Saturday, February 9, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E5: Kindness Is the New Black

The times are a-changin'.  Suddenly it's cool to not humiliate people from lower classes and different religions.

Watching this episode, I felt as though Julian Fellowes were somehow responding to all of our fan criticisms about Series Three, even though that would be impossible.  It felt more satisfying than an episode of Downton Abbey had for a very long time, and was the second strong episode in a row.

Plot Synopsis

In the aftermath of Sybil's funeral, feelings are still quite raw.  A visibly shaken Branson tells the Crawley family that he doesn't intend to stay at Downton forever.  "K thx," says Lord Grantham, but Edith and Matthew try to convince Branson to stay longer.  They discuss the baby's christening, and Branson states that he not only wants to name the baby Sybil after her mother, but also intends to have her christened as a Catholic.  Both choices upset Lord Grantham greatly, especially the latter one.  He invites Reverend Travis to dinner to talk some sense into Tom, but unexpectedly, the rest of the family rises up to challenge his notion that all non-Anglicans are Satan's bedfellows.

Cora seems to take particular pleasure in rubbing it in to Lord Grantham -- almost as much pleasure as I take in watching her.  She still blames her husband for Sybil's death and refuses to let him back into the bedroom.  Meanwhile, Isobel decides to do something kind for the Downton ladies.  She shares with Ethel her plans to hold a low-key luncheon, telling Ethel that all she need do is prepare a salad.  Ethel offers to make something more complex, but Isobel does not want to add food poisoning to the list of reasons for their distress.  So Ethel secretly consults with Mrs. Patmore, who gives her some recipes despite Carson's decree that Downton staff not interact with her.  When Carson learns what she's done, not only is Mrs. Patmore dismissive of his umbrage, but so is everyone else, except --

During the lunch, where Ethel serves shockingly good cuisine to the Downton ladies (including Violet), Lord Grantham storms in and demands that his family leave.  They could be humiliated by their association with a whore!  Even more so than by a Turkish diplomat dying in Mary's bed, or by Sybil eloping with the chauffer, or by Edith being left at the altar for all to see.  Lord Grantham's tantrum is followed by the soft, gentle sound of leaves rustling.  Not one of the ladies gets up to leave.  Lord Grantham has no choice but to huff back out again, alone.

He can't even count on Mary for uncritical support this time.  Not only is she actually opposed to some of her father's reasoning, but she is even supportive of Matthew's goals for the estate.  The two don't have to be mutually exclusive, yet they have been thus far.  Mary has removed the "privileged" mask that she wore through all of Series Three and not only refrained from humiliating Ethel, but also told Lord Grantham that she saw no reason why baby Sybil's only prospects for a good life came from her mother's aristocratic blood.  She even told Anna that "we" could use some good news about Bates, reducing Anna to tears of shock likely as much as gratitude.

Despite my pleasure in seeing Lord Grantham receive some much-needed push back, Violet decides that Cora's war with him can't go on much longer.  She visits Dr. Clarkson and presses him to tell them that Sybil would have had virtually no chance even if a Caesarian had been performed.  Dr. Clarkson is resistant, not wanting to outright lie.  However, Violet believes that if Cora persists in thinking that Sybil could have been saved, she will never forgive Lord Grantham, and they will never be able to grieve properly.  So in the end, Dr. Clarkson -- either having honestly researched the subject or just plain stretching the truth -- tells them that Sybil had an "infinitesimal" chance of surviving the birth with a Caesarian.  All at once, Cora's hostility melts away, and she and Lord Grantham are embracing and sobbing.  It is probably just as well -- the lingering resentment stood to harm Cora as much as Lord Grantham -- but I hope that the other reasons Cora has for resenting her husband aren't just swept under the rug.  Because that rug would become awfully difficult to walk on...

Meanwhile, downstairs, Thomas is still "friendly" with Jimmy, leading Jimmy to suggest to O'Brien that he might call the police.  O'Brien continues to water the seeds of Thomas's downfall by telling him that Jimmy has a crush on him.  Stupidly, Thomas believes her.

The four-square romance continues to percolate, with Daisy interested in Alfred, Alfred chasing Ivy, Ivy chasing Jimmy, and Jimmy showing some interest in Daisy.  Though whether Jimmy is sincerely interested or has an ulterior motive, it's hard to say.  Daisy's prospects improve immensely when her father-in-law, a prosperous tenant farmer, offers to leave her his tenancy so that she can leave service and be her own boss.  Daisy has to think about it because... there has to be a reason to keep her on the show a little longer?  Though I would imagine that even if she left the kitchen, there could be scenes with her learning how to farm.  She could even open up a little restaurant and become the Jazz Age Alice Waters.

Finally, the Prison Conspiracy has managed to get to Vera's friend, who has changed her story.  Bates surmises that they must have intimidated her somehow.  During one of his endless walks around the prison yard, he grabs his cellmate and threatens him until he agrees to make Vera's friend change the story back.  But I thought the issue was that Vera's friend would refuse to testify if she knew that it would help Bates.  Now the issue seems to be that she would have been truthful if not for the Prison Conspiracy's intimidation.  Whatever.  At least this storyline is over.  We suddenly see Anna running across the lawn to inform Mary and Edith that Bates would be back at Downton "in a few weeks."

Other Observations

The Criminal Justice System Has Different Rules on Television.  That almost goes without saying.  Otherwise, how does it make sense that Vera's friend's testimony would result in Bates coming home "in a few weeks"?  I'm not a criminal attorney, let alone one in Britain during the 1920s, but wouldn't they need to file a motion to reopen the case?  And wouldn't that result in a whole new trial, where this new evidence would be weighed along with the rest?  That's if Bates didn't appeal his conviction to a higher court, which -- in the United States, at least -- reviews whether any major errors were committed during trial.  Regardless of the path chosen, it would take more than "a few weeks" to get everything resolved.

Who Is Ivy?  As a lingering byproduct of this show's black-and-white characterization, we know precious little about Ivy, other than that she's the trollop who came between Daisy and Alfred.  But I could have sworn there was a moment during one of the episodes where we saw Ivy reading a letter.  It might have been a letter from home, but why bother to show that?  It makes me wonder if we'll learn a little more about Ivy at some point.  Maybe she was an aristocrat banished to work as a servant.  Maybe she was Jimmy's previous lover, and in an unlikely coincidence, they are working together again.

Misplaced Empathy?  When Isobel mentioned her idea for a lunch, Ethel expressed some heavy-handed empathy with Cora.  After all, she knew what it was to lose her child forever.  Except that her child wasn't dead.  It was tragic that she would (likely) never get to see him again, but she could at least know that he was growing up and getting the best experiences.  Whereas Sybil would never experience anything any more.  Her light was completely snuffed out.  I'm sure Cora would have gladly given up the chance to see Sybil again if it meant she could stay alive.  Ethel meant no harm, but a little perspective is in order.

Foreshadowing?  We got, perhaps, our first loving Matthew and Mary conversation in Series Three.  Among other things, they talked about how horrible it would be to lose one another.  Hmmm.            
Next Time:  Matthew yells at Lord Grantham for being an ass, and more good stuff.

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