I don’t want to say the Christmas episode of “Downton Abbey” was much ado about nothing, as there really wasn’t much ado at all. This was a relatively staid ending to a fairly low-key season, and even the significant twists either happened off-screen or, thanks to our stiff-upper-lip Brits, barely registered. Admittedly, that doesn’t mean nothing happened. There were a few notable guest appearances (Paul Giamatti for the win!) and there are clearly big plot lines brewing for next season. Well, maybe.
The biggest storyline was Edith’s, though initially we had every reason to believe this one was going to be wrapped up and shoved under the carpet as yet another dirty little Crawley secret. Though some of Edith’s scenes of self-discovery were ploddingly on the nose (“We should make more scenes! We should let it all out! Hint, hint!”), at least we were given some idea of how she went from sadly acquiescing to Rosamund and Violet’s master plan to recruiting Timothy Drewe to take care of the baby closer to home. I have to assume this will blow up in Edith’s face at some point, as Edith never, ever gets what she wants.
I’m also a little surprised we haven’t gotten a clearer resolution as to what happened to Michael. It seems he was beaten to a pulp by some “brown shirts” (read: Nazis), but I’d still think someone might have stumbled across a body if there was one. I won’t mind if this is left a mystery, though, as the uncertainty could yield interesting emotional terrain for Laura Carmichael to explore, a netherworld that allows neither true grieving or resolution.
We did get an oddly tidy resolution to Bates’ offing of Green, though. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Mary’s attack of conscience after Hughes presented her with the damning tickets from Bates’ coat pocket. Mary has never exactly been someone to be bothered by morals and ethics, and given that we’ve seen her drag a dead body down the hallway, I was pretty sure she could suck up her suspicions for Bates and Anna’s benefit. Yes, she ultimately made that decision. It was the angst leading up to it that rang false. While Bates and Anna seem to be happy again, I still feel uneasy that this storyline seems to have been resolved with so few complications.
That brings us to the silly caper to retrieve the Prince of Wales letter to Mrs. Dudley Ward’s letter from the vile Sampson, which even Violet curtly dismissed: “I feel as if I’ve spent the whole evening trapped in the cast of a whodunnit.” No kidding. While it’s always fun when “Downton” peppers real people into the plot line, this story felt pasted on and was truly unworthy of the show. How many times can we drag Sampson back as a plot device?
I would have happily cut the time wasted on the letter caper to more fully flesh out the relationship between Harold (Paul Giamatti) and Madeleine Allsopp. As it stood, the connection between the two seemed too quick and not entirely believable, but I suspect a few more scenes would have made a world of difference. Again, we have two characters we’ve never met before but in whom we’re supposed to become invested in very little screen time.
There’s no reason to believe the budding friendship between Harold and Madeleine is a storyline we’ll revisit, but I’d like to see more of Cora’s scandalized brother and her mom if we can. As Martha (Shirley MacLaine) says to Violet, “My world is coming nearer, and your world is slipping further and further away.” Watching Violet and Martha spar is always fun, especially as Martha is far savvier than Violet ever expects, but one I guess we’ll only get occasionally.
Another tempest in a teapot in this episode was Branson taking Sarah upstairs. Yes, Thomas tattled, but the upshot? Robert frowned and mentioned it to Branson. The end. I feel as if Branson is shutting the door on a relationship with Sarah, but where that leaves him is unclear. He isn’t likely to find a new wife among the upper crust, after all, and his loyalty to the Crawleys keeps getting in the way of his big ideas (like running off to America). Branson might be one of the most interesting characters at Downton simply because his struggle is one without an easy or obvious resolution.
I’m wondering at what point Thomas will just annoy Robert so much he finds a reason to kick him to the curb, but this season he just didn’t have enough to do without O’Brien around to help stir up trouble. Any battle he picks with Branson is obviously futile (no matter what he does, Branson is now part of the family), and Baxter is no longer going to yield any tidbits. I hope this means we see Thomas pushed into some kind of corner in season five, as I’d hate to imagine another season of him standing around and scowling with nothing to do.
That being said, I’m enjoying the friendship between Baxter and Molesley. Molesley is obviously thrilled someone thinks he’s strong of character, and Baxter just might have a romantic interest in the sad sack. Of course, we still need to find out what Baxter’s deep, dark secret is, but I’m hopefully it won’t send Molesley running in the other direction.
Another character whom I doubt we’ll meet again was Ethan, though I wasn’t sorry to see Daisy find the upside in having a guy, even a dorky American, pine for her. I wasn’t so sure I bought the idea that she’d pass on a free ride to America, though, especially how impressed she seemed to be by Alfred’s new adventures. We never really got into why she didn’t want to take the gig cooking for Harold, other than a lack of interest in Ethan and her “just a simple girl” status. Still, her decision to pass on New York gives the show a reason to get Ivy out of the kitchen and hopefully bring in some fresh blood that might yield more than a lackluster love triangle.
Let’s not overlook that other love triangle (or, if you count Evelyn, a quadrilateral) involving Mary, Charles and Tony. I realize Mary couldn’t Google Charles to find out his net work, but I find it hard to believe no one knew that he was in line to inherit one of the largest estates in Ulster. Though it’s not a direct link, I don’t get the impression these types of connections go unnoticed by the Crawleys, especially not Violet.
In any case, it’s looking like picking a second husband just got a lot easier for Mary. She pretty much says as much to Tony, and you can just about see the little dollar (or pound) signs twinkling in her eyes. I’m not really thrilled with this development, as Mary no longer has to make a decision in which she must sacrifice for love. No, as with Michael, she gets the golden goose and the Prince Charming in one enticing package no matter who she picks. Maybe next season Edith should start rubbing Mary’s head for good luck.
A few other things happened in this Christmas episode — Carson ultimately breaks down and takes the staff to the beach instead of a science museum during their trip to London, for one — but the upshot of it all was no deaths, no big scandals (I, for one, don’t consider that foolishness with the Prince of Wales worthy of much attention), or wrenching twists. Maybe after last season, we deserved a break. Let’s just hope this isn’t the new normal.
What did you think of the Christmas episode? What do you think of Edith’s plan? Do you think Mary will pick Charles Blake, Lord Gillingham, or none of the above?