This week: simmering disquiet downstairs, volcanic ruptures above ground. Flimsiest of the crises was Molesley’s disavowal of the first footman title he’d vaingloriously grabbed when he saw there was no other footman.
Carson had initially met this with mockery, but now he and Mrs Hughes turned the screws. Molesley was tasked with polishing ludicrous mounds of silver, looking after several unforeseen house guests on his own and other outlandish drudgeries, all with the excuse that as first footman, he must shoulder the burden.
Before Carson and Hughesy had to resort to telling him that the exterior of Downton needed repainting in tartan, Molesley came crawling into Carson’s office, resigning from a post he’d never held. Carson accepted, and resumed passing Lord Grantham’s port through a complex chemical filtration process with an air of satisfaction. Another irregularity expunged, another burst of enthusiasm squashed. Simple pleasures.
More agitated was Barrow, who had returned from London and the obvious fiction of visiting his sick father. Smothering his sick father and stealing his shoes, yes. Crying at the bedside, no. But Barrow looked pale and distracted. His hair lacked volume. His fangs weren’t gleaming in the lamplight with quite the usual vim.
Baxter – whose concern for Barrow despite his blackmailing campaign of terror suggests some sort of unbreakable bond – kept an eye out as Barrow behaved oddly. At one point he buzzed into the kitchen to purloin a spoon.
Not long after, Baxter was on her way past the boot room when from within came a fearful moan. She went in to find Barrow sweating, and a syringe on the sideboard. Something must be up if even as inept a villain as Barrow can’t remember to lock the door before injecting drugs. That’s basic workplace rebellion. He’ll be buying his own stationery next.
The toffs’ tears began with further anxiety for Edith, whose attempt to visit her illegitimate daughter Marigold ended with the indignity of the farmhouse door being slammed in her face, and who had returned home to spend all day staring damply at a spot on the carpet near her right foot. News came from the office of her vanished fiancé Gregson (Michael Palin) that the gang of fascist roughnecks who probably murdered him in Berlin may have been found.
Lord Grantham was sympathetic and knowledgeable. “They wear brown shirts and go around bullying people,” he said of the likely culprits.
“I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more of this sort of thing,” he added, looking up from his ’20th Century In Hindsight’ iPad app. “We pushed Germany too hard with our demands after the war.”
Two men were romantically rejected, but they asserted their innate superiority and refused to accept no as an answer. Tony Gillingham, having spent a full week in a Liverpool hotel room with nothing but a calfskin balloon between him and some shotgun nuptials, now found himself tossed out by Lady Mary. He reacted exothermically. Hands on hips, waistcoat buttons straining, eyebrows forming into a furious W. Even his trilby took on an air of wronged fury.
Mary was wrongfooted by Gillingham’s point that if she hadn’t been sure he was the one, joining him for seven consecutive days of hot rogering was cruel and reckless, not to mention unbecoming of one of the Country Life Top Five Haughtiest Widows 1924. She, at least for now, meekly went along with Gilly’s assertion that her desire never to see him again was a bump in the road that they would jolly well have to smooth out together. A lifetime of frosty dances and staring silently at each other over luncheon beckons.
At Isobel Crawley’s place, the crushing of dreams took on a lighter hue. Lord Merton bumbled round to ask her to marry him. She was about to explain that, although in the past two episodes she’d suddenly started to act like she liked him, she’d decided that what she said in episode one was true after all and he was annoying, so no ta.
Merton cut her off and quickly added that this was not a proposal motivated by tax planning or a need for someone to co-judge the village cheese-rolling. He actually likes her! Isobel promised to give this curveball some thought, although possibly she was just giving herself room for a later scene where she taunted the Dowager Countess with the prospect of becoming Lady Merton, at which point she would outrank the D-C socially and would be entitled to steal her hats and dance on her lawn.
The Dowager was still consumed with curiosity, guilt and possibly latent lust, having been confronted with her old Russian squeeze last week. The moustachioed prince, holed up in a crypt in York where Lady Rose serves soup, reported that his wife – the one it seems he betrayed for a taste of the D-C’s bon mots – had been missing ever since Russia’s ghastly proles found the keys to the rifle cupboard.
On this point, Shrimpy proved useful. In case you’d forgotten, Shrimpy is the D-C’s niece’s husband, known chiefly for bickering with his dreadful wife throughout the 2012 Christmas special and rendering it quite unfestive, even before Matthew twanged his jalopy into a fatal hedge.
Anyway, Shrimpy used his global contacts to do some digging and concluded that the Dowager’s former love rival had probably been forced into prostitution in Hong Kong. So it wasn’t all doom and gloom – especially for Shrimpy, who is in the middle of a divorce, but was married to such a rollicking shrew that her family have taken him in, even at the risk of her giving them the full lemon gravy. Well done, Crawleys.
Marital discord reached a peak back at the Downton ranch, as priapic art historian Simon Bricker once again hoved into view, inventing some cock-and-bull story about paintings as an excuse to spend another two days bombarding Cora with excruciating compliments.
Bricker is becoming increasingly reckless – especially considering that, as an outsider, he is unaware of the house’s uncanny eavesdropping properties. With the door of Cora’s gallery wide open, on he puffed about how beautiful she was and how he would simply burst if he didn’t constantly mention it.
Of course Lord Grantham was beneath the lintel and he entered brusquely, placing himself between his wife and the randy fop, enquiring as to what had burst. Had he really not heard or was he controlling his rage? In any case, it wasn’t controlled for long, as that evening’s dinner descended into an etiquette apocalypse.
Once again Sarah Bunting the socialist schoolteacher had been improbably invited, this time thanks to Cora, who had been irked when her husband yet again declined to take her input on the question of whether to flog one of the lower fields to the 1920s equivalent of Barratt Homes.
Knowing that Bunting’s presence would annoy Lord G, she insisted the young communist be present. Bunting, who like all left-wing people cannot be trusted to attend even the lightest social function without setting fire to the curtains and attempting to unionise the hors d’oeuvres, was raring to go.
First she stood up to some probing from Lord G about whether she was unsettling Mrs Patmore by giving Daisy lessons out of hours. An earlier scene revealed that Daisy has moved on from simple arithmetic and is now studying the overthrow of James II and the subsequent negation of absolute monarchy, Bill of Rights and move towards parliamentary democracy. Impressive progress, but it meant Mrs Patmore’s peacock crumble was behind schedule, so mild words had been had.
Cornered by Bunting, Lord G inelegantly summoned Daisy and M-Patz, expecting the cook to complain that she was indeed being held back by Daisy’s new knowledge. But she denied it and, after a rousing speech from Daisy about the new worlds opened up to her, the two slaves made their excuses – Mrs Patmore explained she needed to get on with making a hog fool – and left.
Lord G was defeated but Bunting, displaying the total lack of manners that shall for ever doom the working classes, kept pushing – at which point his Lordship hurled his napkin furiously into his consommé, screamed that Bunting was a thorough rotter and ran out to put on his silk pyjamas and seek the comforting, wordless embrace of Isis the fanatical Labrador.
Visibly enjoying the melée, the Dowager kept eating and calmly asked Edith about her next newspaper column, which apparently she is still writing despite the man who commissioned it lying dead in a German ditch.
Edith said it was about what all her columns are about: how 1920s society was changing for ever. Carson cried softly into the filtered port.
>> Episode three: Mary cools, the Dowager is caught out