Sunday, February 17, 2013

Downton Abbey 1x04: The Soap Hits the Fan

Thomas Vs. Bates; Anna Investigates
So remember last episode, when Bates caught Thomas nicking a bottle of wine? He still hasn't told anyone except for Anna - while Bates explains that he doesn't want to be responsible for anyone losing their job, Anna suspects Bates is full of crap, because he is.

So it sucks to be Bates when Thomas enlists O'Brien's assistance, woos Daisy with his Sexy Gay Wiles, and accuses Bates of stealing the wine first, backed up by O'Brien's and Daisy's false testimonies. Carson thinks Thomas is full of crap, because he really is, but with Bates unable to defend himself, he can't dismiss it out of hand. Thankfully, Daisy experiences a change of heart and recants, finally realizing that Thomas is queerer than a three-dollar bill not the nice man he seems to be.

Unfortunately, the experience forces Bates to admit that he's been working at Downton under a lie: while not a Drunken Thief now, he totally was one Back In the Day and even did time for it. He offers his resignation, but Carson decides to postpone accepting it until he knows all the facts.

Chung-Chung! It's here that Anna goes all Law & Order: Servant Victims Unit. She knows there must be more to Bates' story and refuses to let him be dismissed for it. When she gets the chance to go to London (to accompany Mrs. Patmore for her eye surgery), she searches out his regiment and his mother to suss out the details. The good news? Bates didn't really steal that regimental silver and pretty much everyone in the army knows he was taking the fall for his crazy kleptomaniac wife. The bad news? Because Bates confessed, he still went to prison for it. The badder news? Bates' wife Vera is still very much alive, and still completely insane, as we will all find out to our detriment in season 2.

The Problem with Hiring a Socialist
Meanwhile, upstairs, Lady Sybil had grown keen on politics and has been attending rallies and speeches with the Irish Socialist Chauffeur, Branson. When Grantham forbids her from attending further political demonstrations, she lies about where she's going (including to Branson) and has Branson drive her to another one anyway. When the rally devolves into a riot, Sybil is injured and has to be rescued by none other than Matthew Crawley, who literally just happened to be there right at that moment because as a polite British gentleman he is legally obligated to be Exactly Where He Would Be Most Useful.

Sybil is returned to the bosom of her family but has to stop just short of holding her breath and stomping her foot to keep Grantham from firing poor, blameless Branson just on principle. Matthew, meanwhile, receives a hero's welcome - particularly from Mary. After a delightful sexual-tension-soaked conversation of innuendos, Matthew proposes. While Cora is delighted - since this will kill the Who Inherits Downton? and Mary Sex-Murdered a Turkish Diplomat! birds with one stone (preferably an antique, square-cut one in a white gold setting!) - Mary is still unsure.

The Sex-Murdered Turk Rides Again
However, Mary's not out of the woods yet. The whispers about her sex-killing shenanigans have become Full-On Rumours coming from none other than the Turkish ambassador himself. Bad-Ass Mutha Violet is appalled when she finds out the truth and tears a strip off Cora when Cora admits her complicity in moving the corpse. However, she later apologizes and bows to Cora's gumption and know-how in protecting her family.

While visiting London, Mary receives a call from Evelyn Napier (the lovely and charming Viscount's heir from the second episode) who wanted to tell her in person that he wasn't responsible for her current social shitstorm, because he is Literally Too Nice For This Show. Instead, he reveals that Edith was the one who informed the Embassy.

Mary takes this news surprisingly well, but she doesn't feel right about marrying Matthew without telling him about the Sex-Murdered Turk first.

A Hot Cross Bun in an Edwardian-Era Oven
Cora then ruins everyone's subplots by miraculously becoming Pregnant Again. This confuses but delights Grantham and throws the Inheritance Issue back up in the air.

It also complicates Mary's situation with Matthew, whose prospects are now entirely dependent on the gender of Cora's Late In Life Baby. Grantham's bitchy sister Lady Rosamund advises Mary to delay giving Matthew an answer to his proposal until she can be sure he'll remain the heir to Downton, because Lady Rosamund knows Mary don't want no scrub.

Conversely, Bad-Ass Mutha Violet thinks Mary should accept Matthew's proposal immediately so as not to seem a Gold-Digging Ho - adding that Mary can always change her mind later if Cora's baby turns out to be a boy. Mary, unwilling to be dishonest to Matthew or to herself (since she really doesn't know if she'd be happy married to a scrub), can't give Matthew an answer, which only confirms his belief that she only wants his title.

However, the pitter-patter of entitled aristocratic feet in Downton is not to be - O'Brien overhears Cora and Bad-Ass Mutha Violet talking about hiring a new lady's maid and incorrectly assumes that Cora is planning to fire her. Stewing with rage for the entire episode, she finally snaps when Cora asks O'Brien how long it takes for a lady's maid to settle into a new establishment. Unable to ignore what she interprets as an obvious insult, O'Brien leaves a piece of soap next to Cora's bath. She regrets her rash decision, but not in time to stop Cora from slipping on the soap and miscarrying the son Grantham's always wanted. Whoops.

