Previously, on Downton Abbey: Tragedy drives a wedge into Robert and Cora’s marriage, Isobel tries to make a kind gesture, everyone gets in arguments about a variety of topics from religion to Ethel’s PROSTITUTE ways, I am the only person in America who is apparently on Team Robert, Violet awesomely brings her son and his wife back together, and Bates is finally going to be released from jail, for reasons that really don’t bear looking at too closely.
We arrive at the penultimate episode of Series 3 tonight (can you believe it’s almost over?), but at least it’s a two-hour installment so there are plenty of new things to discuss. This is also probably the part where I should apologize for the length of this post in advance. (Just remember, it is two hours! A lot happens!)
Finally, the Prison Storyline is Over! Our episode opens with Bates, finally dressed in normal clothes again, leaving the Incarceration Facility Where Joy Goes to Die. I’m so pleased to see the back of this place that it’s almost enough to make up for the fact that we’ve spent weeks locked in this totally joyless and fairly incomprehensible pri(zzzzz)on storyline. Anna’s waiting outside in a car and their expressions when they see each other are pretty much made of adorable. Anna runs to Bates and they hug and this is probably the first time in four weeks that I actually remember that I love them together. They head back to Downton, smiling the whole way.
They reach the house just as Team Downstairs is sitting down to dinner and everyone is overjoyed to see Bates. It’s so sweet – Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore are all super excited and everyone’s just swarming around Bates and it’s funny, but it feels like forever since we’ve seen anyone smile like this. All except, of course, for Thomas, who looks put out and informs Bates that he’s Mr. Barrow now and some things have changed around the house while he was away.
Matthew’s New Project. Matthew sets up a meeting with the family’s estate agent Mr. Jarvis. He wants to get started on implementing some of the changes around Downton that he feels are essential for its survival, all of which he’s mentioned to Robert repeatedly over the past like three episodes, only his father-in-law hasn’t been listening. Robert’s snotty about it, but grudgingly agrees to attend.
Matthew has clearly, like, prepared for this meeting with Jarvis. He has a huge map of the estate that has been drawn up and has a long list of things he wants to do: invest in new equipment and techniques and take over some of the land from tenants who are farming it poorly. Robert gets all oldschool about it, claiming that Downton’s functioned the same way for hundreds of years, working in tandem with the farmers on the estate, blah blah blah we’re all in 1895. Matthew says that he’s already had to save the place once (oh, snap!) and reminds Robert that he’s been shoring up the financial lack with Cora’s fortune for years. He insists that Downton must be self-supporting and whatever to the idea of maintaining their perfect and harmonious ways from the past. Tom, as it happens, agrees with Matthew, because Tom is a revolutionary. Oh, and his dad raised sheep once.
The Dowager versus Isobel, Round 957. Violet shows up unannounced to see Isobel at Crawley House because she has some things to say about the wisdom of employing Ethel. Isobel is surprised, because Violet didn’t leave her lunch last week when Robert was ranting about all the scandal. The Dowager sniffs and says that was all fine and good as an action to support Cora when she needed it, but now they’ve got to deal with the fact that Ethel’s employment is a problem. She says that Ethel is notorious in the village and that everyone knows about her, her past, and her former method of employment (PROSTITUTION). Isobel puffs up and says she believes in fighting for her beliefs, but the Dowager points out that Ethel’s the one that’s suffering because of her moral battles. Turns out that the Dowager’s a bit right too – Ethel has an awkward encounter in the village where one of the local shopkeepers refused to serve her and she ends up crying on the street.
Team Downstairs: The Next Generation is Terrible. Alfred keeps chasing after Ivy, who keeps treating him like dirt and mooning over Jimmy, who’s not interested. Seriously, their scenes are like watching paint dry. There’s also an ongoing plot where Jimmy and Alfred don’t like each other much and are vying for the first footman position, which Alfred keeps basically getting anyway, because Mr. Carson likes him more and then Jimmy gets all snotty about it. Yawwwwwn.
