‘Downton Abbey’ recap: “Episode Five”

Mary and Cora bend Chamberlain’s ear

So by the time I write this, the image of Robert spitting out blood would have gone viral: memes and GIFs of his mouth exploding with blood  have littered Twitter and Facebook. It’s an arresting image and a great way to add some drama into a show that’s losing steam. The characters all seem het up, furious, and excited about things, but the stakes have been so low, and the exchanges have been so dull, that it’s been hard to must up any enthusiasm or interest in the goings on in Downton Abbey.

But back to the blood thing. It was an incredible capper to a so-so episode that benefited greatly from having something outrageous happen. This is on the level of Mary, Cora, and Anna dragging a dead body down a darkened hallway crazy. That it happened in front of Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health (and future PM of Great Britain) makes the scene all the more ridiculous.

Chamberlain’s at Downton at Violet’s bequest to add ammo to her side of the interminable hospital battle. I’m not really sure if anyone cares anymore who wrests control of the damn thing, but Violet is pissed. Dr. Clarkson has defected to Isobel’s side, so it looks like she is winning – and even though Violet loves Isobel, she’s not going to give up so easily. Bringing in Chamberlain is a sort of “big gun” kind of thing for Violet to do, not only to get a name behind her, but to remind Isobel and company that she’s got some serious hookups. None of this amounts to anything, and at times, I even forget what the kerfuffle is all about, but it’s nice to see Maggie Smith doing more than just fire off one-liners. It’s also nice to see Cora having something to do.

Speaking of someone who doesn’t have much to do – poor Branson. Back from Boston, now a capitalist and land owner, but without an identity. Mary’s taken control of the estate and seems to be a doing a good job of it. So instead, Branson’s role in this episode seems to be Mary’s BFF, advising him on her love life. Understandably reticent on moving forward with Henry because of his racecar driving (remember how Matthew died?), Tom’s all, “go get him, girl,” pointing out that there are no guarantees in love. And that’s the sum of Tom’s contribution.

But Mary, on the other hand, is busy. Piqued at not being consulted about putting the pigs in Mason’s hands, she pops over to his new farm, to  imply that he’s too old to take care of the pigs. And he may be right, but Andy jumps to reassure Mary that Mason’s got help. Mrs. Patmore, Andy, and Daisy have been life lines for Moseley, and he’s lucky to have them. And though it’s totally innocent and moving at a glacial pace, there’s even a hint of romance between Patmore and Mason, which angers Daisy. Despite her good intentions and decent character, she’s always been a bit of a brat, so this is nothing new: again, Julian Fellowes to have his characters pretend there’s all this change, but when you get down to it, little shifts.

And while we’re on the subject of romance, there’s Carson and Hughes, who are adjusting to married life. I never got this marriage and never shipped them, but there you go. They’re married. It seems that years of housekeeping has made Hughes’ a little rusty when it comes to cooking – and Carson’s got weird expectations that his house and kitchen will be run like Downton. The whole time he was critically picking at the raw lamp chop and swampy veg she served him, I kept thinking “Your hands aren’t broken. You can toddle on to the kitchen and whip up something.” Like Daisy, Carson’s set in his way – his feet are basically stuck in cement, and we learn the adjusting isn’t one of his strong suits. Given that Hughes is so dashing, I’m not sure how long will this bizarre marriage lasts.

The other servants are each dealing with his/her own drama: Baxter has to go to trial as a character witness (nothing comes of it), while Barrows is trying to ingratiate himself to Andy. Barrows’ repeated friendly overtures are rebuffed because Andy’s all, “no homo,” though we learn that Barrows isn’t the same conniving villain he once was. Though he may be crushing on Andy, it seems as if he’s interested in genuine friendship. Both Baxter and Anna stick up for him, and actually like him. Andy only starts to thaw when Barrows offers to teach him to read. And it looks like the start of a beautiful friendship.

While Lady Mary is lording over Downton like a queen, her sister is building up her publishing empire in London. After firing her psychotic editor, she hires a young woman, Laura Edmunds – who though her age, is far younger when it comes to dress and appearance (which is unfair, because Laura Carmichael is gorgeous). The share a great idea – Victorian girls growing up to become modern women – it’s a nifty idea and one that followed Edith’s story arcs ever since she was published for supporting women’s rights.

All of these plot lines snaked around each other, and the Granthams’ stories peaked during the evening dinner with Chamberlain. It starts off like an ordinary dinner scene in Downton, with Isobel and Violet sniping at each other, but this time in the presence of a government minister. Before the fight could get any nastier or personal, Robert gets up and starts to vomit blood over the table, some of it splattering on poor Cora. I’m not sure authentic the whole scene looked – to me the blood looked like Hawaiian punch – but it was very dramatic and frightening – a good way to end the episode. Cora, fed up with all of this nonsense hisses at Violet that the hospital matter has been resolved (thank god, I don’t want to hear about it anymore).

We’re about halfway done with the final season, and I’m trying to see some hints of story endings. It looks like Barrows is either being groomed to be a new Carson or  Bates, or he’s being shown to the door. Robert’s survived the surgery, but Tom and Mary plan on taking on all of the duties of running the estate: not sure how Robert will react to that – it feels a bit Learish. Anna’s having Bates’ baby (and hopefully that’s all that they’ll have to do ). And when it comes to romance, we’ also see possible pairings of Edith and Bertie, Mary and Henry, Baxter and Moseley, Patmore and Mason, and Andy and Daisy.

Radom thoughts:

  • Denker sassed Dr. Clarkson and got fired for her efforts, only to get rehired when she blackmailed Spratt into helping her out. I’m glad of the addition of Denker, as I missed O’Brien for a long time
  • Barrows mused that he must be getting soft in his old age after being visibly relieved at Robert’s successful surgery. Maybe he is….
  • Mary overhears Cora and Violet fuss about Marigold’s birth and becomes suspicious – given how acrimonious her relationship is with Edith, I’m hoping the secret stays secret.
  • Rupert Frazer, who plays Neville Chamberlain, looks just like him…very good bit of casting.

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