The Garden Party to End All Garden Parties (and Subplots)
And, of course, ALL! THE PLOTS! are more or less dealt with (if not resolved) during a fabulous garden party:

  • Gwen the Redheaded Housemaid finds out she got the secretary position she applied for - cue an Adorable Three-Way Hug between Gwen, Branson and Sybil!
  • Isobel warns Branson that Under No Circumstances Should He Fall In Love With Sybil Because It Won't Work Out For Anyone Involved - and you can imagine how well that works.
  • Mary revenges herself on Edith by chasing off Sir Anthony Strallan, who had been planning to propose to her.
  • Mary then gets a taste of Karma pie when she is dumped by a tearful Matthew for failing to choose him when it really mattered.
  • Thomas quits Downton Abbey, and nobody cares since they were planning on firing him anyway.
  • Daisy apologizes to William for acting like such a twit under Thomas' Gay Love Spell.
  • O'Brien, already guilt-ridden to begin with, discovers Cora was looking for a new lady's maid for Bad-Ass Mutha Violet and wasn't planning on firing O'Brien at all. 
  • Bates and Anna are back to square one since Bates' Crazy Wife is still alive, if MIA
  • Oh, some Archduke guy got shot and now there's a war.

The weird thing is, I heard that this first season of Downton Abbey was intended as a stand alone miniseries that only became a television series after it proved to be so popular, but these last few minutes of the show leave so many threads dangling in the wind I find it hard to believe a second season wasn't already in the works.

Minor Subplot Roundup:

  • Grantham sends Mrs. Patmore to London to have sight-restoring surgery. She returns looking like a rock star in pimped-out shades.
  • Grantham borrows Matthew's sassy cook Mrs. Bird while Mrs. Patmore is away, and Daisy attempts to taint Mrs. Bird's food to keep the Crawleys from preferring her cooking over Mrs. Patmore's. 
  • Thomas is caught stealing again when Moseley walks in on him lifting Carson's wallet. He then  quits to join the Army Medical Corps with Dr. Clarkson before Grantham can fire him - but not before Thomas burns every bridge he's ever had with his coworkers by acting like an asshole about Cora's miscarriage and making fun of William's dead mum for no other reason than he's a shit. But it could be worse - in the original storyline, Thomas was set to be killed off in the finale. Instead he lives to be a shit for two more seasons and counting! Hooray! 

Swoony Moments:

  • "If you really like an argument, we should see more of each other." Matthew to Mary, in what is probably the sexiest British come-on ever
  • Bates: "Go to sleep, dream of a better man." Anna: "I can't, because there isn't one."

Oh, Snap! Moments
  • "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" Bad-Ass Mutha Violet to Isobel, taking her to school for the last time of the season.
  • William raging on Thomas after Thomas makes fun of William's dead mum. 
  • "He has a right to know how his countryman died - in the arms of a slut!" Edith to Mary, about blabbing about Mary's sex-killing powers to the Turkish Ambassador. 

Other Remarks:
As you might have guessed, I watched this first season of Downton Abbey from the PBS episodes on my DVR - hence why there are four enormous episodes instead of the seven regular-length episodes. And it really showed - I mean, I get why PBS initially broadcast them that way, because they had to fit them into their schedule, but the result is that the episodes occasionally feel rushed and overstuffed.

Still, I really enjoyed this season. It explored so many different characters, and it didn't bother to make them all likeable. Thomas, of course, is my favourite male character but Mary is a particularly fascinating female character. A lot of people dislike her for her behaviour in this first season, but I felt nothing but empathy. She's a fierce spirit with a strong independent streak - raised in privilege, while at the same time kept slightly apart from it by virtue of being a woman.

Her frustration at not being able to inherit Downton or her mother's money, her envy of Lady Rosamund's wealthy widowed status, and her ambivalence towards Matthew - it all explains her so well. She hates the idea of having her life dictated by others. She wants to marry Matthew - but at the same time, she resents that society feels she has to do it. How can she live her life the way she wants to without supporting or buying into the societal rules that have restricted her for so long?

I can't wait to start Season 2!

Rating: Ten Bars of Soap Out of Ten!


  1. I thought there were more than four episodes - thanks for explaining that:)
    I'm currently reading Edith Wharton's House of Mirth and it struck me while reading your post that there are some shades of Lily Bart in Mary. Lily's selfish, vain and materialistic but also intelligent, self aware and stifled by her society in a way that keeps her sympathetic and nuanced. Mary's the same way. Still not sure I like her very much though.
    I remember being really smitten with Sybil and Branson in Season 1 but feel like they killed anything of interest in that relationship in season 2. Not entirely sure how they managed to turn a Socialist, Irish Chauffeur who's in love with a daughter of the house into a completely boring character and storyline. I think maybe there was just too much going on in season 2.

    1. Agreed. He was REALLY creepy and aggressive in the season season and I didn't like that. However, they redeemed him amazingly well in the third season.

  2. Hahahahha this recap cracks me up, you really do have a great sense of humor, and also, I like that you rated it out of bars of soap. I'm glad to see you like Mary as well, I always feel like an odd duck for liking her, but honestly I can't help but empathize with her, like her situation kind of sucks. Granted, yes it could be worse, but still.

    1. Thank you so much!

      Yes, I love Mary. To me, I see her cruelty and manipulativeness as just a way she maintains power. I'm actually looking forward to season 4 because, as the regent of downton (mother of the heir), she might actually have some power now.