Alfred goes to the movies with Ivy and some other random Downton employees we’ve never seen before and Alfred tries, yet again, to break it to Ivy that Jimmy is just not that into her. Ivy refuses to believe him and basically says she’ll only go out with Alfred on the regular if she hears it from Jimmy himself that he doesn’t like her. Alfred seems okay with this condition, because…I don’t know why. (I agree with Daisy: Why on earth Alfred is still into this vapid, stupid girl after how awful she is, I can’t understand.)
Yes, Let’s Talk About Improving the Estate Some More. Matthew invites Mr. Murray the lawyer to come chat with Robert and Jarvis. Mr. Murray apparently has no other clients than the Crawleys. Murray is also totally Team Matthew. He reads Robert the riot act about all the ways the estate’s been mismanaged and how close it’s come to falling apart over many years and through various Earls. Matthew makes his case to invest in the estate again and reduce waste. Mr. Jarvis, who is secretly a huge drama queen, doesn’t want to hear any criticism about waste or his management methods and quits on the spot.
Matthew fills Mary in on the situation before dinner. This scene is pretty pointless except for the epic Flop of Frustration that Matthew executes onto their bed. Matthew bemoans having to make everything work by himself, but reiterates his conviction that he’s right on these issues and pleads with Mary to believe in him and his plan. (Fine, they’re adorable.)
The Unfortunate Thomas Situation. Thomas keeps on offering young Jimmy the footman work advice around the house. O’Brien keeps dropping super obvious hints about how Alfred tells her Jimmy’s just always going on about Thomas, isn’t that sweet. Obviously, Thomas is an idiot for trusting anything O’Brien says and whether it’s because he’s too blinded by his crush to realize that O’Brien has it out for him or he thinks he’s some untouchable master schemer, I don’t know. Obviously, something very bad is going to happen. Which of course, it does.
After dinner one night, Thomas and Jimmy have a chat about how Mr. Carson favors Alfred over him. Thomas offers to help out with the Alfred situation and they bond about being lonely people who like to look sure of themselves, especially when they’re not. O’Brien pops back up again after Jimmy goes to bed and manages to mention once more that she’s totally sure that the Hottest Footman in Northern England is completely into Thomas. Thomas says he doesn’t believe her, but he clearly wants to believe her. With a feeling that’s sort of like watching a train about to crash in slow motion, we watch Thomas and Jimmy get ready for bed, we see Thomas in what appears to be conflicted and in deep thought, and we see Thomas sneak into Jimmy’s bedroom to stare sort of sadly and creepily at him for a bit, and then kiss him.
Unfortunately for Thomas, everything immediately goes wrong – Alfred walks in right at the moment of their kiss and Jimmy rejects him and freaks out. Thomas tries to claim that there’s something between them and looks devastated, before Jimmy throws him out. It’s interesting – I think Thomas is, generally, a fairly terrible person, but this episode does a good job of reminding us how very alone and lonely he is. No one likes Thomas, but at some moments that seems predominantly by his own design – that he doesn’t let people get close to the real him if he can help it, because he’s afraid they’ll reject it. It actually almost made me sad for a moment that his friendship with O’Brien has disintegrated; he really has no one and no matter how vile a person he is, that’s still difficult to watch.
The next morning at breakfast, Alfred is glowering, Thomas looks forlorn and Jimmy is hitting on Ivy extra frequently, I guess to double prove that he’s not into men in general or Thomas in particular. Everyone looks miserable. O’Brien asks Alfred if there’s something wrong and he says he can’t talk to her about it right now. Carson imperiously says that he would like to know if there’s anything he ought to know about by the end of the day.
