E: After last week’s rather less eventful episode, Downton Abbey comes charging back. Matthew and William are missing! Cora muscles Mrs. Crawley out, and so the latter leaves England! Mrs. Patmore might be stealing from Downton! Bates returns! Everything you thought was going to happen with Ethel and the mustachioed Major actually does!
C: Rallying after Sybil’s disappointing lack of response to Branson’s first declaration, this week saw a satisfying amount of action on the lady-chauffeur romance front. She asks him why he promised Mr. Carson that he would not try any more statements of protest, in order to keep his job. Branson says he’s not leaving until she’s willing to run away with him. She’s in love with him, he says – she just won’t admit it. Adorable.
E: Did you think so? I was actually annoyed by that. I’m not feeling him this time, somehow. It should have been romantic the way his original proposal was, but it just wasn’t. Maybe I’m still bothered by his weirdness from last week.
C: I did think that part was cute, yeah, but it’s amazing how just a couple words can put a damper on romance. Sybil goes to see Branson again, this time at night in the garage, to tell him Lady Mary knows about what’s been going on (technically, not much) between them. He repeats his offer to run away, and she finally voices her concerns. What about my family, she asks? What about my work? “What work?” he scoffs. And suddenly I am 500 times less charmed by the idea of them together.
E: Well, yeah. That’s unfortunately dismissive. Generally, I found his whole “if you love me, you should be willing to throw over the rest of your life” attitude really irritating.
C: Sybil’s just finding a sense of purpose. And she actually likes her family, somehow even her sisters. I don’t think his “all or nothing” ultimatums are going to win her over. But if the bloom is a little bit off that rose, Mr. Fellowes certainly ramped up the adorable factor in another department. Could the concert scene have been any more wonderful? I’ll admit it: the three adult women watching at my house emitted a simultaneous squeal of joy.
E: The concert was definitely wonderful. Mary has just learned that Matthew went out on patrol and never came back. She doesn’t want to do the concert, but Lord Grantham tells her the men need it – the show must go on. So there she is singing with Edith, struggling along, trying to care when she doesn’t, and then Matthew and William walk in and she just stops. And then he joins her! Of course.
C: Of course? I was blown away! That was the perfect touch, the moment our smiles turned to squeals. “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…” A fantasy from a time of horror. Spot on.
E: I mean “of course” because it was the perfect, perfect thing. It was the best possible thing to happen at that moment. Just as wonderful as Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Bird feeding the jobless soldiers, and Cora joining them. And, even better, forcing O’Brien to serve as well! Those are some seriously lovely moments.
C: It might have been smarter to send O’Brien home – dang, that woman has resentment down to an art! – but I loved Cora’s immediate decision to join in. I can’t help feeling the cooks were a bit silly not to just ask permission in the first place. Lord and Lady Grantham aren’t exactly misers.
E: Mom disagrees with me, but for once, I actually thought it was reasonable of O’Brien to be suspicious. Of course, she thinks badly of people who don’t deserve it, and one feels she should have known Mrs. Patmore wasn’t selling the food, but I can see why it looked strange.
C: You know, that’s a fair point. They were obviously sneaking food. You don’t usually go that for an honest, above-board reason. (And as I noted, there really was no reason not to try doing it honestly.)
E: And ultimately, O’Brien’s snooping did good. ‘From now on you must take the food from the household budget,’ Cora says. Awesome.
C: If I have one big complaint about Julian Fellowes’s writing this season, it’s his dependence on dramatic irony, which has been used so liberally it’s become absurd. “I think they might ask me to stay!” says Molesley. “Get used to being happy!” Anna tells Bates. It doesn’t make me sympathetic with these people when they’re inevitably disappointed; it makes me want to smack them out of the habit of uttering famous last words.
E: So so true.
C: And Bates coming back before he’s got his business settled? Idiocy. If you don’t want to ask for help, then take care of your issues where they won’t rain down on the people you care about – that’s why you left to begin with.
E: The man really needs a good smack upside the head, doesn’t he?
C: Much as I have always rooted for him… yes he does.
E: I have to say, on a totally different subject, that I am utterly convinced of Mary’s love for Matthew. In some ways I feel like we’re seeing a battle for her soul when she talks of joining forces with Richard, because her love for Matthew ennobles her. But I cannot see a way through for her to be with Matthew! For that matter, I can’t tell that he still loves her, can you? Are we meant to think that receipt of her letter announcing her sort of engagement makes him reckless? Because he just seems blind to her – perfectly friendly and pleasant, but not pining at all.
C: Oh, I don’t see that at all. I think he definitely still loves her – but in a “put on hold” kind of way. What he’s blind to is the fact that she loves him, so he’s moved on to a new relationship. That’s his priority now, and Lavinia (as far as we know) loves him in return, so he’s just not going to dwell on the Mary issue. But he’s so not over her.
E: Don’t you think Lavinia loves him? I do. As for the least successful relationship of the night (even given the heavy competition for that status)… oh, Ethel.
C: Yeah, we all knew exactly what would happen there.
E: Am I crazy for thinking that they should have had someone reprimand Major Mustache? Plus, how the hell long are these guys going to convalesce? There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the Major, does there? So why is he still taking up space?
C: Well, just because we haven’t seen what’s wrong with him doesn’t mean he’s okay. But yeah, if he’s up to sneaking around the house and vigorously seducing the housemaids, it’s probably time to send him home.
E: Um, quite. At first he was in a wheelchair, so that made sense – but he’s not anymore.
C: This really shows how having Thomas in charge poses a very serious problem. Mrs. Hughes approached this as a staff issue – as she would have if Ethel had slept with a regular guest of the Crawleys. But if they had a responsible person in charge of day-to-day administration on the military end, she could report the incident and that person would decide how to deal with Major ‘Stache. Unfortunately, Thomas is an uncooperative git.
E: Well, I can’t deny that, but I kept wondering why they didn’t report it to someone with military authority, like Dr. Clarkson. Or even to Lord Grantham – don’t you imagine he’d have been furious that someone was repaying his hospitality in that way?
C: I imagine he would, though they are playing him more passively this season. I guess they can’t play the “Lord G. steps in” card for every problem, or where would the drama be? Which brings us to the ending: O’Brien trying to motivate Thomas to scheme some more against Bates. Seriously – have you ever met an average human who put that much energy into being evil?
E: Hee. George Eliot writes about that in Mill on the Floss in a way I just adore:
“Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance in order to compass a selfish end are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist; they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow parishioners to be guilty of them. It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbors without taking so much trouble; we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralized by small extravagancies, by maladroit flatteries and clumsily improvised insinuations. We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires; we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed corn or the next year’s crop.”
C: But the planting of wicked seeds, it seems, is this dramatist’s bread and butter!
How’s that for a mixed metaphor to end on?