Bates is back, and all is right with the world.
Or at least, downstairs at Downton Abbey. There’s something about Bates’s presence that makes the other staff feel that they’ve got someone looking out for them (which perturbs O’Brien and Thomas to no end, and refreshes their need to scheme). Even the Earl of Grantham needs Bates, prompting a surprise visit to the pub where Bates works to ask for forgiveness and for him to come back to help the Earl “through the veil of shadow.”
That shadow, of course, is the news that Matthew (as well as William) has gone missing. As the news slowly spreads upstairs, it somehow makes the war a little more real, a little “closer to home.” Sure, there are convalescents all over the place and Sybil is in her nurse’s garb, and yes, Matthew’s been to the front (always returning home without a scratch), but so far the house has seemed one step removed from it all. The war’s been used as an abstract backdrop for the series, but now the Crawleys (and the viewers) are face to face with its sober realities.
This to me was the best episode of season 2 so far, for that very reason. The family is putting on a performance for the convalescents, trying to keep things bright and cheery, while internally they are all concerned about Matthew. Downstairs, everyone keeps on with their work, but William is never far from their minds. The two missing men reappear during Mary and Edith’s performance, when the family and staff (along with the viewers) are temporarily distracted. Real joy replaces the fake smiles the inhabitants of Downton Abbey have been wearing, knowing that their men are safe, for now.
There are several other mini-plots going on throughout the episode. Scandal erupts when Mrs. Hughes finds one of the convalescents in bed with Ethel, who is immediately dismissed and later shows up pregnant. Another potential scandal is brewing between Lady Sybil and Branson the chauffeur. Sybil’s always been one to shirk tradition, but her rebellious nature revs up in this episode, no doubt stoked by Branson’s prodding. It’s just a matter of time before she is willing to acknowledge what she already knows. I can only imagine what the ramifications would be of such a match (and what Lady Violet will have to say about it!).
Mary decides to accept Richard Carlisle’s proposal (a decision she’ll regret, no doubt), and writes Matthew to let him know (he then promptly goes out on patrol, but takes Mary’s good luck charm, so he’s okay!).
Isobel Crawley, feeling she is no longer wanted at Downton (and rightfully so) leaves for France to work for the wounded and missing inquiry department detachment set up by the Red Cross (can’t say I was sorry to see her go, she’s been a real pain this season). Her maid and Mr. Mosley decide to set up a soup kitchen of sorts for the wounded veterans of the village, and Mrs. Patmore steps in to help. O’Brien catches wind of it and promptly informs “her ladyship,” who goes to investigate. Fortunately Cora does not disapprove and actually pitches in to help.
This episode took place in 1918, so the war will be drawing to a close soon. Looks like next week Matthew and William will be put in more danger, and Mary’s past comes back to haunt her.