Edith the Journalist. Edith gets another letter from that newspaper editor at the Sketch, who asks whether she’s ever in London because he’d like to meet her. Matthew’s all encouraging and says Edith could visit Aunt Rosamund as well and do some shopping and stuff, because, I don’t know, girls be shopping, or whatever. So, Edith goes to London and meets with her prospective editor. He’s actually somewhat dishy. (Go, Edith! He’s way better looking than Sir Anthony!) They discuss Robert’s disapproval of the prospect of her being a columnist. Edith says it’s been lovely to meet him, but she’s got to think about things a bit further. Somewhat Attractive Editor asks Edith to meet him for lunch the next day and give him her answer and then they’ll either celebrate or he’ll get drunk in despair. They’re sort of adorable together.
At lunch the next day, Edith (sporting a fantastic hat) and Somewhat Attractive Editor make small talk. Somewhat Attractive Editor comments that he’s pleased she isn’t married and Edith archly replies that she’s a little less pleased since she got dumped at the altar. Attractive Editor is mortified. Edith changes the subject by saying that she’s going to take his job offer and they both look happy.
Is O’Brien Worse Than Thomas? Alfred goes to talk to his Aunt O’Brien about the Thomas/Jimmy situation. Alfred’s clearly conflicted about what he should do and O’Brien is telling him all sorts of things to try and get him to turn Thomas in. She says it’ll look terrible if Mr. Carson finds out Alfred knew and said nothing, and implies that Jimmy was probably equally guilty in what Alfred saw anyway. She encourages her nephew to report Thomas and then step back and enjoy his fall, and Alfred says okay.
Wow. I mean – wow. O’Brien is evil. It’s hard to know exactly what we’re meant to think of her a lot of the time – occasionally we see her actually act human (Bates’ trial, her guilt over what happened to Cora) and her snarky asides are generally entertaining. Yes, she’s unkind and mean and has done horrible things to people in the past, but watching her actively and meticulously plan to destroy someone’s life, get them fired and possibly have them thrown in jail is kind of a lot, even for her. And that someone used to be her best friend! I know, it’s not like this is the first time O’Brien’s has schemed with the ultimate goal of doing real damage (Cora and the soap spring to mind), but at least there was a personal motivation there (she thought that Cora was trying to have her fired/sacked). Here, she’s angry at Thomas for….being mean to Alfred? For not giving him career advice? I mean, it’s a big leap from hiding some dress shirts so Thomas gets in trouble when Robert can’t get dressed for dinner to actively trying to have someone who was once her only friend thrown in jail. I boggle. Where has this come from? What is wrong with her? Her glee over this carefully orchestrated total destruction of Thomas is really out of all proportion to anything he’s actually done to her lately. (Okay, there was that time he tried to convince everyone O’Brien’s leaving, but that wasn’t anything that couldn’t be corrected with a simple No, I’m not?)
Sympathy for the Devil: Poor Thomas, Part 1. Alfred goes to Carson and tells him everything he saw in Jimmy’s room. Carson’s shocked to his soul. (He must be the only person at Downton who didn’t sort of know about Thomas, right?) Thomas is summoned to Mr. Carson’s office and summarily read the riot act about his behavior. Thomas says he thought Jimmy was drawn to him in the same way he was drawn to Jimmy and, yes, it turned out that he was wrong about that. He then explains that his sexuality means that he has to try to read the signs about people as best he can without ever really knowing for sure because people are afraid to speak out about who they are. Carson says he doesn’t want the day tour of his “revolting” psyche (Oh, Carson, really?) and explains that they’ll have to see what Jimmy wants to do. I feel bad for Thomas some more. (Who am I?)
The Dowager Solves a Problem. Robert, Cora and Violet discuss the state of the estate. Violet admits that Jarvis the Drama Queen was always really loyal to her husband and only viewed Robert as “the young master” instead of seeing him as the real head of things. She says that obviously the solution to several problems at once is to make Tom the estate manager and let him help Matthew implement his regime of change. He’s at least seen a farm before, which is more practical experience than Jarvis had. Plus, this solution would also keep Sybil’s child close to the family and allow everyone to call Tom “Branson” again, which would clearly be a great relief to her ladyship.
The Neighborhood Cricket Match. An underlying story thread of the back half of this episode is the annual cricket match between teams comprised of members of the Downton household and the village. Though there are not any really huge plot points involved – other than poor Molesley can’t play cricket near as good as he can talk about playing – it’s wonderful to have another plot that’s focused on interactions between the village and the house. It’s got a very Series 1 feel to it, this storyline – it’s enjoyable to watch everyone be so competitive over it, it’s fun to see Robert doing everything he can to get Branson to play on the house team, and it’s lovely to see everyone actually playing. It’s fluffy and fun and awesome. More of this kind of thing in Series 4, please.
Ethel’s Career Fair. The Dowager Countess has Edith place an advertisement to try and find Ethel a job in another area. Isobel is angry, claiming that Violet is only trying to get rid of Ethel because she finds her connection to the family scandalous. Violet says that Isobel’s being ridiculous and enlists Mrs. Hughes to back her up about the fact that Ethel’s life would be a happier one if she could go somewhere where no one knew who she is or what she used to do.
Isobel ignores the whole “Is Ethel happy or not” issue until Violet actually gets some responses to the ad she had placed in the paper. To her credit, Isobel, confronts the situation head on by going straight to Ethel and telling her what Violet’s done. She says that the Dowager thinks she’s lonely in town because she’s notorious, and she also mentions that Violet thinks Ethel has basically covered their house in her cloud of shame. Ethel looks embarrassed. Isobel gives her the replies they’ve received so far, explaining that she could go off to a new job with good references and have a real fresh start. Ethel goes through all of them and says she doesn’t seen one she thinks she’d like better than Crawley House, except this one place that is unfortunately very close to where the Bryants live with her son. Ethel looks miserable.
Sympathy for the Devil: Poor Thomas, Part 2. Later, Carson informs Thomas that Bates is ready to resume his job now he’s home from prison, so he thinks it’s time for Thomas to go. Carson says he’s not entirely unsympathetic to his situation, claiming that Thomas has clearly been “twisted” by nature into something “foul” (Time for a Shut Up, Carson jar? Maybe.) but insisting that it’s easiest if Thomas just resigns quietly. This way, Carson can write him a reference and viola, no one’s left with anything that’s too hard to explain and all the problems are solved. Thomas looks stricken, but manages to tell Carson that no, in fact, he’s not foul, despite the fact that he’s different from him. Rob Thomas-Collier manages to infuse this moment with a strange kind of dignity for Thomas, and it’s weirdly moving, despite the fact that I don’t even really like this character in the first place. I don’t’ even know what I’m becoming.
O’Brien, of course, is outside eavesdropping and hears about Carson’s plan to let Thomas leave quietly. Because O’Brien has apparently gone entirely crazy for no identified reason, she goes straight to Jimmy to start trying to convince him to complain to Carson himself and try to block Thomas’ chances of getting a good reference. She tells him that if he doesn’t protest the conditions of Thomas’ exit, everyone is going to think he is in some way approving of such behavior. As we have seen already, Jimmy is a real brain trust, so he of course goes straight to Carson and says that he’ll report Thomas to the police if Carson doesn’t refuse him a reference. Carson is shocked, of course, and says he doesn’t want the scandal of a police investigation – he wants Thomas to go quietly and the whole situation to go away. Jimmy’s all whatever and says he can’t turn a blind eye to it unless Thomas is basically ruined before he leaves.
Meet Cousin Rose. Violet’s great niece Rose comes to stay with her. She’s the daughter of the infamous Shrimpie, who was mentioned offhandedly in both Series 1 and 2. Rose is young and vibrant and possibly just the tiniest bit ditzy, but I suppose the show does need new blood every now and again. Additionally, young Rose is totally lying to her parents, both about the state of her life generally, and her reasons for wanting to visit her Great Aunt Violet specifically. It turns out that Rose is living a secret wild life – carrying on an affair with a married man and dancing in jazz clubs and goodness knows what else. Oh, dear. This subplot is deeply silly, but in an entertaining way, and when Rose finally gets shipped off to Scotland to stay at her family’s castle by way of punishment for her behavior, it seems certain we’ll see her again someday.
