Tensions ran high on Downton Abbey this week (but then, when do they not?). The house is turned upside down as it is prepared as an officers’ convalescence home, leading to all sorts of trouble.
Mrs. Crawley and Lady Cora butt heads over the running of the household and which rooms should be sectioned off for the convalescents. We already knew Mrs. Crawley could be assertive, but she seems to forget her place here and the family has to remind her with some force. O’Brien, who has become Cora’s protector after the bath tub debacle of last season, conspires with Thomas to make sure that Cora is put in charge of the household alongside Mrs. Crawley, much to the latter’s chagrin. O’Brien also uses her pull over Cora to get Thomas assigned as the household manager, which Carson is none too happy about.
Sybil busies herself with setting up beds in the various grand rooms of the house, with Edith watching on, feeling she has no purpose and is only in the way. Sybil gives her some kind advice which Edith takes to heart, telling her everyone has a purpose, she just needs to find hers. Edith does so by making the newly arrived officers feel at home, getting to know them, and helping them write letters to loved ones. She shows compassion (something I wasn’t sure Edith possessed), and many of the soldiers note this to General Stratt when comes to visit the house, garnering her recognition at the dinner given for the general that evening. Mary’s face was priceless in this scene, though I’m not sure if it was envy that I saw, or once again that sensation of feeling somewhat out of place, not knowing what her role is exactly now that the war is here.
Sybil bears the brunt of Branson’s anger when the army rejects him due to a heart murmur and he cannot make the public protest he hoped for when he is called up. Sybil does not understand the source of his anger and tells him as much. Branson informs her his cousin was gunned down by an English soldier during the Easter Rising in Ireland (which took place in 1916). Branson later comes up with a new way to make his voice heard, concocting a special “soup” for the general. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Anna stop him before he has a chance to spill the disgusting concoction over the top of the general’s head. With such anger and conviction, this won’t likely be the last of Branson’s attempts to make his views known.
Anna has a glimmer of hope when she believes she sees Bates in the village. Mary offers to help her find out about him using the services of Sir Richard. As she explains to Anna, “he works in newspapers, a world of spies, tip offs, and private investigators. I promise you he can find out whatever he likes.” I’d say this offers some fairly significant foreshadowing as to what’s going to happen to Mary. No doubt Sir Richard is going to find out about the Mr. Pamuk scandal and use it against her so that he does not lose her. We see his power over Lavinia Swire; no doubt he could do the same to Mary.
Sir Richard does indeed find Mr. Bates’s whereabouts, and Anna goes to visit him. Bates left his wife so the divorce proceedings can take place soon, and is confident he will be able to pay his wife more than any newspaper would for the story she has on Mary. Why do I get the feeling it isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds?
In the meantime Mary learns another interesting tidbit, this time about Lavinia Swire. Her aunt learns that Lavinia gave information to Sir Richard which led to the Marconi scandal of 1912, and that the two were lovers. Lavinia soon confesses the former to Mary, but insists that the two were never romantically attached and she only did it to save her father from financial ruin. Mary tells her she believes her, and Lavinia informs her that Sir Richard “threatened to tell you all about it, but now I’ve done it anyway.” I have two theories on this one: either Lavinia hasn’t told Mary the whole story and wanted to beat Richard to the punch so Mary would believe her over him, or this is an example of how Sir Richard uses the vast amount of gossip he can dredge up to control people. But regardless, Mary does not say anything to Matthew about Lavinia’s secret, though she certainly could have used the story that her aunt had procured. Again, we see that Mary’s former pettiness has been replaced with actual compassion, even towards a woman she could consider her rival.
Downstairs, Daisy’s in over her head, no thanks to Mrs. Patmore, who insists that she must accept William’s proposal before he goes overseas. She tells Daisy she can go back on it when he returns home, and Daisy accepts against her better judgment. Mrs. Patmore isn’t the only one who is trying to look out for William. Lord Grantham asks Matthew if he will take William on as his servant, to which he agrees, but says he cannot guarantee his safety.
This episode also saw Lang’s mental state deteriorate further due to shell-shock. He wakens the entire servants’ quarters with his screams during a vivid nightmare, and begins to break down when the general and the other officers leave Downton, afraid that they might send him back to the front. Carson and Mrs. Hughes agree that he is not ready to come back to work, and Lang agrees.
The episode closes with Lord and Lady Grantham, who are still adjusting to the new role their house is playing. Lord Grantham states one of my favorite lines so far: “The world was in a dream before the war. But now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it, and so must we.” He realizes that change is inevitable, and to continue fighting against it will do them nothing but harm.
It looks like the action heats up next week with a scandal involving Ethel, Branson asking Sybil to run away with him, and the news that Matthew is reported as missing after he returns to the front.
Missed the first episode? Read my recap here.