Lady Mary and I apologize for the late post, but we were busy and just now finished the episode.
After last week’s episode, fraught with danger and with a tragic outcome, you might have expected tonight to be an exercise in English reserve as the Crawleys dealt with Lady Sybil’s death with aristocratic understatement. But in fact, aside from the Dowager Countess’s remark that “Grief makes one so terribly tired”, the prevailing mood was one of anger.
Lady Cora was angry with her husband for following the advice of a surgeon who was knighted and fashionable. The Earl of Grantham spent most of the episode in a funk, angry with Matthew for trying to merge the grazing on the estate, angry with Branson for wanting to raise his only grandchild as a left footer – the first Catholic Crawley since the Reformation. He was also angry with Cousin Isobel for taking in a fallen woman who served salmon mousse to his mother, wife and daughters. That was unfair; Ethel’s light luncheon was a triumph. Even the Dowager Countess wanted to stay for pudding.
The Earl’s values were being made to look anachronistic and were mirrored downstairs by Carson’s ire – at Mrs Patmore’s collaboration with the wretched Ethel, and at the fruity foxtrotting between the junior servants. Poor Carson; while once he ruled Downton with a bass-voiced authority, he has become an increasing irrelevance.
This series of Downton Abbey has been particularly keen to predict the future. Lady Edith has longed for universal suffrage, and the idea that the future of Downton may be in jeopardy has been alluded to several times. “Do you think houses like Downton will go on for another 40 years?” Mason the farmer asked Daisy as he offered her the chance to take on his land. So knowing was his comment that you expected him to continue: “Think about it, Daisy… In 80-odd years, organic food will be all the rage and your ancestors will be able to market your chutney and interesting cheeses to the urban middle classes.”
The other trend this series has been for awkwardly constructed dinner conversations. This time, naturally, it was Catholicism. “I can’t see that bells and incense and the rest of that Pagan folderol is pleasing to God,” puffed Reverend Travis. Lady Edith asked about the rest of Europe, Lady Mary mentioned South America. “And we haven’t even started on the non-Christians,” added Matthew helpfully, as if prepping for the world religion module in his Divinity GCSE. Not for the first time in this episode, it was Lady Cora who had the last word. “Not every family chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s,” she scowled. Downstairs, in a none-too-convincing parallel, religious orthodoxy was questioned. Unsurprisingly, and perhaps mercifully, Carson cut short the debate.
It was up to the imprisoned Bates to drive the plot forward. Unfortunately, this has been the least satisfying element of the whole series. It is as if we have viewed all the prison sequences through a steamed-up lens, and never been able to get a sense of Bates’s mental anguish, the desperation of his fellow prisoners or the vileness of the wardens. We only ever seemed to see him in the exercise yard having whispered conversations. When Mr Murray eventually managed to get a statement from Mrs Bartlett which made the verdict unsafe, it all seemed too easy. There was no rigour in the script to show how this might have happened. Still, the good news is that Bates is coming home to his faithful Anna, and to a household awash with male servants. We’ll never have to witness another of those tedious prison sequences ever again.