Monday, February 11, 2013

Downton Abbey 1x03: Everyone Hates Edith

Isobel vs. Violet, Round One:
This episode opens with Isobel being her usual insufferable know-it-all self as she diagnoses her butler Moseley with a skin condition and proceeds to raid Dr. Clarkson's medicine cabinet without his permission, because by this point the whole village knows that Dr. Clarkson is her bitch. She is somewhat put out when she runs into Bad-Ass Mutha Violet some weeks later, and Violet correctly determines the still-itchy butler is instead suffering from a simple rue allergy, a condition easily solved with gardening gloves instead of illegally-obtained narcotics. Point goes to Bad-Ass Mutha Violet.

Meanwhile, Bad-Ass Mutha Violet approaches Matthew to see if he can use his legal expertise to find a loophole in the entailment that ties Cora's money to the Grantham title. Matthew is almost as good at law as he is at Looking Handsomely Guilty, but unfortunately the arrangement is airtight. At least he has Looking Handsomely Guilty to fall back on when he admits to Mary that he's unable to secure her the inheritance she deserves.

This serves two purposes: firstly, Matthew truly sympathizes with Mary's plight and in so doing gains an insight into her character and how frustrated she is by the constraints society has placed on her gender; and secondly, he finally grasps the significance of his inheritance and goes to Lord Grantham to learn more about his new duties.

Downstairs, Thomas discovers naive footman William has a crush on Daisy and sweet-talks Daisy out from under William's nose because Thomas is a shit. A conniving, petty, devastatingly handsome shit. Poor Daisy refuses to see Thomas' true nature. Mrs. Patmore tries to explain the homosexual birds and bees to her, from "you're not the girl for him," to "he's not a ladies' man," to "he's a troubled soul," but not as far as "he likes penis, you daft git."

Daisy's having a hard enough time as it is - turns out she partially witnessed Cora, Mary, and Anna shifting Pamouk's dead, rapey ass out of Mary's bedroom. She has no real understanding of what she saw and no idea how to tell anyone, but if anyone can wrest a secret from a perp, it's O'Brien.

Mind Over Marriage
Speaking of Dead, Rapey Turks - Cora learns that rumours are starting to circulate in town about certain death-by-sex shenanigans and she exerts more pressure on Mary to find a husband before these whispers start taking on more substance. Mary resists, because she is stubborn and horrible but also Surprisingly Sympathetic - she's dreadfully aware of how boring a society marriage would be even as she knows her chances outside of high society are just about nil.

So they invite Sir Anthony Stralland over to dinner - a neighbouring bachelor who is wealthy but, as Robert admits, "practically my age and dull as paste." Mary ignores him all through dinner in favour of flirting with Matthew, but Edith strikes up a lively conversation with him. Edith makes the mistake of gloating about her success to Mary, whereupon Mary remembers that she is Horrible and promptly abandons Matthew to snare Stralland away from Edith just to prove that she can. Mary comes to regret her stunt when Matthew leaves in a huff and treats her with cool, detached politeness for the rest of the episode.

Isobel vs. Violet, Round Two:
Isobel and Bad-Ass Mutha Violet butt heads again over Downton Village's annual Flower Show. Isobel is quite impressed with Moseley's father's roses, and is shocked to learn that he's never won the Grantham Cup for Best In Show - the honour has always gone to Bad-Ass Mutha Violet's roses. Every. Single. Year. She confronts Bad-Ass Mutha Violet with this, suggesting that Violet has only won because everyone is terrified of her of her status in town. Violet is offended and insists she's always won because her roses have always been better, but as she takes a long, hard, look at the competition and discovers she's about to win for the Umpteenth Year in a Row, she announces Moseley Senior's name instead and hands him the trophy.

Point still goes to Violet, because although Isobel was right, Bad-Ass Mutha Violet was damn classy about being wrong.

She Who Laughs Last
So, in case you haven't noticed, Edith Sucks at Life and Cannot Have Nice Things. No fewer than five characters express pity over Her Situation in this episode - Matthew ("She's barking up the wrong tree"), Isobel ("I hope there's a right tree for her someday"), Bates and Anna, and finally Cora (who admits Edith has "fewer advantages than Mary").

Of course, Edith's Situation is that she's Slightly Less Pretty than Mary, which in TVLand apparently means she's fit to ring the bells of Notre Dame and not much else. O'Brien capitalizes on this when she brings Daisy to Edith in hopes of sussing out what Daisy witnessed about Mary's sex-killing shenanigans. Edith finds out the truth, all right, and after an entire episode of Mary's ill-treatment and everyone else's offensively patronizing pity, she wreaks her vengeance by writing a tell-all letter to the Turkish Embassy.

Minor Subplot Roundup:
  • Anna is Totes in love with Bates - and tells him! 
  • Gwen and Lady Sybil hie off to have Secret Job Interviews only for their carriage to break down on the way back.
  • Branson, the new Irish chauffeur, is a Socialist interested in women's rights. He's even got pamphlets! 
  • Mrs. Hughes reconnects with an old flame but ultimately decides to stay at Downton and clean up after Thomas' messes. 
  • Carson discovers the cook, Mrs. Patmore, is going blind and has been for some time when she confuses salt for sugar when preparing a dessert. 
  • Thomas is caught stealing wine by Mr. Bates, and realizes he'll have to go on the offensive to keep Mr. Bates from nailing him (at least in that way).
Oh, Snap! Moments

  • Violet humming a jaunty ditty after skewering Isobel's hasty diagnosis of Moseley
  • Violet and Isobel trading barbs. Isobel: "I take that as a compliment." Violet: "I must have said it wrong.
Swoony Moments:
  • Bates taking food up to Anna while she's sick in bed.
  • "You're a lady to me, and I never knew a finer one." Bates to Anna.

Final Remarks:
Episode 3 was particularly busy - along with all the major plotlines, we had a lot of little itty bitty side stories going on at the same time, as mentioned above. I enjoyed the progress of Anna and Bates' romance, and well as Matthew's growing involvement in the estate. All in all, however, I felt the most sympathy for Edith. I realize her petty jealousy and insecurity are as much to blame for her dismal romantic prospects as her plainer looks, but I'd feel that way too if I had to spend all my days under the same roof as Lady Mary.

Rating: Four Scathingly Revelatory Letters out of Five


  1. I've really been enjoying your recaps of the DA episodes so Thanks! The "Edith writes a scathing letter" plot is an example of why this show is special. I totally get why she does it and it's hard not to feel like Mary kind of deserves it but, of course, its still really awful. Sticky moral situation! Their relationship makes me want to see a prequel to see exactly why Mary is so hateful to Edith. Maybe just because, as you say, she's Horrible.
    The romantic highlight of this season was definitely Anna and Bates for me. The slow and understated development of their relationship is incredibly sigh-worthy.

    1. I really did like it. It seemed a little fast on the first watch, but rewatching it helps you catch all the little details!