This season's drama ramps up, but not all of the developments are happy ones
The weekend house party mentioned by Edith in the previous episode has arrived — making it immediately clear that the Crawleys have a different definition of “house party” than we do today. Just a few seasons ago, the Dowager Countess was famously ignorant of what a weekend was, but now the whole family has embraced the concept by throwing a party that lasts for a whole one of them.
Spoilers for last night’s partying below.
Tom Branson’s not very good at small talk with the Duchess of Yeovil, Mary chit-chats with their old (actually young and handsome) friend Lord Gillingham, Michael Gregson feels awkward, and nobody really knows who this guy Mr. Sampson, is. Rose is talking to Sir John Bullock and name-drops Al Jolson to hammer home the point that she’s a jazz-loving wild child. Downstairs, the staff (except for Edna, who continues to be evil) gets acquainted with the servants who have shown up with the party guests. Gillingham’s valet, Green, flirts with Anna and makes Bates mad, though she thinks he’s just friendly.
Meanwhile, at her house, Isobel feels weird that everyone is having fun, despite Matthew’s death still feeling recent. Still, she might show up for the party eventually because they’ve hired the famous Australian singer Nellie Melba to perform.
The next day…
The next day, Lord Gillingham and Lady Mary go for a ride. (Side-saddle alert!) Mary encourages him in his engagement to a young society lady, since she’s seen that a socially acceptable marriage and a loving one don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Mary confesses that she’s troubled by the thought of selling land to pay the tax bill, since if the estate gets too small it won’t be able to support the house; he encourages her to convince her father to meet with the tax people and discuss the options, which she does.
Michael Gregson tells Edith that he’s taking German lessons which is soooo romantic, but Robert won’t spend any time with him, even though that was the whole reason he came. Also the Crawleys own a Gutenberg Bible but Lord Grantham says he doesn’t know where in the library it is. Even if he’s lying, that’s maybe the nuts-est thing that’s ever happened on Downton and it just gets brushed aside. Crazy. Seriously. Like, pause the DVR and just think about that for a second.
Okay, hit play again.
Before dinner, footman Jimmy tries to open a tightly screwed-on jar lid and ends up falling over (huh?) and hurts his wrist so he can’t carry a tray. Carson recruits Molesley, who has been working as a delivery boy, to do the job, even though it’s below Molesley’s level of experience and that’s somewhat insulting.
After dinner, Sampson arranges another poker game and Gregson thinks that’s the perfect opportunity to corner Robert for a conversation. (Downstairs, Gillingham’s man Green teaches the other servants how to play a new card game too.) Sampson is a little bit too lucky and a little bit too sure, which makes Gregson a bit suspicious and Lord Grantham a lot poorer. He asks them not to tell Lady Grantham that he lost so much money, but he respects Gregson for taking it like a man.
Rose brings out a gramophone to get some dancing going, but Mary sees it and freaks out because it was Matthew’s, so she stops dancing with Gillingham and runs away. Edna uses the party and how awkward Tom feels as an occasion to be sympathetic to him. Ugh. The worst.
The final day of partying…
Dame Nellie Melba shows up, and Lady Grantham is shocked to learn that she wasn’t invited to dine with the guests — so she punishes Lord Grantham by making him sit next to the singer at dinner. It’s not so awkward though, because they both love wine and can talk about it. At dinner, Gillingham basically asks Mary out but she says his fiancée wouldn’t approve and Isobel is sad to see Mary laugh. Branson is sad too, mostly because he still feels like an impostor.
After eating, Dame Nellie sings and all the staff members come upstairs to listen…but mostly everyone whispers among themselves or sneaking out. For example, there’s another card game on, where Gregson card-sharps the card sharp and wins back all the money, which he gives back to all the players and thus uses to get in Robert’s good graces. There’s also Mrs. Patmore congratulated Alfred on the sauces, which he had to make because she had a panic attack about getting dinner ready. And there’s Anna, telling Bates that she has a headache and is going to get something for it.
Downstairs, Anna is taking some aspirin when Green shows up and offers her a drink and flirts with her. She tries to return upstairs and he gets in the way, creepy talking to her about whether “that sad old cripple” of a husband keeps her happy — at which point we TV viewers know what’s going to happen, which doesn’t make it any easier to watch. In a television season that, like many others before it, has seen brutalization of major female characters as a common plot point in modern-day shows (SVU, to name one), here’s a reminder that the problem has been going on for far too long.
Green grabs Anna and kisses her, and then hits her hard across the face. Upstairs, Dame Nellie sings a song dedicated to lovers, while we see an empty hallway downstairs hear Anna’s screams and the sound of slaps and punches. Upstairs, Bates wonders where she went and guesses she fell asleep as Green returns to the concert, straightening his jacket. Anna is nowhere to be found.
“No!” screams every single person watching.
After the concert, amid the bustle of guests, Edna brings Branson some whiskey. More than some — a lot of whiskey. Later, when he’s drunk, she sneaks into his bedroom. (“No!” says every single person watching, but at a lower volume, considering the shock of what’s just happened.)
Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes walks into her sitting room and we finally see Anna, conscious but battered, hiding in the corner. She’s weeping, disheveled, bleeding. She tells Mrs. Hughes to make excuses for her and tell nobody, especially not her husband, who we know to be capable of more than a bit of violence. He’ll kill her rapist if he ever finds out, she’s sure, and she also knows he won’t go free when he’s tried for murder a second time. When Mr. Bates does see her injuries, she says she fainted and hit the edge of the sink on her way down — but she can’t hide that something’s the matter as she flinches from his touch and insists on walking home alone, crying in the dark.
Dowager zinger of the week:
Robert, about Branson’s small-talk skills: “Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde.”
Violet: “That’s a relief!”
History lesson of the week:
Dame Nellie Melba, the soprano who performs at Downton, took her stage name from her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. ( Kiri Te Kanana, who plays her on TV, has a lot in common with the legendary singer: she’s a soprano from New Zealand who’s also officially a “Dame.”) After from her singing, she’s best known as the namesake of Peach Melba, a dessert of poached peaches with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.