Back to IndieWire

Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 5, Episode 3, Digs Into ‘Russki Business’

Review: 'Downton Abbey' Season 5, Episode 3, Digs Into 'Russki Business'

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


We open on Mary’s bed of sin: She and Gillingham have spent the week driving round Cheshire and exploring Liverpool’s fine dining options. And presumably having a lot of sex, because there’s no way all of that takes a week. He’s desperate to get married, but Mary doesn’t see the need to rush things.

“Nothing is going to happen that isn’t properly announced, organized and executed.”

Actually, having sex with Lady Mary is probably a lot like facing a firing squad. It’s terrifying, no one smiles and occasionally you die.

Back at Downton, Edith isn’t buying Mary’s “sketching trip” for a second, but she also doesn’t care because she’s spending every spare minute with Marigold. Mrs. Drewe is increasingly unhappy, at one point thinking that Edith has stolen Marigold in a moment that screams “foreshadowing alert!”

And, of course, Rose is helping the Russian aristocracy by bringing them to Downton and showing them what they could have had if it wasn’t for that pesky revolution.


Spratt happened to be in Liverpool whilst Mary was having her sex holiday, and comes back bursting with news that he’s far too scared of the Dowager to come out and say directly. His “I have a secret, can you guess what it is?” routine is glorious, but is countered by Violet informing him “I have told you before, I do not appreciate a man of mystery.” Does he frequently skulk about the drawing room dropping unsubtle hints? What else does he know? He does make the rookie mistake of bringing it up with Mary when the Dowager summons her for a scolding, which goes about as well as you’d expect. Do not try and out-sass Lady Mary, Spratt. You will lose.

In My Lady’s Chamber

Coming the week after Joanne Froggat’s Golden Globes win and tearjerking accceptance speech, we get to see her giving a superb performance whilst seemingly doing very little. When Anna has to hide Mary’s contraceptive, a scene that could be judgemental, we see just how weighed down by her rape she is and her terror at the possibility of being blamed for what happened. Froggat is magnificent, Anna is magnificent and creepy Bates should go far, far away and stop ruining everything. “Is this a mysterious present for me?” he asks, when Anna’s trying to hide the Paper Bag of Sin. Not unless you want Lady Mary’s used diaphragm, Bates.

The full revelation of Baxter’s criminal past is revealed somewhat underwhelmingly – she was in love with an abusive man and made some pretty terrible decisions, atoning by taking the full blame for the crime he made her commit. Before all this, we are treated to the sight of Cora handing all her jewelry over to the convicted jewel thief, somewhat scuppering last week’s theory that she’s a secret genius.

Nobody Cares About Cora

Except Mr. Bricker, that is.

Poor Cora tries to take an interest in the running of Downton, but Robert doesn’t want to distract her from her flower arranging. She tries to make polite conversation about Edith’s newfound love of children, only to have him scoff “I only hope she isn’t driving the mother mad.” It leads to a wonderful shot of Cora, who really seems to despise Robert in that moment. He’s a loathsome patronizing snob who mocks one of his daughters when he’s not outright ignoring her, and Cora is tired of it.

Enter Bricker, who takes her on a tour of the National Gallery, compliments her intellect and actually shows an interest in her. Seeing her flower beneath his attentions shows how cruelly served the character has been – this is more personality and backstory than Cora has had in five seasons. The costume department deserve a nod for this episode – gone are the pale, washed out colors she’s in at Downton. If Julian Fellowes had any sense, he’d dress Cora in nothing but burnt sienna and robin’s egg blue and have her own how badass she is in every episode.

We learn that her family was looked down upon in Cincanatti because her father was Jewish and their money was new, so she was bundled off to England as little more than a child to snag a rich man. It’s wonderful, if a little sad, to see Cora own how pretty she was back then. In her 20s, Elizabeth McGovern was baby-faced and adorable. Now, she’s a stone cold fox who is so far out of Hugh Bonneville’s onscreen league it’s embarrassing.

Naturally, Robert shows up to spoil everything, but not before Bricker has made his intentions known, only to be sweetly rebuffed. There’s something wonderfully empowering in Cora’s calm refusal – she’s very clear that for her, this is a delightful break from her normal life and that she’s basking in the unfamiliar attention. And even better, he doesn’t push the issue. Compare that to the husband who cheated on her because he thought she was being a bit distant.

It’s the Future, Mr. Carson

We’re reminded of the year and given some back story about the Russian Revolution, but the exposition is thankfully light for once.

December-December Romance

Carson and Mrs. Hughes are at odds again, this time about whether or not Mrs. Patmore’s deserter nephew should go on the Downton war memorial. Mrs. Patmore, who clearly ships them like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert, tells Mrs. Hughes that “everyone knows you can twist him round your little finger.” If the staff have a betting pool on a Carson-Hughes relationship, it’s looking increasingly likely that someone is going to have to pony up before this season is over.

Up the social ladder, Isobel is starting to get a bit ticked off that her spinster companion for life is so keen to see her shacked up in heterosexual bliss. But karma is a funny old thing, and one of Rose’s Russian refugees seems to have a bit of a past with Violet…

Who Killed Mr. Green?

Prime suspect: Lady Mary, avenging the assault of her maid, confidante and the only person who isn’t actively afraid of her.

Mrs Hughes: No one messes with her girls.

Mr. Carson: Beneath his grumpy façade hides a heart of gold.

Bates: At this point, it doesn’t matter if Bates murdered anyone. He was such a terrible first husband that poor old Vera Bates pulled a “Gone Girl” and framed him for her own suicide. He should go to prison for being criminally dull.

Grade: A

READ MORE: ‘The Guest’ Star Dan Stevens on Leaving ‘Downton Abbey’ and Taking On Hollywood

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox