EDITH TAKE THE WHEEL: The Downton Abbey Recap/Discussion Thread

This week's episode is all about four broken hearts and a funeral.
Publish date:
February 14, 2012
recaps, Downton Abbey, no we mustn't

I apologize for the lateness of this recap; its timing is a result of both my having been in Jamaica for the past ten days (more on that later) and the fact that this was a DOUBLE EPISODE. Our cups runneth over, you guys! Let’s begin.

Hospital times are over, and everyone at Downton Abbey is semi-obsessed with how things have changed and whether they do/don’t want them to go back to how they were. Sybil is especially restless having spent the past two years working, and poor Edith is back to her normal wallflower status, although as Sybil assures her: “You’re much nicer now than you were before the war.” I for one am really glad the payoff of a bazillion dudes getting killed or injured is that Edith is a less hateful person.

The war’s end has taken the greatest toll on Lord Grantham, who is having some kind of early 20th century midlife crisis. When Cora suggests that he fire Bates because Bates’ wife killed herself, he is irritated, but when she also suggests that it’s time to give Matthew the boot, Lord G gets positively angry with her. There’s a great deal of distance between Lord G and his wife at present, it seems. I’m sure THAT won’t amount to anything.

Thomas has big plans of going into business on the black market, selling goods made difficult to find by the war at a huge markup. He got the idea from talking with Mrs. Patmore in last week’s episode, who may or may not be resorting to black market goods to keep the Crawleys in cakes and puddings. O’Brien and Thomas discuss his plans in the servants’ hall and O’Brien seems unimpressed -- or even opposed -- to his plan.

Upstairs, Sir Richard pulls Anna into a bedroom and, in a roundabout way, asks her to report on Lady Mary’s activities. He says it differently, of course, trying to portray his request as an attempt to get to know his future wife better, but Anna sees right through his expressed desire to know more about Mary’s “interests,” including where she goes and whom she sees. He offers to pay Anna handsomely for this information, but Anna is loyal and true and says no. When Sir Richard then asks Anna to keep this conversation to herself, the creep factor gets turned up to 11. Because this guy wasn’t unlikeable enough already!

The after-dinner conversation upstairs continues to dwell on how the war has changed everything. Mary mentions the “boy’s haircuts” the women in Paris are wearing, and Matthew wryly comments that he hopes she won’t be following suit; it’s a comment that borders on the overfamiliar, and both Sir Richard and Lavinia shift uncomfortably in its wake. Lavinia observes that “I don’t know how feminine they are,” and Mary retorts, “I don’t know how feminine I am.” Sir Richard assures her the answer is “very,” as though his word is the final say on the matter.

Downstairs, Carson and Mrs. Hughes are discussing his impending departure. Carson is nearly heartbroken to be leaving Downton Abbey, even if it is to follow his beloved Lady Mary, but is willing to make the sacrifice in order to help Mary’s marriage “succeed.” I am SO bloody tired of this successful marriage talk, folks, as it is basically code for “not being utterly miserable being tied to someone you kind of hate for the rest of your life” and frankly I don’t think Sir Richard can be salvaged into a decent person. But hey, Carson wants to give it a shot, so bully for him.

Of course, Anna picks this moment to pop in and tell Mrs. Hughes about Sir Richard’s offer of money for information, which naturally gives the super-honorable Carson something to think about.

Matthew has been tingling, although the tingle seems to be in his legs and not his peen, as many readers suggested last week. The doctors are telling him the tingle is imaginary. Matthew relates all of this to Bates, who is helping him prepare for bed, and who once had a war injury that left him with a gamby leg that seems to have magically healed quite a bit since the first series. I guess Matthew figures Bates knows about leg stuff.

The following day, Carson has decided to withdraw his pledge to come work for Mary and Sir Richard in their new house. When he tells Mary this, she is outraged. When she hears he came to his decision as a result of hearing Anna’s experience, she is inexplicably angry with ANNA for not telling her first. Mary is being incredibly spoiled and selfish here, but it’s also worth noting that she was probably relying on Carson to be an ally in her new household. There is a desperation in her reaction that belies more than simple disappointment; she seems to feel betrayed. When

Sir Richard enters and hears that plans have changed, he seems neither surprised nor interested. Mary dismisses Carson with an imperious tone clearly intended to underscore his position beneath her, and it’s overall a very ugly moment for Mary.

Lord Grantham ventures downstairs to the butler’s pantry in search of Carson, but finds Jane there instead. He goes to leave but she stops him, mentioning their meeting on one of the paths outside the house a day or two prior, in which Lord G got a little morose about the end of the war and his subsequent feelings of uselessness. Suddenly Lord G grabs Jane and kisses her, and she seems as shocked as anyone.

He recovers himself, begs her forgiveness, and leaves. Sheesh, poor Jane.

Matthew and Lavinia are alone together in the parlor upstairs before dinner, and Lavinia notices that the tea tray from earlier hasn’t been moved. She picks it up to set it aside, in spite of Matthew’s insistence that it’s too heavy for her -- is Lavinia secretly made of jelly or what? -- when she stupidly trips over a footstool and nearly falls.

NEARLY falls, because Matthew stands up to catch her. Oh, it’s a MIRACLE everybody! Heaven forfend that we should have a romantic hero who experiences a disability and yet retains his self-worth. It’s not so much that I am opposed to Matthew getting his legs back as I am to the way in which this subplot was handled; it feels awfully like Matthew was hurt as a crude device, just so we could have this moment in which he is magically cured, and thus it did nothing for me.

And I LOVE MATTHEW, folks.

The whole household comes a-runnin’ to see Matthew stand up, and while I’d like to share in their joy this too-tidy resolution of the Matthew-can’t-walk story feels forced and unpleasant to me.

At dinner, Matthew and Lavinia announce their plans to marry. Again. Oh, yay. If that weren’t enough joy for one evening, Lavinia -- who is seriously clueless -- wants to have the wedding at Downton Abbey, since the Crawleys have played such a role in Matthew’s recovery. Mary looks bleak at the prospect, but Lord G -- who is almost as clueless as Lavinia -- thinks it’s a swell idea.

Later, Sybil takes another walk out to the garage to tell Branson, finally, that she loves him and will go away with him. Branson is sort of shocked by it. That is a dude with PATIENCE. He asks her, “You won’t mind burning your bridges?” Sybil replies, “Mind? Fetch me the matches.” AND THEY KISS, and it’s very sweet.

Back at the house, preparing for bed, Cora tells Lord G she’s displeased with his approving Matthew and Lavinia’s wedding without talking to her about it first. Her concern is primarily that their wedding will further delay Mary’s wedding, and a disgusted Lord G calls her selfish, point-blank. Yikes.

Remember Major Moustache? His parents have come to Downton Abbey to see the place where their son spent his recovery prior to getting killed back at the front. Mrs. Hughes has been trying to angle a way to get a private word with Mrs.Moustache, to tell her about Ethel and the baby, but the senior Mr. Moustache is kind of a dick and doesn’t want to spend more time than it takes to eat lunch and run.

Mrs. Hughes returns to the shed where Ethel is hiding and tells her it’s not going to work out. Ethel, never one to back down, takes matters into her own hands and barges into the dining room to show the Moustaches their grandson, who will probably have a great moustache one day but currently being a baby is pretty clean-shaven. The senior Mr. Moustache demands proof of the baby’s paternity, but this being the days before Maury Povich I’m not sure what proof he expects to get.

Once the sobbing Ethel has been driven out, MM’s jerk dad says she’s clearly some drudge lying about the baby’s origins in hopes of wringing some money out of the the grieving Moustaches. While Mrs. Moustache seems less inclined to dismiss the idea, her husband decides lunch is over and demands they leave.

Thomas has taken up the task of supplying the ingredients for Matthew and Lavinia’s wedding cake, which Daisy is going to bake. Mrs. Patmore is dubious of the success of both of these efforts but gamely allows them to proceed. Unfortunately, the resulting cake is inedible; Mrs. Patmore tastes the flour and declares it to be two-thirds plaster, and the other ingredients to be bad as well. Oh, I can’t wait until they tell Thomas he has a shed full of this worthless junk.

Things are looking equally bad for Bates, who has recently realized he bought the arsenic (in the form of rat poison) that his wife used to kill herself, and her evil continues to reach out and play havoc with Bates’ and Anna’s happiness from beyond the grave, as a letter she wrote has surfaced in which she claims to be afraid that Bates is going to kill her, thereby implicating him in her “suicide.” Hey Anna, way to back the most baggage-laden pony in the race, girl!

Sybil was missing at dinner, allegedly having complained of illness, but when Mary knocks on her door to say goodnight, she receives no response. She and Edith enter Sybil’s bedroom to find it empty save for a note explaining that she has eloped with Branson.

Oh man, Edith take the wheel: she and Mary hop in the car on a search mission, discovering the lovers spending the most chaste night ever in a hotel, with Sybil in bed and Branson in a chair, both of them fully dressed. Mary demands that Sybil come home and do things properly, or better yet not at all. She asks that Sybil at least give her family a chance to accept her choice. Sybil bedrgudgingly agrees, to Branson’s consternation, and on their way out Mary grotesquely offers Branson money to pay for the room, which he refuses in a manner more respectful than the suggestion deserves.

Thomas, having been told his storeroom of supplies are worth squat, visits his storage shed and trashes the place, crying. O’Brien discovers him and he explains that he has lost everything, having sunk every penny he had into this trash. Yeah, still having a hard time feeling badly for Thomas, but this is close.

After an indeterminate amount of time has passed (a few months?) preparations for Matthew and Lavinia’s wedding are fully underway, with decorations being put up and gifts arriving. Lavinia is rosy-cheeked and happy in anticipation so you know something terrible is going to happen to her.

Branson, in the meantime, has secured a job as a journalist in Dublin, and he and Sybil intend to formally tell her parents about their plans to marry following dinner. When he turns up in the sitting room, Sybil wavers, but he insists that the time is nigh. As the realization dawns on the remaining family members who didn’t know about it, the shared horror of Lord Grantham and Lady Cora borders on the comical. Surprisingly, only Violet seems to take the news in stride, even as she is vigorously opposed to it.

Downstairs, the response isn’t much better, with Carson telling Branson to GTFO of the house immediately, and instructing the rest of the staff against speaking of the subject even in private.

Meanwhile, various members of the household are looking a little poorly; Cora leaves the dinner table to go to bed, Carson isn’t feeling well, and even rosy-cheeked Lavinia is less vivacious than usual. Dr. Clarkson is sent for and upon his arrival he prescribes aspirin and rest for everyone taken ill, which means Lavinia must spend the night at Downton Abbey.

Downstairs following dinner, Anna corners Bates and tells him she wants to get married, right now, and that he’s going to go get the registration and that’s the end of it. Bates resists, worried as he is about possible legal implications of his wife’s death, but eventually relents. I feel as though Bates and Anna’s romance has taken a curiously businesslike turn in the second series, and that there’s been very little interesting character development for either of them. They’ve become a little boring to me, I’m sorry to say. Even Bates’ limp seems to have all but vanished, although possibly he has just loaned it to newly-mobile Matthew.

In the quiet of the Spanish-Flu-afflicted house, Mary finds Matthew alone, listening to the new gramophone, a wedding gift for him and Lavinia. Matthew invites her to dance, and when Mary asks, “Can you manage without your stick?” he replies, “You are my stick.” In the course of their dancing, Matthew tells Mary of how Violet came to him and told him of Mary’s enduring feelings, and admits he shares them, but how can he throw Lavinia over now, after she was willing to stick by him in sickness as in health?

This scene is a perfect example of what Downton Abbey does best, and when Mary and Matthew start kissing and then practically making out, it is all but a foregone conclusion that still-unwell Lavinia will happen along to interrupt them. She doesn’t seem to have heard their conversation or seen them kissing... OR HAS SHE?

Making out is in the air, as further upstairs Lord Grantham and Jane are getting it on in Lord G’s dressing room, when Bates almost walks in on them. Lord G blocks the door and a confused Bates goes on his way. Lord Grantham apologizes to Jane AGAIN and sends her away, and I have to wonder if his horror and disgust at Sybil’s plans to marry Branson aren’t him just projecting his anger at himself for getting all moony over a housemaid. It’s all very hypocritical, is all I’m saying.

Cora is severely ill, and being nursed day in and day out by O’Brien, who is still wracked with guilt over semi-intentionally causing Lady Cora’s miscarriage way back when. In a moment alone with her ailing mistress, a tearful O’Brien tries to confess and ask her forgiveness, but Cora is too out of it to understand or respond.

With Carson also down with the Spanish Flu, Thomas has stepped up to help in an effort to re-ingratiate himself to the staff. Thomas has been staying at Downton rent-free and was on the verge of being forcibly evicted when the illness struck, so yet again he is benefitting from the misfortune of others. Mrs. Hughes tells him she has no money to pay him with and he answers, “Call it rent.” He is ALMOST likeable here. ALMOST.

