This episode opens in 1919, as Edith watches the last medical vehicle leave the property of Downton, signalling that the home can finally return to normal. Downton Abbey’s definition of “normal,” that is: this two-hour episode was packed with drama, culminating in a wedding and a funeral.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Now that the war is over, the inhabitants of Downton are ready to move on, or rather, move back to the way things used to be (much to Lady Sybil’s dismay). As Cora goes about looking for new work to put her energy into, her husband continues to mope about, feeling his life no longer has purpose. He apparently finds that purpose in one of THE oddest hookups in Downton Abbey history with the housemaid Jane. Honestly, I know the man’s lost, but this seems so far out of character for Robert that I just couldn’t buy into it. And his wife is in the other room battling for her life no less! Who is this man and what has he done with the Earl of Grantham, caring husband/father/lord of the estate? Fortunately, Jane decides it best for both of them if she turns in her notice, but not without giving Robert a goodbye kiss to remember her by first (in the library, really?).
Of course, that’s not the only social-barrier-crossing romance that reaches its conclusion in this episode. After much deliberation (and a great deal of patience on Branson’s part), Lady Sybil finally decides that she cannot go back to her life before the war. We see her sitting in the grand drawing room, staring off into space while others chat around her. The wheels in her mind are turning, and she goes to Branson, telling him she’s made her decision, and he’s her ticket out of her old life. Her statement left me feeling that Sybil is using Branson just as much as Branson seemed to be using Sybil in previous episodes. But I had to respect the resolve of the couple, which never wavered despite a botched elopement and retrieval by Edith and Mary, and a large amount of blustering by Papa (who apparently is okay with double standards). So maybe there’s love there, after all.
But of course the big news of the episode (besides the fact that Dr. Clarkson made a mistake in his diagnosis of Matthew’s spinal injury) is the development in the driving “will they/won’t they” plot between Matthew and Mary. The dance scene between the two of them (the one that Lavinia unfortunately witnesses) is one fans have no doubt been waiting for all season. Thanks to Granny’s advice, Matthew has been left to mull over the unsettling thought that he is marrying the wrong woman, but out of obligation and duty he feels he must marry Lavinia, who sacrificed everything to be with him. Even though he doesn’t really want to.
And what of poor Lavinia? It is somewhat disheartening to see your fiancee embracing his former fiancee just days before your own wedding. She takes to bed with a case of the Spanish flu (of which Cora and Carson are also afflicted), and has a heart-to-heart with Matthew, and even she has to admit that Matthew and Mary are a better match than the two of them. She takes a sudden turn for the worse, and lives up to her predictions from previous episodes that she will not be able to live without Matthew. On her deathbed she informs him that it is better this way, and she wants him to be happy. I’m sure her intentions were good, but her words left Matthew wandering around the estate, wracked with guilt.
After the funeral Matthew informs Mary he feels certain that Lavinia died of a broken heart (while I yelled at the TV “NO! It was the Spanish flu!”). Because of her parting words he knows he and Mary can never be happy together. A devastated Mary leaves the graveside on the arm of skeeze ball Sir Richard (you know, the one who tried to bribe Anna to spy on Mary for him).
Amidst all this, Bates and Anna’s relationship is taken to the next level when evidence surfaces of Bates’s possible involvement in his wife’s death. Anna refuses to let him go through it alone, and basically orders him to go ahead and marry her, which he does.
The two get one night of happiness together before he’s carted off to prison on the charge of willful murder. I’m still of the opinion that Mrs. Bates’s demise was self-inflicted, and she set up the letter and other evidence in order to frame her husband, but I suppose the upcoming trial will shed some light on what really happened. Poor Bates and Anna, will these two kids ever catch a break?
Hard to believe it, but next week wraps up season 2 with Christmas at Downton.
Interested in learning more about the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 featured prominently in this episode? You can read my post about it here.
Miss any of the other episodes? Read my recaps here: