive a truck into, just because I want it to be over.
The Dowager Countess to the Rescue. Violet summons Dr. Clarkson to visit her and says she wants to talk a bit more about Sybil’s death. She says she’s concerned beyond just the particulars of her illness and explains about Cora’s inability to let go of the idea that Sybil could have been saved if they’d taken her to the hospital. She asks about the likelihood of Sybil’s survival had they operated on her when Clarkson wanted to do so. The doctor says that she might have survived, and that there have been a few cases of early Caesarian sections saving the mother’s life, but not many. He doesn’t sound at all like it was a sure thing and Violet tells him that her son and daughter in law are tearing their marriage apart over this issue. She wants Dr. Clarkson to tell them that Sybil would probably have died no matter what they did, so that they can finally be able to grieve together over their loss. Clarkson says Violet wants him to lie for her. Violet: “Lie…is so unmusical a word.” The doctor says that he could never lie telling an outright falsehood even to ease suffering. Violet claims that she wants him to review the evidence again and see what conclusions he can draw.
Carson the Supersleuth Strikes Again. While Carson is out in the village for some unidentified reason, he happens to catch Mrs. Patmore leaving Crawley House after one of her clandestine trips to give Ethel cooking lessons. Carson confronts Mrs. Patmore back in the Downton kitchen who tries to deny it until he drops the news on her that he saw her there so she might as well not bother. Mrs. Hughes tries to defend her and Carson says it’s no concern of his if Mrs. Patmore wants to spend her time FROLICKING with PROSTITUTES (and I die laughing). Mrs. Patmore also spills the beans that Cora, Violet and the girls are going to this luncheon party at Isobel’s and Mr. Carson is basically shocked to his soul that they’re going to let a woman like Ethel wait on the ladies of Downton. He goes straight to Robert to fill him in on the horrors of PROSTITUTEgate, even interrupting the guys while they’re eating, so you know it’s Serious Business.
Luncheon Disaster Strikes. All the ladies who lunch are pleasantly surprised that Ethel’s managed to make a meal that hasn’t immediately given any of them food poisoning. Isobel says she owes Ethel an apology for underestimating her. Edith wonders if she ought to learn to cook since she needs a hobby and Isobel asks her whether she ever decided what to do about becoming a newspaper columnist. Edith says she never answered at him because of all the stuff with Sybil and it’s probably too late to do so now. Isobel mentions that she’d heard from Matthew that Robert wasn’t so keen on the idea in the first place.
Another dollar goes into my SHUT UP, CORA jar right here, because Cora takes the opportunity to go on a weird rant about how it doesn’t make any difference if Robert is against it, because he frequently makes decisions based on values that have no relevance anymore. Edith asks if Isobel thinks that she should do it and she says she doesn’t think Edith ought to go against her father. Mary says she supports Edith and so does Matthew and of course this is right where Robert bursts into the room full of righteous indignation about the PROSTITUTEgate situation. He says that everyone’s leaving like right now and drops the bombshell about Ethel’s illegitimate child and Isobel admits that, yes, her housekeeper used to work as a PROSTITUTE. Everyone makes the best shocked face at the use of that word (seriously, this is apparently never not going to be funny for me) and the Dowager gamely tries to recover, saying that it’s pretty hard to find servants nowadays. Robert’s still furious that his family has been exposed to scandal and Isobel’s all whatever, who would know in the first place. (Isobel, seriously, you need to get out more. I promise you, everyone knows.)
Robert reiterates that they are leaving and Cora suddenly starts doing her best Isobel impression, where she says this is Robert’s problem and they’re not going anywhere and thank goodness Mrs. Patmore has a good heart UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE SHE KNOWS and helped Ethel cook. Everyone decides to stay for dessert, even the Dowager Countess, and Robert stomps off in a huff. Now, okay, if I thought this was a genuine reaction on Cora’s part –that she actually cared for one second about Ethel or anything other than just automatically defaulting to the opposite of whatever her husband is thinking or saying at the moment because she’s angry at him – I could stand it. I’d applaud it. But, Cora’s doing the right thing for the wrong reason and somehow this just makes me more annoyed at her because it’s so petty. Ethel’s merely the latest tool in her crusade to prove that Robert is backward and old-fashioned and values the wrong things. Whatever, Cora. (To be clear, Robert is in the wrong here – though his reaction is understandable as he is someone who is very concerned about what others think of him and his family and their position in the village. Robert is wrong to behave the way he does, but Cora is also wrong to use Ethel as another stick to beat her husband with, and to act as though she would have reacted any differently if this had happened days before.)
