This week’s WTF line of dialogue comes, of course, from Violet, who asks Robert “Why do you always talk to me as if I were a salmon who laid eggs in the sand before swimming out to sea?”
The first half of the episode revolves around a shooting weekend hosted by the Sinderbys, which appears to only be accessible via the Hogwarts Express. It’s the first time the families have come together since the wedding, and in the name of familiarity Rose the Human Labrador asks if they can’t all use Christian names, only for Lord Sinderby to point out that his name is nothing of the sort.
Rose brushes off his correction with the closest thing to irritation she seems capable of showing; it’s another one of those moments where you can see that “Downton” still doesn’t know entirely what show it wants to be. Is it on the side of the well-meaning aristocracy, committing a thousand tiny micro-aggressions to people who aren’t straight, white, rich and male, but who are jolly decent sorts nonetheless? Or are these charming, elegant and occasionally sociopathic beautiful people? Is that scene designed to show how grumpy and rigid in his beliefs Lord Sinderby is – can’t he forget about being Jewish for one moment and pretend he’s one of the gang? – or how intolerant the supposed heroes of the show are?
Of course, like all the potentially interesting plot lines on this show, it gets dropped immediately, until the end of the episode where Rose helpfully conducts Atticus whilst he joins in with the Christmas carols.
The shooting weekend is the setting for some genuinely wonderful interaction — now that they’re family, Mary is legally allowed to boss Lord Sinderby around, and Lady Sinderby and Branson play off each other so well that you want her to run off to America with him. It sets the scene for both Mary to encounter a new prospective suitor who looks like a bargain basement Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as showing us a human side behind Lord Sinderby’s frosty façade, in the form of an illegitimate son. [Editor’s note: The bargain basement Benedict Cumberbatch is Matthew Goode, a fine actor indeed.]
Robert tells Edith he knows about Marigold, marking what is probably the longest conversation he’s ever had with her. Laura Carmichael normally gets to play disappointed, angry or sullen, but the mix of pure terror and hope on her face – coupled with delight at the fact that one of her parents has actually noticed her – shows that the unloved middle child has some serious acting chops. She’s also absurdly beautiful with her hair down in long, Pre-Raphelite red curls.
We meet the Sinderbys’ butler, the snobbish anti-Semitic Stowe, played by the ever-glorious Alun Armstrong and his low, raspy voice. If he, Lord Sinderby and Carson were to share a scene, their dialogue would consist solely of a rumbling yet not altogether unpleasant vibration, like an oddly sexy earthquake.
He essentially implies Branson is a member of the proto-IRA and refuses to give him any bread or wine, and offers passive aggressive advice to his employers about The Way Things Are Done. He just wants them to blend in and not feel bad about how completely foreign and outsider-y they are! That’s all! If they take his advice, no one will even know they’re Jewish! He’s so bad that even Edith thinks he’s rude. The same Edith who has spent her entire life with Mary and Violet.
Mary, because she’s bored and a bitch and likes poking bears with sticks, decides to get revenge on Branson’s behalf and calls upon the only other person with her level of barely-disgiused malice. When Thomas schemes, his face lights up and it’s the most adorable thing in the world. But his first plot backfires, ending in Lord Sinderby calling him a stupid fool – and remember, Lord S is new to the show, he doesn’t know that is literally the worst thing to do to everyone’s favorite bad boy. His comeuppance – a faked telegram to the mother of his lovechild, inviting them up from London – is actually pretty deserved.
Whilst Thomas is devious, cruel and a master manipulator, he’s not stupid. He spends his life waiting on people with all those advantages and none of his sharp wit, who think they’re better than him because of an accident of birth, whilst having to keep his sexuality a secret to avoid getting thrown into prison. Honestly, he and Daisy should join forces and overthrow their capitalist oppressors, or at least find employers who value their intelligence.
In My Lady’s Chamber
There are shenanigans involving Denker and some fraudulent chicken broth. At this point, the only way the Denker storyline can be redeemed is if it turns out she and Spratt are having hot and heavy hate-sex in the servants’ quarters.
Nobody Cares About Cora
Cora is back to looking sad and dressing in white, like the ghost of her brief chance at happiness. Robert says something rather chilling about having said goodbye to the painting that brought Simon Bricker into their lives in the first place, and when he smiles at Cora IT DOES NOT REACH HIS EYES. Robert, you cold-hearted bastard.
Robert has something on his mind and when Cora inquires, he tells her to stop fussing — why should he look after himself when he has her to do it for him. It turns out he has an ulcer, probably caused by all his terribleness curdling away inside him. Although they seem to be making progress, Robert imbibes a little too much festive cheer and makes a prat of himself after Cora specifically asked him not to. Is it too late to get Mr. Bricker back?
It’s the Future, Mr. Carson
Molesley, continuing his traditional slightly creepy tradition of over-helping Baxter, asks if she’ll be busy carrying tweeds and tea gowns for the ladies on the shooting trip, much to Mrs. Hughes’ entertainment, pointing out “We’re not in the 1890s now, Mr. Molseley.”
“More’s the pity,” grumbles Carson, looking very much as if he’d like nothing more than to see Mrs. Hughes in – or out – of a teagown.
And it looks like he may get his wish! After plying Mrs. Hughes with wine – a Margaux, approximately $100 if anyone fancies wooing their sweetie or sending some to the Indiewire offices – Mr. Carson whips out his portfolio. Given that they’re supposed to be running a bed and breakfast, a three bedroom property seems a little on the small side – unless he’s proposing they bunk in together… Which, of course, he is. Thank god. We’re denied a kiss, but Carson does cry and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. His tears are like tiny crystal drops of happiness, and if you listen carefully you can hear angels applauding with joy.
In the most underwhelming reunion ever, Princess Kuragin arrives, only to be met by a husband who clearly wishes she hadn’t. Jane Lapotaire is resplendent in a dress borrowed from Violet and an accent borrowed from Kate Mulgrew in “Orange is the New Black,” but even that isn’t enough for the Russian Silver Fox. Although we’re clearly meant to find her bitchy and terrible, you can’t blame the princess for being less than enthused with the situation.
It turns out that Violet’s romantic Russian escapades went considerably further than she admitted, and had it not been for the princess’ timely and violent intervention, she would have been a social outcast, separated from her children. It turns out that, rather than a guilty conscience, Violet has tracked down her former rival as a way of returning the favor – “She saved me, and I saved her.”
Who Killed Mr. Greene?
The opening scene made it look a lot like Mary was the one being arrested, but no – she’s just visiting Anna. Violet asks if she took “a cake with a file in it,” raising the question of just how she knows so much about prison.
There are some genuinely touching moments in what is hopefully the conclusion to a plotline that got rapidly tedious. Anna confesses that her stepfather molested her and she fought back, cutting him with a knife, and that she’s terrified this will prejudice the police and a jury against her. If this was the plotline the show was exploring, it might actually be interesting. Instead there’s something about Bates going on the lam and Molesley saving the day and then Bates returning on Christmas Day, moving silently towards Anna through the shadows. It’s supposed to be romantic, but it’s the scariest thing in the world.
And that’s where we leave them. Creepy Bates, drunken Robert and a proposal. No wonder Tom is moving to another continent.