Last week, Lady Mary was possessed by grief, six months after Matthew twanged his charabanc into a tree. At several points in episode one she had a touch of the Linda Blairs about her – as if any minute she might spider-walk down the stairs for luncheon, or dispassionately projectile-vomit into Branson’s face.
All that had to change this week, as a box of effects arrived at Downton from the solicitor’s office where we have to trust Matthew at some stage did some work. Inside a book inside the box: a letter, written by Matthew six months ago, just after his agent rang to say he should get out and try his luck in Hollywood.
The note said, in essence: “Mary – Just in case I drive into a hedge tomorrow, I mean obviously that’s realistically pretty unlikely but bear with me on this: just in CASE that happens, and just in case your dad has turned a bit possessive about Downton and made up some story about having to run the estate on baby George’s behalf, when really he wants to do it because otherwise he’ll having nothing to do except get in and out of his dressing gown – I want YOU to have everything. So chew on that, Lord Grantham, who I imagine is reading this out in a tuxedo in front of the fire in the library. Love Matt xox.”
Lord G hadn’t taken this well, previewing the letter privately and threatening not to read it out in front of the fire in the library at all. He wanted to “send it to Murray”, which sounds like a euphemism for some sort of permanent disposal method, but in fact meant posting it straight to the family solicitor for verification as a viable will.
One brief verbal from the Dowager Countess later (“When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper”) and his Lordship was beaten. Or so it seemed: before she could progress to the position of deputy under-assistant manageress of Downton, Mary had to negotiate an evening meal during which her dad was on monumentally passive-aggressive form. Mary said she wanted to have an opinion on things. “There’s a question of using empty farmyards as new sources of revenue,” said his Lordship, looking like he could bite one of Mrs Patmore’s wooden spoons in half. “I’d LIKE to know what you FEEL about THAT… there are LOTS of things I’d like your OPINION ON.”
Cora and Isobel came to Mary’s aid. “I’m just SAYING,” sulked Lord G, glowering into a goblet of 1898 Beychevelle.
Mary was hurt (“Papa gave me such a whacking at dinner!”) but she had another friend: Tom Branson, who has got almost half a series’ head-start on her when it comes to forgetting one’s spouse. He told her to get “stuck in” and later – before it was discovered that the will was legit and Mary was on board – accompanied her on a lovely hats-and-coats walk round the grounds, discussing whether the family should sell Harrogate and surrounding areas to save money, as per Lord G, or follow Branson’s plan and put the land to good use.
Branson was faultlessly charming and generous, and he’s such a good listener. Could he be on his way to chalking up his second Downton sister?
This would be worrying news for Lady Edith, of course, but for now her love life is going strongly. The small stumbling block of her newspaper-editor suitor Mr Gregson (Michael Palin) being unable to divorce his mentally ill wife now has an easy solution: all they must do is move to Germany and be Germans, since the law is different there. It’s 1922. All that war stuff is over now. It’s a foolproof plan.
Still, Edith’s papa is unlikely to take kindly to it, Germany surely being the only place worse than Ireland one’s daughter could emigrate to. Edith’s efforts to get Gregson up to Downton were rebuffed easily enough, but at some point he’ll have to admit he’s already dreading the in-laws.
Downstairs, Mrs Hughes had two of her good Samaritan operations crossing over. A letter for Carson arrived and, despite his efforts to conceal it from her, Mrs Hughes outfoxed him by taking the piece of paper he’d very lightly scrunched up in front of her out of the waste bin and reading it. It was from Charlie Grigg, Carson’s old music-hall partner. Hughes tracked him down using the address on the letter and found him coughing in Ripon workhouse. At the same time, Isobel Crawley was unable to move on from Matthew’s death, feeling her life no longer had any purpose.
Bingo! Before you could say “consumptive thespians in need”, Grigg was lodging with Isobel, who was furiously applying for every theatre job in Britain on his behalf. It was only a matter of time before she succeeded, which meant Mrs Hughes had until the end of the episode to convince Carson to bury the hatchet, or face his grudge festering away for ever.
