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It’s a flurry of activity in the Crawley home this week. Where once Downton Abbey stood only to look pretty and offer a wide array of rooms in which to sit, the house is now rapidly being converted to a convalescent facility for recovering officers, a move made as a result of Isobel’s guilting/urging that the Crawleys do their part to help in the war effort.
Sybil is back at Downton to put her weeks of extensive nursing education to good use, and Edith, unceremoniously jettisoned from her tractor-driving gig as she was spotted necking with the tractor owner by the tractor owner’s wife, is at loose ends, saying she feels “like a spare part.” NO SYMPATHY, Edith. You have to do more than be bored to make me feel bad for you.
Lady Cora and Lord Grantham are completely horrified by the strict limitations under which they’ll be forced to live while soliders are inconveiently being wounded and maimed in large numbers elsewhere in Europe.
“Where will we SIT?” Cora inquires, as though the prospect of having less than 15 rooms in which to set down one’s bottom is unthinkable.
Isobel breaks the news that they will have the “small library” (I’ll admit, I sort of long for a faraway age in which people have libraries at all, let alone libraries of varying size distributed throughout their living space) and the “boudoir,” which Wikipedia tells me was “a private drawing room” and not a place where naughty lingerie-clad photographs are taken.
The noble Crawleys do not take this well, but when Isobel dares suggest they also share their dining room with the more mobile and less horribly disfigured officers, it is too much, and Lord Grantham barks NO like a petulant child, both he and his wife wide-eyed and grimacing at the very idea.
I don’t know if we’re meant to sympathize with the upturned Crawleys here or not, but I don’t mind telling you, they’re making it very difficult to do so.
Naturally, Lady Cora and upstart Isobel are at each other’s throats throughout the project -- well, at each other’s throats in an aristocratic English early-20th-century way, which means there’s some tension in the room every time they talk about the management of the new house-hospital hybrid.
Dr. Clarkson, who is technically the guy overseeing things but who also has to attend to the actual hospital in town, agrees that something has to be done, and someone must be appointed to manage the household.
SURPRISE: It’s Thomas the former footman, late of Her Majesty’s army, recently discharged having intentionally gotten himself shot through the hand, and who has been helping out at the local hospital. O’Brien angles to make this happen, although one has to wonder what her real motivations are.
Nobody is happy about Thomas being the lucky winner, and when Carson reminds Lord Grantham that Thomas is a thief and a terrible terrible person besides, Lord Grantham shrugs it off because his wife doesn’t know all that. SECRETS AND LIES, y’all. Secrets and lies.
Meanwhile, new valet Mr. Lang is not doing well, all thousand-yard stares and shaking hands. Mrs. Patmore recognizes his trauma and tries to help by confidentially telling him about her nephew, a solider who was shot for cowardice, and it’s obvious how painful this subject is for her. Mr. Lang returns the favor by unthinkingly telling her story to the whole staff at dinner, causing poor Mrs. Patmore to leave the room in tears.
When Mr. Lang later awakens the whole staff with a screaming nightmare, it’s clear that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress (although this wouldn’t explain his outburst at dinner, which is hardly a symptom of PTSD and is more a symptom of being an asshole).
For her part, Mrs. Patmore is being kind of a jerk as well, essentially bullying tiny little Daisy into accepting a marriage proposal from William, the former footman turned soldier, on the basis that rejecting him will make him die on the battlefield, or something.
Poor Daisy wishy-washily complains “BUT IT’S A LIE” and Mrs. Patmore assures her she can take it back when the war is over. Or hey, maybe William will die in a heartbreaking conclusion to this subplot! That’s a possibility too!
Branson the chauffeur has been called up for military service and dude is STOKED to get there and make a big public announcement about what giant wankers the English are and they can stuff their call to arms in their stupid ear. In other words, he’s planning to be a conscientious objector, and Sybil is concerned he’s going to get sent to prison. Nothing will stop Tom “WILD MAN” Branson from making his big political statement, though!
Except for having a heart murmur, which means the army rejects Branson before he gets to reject the army. BUMMER.
Meanwhile, Anna thinks she sees the ghost of Bates in the village, but when she gets to where he was standing, he’s vanished. With help from Mary (and her suitor, smarmy newspaperman Sir Richard) she discovers that Bates is inexplicably working in a local pub.
When Anna goes to confront Bates about this, he explains that he has learned that evil-wife Vera has been unfaithful to him, which is AWESOME because it means he can divorce her ass finally. He just has to talk her into accepting his terms. Oh, that should go well.
Apparently Bates took the job at the pub to be closer to Downton Abbey, the better to creepily stalk Anna without telling her he was nearby. Seriously, it’s a weird explanation.
Anna is totally into the stalking though, and blatantly suggests she just become Bates’ mistress instead of waiting to go through all this divorce business and being all proper about it. Anna is dying for some of that savage middle-aged dude flesh (I don’t entirely blame her, as I agree Bates is pretty hot) but Bates is all NO, WE MUSTN’T, just as you knew he would be.
He tells Anna “That’s not the life for you” like he’s her dad, which is also a little creepy, but as we’ve seen, Anna seems to be into creepy, so I guess it works out for them.
Matthew’s back from the front again, which makes me wonder how long he’s really been there in total. A few hours? He’s touring England with some big-shot general to drum up recruitment efforts, and plans to bring said dignitary to Downton Abbey to show off their improvised convalescent home.
Lavinia’s coming too, with her totally-manufactured “scandal” that will turn out to be no big deal at all. Yaaaawn.
With William no longer on staff, butler Carson needs help to put on such an extravagant dinner, and Branson kindly volunteers, not looking shifty-eyed or suspicious about it AT ALL.
As he brings in the first course, Anna finds a note in Sybil’s bedroom upstairs, from Branson, which reads in part: “They’ll have arrested me by now but I’m not sorry. The bastard had it coming.”
The “bastard” in question can only be the visiting general. Naturally, Anna freaks and runs downstairs to show the note to Mrs. Hughes. Mrs. Hughes freaks and shows the note to Carson, who as the head of household-based Freaking Out is enabled to finally ask somebody where Branson is. HE’S UPSTAIRS ABOUT TO PULL A GUN OUT OF A SOUP TUREEN OH MY GOD.
Carson gets to the dining room in the nick of time and removes Branson without drawing the attention of any of the blissfully dumb Crawleys, save Lady Mary. Anna brings the explosive soup downstairs behind them.
Once in the kitchen, everyone’s all DUDE YOU’RE CRAZY YOU CAN’T KILL A GENERAL but Branson explains he wasn’t going to kill anyone, just dump the contents of the Tureen of Doom over the guy’s head; apparently he’d cooked up a mixture of sour milk, ink, and cow poop for the purpose. I’m sort of disappointed, because that would have been hilarious if it had been allowed to happen.
Back in the dining room, General Boringpants says he appreciates everyone’s hard work but wants to call special attention to someone whose attentions to the everyday needs of the soldiers was making her indispensible. It’s Edith! Womp womp.
She smiles like no one’s ever paid her a compliment in her life, which may actually be the case. Good work, Edith, I guess.
Next week: William’s off to his new role as Matthew’s manservant, and publicly-sobbing Mr. Lang is out as valet, paving the way for Bates to come back in, because all the world functions to serve the convenience of the Crawleys. Also, how is Lady Mary’s hair so freaking SHINY all the time? Until then!