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Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 5, Episode 2 Gets Closer to Modern Times

Review: 'Downton Abbey' Season 5, Episode 2 Gets Closer to Modern Times

PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 5, Episode 1 Reveals Secrets, But Fails to Scandalize

Upstairs

Edith gets to spend more time with her illegitimate child — how has Mrs. Drew not worked this out yet? — and even gets her parents to agree that she can act as a sort of patron to the girl, if only on the grounds that she’s never going to marry and have a child of her own so she may as well take comfort where she can.

Mary, on the other hand, is more concerned about preventing children and sends Anna off to the chemist with a copy of Marie Stopes’ “Married Love” and a request for some non-specified but era-appropriate contraception.

Downstairs

After last week’s romp with Lady Anstruther, Jimmy leaves under a cloud and in at least five different patterns of tweed. He and Thomas have a touching goodbye, where Jimmy tells him that he never thought he’d be friends “with a man like you.” Robert James Collier deserves an Emmy for his reaction to that alone — Jimmy clearly means this as the highest compliment he can give, but for Thomas it’s a reminder that he’s always going to be the odd one out at Downton.

In My Lady’s Chambers

“You’d better hope I never write my memoirs,” Anna says at one point, which raises the nauseating specter of the whole show being a “Call the Midwife”-esque flashback from an octogenarian Anna Bates.  Mary sending Anna to buy her contraception is the highlight of the episode, especially given how she manipulates Anna into agreeing — “You’re married, with a living husband.” That’s right, Mary, play the dead husband card so you can boink your new lover consequence-free. However, it also gives us the most feminist moment in Downton history when the intimidating lady chemist snaps “There is always abstinence” and makes poor Anna justify her decision to a complete stranger. 

Elsewhere, Thomas tells Molesley about Baxter’s criminal past, of which, she promises, she’s suitably ashamed. “I’d give a limb to rewrite that chapter of my life” — Baxter. And if Thomas could work out a way to make a profit on it, he’d probably take you up on the offer.

Nobody Cares About Cora

Poor Cora (her official title) gets to display the heights of her maternal powers in this episode, when one of her daughters actually asks her advice. Unfortunately it’s Only Edith (her official title), the only other character people care about as little as Cora, but Lady Grantham is still overjoyed. It’s a sign of how low Downton has brought you when you’re actually flattered that your offspring asks you a question.

Not that you can blame her — Robert uses the “you’re American” excuse to ignore her suggestion that actually the wireless is quite a good idea, so by the time smarmy art historian Simon Bricker shows up, she’s putty in his hands.

It turns out that Cora is something of an art enthusiast — she also displays an impressive knowledge about German communists — which would be surprising if we actually knew anything about her. The woman could literally be a genius, and no one would know because no one talks to Cora about anything.

Richard E. Grant is a pleasant, if somewhat oily, choice for a potential lover, but next to Robert — who proudly announces that he’s “not very good at abroad” — he’s practically Casanova. They’ve already progressed to the flirting in public stage by dinner and when she asks him to come and look at the painting, she might as well be inviting him upstairs to take a look at her etchings.

It’s somewhat confusing given that they’re acting like old friends — which McGovern and Grant are — so maybe Cora’s been carrying on with him for years and has finally brought him to Downton on the grounds that no one pays any attention to how she spends her time. If we’re supposed to believe that this is the first time they’ve met, the only explanation is that Grant is in love with McGovern and has bribed Julian Fellowes to write his wooing of her into the script.

Robert’s jealousy flares up, but it’s somewhat misplaced: “Tell your friend Bricker to stop flirting with Isis. There’s nothing more ill-bred than trying to steal the affection of someone else’s dog!” Oh, Robert. Such a catch. Cora should leave him for Simon Bricker. So should Isis.

It’s The Future, Mr. Carson

Clunky Exposition of the Week award goes to Isobel, for informing us that insulin is “going to make a great difference to many lives, I’m sure of it.”

Jimmy’s absence makes poor, beleaguered Molesley first footman — technically only footman, as Carson points out. Mrs. Hughes is on hand with a bit of foreshadowing — “We’re approaching the time when a house will be lucky to boast of any footman.” It’s hard to believe that anyone would boast of Molesley, except perhaps Baxter, the criminal lady’s maid.

Now they’ve all gotten used to the telephone, it’s time for another technological treat — Rose wants a wireless. She really, really wants a wireless. It’s all she talks about, the entire episode. To be fair, she already has a pony and a wardrobe full of beautiful and expensive dresses, so what else is she going to ask for?

Robert is reluctant, but acquiesces to loaning one for the King’s speech, arguing, “Surely we won’t be corrupted if it’s only in the house for a day.” Although, let’s face it, he could also be talking about Simon Bricker.

December-December Romance

Poor Dr. Clarkson is once again a pawn in the Dowager’s machinations to throw a spanner in the burgeoning relationship between Isobel and Lord Merton. It doesn’t work, since Isobel is setting her sights considerably higher than the mustachioed medic, but let’s face it, this so-called ‘love triangle’ is all a smokescreen for the Sapphic love between Violet and Isobel. Why else would the Dowager be pushing her towards Dr. Clarkson, who has “the latest report on the drug insulin” and the sex appeal of a kipper rather than Lord Merton, who has a large house and is, frankly, a silver fox to rival stoic sex god Carson. She doesn’t want a rival for Isobel’s affections.

Speaking of, the slowest relationship in the history of television is moving at a pretty fast pace this episode — Carson is disappointed in Mrs. Hughes because she disagrees that a garden of remembrance is better than a memorial in the middle of town, and tells her so. She’s genuinely hurt, and wasps back “every relationship has its ups and downs.” He sees sense, tells her he’s glad they’re in agreement again and she starts blushing like a schoolgirl.

Forget Lady Mary’s out-of-wedlock shenanigans. The sexiest thing in the episode is when Carson rumbles “Get away with you.”

Accidental Double Entendre of the Week

“Mrs. Crawley is never happier than when she has a chance to use her guiding hand.” Oh, Violet. I’m sure you’d know all about that.

Grade: A-

READ MORE: Watch: George Clooney Crashes ‘Downton Abbey’ For Charity Christmas Special

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