At first, Carson – who I imagine was very much the less cheerful of the Cheerful Charlies, even in the old days – was unmoved. He was looking at a photo of a chick called Alice Neale and mooning huffily. “We shout and scream and wail and cry but in the end we must all die,” he said, a line which Google confirms was not a sloppily anachronistic quote from a Morrissey B-side, but is Carson’s own.
Meanwhile, cocky dreamboat Jimmy was chatting up Ivy again, trying to cajole her into breaking every rule of servant-class etiquette in the book by visiting a theatre. In York! He got as far as scheming his way to York solo, only to run into Anna and Lady Rose. A mass brawl ensued.
Anna and Rose were there to attend a thé dansant. Late the previous night, Rose had been gadding around in her room, wearing silk pyjamas and listening to jazz and probably smoking and I don’t know what else. Anna, who stays up until 4am every night folding sheets and extinguishing candelabras, happened upon her and was invited to chaperone her as she attended what promised to be quite a racy affair, with unmarried people wantonly dancing the one-step.
So it proved. It might have been the middle of a Tuesday afternoon in York at a venue that ostensibly only served tea, but Lady Rose soon ripped the joint, scoring a shot of something naughty in her cuppa from the waiter and then sitting pouting until, a second and a half later, an admirer arrived. They danced, with Rose seamlessly concealing her breeding by suddenly doing a comedy Yorkshire accent. Anna and Jimmy danced too, with Anna agreeing to it purely in order to observe Rose, and not for the thrill of clasping herself to a man 15 years younger, three times better-looking and twice as mobile as Mr Bates.
When a ne’er-do-well who had drunk too much tea tried to cut in on Lady Rose’s dance by punching her charming local yokel hard in the face, a fist-fight ensued, in which Rose was enthusiastically participating until Jimmy pulled her off, saving her from being arrested. He also kept shtum later on when Downton received a late-night visit from Rose’s admirer – the nice one, not the hitty one. Rose greeted him dressed in a maid’s uniform, said she was unavailable, but then snogged him in the moonlight anyway, which by any man’s standards is a decent result. No wonder those French tea dances are well attended.
Anna was do-gooding too, enrolling her husband in a plan to get Matthew’s old retainer Mr Molesley out of penury. She’d found him laying bitumen in the village, wearing a floppy brown workman’s hat and looking even more depressed than usual. Bates had something fiendish up his sleeve: he got Molesley to sign a piece of paper on a flimsy premise, then turned it into an IOU from him to Molesely for £30 and told him they had both forgotten about it. Despite this being a scheme a toddler would scoff at – thirty quid in those days being the equivalent of a grand and a half today – Molesely swallowed it, so that’s all fine now.
Mrs Hughes eventually did the business too, with Carson romantically appearing through the steam cloud given off by the train Charlie Grigg was about to leave on. They went out of earshot for about six paces, during which time they established that Carson’s beef was that Grigg had nicked Alice off him. Grigg explained that she’d said she’d chosen the wrong Charlie back in the day, with her last words being an expression of regret that she had never caressed Carson’s eyebrows.
Carson trudged back to Downton having learnt that he could have known happiness with the love of his life after all, but couldn’t ever do so now due to her being dead. Expect his debut solo album to be extremely downbeat, to the shock of the Cheerful Charlies’ core fanbase.
There is more strife looming. Edna, the housemaid who bewitched Branson at Christmas, is back as a lady’s maid. Thomas smelled the evil on her immediately and recruited her as an ally, saving her from the wrath of Cora by hinting that it was Anna, not Edna, who had ripped her best shawl. After a bromance-shattering chat about this between Lord G and Mr Bates, the Bateses have worked out that Thomas is trying to nobble them yet again. Bates v Barrow, round three: it’s on.