We start off this week being reminded that once-staid Casa Crawley is now a beehive of activity: Edith, in her new role as convalescent party-planner, is putting together a “concert” -- really a sort of variety show in which the soldiers participate -- and is pleading with Mary to sing, lest it be one big sausage fest.
New housemaid Ethel is all up on the jock of a handsome young moustached major, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Hughes. Seriously, this guy is all moustache. It’s all I see.
Lady Cora is running around taking care of business and blowing off poor Isobel, who wears her usual bewildered expression. Isobel takes her confused face downstairs, where she is angry to discover that Cora has run roughshod all over her neat and tidy meal schedules. When she confronts Cora -- who tries to blow her off yet again -- Cora’s all “My house, my rules” about it.
A wounded Isobel threatens to take her enthusiasm elsewhere, and when Isobel says, “I cannot work where I am not valued!” it’s hard not to sympathize with the woman. Her need to be appreciated is hardly unreasonable; isn’t that what we all want? Cora agrees wholeheartedly, and when the realization dawns on Isobel that Cora’s called her bluff, the expression on her face is heartbreaking.
When Isobel composes herself and says she’s gonna leave, really really for real, and don’t you dare try to stop her, Cora doesn’t even pretend to be sad about it and seems to barely restrain herself from showing Isobel to the front door with a fanfare of trumpets and a kick in the bum. Poor Isobel, man. I know she is not a popular character but I really feel for her.
Then Edith comes in and goes “NOW WHO’S THE SPARE PART? HUH? HUH?” No, just kidding. That doesn’t happen.
Isobel decides to go to France, to work with the Red Cross, and before we know it she’s packed up and bidding her butler Mr. Molesley and her housekeeper Mrs. Bird a sad and uncertain farewell, leaving them bored and purposeless. While the two of them sit in the kitchen wondering what the heck to do with themselves, they’re interuppted by a vagrant, a former soldier with a war injury, looking for any “extra food” they might have lying around.
Meanwhile, nobody likes Sir Richard, and every time Mary brings up marrying the guy, people keep giving her the side-eye and going, “.......Are you SURE?” Even the normally take-no-prisoners Dowager Countess is worried about Mary’s future, and Lord Grantham is particularly unsure of whether Sir Richard will make his daughter happy.
Mary doesn’t seem to care much about happiness, basically shrugging off their concerns by saying maybe she’ll learn to love Sir Richard, eventually, or whatever. Or maybe he’ll ruin your life and you’ll be bound to him forever. THINK, girl. Mary’s still so hung up on Matthew it seems she has no expectation of happiness. Buck up, Mary, it could be worse, you could be getting shot at in France!
Speaking of, in a rare instance of the heroes of Downton actually facing danger, Matthew and William are out on patrol on the front lines when they find themselves flanked on both sides by German soliders. Jeez, you Germans, stick to Germany, all right? This is not going to work out well for you. No, seriously, Belgium is one thing but thirty years from now a sociopath is going to tell you HAY LET’S INVADE RUSSIA and you’re gonna feel reeeaaal stupid when you see how that shakes out.
Matthew and William make a run for it, disappearing offscreen as the enemy troops open fire. Uh oh.
Back in Yorkshire, Mrs. Patmore and Daisy are running errands in the village -- Daisy looks so cute in grown-up clothes! -- when they discover Mrs. Bird conducting a line of shabby men into the vacant home of Isobel and Matthew. No, it’s nothing dirty; she and Molesley are just running a free soup kitchen for these unfortunates. And apparently she’s spending her own money to do it. Mrs. Patmore is totally on board, and promises to help by supplying food from Downton.
Back home again, Daisy’s concerned that William hasn’t turned up on leave yet, and enlists Edith’s help. Edith takes the matter to Lord Grantham, who quickly discovers that both Matthew and William are missing. He tells Edith to keep this information to herself for now, since they can’t be sure that our boys are in trouble, and they may just have gotten lost while picking wildflowers.
Mr. Molesley has turned up at Downton Abbey looking to “help out,” given he has no one to serve at home right now, and offering to take over Lord Grantham’s valet duties for the time being. Given Molesley’s interest in Anna, he sure seems to be going all “Single White Female” with Bates’ life, trying to get his job AND his lady. I half expect him to start walking with a cane and throwing Thomas against walls. (Actually I’d be happy to see anyone throw Thomas against a wall at this point, as his dickishness -- most recently directed at Daisy -- is reaching a fever pitch.)
Bates’ job at the pub is now common knowledge, owing to a letter Thomas received from a buddy confirming that the rumor was true. Carson brings the news to Lord Grantham, who decides to go get a pint and rekindle their valet/Earl bromance. Truly, I think the romantic tension when Lord Grantham shows up at the pub was thicker than when Anna appeared, but as I’ve said, I am not an enthusiastic Bates/Anna shipper.
Bates updates Lord G on how things stand, telling him he plans to divorce the patently evil Mrs. Bates based on her infidelity. Bates asserts that he’s confident she’ll comply, as her choice is to “remain silent” about her scandalous knowledge (of which Lord Grantham is ignorant) and get handsomely paid, or speak out and receive nary a farthing, dooming herself to a life of “poverty,” as Bates puts it.
There’s sort of an obvious plot hole here, since Mrs. Bates COULD easily speak up and sell her story FOR MONEY, in which case she’d both get to ruin a bunch of people’s lives AND collect a nice sum of cash, but Bates seems incapable of acknowledging that this could happen. Hey Bates: SHE. IS. EVIL. Damn, man, you married her. You should know this.
Of course, Lord Grantham wants to give Bates his job back. And of course, Bates is going to take it, because they are secretly in loooooove. If Molesley doesn’t eventually wind up stabbing Lord Grantham in the eye with a stiletto heel, I’m going to be very disappointed.
In Obvious Twists, Mrs. Hughes surprises housemaid Ethel and Major Moustache sexing together, in some kind of storage room. She fires Ethel on the spot. I’m SURE that’s the last we’ll see of Ethel, you guys, and that she won’t turn up at Downton pregnant and desperate in the near future!
Earlier, Mary spied Sybil and Branson having an intimate conversation outside the garage, and having recently discussed the breakdown of “social barriers” with Violet, she seemed suspicious. Later, when Sybil dares say of Branson, “He’s a PERSON,” Mary seemed even more suspicious. After much prodding, Sybil finally confesses that Branson and her have a vague thing going on, insofar as Branson tells her that she’s totally in love with him and she just won’t admit it.
Mary promises to keep Sybil’s secret, so long as Sybil doesn’t take any drastic action. Mary knows all about that, har har! But when Sybil tells Branson about it, he’s kind of a dick, demanding she sacrifice her whole life -- and ostensibly risk her relationship with her family -- to run away with him, dismissing her nursing work as “bringing hot drinks to a bunch of randy soldiers.” Oh, yes he did.
Everyone is continuing to worry about William and Matthew, except for Mary and Cora, who don’t know. Edith fixes this by telling Mary -- not in a vindictive and cruel way, even! -- who is predictably devastated.
O’Brien has discovered the illicit soup kitchen activities of Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Bird, and ratted them out to Lady Cora, but she is surprised when Lady Cora discovers they’re feeding poor folks and insists upon helping. Like, literally helping, by dishing out the soup, and Lady Cora orders O’Brien to do the same. We’ll turn you into a decent person yet, O’Brien!
Or maybe not: her plans to destroy Mrs. Patmore foiled, O’Brien has returned to nursing her powerful hatred of Bates and Anna. Woman, even Thomas is over that crap. But O’Brien holds a grudge, it seems.
The night of the talent show has finally arrived, with Major Moustache performing a magic act (YAAAWWWN) prior to Lady Mary’s song. Then a tired-looking Mary, worn out from fretting about Matthew, takes the stage, remarking on the rarity of her collaborating with her sister Edith. She sings the first verse, after which the crowd joins in a sweet sing-a-long, to raised eyebrows from Violet, of course.
AND THE MATTHEW COMES IN.
AND I CRIED.
The music stops and the look on Mary’s face -- part overwhelming relief, part pure unvarnished adoration -- is priceless. Matthew picks up the song and they finish it together, and YOU GUYS THEY SHOULD BE MARRYING EACH OTHER sob.
Mrs. Hughes is pulled from this heartwarming scene to answer a request for her presence at the house’s service entrance downstairs. SURPRISE: it’s shamed former housemaid Ethel! And she’s pregnant! What is she gonna dooooo? Womp womp.
Next week: TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN, but I’m not telling what.