It has taken more than two seasons for “Downton Abbey” to do this to me. Yes, we’ve had break-ups and weddings and betrayals and deaths (yes, deaths) before now. We’ve had fights and veiled insults a-plenty. But I can honestly say this was the first episode of the show to truly punch me in the gut. If you let it, this one could break your heart.
And yes, stop reading right now if you haven’t watched the episode. This is one you need to watch, I think.
Edith gets some very, very bad news
Edith has never been an easy character to like. Resentful of her single status (a status virtually ensured by Mary, who snapped up both Patrick and Matthew before misleading Sir Anthony about Edith’s interest in him), she didn’t seem to do much more than seethe with jealousy throughout the first season. But, like Mary, she’s done some growing up. She has, bit by bit, come into her own, no longer the Jan to Mary’s Marcia, if you can forgive a “Brady Bunch” reference.
So to see her wandering around the house wearing a big, “I can’t believe this is happening” grin the day before her wedding was actually charming. “Something in this house is finally about me,” she says. It’s a childlike sentiment, but there’s no denying the truth of it. Finally, the forgotten sister might finally get her moment in the sun.
Not that her dad is particularly happy about this. “She’ll be a nurse, Cora, and by the time she’s 50 she’ll be wheeling around a one-armed, old man,” he snarls to his wife. I almost want to shake Lord Grantham, as his concern about his daughter’s future happiness seems wildly displaced. As Edith told him before, all of the men her age are dead. While Sir Anthony is an older widower with a bad arm, she’s happy and in love. Let it go!
On the day of her wedding, Edith wears a dress that is, if anything, prettier than Mary’s. She looks overwhelmed with happiness. Pretty. Maybe even, for the first time since we’ve met her, relaxed. This is her big day, and she’s getting the happy ending she’s wanted for so long.
It occurred to me watching the beginning of the wedding that maybe the reason we saw so little of Mary’s was so that we could see more of Edith’s. Two weddings back-to-back might have been a bit much. This is what I’m thinking as Edith walks down the aisle, beaming.
And I’m sure you know this already, but if you haven’t seen the episode, really, don’t read this. Maximum spoiler alert. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As I’m pondering how nice it will be to see a wedding on this show, which seems to find them boring when they’re really the only action we get on “Downton,” it happens. Sir Anthony blurts out, “I can’t do this! You know it’s wrong!”
I think this was the point when I actually said to my computer, “WHAT?”
Edith, unsurprisingly, is also shocked by this craptastic turn of events. “I don’t understand what you’re saying!” she says, her voice getting high and shaky. I kind of want her to smash her bouquet against Sir Anthony’s head, but I suppose people were better behaved back then. Of course, I also thought they were better behaved than to cut out of a wedding as the vows are being recited, but guess not.
Sir Anthony then sputters something about Edith deserving better and being too old and I am hardly listening because this is so, so, SO messed up. Poor Edith just keeps babbling, “We’re going to be so happy! So terribly, terribly happy!” as if saying this will make the craziness of the situation actually go away. It almost seems as if Sir Anthony might waver, but then the Dowager Countess steps in.
“Let him go,” she whispers to Edith. “You know he’s right. He’s doing the only sensible thing he’s done in months.” Sensible? This is sensible? Crushing Edith’s spirit when I’m pretty sure she’d still marry him gladly and willingly?
“Goodbye, my dearest darling, and let God bless you. Now and always,” Sir Anthony says as he rushes out of the church.
And at that point, we can all take a moment to say, did that just happen? Seriously? What is it with these very rich, noble people? Today’s one percent certainly doesn’t hesitate to do the selfish thing, but between Sir Anthony and Matthew? These guys just can’t help themselves.
It’s terrible to watch the aftermath of this train wreck, Edith taking to her bed, weeping in her mother’s arms, then reluctantly rising for breakfast. “No, I’m a useful spinster, that is my role. And spinsters get up for breakfast,” she says with grim, awful determination.
A lot of other things happened in this episode, but it was hard to focus on some of them, or have much compassion for anyone else (with a very notable exception).
Matthew becomes less annoying at the very last minute
So, everyone is wrestling with the sad reality that Downton Abbey will be sold and the downstairs staff largely rendered unemployed, and meanwhile noble, stupid Matthew is THISCLOSE to giving away gobs of money that could ensure his wife has sex with him ever again. Mary very delicately tries to express her disappointment with Matthew, but I have to say, I think she’s being far too kind. Matthew seems to think everyone else (notably, Reggie) believes he’s saint material, and I have to say the thought never, ever occurred to me.
