'Downton' Throws a House Party
This one's for the lovers
By Melanie Haupt,
5:30PM, Mon. Jan. 13, 2014
It’s a house party, y’all, which means all the storylines, old and new, converge on Downton along with a cadre of opera singers, card sharps, sexy young lords, and friendly rapists.
Let's begin, shall we?
Mary: Antony Foyle, otherwise known as the young Lord Gillingham, has been invited. Despite the fact that he is engaged to “the greatest heiress of the season,” there is a palpable chemistry between them. He’s dark and dashing and is a giver of good advice to Mary regarding the tax bill, suggesting that she meet with the tax people and make the best deal she can in order to keep the estate intact. But then she gets sad when she sees Matthew’s gramophone, which Rose has unearthed from the attic. Back up into her mourning cave she goes, if only for one night.
Edith: Promises that Michael Gregson will get to know Lord Grantham better during the house party, but can only watch in dismay as LG gives Gregson the cold shoulder. It’s only when Gregson outsmarts Mr. Samson, a card sharp who has been gleefully separating the men of the party from their money, that LG warms to him. We get a whiff that Gregson is maybe not the most honorable man on the planet, but, you know, he’s Edith’s boyfriend so I’m sure everything will work out just fine.
Poor Molesley: Jimmy hurts his wrist showing off for Ivy and is unable to serve at dinner, so Carson calls Poor Molesley, who has been working as a delivery boy for the grocer, to fill in as footman. “I’ve got me career backwards,” bemoans an aggrieved PM, while also acknowledging that he can’t be a choosy beggar.
Branson: Tom is also experiencing an intense identity crisis, from his discomfort with the white tie formal attire to committing a faux pas by accidentally addressing a duchess as “Your Grace” instead of “Duchess,” only to turn around and be scolded by Thomas for addressing him by his first name rather than as Barrow. He’s a fish out of water and feels like a fool. He’s low-hanging fruit indeed for Edna.
The Edna Problem: Not only is she quite big for her britches, telling Mrs. Hughes she might not have time to tend to the maid-less Lady Raven, but she’s back to trying to get her claws into Branson. She does this primarily through preying on his impostor-syndrome anxieties and also through giant tumblers of whiskey that may or may not be roofied. It’s unclear exactly what’s going on when she enters an upstairs bedroom, whispering “Are you still awake?” but it’s certainly nothing good, considering it’s Edna we’re talking about.
Anna: Our affable downstairs heroine strikes up a passing friendship with Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green, which doesn’t sit well with Bates, who smells a rat, but maybe he’s just jealous because Mr. Green is quite flirtatious with Anna. But no, he’s pretty much a rat. While just about every still-living character from the show listens to Dame Nellie sing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” – an ode to love – Anna repairs downstairs for some headache powder and encounters Mr. Green, who violently beats and rapes her. Afterwards, she hides in Mrs. Hughes’ room, explaining to the housekeeper that Bates mustn’t know because he’ll certainly murder the culprit. When it’s time to go home, she tells Bates she wants to walk alone. Oh, this doesn’t bode well for their fairytale relationship.
Quite frankly, Julian Fellowes’ use of this tired soap-opera trope is straight-up lazy. He’s proven he can elevate the genre, so why fall back on the same-old devices? Boo.
Odds and sods: We learn that the guest rooms in Downton have names like “the Chinese” and “Princess Amelia,” and that despite his own rather low-class status, Carson is as classist as his boss, tutting over the fact that Lady Raven has no maid and lives in an old house “north of the park.” He also gets in hot water with Cora and LG for arranging for Dame Nellie Melba (played by real-life world-famous opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa), the world-famous opera singer, to have dinner in her room as opposed to rightfully acknowledging her status as an honored guest and arranging for her to dine with the rest of the party.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore, who apparently has never cooked for a large party during her long tenure at Downton Abbey, is freaking out and has an anxiety attack, allowing Alfred to step in and prepare the sauces for the meal. Alfred later confesses that cooking is what he wants to do, an interesting inversion of the gendered labor roles in this particular universe. Some of the fetishistic detail of upper-class life reappears, in the form of staff measuring the distance between the chairs and the dining-room table. More of this, please, and less rapey bullshit.
Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 8. To Branson: “If I were to search for logic, I should not search for it among the English upper class.” To Mary: “Don’t use me as an excuse. If you don’t want to dance, tell him.” “You can always rely on Puccini,” to Isobel, who replies that she prefers Bartok. “You would.”
And that's a wrap, folks. I'm sure next week will be a laugh riot.