Sympathy for the Devil: Poor Thomas, Part 3. Carson breaks the news to Thomas that he has to leave with no reference. Thomas is crushed that after ten years of service, he’s to leave with nothing. (Let’s all pause for a moment and try to sort the timeline of Thomas having been at Downton for ten years, shall we? Yeah, I kind of gave up, too.) Carson says he doesn’t like it, but his hands are tied. Thomas declares that he knows Jimmy’s been put up to it, because he wouldn’t be that unkind. Carson says he’ll allow Thomas to stay for a couple of days while he tries to sort out whatever he’s going to do with his life now,
A bit later, Mrs. Hughes discovers Thomas crying in the alleyway and wants to know what’s wrong. Thomas says he can’t tell her because it might shock her and Mrs. Hughes just is her awesome self and puts her arm around him and takes him back into the house. (It’s possible that Mrs. Hughes is in my Top 3 characters now thanks to this season. She. Is. Awesome.) Thomas tells her everything and she goes right to Carson, to tell him not to let Jimmy blackmail him like this. She says Thomas has told her everything and that she thinks Jimmy probably gave him the wrong impression in the first place because he’s vain and silly and a constant flirt. (See? Awesome.) She declares she’s not going to let Jimmy ruin a man. Carson points out that standing up to Jimmy could land Thomas in prison, despite their best intentions, which no one wants.
Everyone’s Sneaking Out to See the Doctor. People keep mentioning throughout the episode that Mary’s been to London for some unnamed reason or commenting on how she looks pale or whatever. She’s having secret conversations with her mother about doctors and refusing to take part in various things because she’s too tired. Of course, we all think she’s pregnant. Naturally, she’s not. In a weird sort of Gift of the Magi-style moment, Matthew and Mary run into each other at the exactly same doctor’s office, both there with presumable questions about fertility issues. And of course neither told the other they were going. Awkard. It turns out that Mary had some sort of unidentified female health problem that required her to have some small surgery to remove something or other and now that’s all sorted and everything’s fine. (She says she can’t even bring herself to talk to Matthew about it, so basically that is the extent of medical diagnosis we get.)
Um, really, that’s it? This storyline has run through the whole season; we’ve had to sit through both Mary and Matthew being nervous and awkward about whether they’ll manage to have kids and this is the payoff to all that? That Mary had some random unidentified condition out of the blue that was preventing her from getting pregnant and then she had a random unidentified bit of surgery to correct said random and unnamed condition and everything’s peachy now? Seriously? It’s not like either of them even really learned anything – other than that apparently Mary is a really fantastic liar – it’s not like they’d decided they’d be happy enough if they never have kids or thought about adoption or did anything other than look anxious and then have their problem magically solved. What was the point? (If the writers didn’t want Mary to have a baby for a bit, they could have, you know, chosen to write the story that way, since they’re in charge of it. I don’t even know.)
Edith Really Has the Worst Luck with Men. After another round of flirting with Somewhat Attractive Editor, Edith decides to do some research, because clearly she likes him. Unfortunately, she finds out that he is actually married, because Edith has absolutely the worst luck on earth. She confronts him about it and tries to resign, but he begs her to let him explain. Apparently Mrs. Somewhat Attractive Editor is in an asylum, because she is mad. But due to the laws of the time, it’s impossible to divorce someone who has been declared a lunatic, because they cannot be deemed responsible (either guilty or innocent), so he’s trapped. Poor Edith. And I will now be calling Somewhat Attractive Editor Mr. Rochester for the rest of his time on this show. (But really. Poor Edith.)
Bates to the Rescue. Thomas is clearly having a bit of a downward spiral, and Bates doesn’t really care because it’s obvious that they hate each other. Bates does notice O’Brien smirking at the news that Thomas is leaving, however, and becomes suspicious. He decides to ask Mrs. Hughes about it, who fills him in on the whole thing. Bates isn’t shocked, and even says he feels sorry for Thomas. Bates then breaks the news to Robert, who is also totally not shocked, even going so far as to mention that he’d have gone hoarse in a month if he’d started screaming bloody murder everytime someone tried to kiss him at Eton. (It’s official: I love Robert.)