In the midst of all the upheaval, the Moustaches suddenly write saying they’d like to meet with Ethel and the baby again. Mrs. Hughes orchestrates the meeting, and the senior Mr. Moustache announces that they are willing to take the baby and lie to him about his mother. On the up side, he will be raised as a gentleman, with all the privileges that entails. On the down side, Ethel will never see him again. They leave poor Ethel to make Sophie’s Choice, assuming she’ll submit to their wishes. Ugh.

Although still-in-bed Lavinia is not particularly ill herself, she and Matthew agree they’ll have to postpone the wedding. Left alone together by Isobel, Matthew tries to broach the subject of a new date when Lavinia stops him and admits she not only overheard his comments to Mary the previous evening, but saw them kissing, AND she thought how wonderful they looked together. Oh Lavinia STOP IT. Of course she’s not angry, she just wants Matthew to follow his heart, even if it leads to Mary, as she believes it will.

Matthew seems caught between relief at not having to pretend it isn’t true, and despair at the prospect of having hurt Lavinia, the last thing he ever wanted to do. Lavinia says they’ll discuss it later, but she wants to rest now, and he leaves her to it.

Sir Richard, having heard Lavinia was ill, has come running from London to guard his interests under the guise of offering “help.” Nobody is glad to see him.

Cora has taken a turn for the worse and is gravely ill, with Dr. Clarkson seeming uncertain of whether she will survive the night. As if that weren’t enough, dinner is interuppted (AGAIN!) by Sybil, who announces that Lavinia’s gone from seeming slightly tired to being at death’s door. Matthew races upstairs to be with her, and when Mary tries to follow, Sir Richard holds her back, demanding she let them be alone together. Mary shakes him off and goes anyway.

Upstairs in Lavinia’s bedroom, Matthew clasps her poor sick hand and tells her he’s there for her. Lavinia, pleasant and sacrificing to the very end, almost literally says “Hey Matthew, Imma die now so it makes your life easier!” And then she dies. No, really. She up and dies, just like that. REALLY, Downton Abbey? REALLY?

The following day, Cora is fine. Of course. Cora was the diversion! She apologizes to Lord Grantham for having been so distracted lately and asks if they’re “OK”, and he agrees they are. Naturally this means Jane is out of a job, and she gives her notice to Lord G first -- kissing him one last time -- and then Mrs. Hughes, who seems to suspect that something untoward has been going on between them, but reserves judgement.

Ethel returns to the mourning household to tell Mrs. Hughes that she’s made up her mind, she’s keeping her baby, oooh, she’s gonna keep her baby. It’ll be interesting to see how the Moustaches take that news.

Bates and Anna get married on a Friday afternoon and I don’t mind telling you it is seriously anticlimactic after all the sickness and death and stuff. That evening, Anna confides in Mary about it, who leads her to an unused upstairs bedroom decorated with flowers and lit candles, all which was handled by the departing Jane. She says Anna and Bates can spend the night in there and no one with bother them. SEX, you guys! Hot married sex!

Of course, we don’t see the sex, but move directly to the boring afterglow, in which Bates and Anna caress each other lovingly and seem really happy, which (ALL TOGETHER NOW) means something terrible is about to happen.

Lavinia’s funeral is terribly sad, and Matthew is still devastated by her death. Though he has been avoiding Mary since that night, she finally gets him alone after the burial, and a crying Matthew explains that the two of them could NEVER EVER EVER be happy together now. Matthew blames himself for Lavinia’s death, believing she “gave up” because she knew he was still in love with Mary, and she with him. He tells Mary, “We are cursed, you and I,” and Mary seems as emotionally despondent as we’ve ever seen her, realizing that Matthew is really for real telling her for the umpteenth time that they are not going to be together.

Branson has also come to the funeral, to Lord Grantham’s chagrin, and Sybil tells him that since the funeral is over, they plan to leave for Dublin soon, where Sybil will live with Branson’s mother until they are married. Lord G is unyielding at first, but as they turn to go he stops them and gives his blessing, also promising to give them some money to help them get started. Aw, good on ya, Lord G. He and Branson share a wonderful manly handshake and Sybil is ecstatic; things actually look good for one of the Crawley sisters, for once.

The hammer still has to fall on Bates and Anna, however: upon returning from the funeral, Bates finds two police detectives waiting for him in the servants’ hall. Sure enough, he is arrested on suspicion of having murdered his evil wife, and he and Anna must share an abrupt and tearful goodbye.

Next week: Will Bates swing for his wife’s death? Will Daisy forgive herself for marrying William? Will Matthew ever climb down off that damn cross? Until then.You can read more of Lesley's overthinking about costume dramas and other things by following her on Twitter.