Upstairs Downstairs Dish: "The Last Waltz"

The penultimate episode of Upstairs Downstairs Series 2 (and actually of this version of Upstairs Downstairs, period) decides to go all out with soapy drama this week, including an illicit affair, a sudden engagement, emigration plans, a posh Servants Ball and a seriously shocking – nay, almost unbelievable – plot twist at the end. Who even knows where we’re heading with all this for the finale next week, and while it’s unclear if/how the dangling plot threads will be resolved, it should certainly be quite a ride. (And, seriously, who isn’t counting down to the inevitable showdown between Agnes and Persie? Get the popcorn ready.)

Let’s dish the latest craziness and Hallam’s continuing moral decline and get our speculation on for the finale!

The Worst: There is No Blanche in This Episode. Apparently, we won’t get to see Blanche be the one to bust Persie for her heinous behavior, because Dr. Mottershead isn’t in this episode at all. It’s a mystery as to why, given that surely she’s had enough storyline to this point that they could think of something to do with her. Yet, instead, Blanche is off in Scotland or somewhere, dealing with more incoming children from their refugee operation. It’s a shame as there’s a ton going on this episode that would certainly test Blanche’s epic eyeroll ability. It’s also worrisome given that there’s only one more episode in this season, and it would be such a waste to not include Blanche in the resolution of all the Hallam/Agnes/Persie Holland family drama.

Finally, Hallam and Persie Got Together, Hurrah, Said No One Ever. Our episode opens with Hallam and Persie in bed – in a hotel, which clearly means this isn’t the first time they’ve done this since their impromptu make-out session on the table at Eaton Place last week. Persie is pouty and flirty, Hallam is all of a sudden behaving sweetly and seems very young.  He looks as though about ten years have dropped off him – really who knew illicit affairs with your in-laws were the cure to deep rooted emotional problems. Yuck. These two are seriously disgusting – and who even knows what viewers are supposed to make of this storyline. Obviously, these two don’t feel particularly guilty for betraying Agnes and neither of them appears to be laboring under any sort of leftover emotional ballast from the last several weeks either. Allrighty, then.

Lady Agnes is Over It. Lady Agnes decides to take her kids and head out of town – why, I’m not exactly sure. She says something about getting the kids out of London and keeping them safe, but, unless I’m really quite off with my reading of this timeline, we’re still at least a year away from things getting bad enough in London to send the children off to the countryside. So, it seems mostly likely that this is just a cover for the fact that Agnes doesn’t want to put up with Hallam’s horrible behavior anymore and doesn’t want to be around someone who treats her and their marriage so poorly. Watching her standing up for herself and walking away from a bad situation is awesome, even if this entire storyline sort of makes no sense. How we got from Agnes and Hallam making cow eyes at each other and dancing in alleyways in Episode 2 to being basically unable to be in the same room together now is certainly a more of a “tell, not show” story device, but perhaps the general wisdom is that having to watch Hallam being any more awful than we already have was just a bridge too far for viewers.

Has There Been a Time Jump? Clearly, given the forward movement in some plotlines – the Hallam/Persie affair, Harry and Beryl’s courtship – some time has passed between episodes four and five. But how much time? It’s unclear.  Everyone is suddenly acting as though World War II and the Blitz is imminent, yet if I caught part of the boring political conversation at Hallam’s office correctly, Germany hasn’t even invaded Poland yet. Granted, I’m a poor historian, but the Holland family reactions – and the state of London generally – seems a bit overly done. Anyone have any ideas on this? Is this historically accurate?

Mr. Pritchard Gets a Lady Friend. Mr. Pritchard gets appointed to be on some sort of neighborhood planning committee for the upcoming Servants Ball and he’s super psyched about this honor because apparently it’s a big to-do. Team Downstairs all get involved in the preparations and costumes for this party, but the only upshot of this whole thing is that Mr. Pritchard meets a nice ladies’ maid whose name I am not sure I ever caught and they strike up a friendship over a dislike of Lady Malcombe (who’s organizing the ball) and an enjoyment of Agatha Christie’s novels. The two of them have tea and then go to the movies and it’s all very sweet and nice, except it’s totally forgettable, as evidenced by the fact that I still have no idea what this poor woman’s name is. But, they’re cute, and it’s nice to see Pritchard doing something that doesn’t involve bossing other members of Team Downstairs around or acting pretentious, so I’ll take it.

Still The Only Time I Like Hallam. Seriously, the only time Hallam is remotely watchable is when he shares scenes with the Duke of Kent. The two BBFs dish the Holland marital woes over drinks. The Duke says that every marriage goes through problems and people come through them just fine. Hallam responds with a bunch of ridiculous crap about how everything he’s ever done, he did for Agnes – though I expect that doesn’t include sleeping with her sister, but I could be wrong. He then whines that he doesn’t feel like Agnes needs him anymore and if that’s true he’s just lost and his life has no meaning. I want the Duke of Kent to punch Hallam in the face, but alas it is not to be. Honestly, I’m no real fan of Agnes’ either, but Hallam is living in Opposite World if he believes any of this stuff that’s coming out of his own mouth. He’s shut her out repeatedly and treated her like crap *and* is having an affair with her blood relative, so she certainly doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of the blame for their problems.

