The first two installments of the season were lackluster, but episode three brings some sharper writing, sly performances, and a surprise that should be infuriating but manages to delight instead.
We start with our weekly mention of Boston, in another letter from Tom. He’s dreaming about Downton and missing them all. I bet he’d miss them less if he had to listen to them continue to argue over the hospital takeover. That conflict is coming to a head as Cora visits the hospital in York to discuss their takeover plans directly. The Dowager Countess takes as a betrayal, and the fangs come out. No matter how frustrating this show can get at times, Maggie Smith can always be counted on to bring the acid, and she gets in a number of good zingers this week. It leads to one of the angriest confrontations we’ve seen on this show in some time, with Violet accusing Cora of conspiring with the enemy and Isobel slinging accusations at Dr. Clarkson. The rancor puts Cora into a foul mood that will affect everyone else in the house.
The wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes fast approaches. The continuing saga over where the reception is going to be held is finally dispensed with, in a wonderful scene where Cora gets Mrs. Hughes to confess to all that she doesn’t want the reception in Downton’s great hall. The wedding she envisions would be "inappropriate" in the big house – full of such shocking things as a sit-down meal and music. The Crawleys graciously back her decision, and even Carson acquiesces. The hardest sell is Mary, who is adamant that Carson "deserves" to be married in the Great Hall. This is a great episode for Michelle Dockery, who gets to show off Mary’s fierce loyalty to Carson and later to Anna, who reveals that she might be pregnant agin. The glee on Mary’s face when she blurts out that "Lord knows Bates isn’t the problem" is infectious.
But there’s one more big problem – the dress Mrs. Hughes is planning to wear is too drab. Mrs. Patmore takes it upon herself to order a new one from a catalog, but when it arrives the day before the wedding it’s not much of an improvement. (When told that it’s the thought that counts, Patmore fires back, "Not with a frock it’s not!" Words to live by, Mrs. P.) Mary thanks she can solve the frock debacle by pairing it with one of Cora’s evening coats on top. Mary assumes Cora won’t mind, though she’s off in York and there’s no time to wait for her return. So when Cora gets home, still steaming from her throw-down with Violet, she discovers Hughes, Patmore and Anna raiding her closet and castigates them for stealing from her. When Mary finds, she lays into her mother for her awful behavior and Cora realizes that she over-reacted. She goes down to Mrs. Hughes room to apologize in person, and makes her a gift of the coat.
Upon learning that the Drewes are vacating Yew Tree Farm, Daisy assumes it means Mr. Mason will take it over. I know Daisy, I thought the same thing. But no matter how much Molesley counsels her to wait and see what happens, Daisy can’t help herself – thanking Cora directly and then actually telling Mr. Mason that he will get the farm. At the wedding, Mr. Mason gushes his thanks to Cora and it’s clear that Daisy has jumped to some serious conclusions.
The Depressed Under-Butler Market
Thomas goes on a job interview at a nearby "prominent household" that turns out to be a dusty old relic. The house’s owner is firmly stuck waiting for the return of the glory days of the past, and Thomas quickly escapes. This is the kind of stuff that "Downton Abbey" does really well – when the conflicts are all contained within the household, it can be easy to laugh at how old-fashioned everybody is, but when we see how poorly other people in similar positions are dealing with massive social change, the Crawleys look practically modern.
Thomas grows more and more despondent at his prospects, ominously saying that he "can’t see the future." His shunning by the rest of the staff is getting extreme and when Andy again rebuffs his overtures of friendship, we see his frustration pour out. Thomas may not be able to take much more of this. But what choice does he have?
The Denker and Spratt Show
A knock at the door late at night leads Denker to observe Spratt acting suspiciously. Later, when Sergeant Willis shows up to inform Spratt that his nephew has escaped from prison and has been seen in the area, Spratt says he hasn’t seen the man. But Denker can tell he’s lying, and she practically bursts from the effort of not saying anything to the policeman. She clearly knows that Spratt gave his escaped nephew a place to hide for a night, but decides it’s better to keep the information close so she can torture Spratt forever. Denker is never scarier that when she’s being helpful, and Spratt clearly knows he’s in for the business.
Spinsters Have More Fun
Dashing down to London to yet again knock heads with her editor, Edith bumps into Bertie Pelham. We first met Bertie at the end of last season, when he clearly took a shine to Edith. She is so pre-occupied with the coming confrontation that she’s blindsided by Bertie’s invitation for a drink that night. She accepts, but is clearly surprised by the whole thing – because Edith has next to no experience with people being nice to her.
It’s a whole day of uncharacteristic things happening to Edith, because rather than fight more with her editor, she simply fires him. The triumph is short-lived however, when she realizes she’s going to have to deliver the magazine herself – in a matter of hours. She shows up to her date with Bertie just to say she can’t stay, and he surprises her by offering to come back to the office and help. They work all night to get the magazine finished, and they’re a great team. Edith types! Bertie makes coffee! They’re adorable! Bertie tells her that she inspires him. Aww, he’s already all in. I can’t wait to see what is going to come between them. I’m betting it starts with an "M" and ends in an "arigold."
At last, it’s the wedding day. Mrs. Hughes looks great in her catalog-frock-and-evening-coat ensemble, Carson is proud as a peacock, and everyone is suitably misty-eyed. And then while Carson is giving his wedding toast, who should walk in but Tom! "I had to go all the way to Boston," he tells them, "to learn that Downton is my home and that you are my family." He’s back for good and everyone is thrilled. But not as thrilled as I am. Allen Leech brings such a grounding warmth to this show, and it has suffered without him. So much so that I will even forgive the fact that they spent the entirety of Season 5 on his impending move to Boston and made a huge deal of him leaving, only to have him return three episodes later. It’s preposterous, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad he’s back.
The only person happier than I am seems to be Mary. Truthfully, the chemistry between Leech and Dockery is a little too good. They’re going to need to find a new beau for Mary quickly, or else the "Brary" shippers are going to lose their minds.