Bates also has a heart-to-heart with a very despondent Thomas and tells him about O’Brien’s machinations. He says that Thomas must know some secret of hers that can be used against her to at least save his professional reputation. Thomas says sometimes it’s wise to know when you’re beaten. This is one of the oddest scenes in the history of this show – these two people who have hated each other since basically the series’ first episode working together toward a common goal, and that goal to save one of them from a destruction that either would have been happy to see visited upon the other last year. It’s kind of awesome. Bates says that all Thomas has to do is give him a weapon against O’Brien and he’ll do the work of taking her down. Thomas looks thoughtful.
Bates invites O’Brien to visit him at his and Anna’s new cottage. The three of them have a remarkably tense conversation about Thomas and his proclivities and what influence O’Brien may have had on Jimmy’s decision to ruin Thomas. O’Brien refuses to tell Jimmy to call it off, but Bates basically tells her that yes, she will and then whispers something in her ear. O’Brien looks terrified and basically runs straight back to the house to convince Jimmy to be merciful and not vindictive. Jimmy is really not the brightest tool in the drawer is he? What did Bates tell her? A shockingly good bit of continuity, actually: “Her ladyship’s soap.”
Everything’s Cricket in the End, Mostly. The Thomas issue mostly dealt with, suddenly all the storylines in this episode start wrapping up at a rapid clip. Robert decides that for the sake of the annual Downton cricket match that Thomas shouldn’t have to immediately leave the estate so he can play for the house team. Tom makes an impassioned plea to Robert that he support his and Matthew’s vision for the “new” Downton estate and somehow sounds like a completely different person from the one who used to rail about Ireland and the oppression levied against her by the rich upper classes earlier this season. He actually sounds like a real member of the Crawley clan for once. Robert says he’ll support their efforts – but only if Tom plays for the house team.
Mrs. Hughes, Carson and Bates discuss what’s to be done with Thomas now. Turns out he’s going to get to be an under-butler to Carson, an advancement in position for him that actually makes him Bates’ superior. Bates doesn’t look incredibly pleased that he helped Thomas out to his own detriment, but what can you do. Robert then totally bribes Jimmy with the First Footman gig to get him to be okay with the fact that Thomas isn’t leaving.
The Dowager Countess figures out a way to help Ethel get a better job and be near her son. She invites Mrs. Bryant to visit and has Isobel and Ethel over to get them all to talk it out. They agree that Ethel will take the job near the Bryants’ house and that they’ll work out a way for her to see her son sometimes, because Mrs. Bryant hasn’t felt its right to keep a mother from her child. Ethel’s happy she’ll just get to be near him.
Tom sees all the family together at the cricket match and the village kids playing with each other and decides that he’s not going to move out of the house after all.
It’s not all super peachy though - Alfred, who apparently has inherited something of his aunt’s nasty streak, reports Thomas to the police for immoral activities. The officers show up during the break in the cricket match and Robert has to go talk to Alfred about it. But, luckily, Robert then does a great Braveheart-style inspirational speech to Alfred about kindness and forgiveness and how we’re all sinners blah blah to convince him to retract his story to the police – he even gets Alfred to pretend that he was a bit drunk when he called to make the report in the first place. Robert is a miracle worker today apparently – and may have missed out on a career in politics. (Though really the episode could have left this last little bit of stress out, if you ask me.)
This episode was the end of Series 3 proper in the UK – we’ll still see the Christmas special next week, but that’s why there’s such a feeling of closure to so many of the storylines. But it’s nice to close out an episode on such a feeling of happiness, and it’s certainly lovely to see most of our favorite characters get something happy for themselves for once after so much emotional upheaval this season. So what of next week? Well, we’re going to Scotland apparently, so who knows what that will have in store.