Of course, Hallam then demonstrates exactly how worried and concerned he is about the state of his marriage by going home, telling Persie all about his problems at work, letting her make him a drink and tell him what an awesome dude he is.  Clearly, Hallam is very upset.  

Harry and Beryl Decide to Flee to America. Harry the Driver is busy boarding up the windows in the garage for some reason, because apparently everyone thinks war is a lot more imminent than my history books seem to remember. Beryl comes by and they flirt for a bit, until Harry says that he doesn’t want to end up gassed to death in a basement when the war comes, and suggests the two of them pack up and head to America. Beryl says that there’s no way they can just pack up and leave, but Harry seems insistent.

A bit later, we learn that Harry’s really given this some thought, as he basically presents the equivalent of an Excel spreadsheet on the back of an envelope to Beryl, detailing their budget, savings and his likely job prospects thanks to a friend with a limousine service in Hollywood.  He argues that the two of them will have more opportunities and they and their future children will be safer and happier in America, without the whole British class system hanging over their heads. Beryl gets all sorts of flustered by Harry’s mention of their mutual children and then the two of them actually share a sweet scene together for what may be the first time, as Harry proposes to her and she gets ridiculously giddy and says yes. It’s really cute and almost enough to warm even the most cynical of television watchers’ hearts.

Newly engaged Beryl and Harry go off to tell Team Downstairs their big relationship news and also that they’re leaving the country. Everyone is super excited and happy for them and it’s still all very sweet. They get out the champagne and toast their future, as Harry tries to decide when to give his notice. He opts for “pretty much immediately” and tells Hallam about his plans, also asking if he could perhaps have a letter of recommendation since he’s worked so diligently for the Holland family, including sleeping all night in the car for his boss and covering up people’s abortions. Hallam – being the total jerk that he is – haughtily says no, he doesn’t think he can do that, because Harry is an able-bodied Englishman and war is coming and Englishmen need to stay and do their bit for King and country. He also (seriously!) tells Harry that he’s disappointed in him, basically implying that he’s a coward and a loser, and incorrectly assuming that anyone on earth ought to care whether Hallam’s disappointed in them or not. Harry, understandably is furious, and says that maybe he just ought to give his notice now if things are going to be like that. Hallam agrees that he probably should, and Harry storms out.

The Servants Ball! The Holland household – both upstairs and down – heads off to the neighborhood Servants Ball, which is exactly the sort of fantastic slice-of-life thing that I watch period dramas to see. For some reason that’s not exactly made clear, each household has a representative that has to show up to the festivities in costume, and Johnny and Eunice dress up as Robin Hood and Maid Marian for 165 Eaton Place. (Why is no one else in costume? Why are some non-servants in costume? No idea, but intrigued.) 

Everyone seems to have a good time and also maybe drink a bit too much and it’s really fun to watch. The Duke of Kent is dressed as either Admiral Nelson or Napoleon, I’m not quite sure which, and gets completely intoxicated with the Eaton Place staff. The best scene in the entire episode is probably the Duke of Kent mixing a Manhattan for Mrs. Thackary and then getting quite drunk and chatting with her like they are best friends. Too cute! 

Persie Has Serious Mental Problems. Persie learns about Harry and Beryl's engagement and completely loses her mind. No, really. She decides to give Beryl an engagement present, which is one of her own silk robes. Unfortunately, and she doesn’t mention this to Beryl, this is the same robe that Persie herself wore down in the Garage of Illicit Romance back when she was involved with Harry. Beryl, excited at having something so nice to wear and unaware of the garment’s history, sneaks downstairs that night in it to surprise her new betrothed.  Unfortunately, Harry calls her Persie when he first sees her and Beryl, not being a complete idiot, figures out that the two of them had an affair. Awkward. 

The real issue with this plot isn’t that Harry and Beryl might break up – let’s be real, you know they won’t, they have to have some semblance of a romance somewhere on this show and unless Mr. Pritchard starts romancing Mrs. Thackary, it’s Harry and Beryl or nothing. The real problem is that this particular twist exposes Persie as legitimately crazy, with no real motivation behind her actions. Over the course of this series, we’ve seen her deliberately court fascism, run off with Germans, actively work to cause problems in her sister’s marriage, sleep with her sister’s husband and openly (and cruelly!) meddle in former flame Harry’s new relationship. While Persie has become a bit of a caricature, this is all fine; every series needs a good villain after all and in most of this she’s certainly no worse than, say, O’Brien or Thomas on Downton Abbey. The problem is that Persie’s done all these awful things for what appears to be no reason; we’re never given any sort of real look at her motivations or psyche that might explain why she feels compelled to behave this way. Even the worst people behave the way they do because they want something, they have a goal or at the very least some sort of internal logic to their behavior. Persie’s only goal seems to be to cause utter chaos wherever she goes and her throwaway line last week implying that she was jealous of her sister’s seemingly “perfect” life  certainly doesn’t cut it as either motivation or backstory. Why is she like this? It would be nice to know and would give her character some much-needed depth. It’s unlikely anyone would like her more (see also: Thomas, O’Brien), but it sure would be nice if Persie’s behavior made more sense.