Matthew gets a letter written to him by Lavinia’s dad before he died, but he couldn’t POSSIBLY read it! He just KNOWS it will be all about how NOBLE and WONDERFUL he is and he couldn’t STAND it. Mary resists the urge to slap him and reads the letter herself, then forces Matthew to listen to her read it to him. “It is with my full knowledge of what transpired,” she reads, forcing Matthew to realize that Reggie knew Matthew refused to abandon Lavinia even though he didn’t love her. “Do not allow any grief, guilt or regret to hold you back in its employment.” There, Matthew! The money is all yours, guilt free! Take it! SAVE DOWNTON!
So, what does Matthew do? He accuses Mary of making it up, then harumphs off to bed. He says there’s no way Reggie would have the information from Lavinia that he seems to have gotten, as she died so quickly — how could she have slipped a note into the post?
Mary asks the downstairs staff, and no one knows about posting a letter — until Daisy wanders in and admits she did it, as she was in Lavinia’s room stoking the fire. “I am so grateful to you, Daisy,” Mary says, having finally put the last puzzle piece into place that can possibly make Matthew stop being a stubborn, selfish jerk.
Luckily, he comes around and tells Robert he will be keeping the money and giving it to him. Robert, also being noble, insists that Matthew become a part-owner in Downton. They slap one another on the back and it’s all very charming until you realize part of the reason there are ever problems with inheritance is because women can’t inherit anything other than Granny’s jewels in this backward society (maybe not so much a problem in this case, of course). But, yes, very noble.
O’Brien and Thomas keep fighting
This subplot was mostly buried this week, as Thomas’ latest attempt to bring O’Brien down was quickly put to rest . Thoma told poor Molesley that O’Brien planned to quit, which caused Molesley to inquire about the “open” position with Cora, which Cora blabbed to Carson, which then became a topic of discussion downstairs.
Though poor Molesley was initially taken to task by O’Brien, he quickly confessed to her who gave him the tip — Thomas. O’Brien straightened things out with Cora (or at least seemed to — Cora still seemed disappointed and distrustful), forgives Moleley and tells Thomas, “Everything’s all right with me, but it will be all wrong with you before too long, mark my words.” Thomas doesn’t flinch, but I think he should. I see these two wrestling each other as the ship goes down and all the life boats float away — no one will win.
Anna can’t catch a break while Mr. Bates dodges a bullet
Poor Anna. She’s sure she can get Vera’s old friend Mrs. Bartlett to help her by suggesting Vera was a suicidal mess, but no dice. No, Mrs. Bartlett has to say crappy things to Anna, about how Mr. Bates left Vera for a trollop and how she wishes he’d swung but no such luck. If anything, Mrs. Bartlett would be a lovely witness for the prosecution, and Anna actually had to pay the vile creature to hear her useless opinion.
Things work out better for Mr. Bates, who gets a tip that his cellmate is trying to set him up by hiding what we can guess is a shiv in his bed. Mr. Bates finds it in the nick of time, tucking it into a crevice of the wall just as the guards come in to rip his bed apart. “There’s a lot of bastards in here,” Mr. Bates says in a low, warning voice to his cellmate, and I’m worried that pretty soon he and Mr. Bates will get into a real fight and that shiv will be recovered. It seems that, as much as Anna wants to believe Mr. Bates was never the lowlife Vera believed him to be, he does have a temper. I’m just hoping he doesn’t end up swinging for it.
Mrs. Hughes gets her diagnosis
In what may have been just as wrenching as Edith’s failed nuptials, Mrs. Hughes awaits news of her diagnosis. Poor Mrs. Patmore is tricked by Carson into revealing that the doctor thinks it’s cancer, and it isn’t long before he tattles to Cora, and Cora asks to speak to Mrs. Hughes.
Mrs. Hughes is at first mortified that her secret is out, but then Cora assures her that, “I only want to say one thing, if you are ill, you are welcome here for as long as you want to say. Lady Sybil will find a suitable nurse.” Mrs. Hughes is touched and, I think, reassured. With so much to worry about, at least one thing is taken off the table.
When Mrs. Hughes goes to get the news from the doctor, it’s a quiet scene, one without dialogue. But we don’t need to hear her speak. We can see she’s scared. So, so scared. She stands outside, then takes a deep breathe and goes into the doctor’s office.
When Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore return to Downton Abbey, Carson (of course) wants to know what the verdict is. Mrs. Patmore prattles happily on about a “benign something-or-other,” and she and Carson go about their business, a weight lifted.
But when we see Mrs. Hughes, her face collapsing, we suspect (at least I do) she’s protected her friends from the awful truth. It is a horrible moment, horrible in a different way than Edith’s wedding, and I only hope that, if she is sick, she will take Cora up on her offer and not work until the bitter end. And, if this is her fate, we know it will be bitter.
What did you think of Sir Anthony’s decision? Were you surprised about what happened to Mrs. Hughes? Are you glad Downton Abbey won’t be sold after all?