Meanwhile, Back in the Pri(zzzzzzzzzz)on. Another day, another yardtime calisthenics session. While the prisoners are doing their daily lap, Bates manages to jump his old cellmate (who is apparently out of solitary or whatever happened before) and shove him in a dark corner of their yard to threaten him – without any of the World’s Dumbest Prison Guards noticing, obviously. Bates proceeds to tell Former Cellmate that Mrs. Bartlett needs to change her story (back to the truth) because the police are on to her and she’ll go to jail if she doesn’t. He also threatens Former Cellmate that he’ll go to the warden or someone and tell him that Former Cellmate was trying to get him to sell drugs (what?) or, oh I don’t even know it’s not important.
Mary and Robert Have a Talk. Mary finds her father in the study and they have a talk about his performance at Crawley House and the situation with Cora. Mary says her mother will come through her anger at Robert, but says her father didn’t help things with his behavior about Ethel. Mary gets all armchair psychologist and says she thinks Robert is behaving as he is because he’s upset the world isn’t going his way anymore. Mary also informs him that he’s lost the argument about the baby’s christening, reminding her father that Sybil loved Tom sooooooo much. Robert has a sweet moment about how much he misses his other daughter and sometimes forgets that she’s died. Mary begs him to repeat his words to her mother, but Robert’s convinced (probably rightly) that Cora’s not interested.
Free Bates – Finally! Anna comes running across the grounds to Mary and Edith who are out for a walk. Anna’s grinning from ear to ear and almost looks near tears as she tells the girls that a telegram for Mr. Murray has come. Their lawyer has finally gotten a witnessed statement out of Mrs. Bartlet and it’s true, finally, Bates is going to be released from jail. HURRAH. (Am I cheering because I’m happy Bates will be free or because this means we’ll never have to spend another moment in the black hole of horrible that is that prison set? Either way, it’s the audience that wins.) Mary’s so happy for Anna and it looks for a split second like the two of them are going to hug each other, but I guess that Downton society hasn’t evolved that far or as fast as all that. Anna says that it’ll be a couple of weeks to get through all the formalities, but Mr. Bates is definitely coming home. Mary says Anna should run and tell Robert right away, because her father’s very low at the moment and in desperate need of good news. (Anna’s huge happy smile through all this is so lovely to see.)
Fixing the Crawleys. It turns out that Violet’s sent a note to Robert and Cora asking them to come see her. Robert says he doesn’t know what she wants and Cora says she can stand anything but a lecture on marital harmony. Robert laughs as though this is a joke and Cora just looks at him meanly. She asks plaintively if they have to go and Robert says yes.. Robert then makes the dorkiest and also somehow saddest effort and tells Cora that she looks very nice this morning. Cora shoots him a death glare and tells him not to flirt with her, not now. Robert looks like a kicked puppy again and I owe the SHUT UP, CORA jar another dollar. Sigh. I can’t take another episode of this I’m going to go broke.
Turns out that Violet wanted them to visit because she’s got Dr. Clarkson waiting in the living room. Robert says he thinks he owes him an apology – but Clarkson interrupts to say that his initial diagnosis may have given them some false hope about Sybil’s chances on the night she died. Cora keeps insisting that there would have been a chance if they’d operated, as he’d advised in the first place, but Clarkson gently breaks it to her that there was really nothing that they could have done. Hearing these words seems to break something lose in Cora, who just starts crying and finally lets Robert hug her and then clings to him and sobs all over his shirt. I still think I have a lot of irritation at Cora for refusing to acknowledge her husband’s grief whilst in the midst of her own, but this is sweet and if I can’t quite let go of the fact that I think Cora’s the one in the wrong here, that frustration is really balanced out by the fact that Violet and Dr. Clarkson are awesome. What they did was a wonderful gesture to bring back together two people who are hurting terribly. Especially poor Dr. Clarkson, who’s been wrong so often before, being willing to let himself be the wrong one once again – the one time he was right! – because he wants to do the right thing.
This week’s episode felt a little bit anticlimactic after the emotional rollercoaster of last week, but I think that’s probably to be expected. And, of course, I’m so glad that it looks like several plots are moving forward, including the interminable Bates Prison Saga, among other things. What say you folks? Got thoughts on this week’s installment? Let’s chat in the comments.