In “Season 5, Episode 7,” Downton Abbey brought together everything good from this season, and through it, produced a great hour of television. In fact, if its heavy-handedness about Judaism and the education system could be forgiven, it might be close to one of the best episodes Downton Abbey has ever produced.
Where show creator and writer Julian Fellowes excels is in issues of class and romantic trials. When it comes to history or larger cultural themes, we get on much shakier ground. “Season 5, Episode 7” was almost all either about relationship drama or family/friend bonding time, and that made the hour both fun and engrossing.
Schemes were the name of the game in this hour, most pointedly with Mary and Charles Blake plotting about how to get rid of poor, dogged Tony. Though Mary slept with him, she’s cast him aside because unless she’s head over heels, she in no way wants to be tied down — she enjoys beguiling men too much. Tony, being a gentleman, doesn’t want to break things off, though. Charles tells him not to be so Ned Stark about it, and seals the deal with a kiss later (although Tony says that wasn’t necessary).
Fellowes has done a great job with the patter of open, frank dialogue among the Bright Young Things, from Mabel and Tony speaking casually about their failure to get married, and Mary’s honesty about how she likes to jerk Tony’s chain. In many ways it feels a world away from the life still going on at Downton — although Branson’s “bastard!” outburst at the table infused some modernity into the proceedings. Still, caution and decorum rule, especially at the Dowager’s house, where Spratt’s “declaration of discontent” could be seen as a punishable offense (though it isn’t).
There were so many sweet moments in “Season 5, Episode 7” as well, even though they also revolved around scheming. Mrs. Patmore, Mr. Molesley and Mr. Mason all colluded to keep Daisy on her education track, which culminated in a lovely afternoon outing to the Mason farm. There was so much tenderness coming from all sides I thought for a moment I was watching Lark Rise to Candleford (R.I.P., great show). It was a nice change of pace, though, as was Cora and Rosamund’s trip to London to find Edith running a publishing house (more on that later). Branson is getting set to possibly move to America with Sybie, and he and Robert actually shared a lovely moment together of mutual respect and affection. Love of all kinds was in the air, as Rose and Atticus’s relationship also escalates to a proposal.
Regarding those two, I don’t know if everyone telling them how hard it will be will translate into the marriage not actually happening, or it falling apart, or if they’ll be the next Sybil and Branson. My money is on the latter — the show has been attempting to replace Sybil with Rose for awhile (pretty unsuccessfully, frankly), and they’ve swapped out “chauffeur” for “Jewish guy” as the shocking thing about the beau (even though apparently Cora is half-Jewish).
In any case, back to schemes: the whole Edith issue. Even though I really enjoyed “Season 5, Episode 7” and felt like it was really packing in a lot of great things, Edith’s story always takes things to the most absurd possible degree. First of all, apparently she was running that publishing company herself. So how on Earth was she tricked into returning to Downton? Woman you were free! You had your child and your business, and now you’re back running this same, tired old crock with the Drews. Is Mrs. Drew really going to give up Marigold again? Why is Mr. Drew being so damned helpful? If I were him, I would have agreed with Mrs. Drew and just moved away from this madness. I just can’t believe that Edith will get Marigold into that house with Mary and Robert knowing (and everyone else, too), being seen as the crazy woman of the county, and still not having anything to do. #JusticeForEdith.
There are so many other things to touch on in this jam-packed hour: Isobel being very badly treated by Lord Merton’s brat sons, while Violet, it seems, is sad not about the change in rank, but about losing her friend and companion; Robert and Cora and Isis (feeeels); Baxter attempting to apologize to the Bateses (but can we please drop the whole thing about her checkered past, we’re all over it); Anna and Bates making retirement plans. Ultimately, despite a few shaky plot moments, most everything in “Season 5, Episode 7” was rather wonderful, and indicative of a Downton Abbey that finally this season has started to do more than just tread water.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Musings and Miscellanea:
— My favorite thing in “bad jump cuts” in this episode was when Mary told Mrs. Hughes, “I burned it” (regarding the train ticket), and then immediately Rose exclaims “Atticus!” and the music swells. Essentially, F Bates and his ticket! We have guests!
— There was a lot of eavesdropping in this episode, from Baxter overhearing about the ticket to Molesley overhearing about her overhearing about the ticket, to Anna seeing Marigold on the train, and Mr. Drew riding first class.
— Cora handled things with Rosamund and Violet with such poise, even though she was clearly so hurt.
— I adored the tea that Mary had with the Dowager, and also her comments to Mary at dinner that “My dear, a lack of compassion can be just as vulgar as an excess of tears.”
— Such an adorable scene between Branson and Sybie when they dropped the sticks into the stream and watched them go under the bridge (like my dad and I used to do when I was a little girl). Glad they are incorporating Sybie more, but I’d really like to see Mary interact with George some as well.
— “Her instinct is to hold every man in thrall, and her wish is to break up” – Charles, explaining Mary to Tony.
— Edith really should have run off to America and dropped her title. Flee, Edith, flee!!
— “Whenever I see a problem, you see only possibilities” – Bates to Anna.
— Though the “people need an education!” story has been so heavy-handed, I do like that Molesley is given more dimension and depth, as in, more than just a bumbling fool. He’s very smart!
— “Did you really think we would welcome you with open arms?” – Lord Merton’s younger son, just as odious as the older son. Watch out, Isobel!
— R.I.P. Isis, although that final scene with her, Robert, and Cora was lovely.