Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer TV Rewind: Downton Abbey 1.04

“Women like me don’t have a life. We choose clothes and pay calls and work for charity and do the season. But, really, we’re stuck in a waiting room until we marry.”

The fourth episode of “Downton Abbey” largely continues the plots that began in the earlier episodes. Some time has passed since the Mr. Pamuk incident, and life at Downton has largely returned to normal. Also, Matthew and Isobel appear to be more comfortably ensconced in the life of the village and the Crawley family. All of the relationships between the characters seem to have deepened. Beyond the continuation of already existing plots, we also get a lovely little side plot about Mrs. Hughes that reminds me very much of one of my favorite books, “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro. That novel tells the story of a butler near the end of the age of the great British manor houses and the complicated relationship he had with the housekeeper. It’s interesting to stop and think of the personal cost these individuals paid to go into service. Both Mary and Mrs. Hughes have marriage on their mind in this episode, but the consequences of each potentially accepting a proposal is vastly different. For Mary, it would be simply continuing in the life she is supposed to live. It would be a happy occasion. For Mrs. Hughes, it would mean giving up everything she has known during her adult life. And I think that contrast really shows the value of watching both the upstairs and downstairs characters as they go about their lives.

A fair has come to Downton, which has the Crawleys and their staff all excited. The fair provides a backdrop for many interesting scenes throughout the episode, such as an especially poignant conversation with Matthew and Mary and Mrs. Huges pseudo-date with her childhood sweetheart. The other big news at the beginning of this episode is that the Crawleys have a new chauffeur. For those of who have already watched “Downton Abbey,” you know that this is Branson, the Irish Socialist who takes a liking to the youngest Crawley daughter, Sybil. In this episode, he gives Sybil pamphlets about women’s suffrage and smiles as she models a sort of Arabian pants outfit for the family at the end of the episode. Anyway, the servants all want to go toe the fair after supper, and footman William especially wants to go to the fair with scullery maid Daisy. As soon as Thomas realizes this, he asks Daisy to the fair himself. Just because he wants to be an ass to William. He doesn’t care that Daisy, who has a rather girly crush on Thomas, will be hurt too. Can you tell I am not at all a fan of Thomas. Mrs. Patmore tries to explain to Daisy that Thomas is gay, but Daisy doesn’t understand. Speaking of servants behaving badly, Thomas’ dastardly partner-in-crime, O’Brien, is quite a pistol in this episode, too. Mrs. Hughes asks her to keep an eye on the three younger maids since she wants to go to the fair and Anna is in bed with a bad cold. How dare Mrs. Hughes actually expect O’Brien to do any actual work!

Another major plot thread which ends up sort of intersecting with the fair is that the Dowager Countess is still bound and determined to get the entail broken and Cora’s money awarded to Mary. She decides to ask Matthew to look into the situation, I guess because she thinks he’s honorable, even if he does have a direct stake in the matter. I think that this is one of my favorite scenes of the series because the Dowager Countess is so out of her element in Matthew’s office, and Maggie Smith plays it extremely well. Her befuddlement at Matthew’s swivel chair is especially entertaining. Anyway, Matthew agrees to look into the entail, although, to Violet’s chagrin, his conclusion is the same as the other lawyers the Crawleys have consulted. Matthew and Mary talk about “the great matter” at the fair, and Mary explains why she’s just generally so dissatisfied with her life. Her path is already set for her. She’s supposed to marry and run a great house. Later, Matthew stops by Downton to tell Robert that he doesn’t think the entail can be broken, and Carson accidentally ruins his plan to not have to tell the Dowager Countess.

The Dowager Countess does get a bit of a win, however, in a more minor plot in this episode. Early on in the episode, Isobel notices that Mr. Moasley appears to have a painful rash on his hands. She immediately diagnoses it as some incurable disease, and she wants to take him over to the hospital to get treated. Dr. Clarkson isn’t around, so she cooks up a remedy (only to relieve the symptoms, not actually cure the infection) on her own. Mr. Moasley’s hands aren’t getting any better, though, so he ends up back at the hospital at a time when Violet happens to be there. Violet correctly diagnoses the rash as an allergy to a plant Mr. Moasley was removing from his mother’s garden. Violet loves the fact that she can lord her superior knowledge of village happenings over Isobel.

In other Crawley news, Matthew and Robert are overseeing the renovation of some of the cottages on the estate, and Matthew mentions that he’s starting to see a future at Downton now. The subtext being that since Mary’s finally giving him the time of day, it might not be so bad to stick around. I thought it was kind of sweet, but I’m a big Mary/Matthew fan. Mostly because they’re both miserable when they aren’t together, and the misery gets old. Anyway, back at the house, Robert is gushing to the rest of the family about how happy he is that Matthew is finally really taking an interest in becoming Earl of Grantham and all it entails, and Mary has to go excuse herself for a good cry. Cora tries to comfort her, but she just gets subjected to Mary throwing a huge fit.

My favorite plot of this episode was the “Remains of the Day”-like Mrs. Hughes plot that I mentioned earlier. The farmer she was dating before she started working at Downton has become a widower, and he has written Mrs. Hughes asking to see her again. They have a lovely time at the fair, which is quite sweet, and eventually the farmer asks Mrs. Hughes to marry him. This is actually the second time he has proposed to her. The first was before she left for Downton. Mrs. Hughes does briefly consider saying yes, but after a day of having to put out fires among the staff at Downton, she realizes just how much they all need her, and she decides to stay. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad about that.

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