Harry the Driver Turns to Blackmail. Harry learns that it’ll be impossible to immigrate to America without specific in-demand skills or sufficient capital. Because Harry is not blind, he’s put the pieces together about Hallam’s dalliance with Lady Persie and he uses this information to blackmail Harry for the money. Again, this episode seems to love to mess with viewer expectations – in theory, I should be appalled that Harry would dare try to blackmail his boss, but Hallam is such a jerk and has treated the chauffeur so badly since he announced he was leaving, that it’s hard to care that he’s getting used here. He probably deserves worse.  What will Beryl say when she finds out their nest egg is the result of blackmail?

Mr. Pritchard Goes on a Bender. Sadly, Mrs. Thackary’s mostly adorable overindulgence at the Servants’ Ball does have one very specific casualty, as she drunkenly spills the beans to Mr. Pritchard’s new lady friend about his conscientious objector status in the war and his refusal to fight. New lady friend is very upset by this news and immediately breaks things off with Pritchard, claiming that she has no idea what kind of man he really is and that her perception of him was completely wrong. She leaves and Pritchard is heartbroken.

What follows is, hands down, one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes that has ever aired on television. It’s obvious we’re supposed to be moved by the scope of Mr. Pritchard’s heartbreak and devastation following his breakup - he’s been driven to abandon his teetotaling ways and indulge in the evils of drink! However, watching Pritchard flail and jerk awkwardly around the dance floor while actually swigging what appears to be whiskey out of a huge glass decanter in the middle of the other revelers is hysterical. It’s so poorly staged – and so extremely weird – that it’s enough to yank you right out of the scene and kind of ruin what out to be a very emotional moment.  (Sorry, Mr. Pritchard!) Mr. Pritchard’s bender apparently continues throughout the night, as the episode ends with a newly-returned-from-the-country Lady Agnes discovering him passed out on the servants’ staircase. Wow. That’s going to be awkward next week. 

The Persie Storyline Officially Jumps the Shark: She’s a Nazi Spy. Hallam and Persie are the grossest things on TV. Hallam gets up in the middle of the night to find Persie in the sitting room staring out the window. For now reason I can discern, considering that the situation between the two of them has grown increasingly frosty all episode, Hallam starts kissing her neck, they end up in a heated kiss and then next thing you know they’re in bed together, discussing Agnes. Gross. Hallam then goes on an extended and totally unearned diabtribe about how awesome Persie is and how much he admires the fire inside her and her single-minded purpose toward getting what she wants and the integrity of the decisions she makes about her life blah blah. Horrible!

Luckily, Hallam is going to feel really stupid by the end of this episode. In the midst of all their pillow talk and late night chats over drinks in the sitting room, Hallam’s managed to reveal some fairly big deal government secrets to Persie about English negotiations with Russia, including the ridiculous nickname of the guy they sent to Moscow on their behalf that only their inner circle knows about. This name apparently got leaked to the Germans, who now know what’s up with the British plans and oooooh, it looks like Persie must have been the one that told them. This suspicion is apparently confirmed at the very end of the episode, when it turns out that Persie’s left the house to go visit a hotel roomful of Germans, including her creepy ex Friedrich. Oh, Hallam, you’re basically too stupid to live at this point, because Persie’s totally a spy.

That is how far down the rabbit hole of fail this storyline has gone – Persie’s apparently a spy for the Nazis and has played Hallam all along. Seriously, this actually happens. What. The. Heck. Given the utter lack of character development for Persie through this whole series, I guess this is at least an attempt to give her some legitimate motivation, the problem being that this still makes no sense. Why would Persie spy for the Germans? Why would she betray her family and her country? Was she that bored? That hung up on Friedrich the diplomat? That self-loathing? While the reveal that Persie’s the only one who could have passed such secret information to the Germans is pretty jaw-dropping, and goodness knows the look on Hallam’s face when he realizes that she is most likely the source of the leak is pretty satisfying, but this entire thing smacks of a storyline twist that’s driven by plot rather than character. Sure, Persie’s a pretty horrible person, but this horrible? Nothing in her interactions with Hallam indicated she was using him, in fact her weird jealousies definitely hit way more on the Single White Female/stalker scale than ever they indicated Secret German Operative. What are we supposed to think of this? Is Persie a traitor? Are we meant to be rooting for her to spend her life in exile or prison? No idea, but there’s no way the fallout from all this in the finale isn’t going to be epic.

What say you, Telly Visions readers? Is Persie’s behavior believable? Is she really a spy? Does Hallam deserve everything he’s getting or has Persie’s betrayal made him more sympathetic? And what on earth is going to happen in the finale next week?

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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