Life at Downton always has moved at a snail’s pace, but as we approach the midpoint of the series things are picking up. We’ve got flirtations, fights, night trains, emotions over the dinner table and yet another visit from Sergeant Willis, who is fast becoming a series regular…
The Carsons are on their honeymoon and in their absence Barrow is tripping on his new-found power. “I am the Butler now and don’t let’s forget it,” he spits, stalking around below stairs.
It seems the newlyweds are holidaying in Scarborough. Mary sneers, disappointed that her favourite manservant has had to holiday somewhere so simple, but Robert informs her the couple had had enough of the family interfering in their affairs.
The newlyweds won’t even be living at the Abbey upon their return; Mary has found them a new bolthole on the estate. It just needs a little spring clean, so Thomas demands volunteers to clean old Mrs Cobbs cottage for the Carsons. (Try saying that when you’ve had one too many brandies…)
The future isn’t looking quite so bright for poor Mr Mason and as a result Daisy is bickering with Mrs P and punishing potatoes in the kitchen. She’s told William’s pa that he’s getting Yewtree farm now the Drewes are moving on, but Mary’s opposed the plan. It makes more financial sense for the Crawleys to farm the land themselves so Mason’s out on his ear.
Upstairs, the exceptionally tedious hospital row continues with each side calling for reinforcements. Rosamund is on her way up to Downton, unable to resist being drawn into the debacle, while the DC has roped in BFF Lady Shackleton as an ally. She preps her extensively before their arrival, and while it seems Shackleton might actually be in agreement with Cora, she’s quickly put in her place. “Are you here to help or irritate?” snaps Violet.
Below stairs, the Abbey is playing host to the authorities once again. Willis is back, this time to see Miss Baxter. “Makes a nice change,” says Anna, drily.
He’s here to discuss a Mr Peter Coyle, the “handsome devil” who persuaded Baxter to steal her mistress’ jewels. Coyle’s been up to his usual tricks and another young woman faces jail while he is set to walk free. Willis wants Baxter to testify against him at trial. She’s not keen, despite Moseley’s philosphical musings about good triumphing over evil.
Everyone arrives for dinner. Shackleton has insisted on bringing her nephew with her and the Crawleys are rather put out until they who realise it is. Only Henry Talbot, the dashing chap Mary flirted with at Christmas. She flushes with pleasure – it’s been a while since anyone proposed marriage, after all – while the Dowager immediately enquires about Talbot’s ‘prospects’.
“Honestly, listen to yourselves,” says Robert, both rolling his eyes and moving closer to hear the answer. “Adequate but not overwhelming,” divulges Shackleton.
Lack of title aside, Mary’s eyes are all aglow. Until he starts talking about his profession. He’s a racing car driver. She falters and we all remember that dreadful image of poor Matthew lying dead in a ditch. Henry wonders if Mary’s ever in London and if she’d think it terribly common if he gave her his card. She says she would but takes it anyway. They’ll have lunch or a drink or something. They’re casual, breezy… whatevs.
Dinner party talk is all about the hospital. Shackleton isn’t as much of an ally as Violet had hoped and the potatoes get another beating. Meanwhile, Thomas has an existential crisis in the garden – “Why am I here? What am I doing?” he asks – and Willis returns to pressure Baxter into testifying. She agrees but does’t look very happy about it.
Upstairs, it transpires that, thankfully, the hospital isn’t the only reason Rosamund is in Yorkshire. She wants Edith to meet Mr Harding, the treasurer of Hillcroft College in Surbiton. It’s a place for clever women with modest backgrounds and she thinks Edith should become a trustee like her. Harding and his wife arrive for lunch and it turns out Mrs Harding is the housemaid formerly known as Gwen Dawson, you know, back in series one. But she’s all posh and proper now.
Thomas is offended that Gwen hasn’t got time to greet her old friends. And even more perturbed when he overhears her telling lady Mary that they’ve never met before. Naturally he decides he must intervene and expose her to the Crawleys, who Branson aside, have all failed to recognise her. Unfortunately for him, the family are surprisingly welcoming. Robert laughs, Cora says welcome back, Edith apologises and Isobel calls hers a 20th century success story.
Mary, of course, turns up her nose but is soon chastened when Gwen recounts the story of how lovely Sybil helped her better herself. Everyone gets a little teary eyed over tea and later on Mary’s tells Anna about her change of heart.
Her self analysis is cut short, though, when a sweaty Anna grabs her pregnant stomach in pain. Full of newfound kindess, Mary says she’ll phone the doctor, Branson will drive them to York and they’ll get the last train to London. The duo head off into the night while Bates is left in the dark.
Back at the Abbey, Anna’s not the only one in need to medical attention. Robert has a pain in his stomach too. He can’t drink port anymore, which is dreadful, of course. Presumably he’s suffering from gout as a result of all of Patmore’s pies.
Meanwhile Daisy is at the end of her tether. She’s going to have this Yewtree Farm business out with Cora, even if it costs her her job. She ascends the stairs with an evil glint in her eye. While, unbeknownst to her, Cora is in the drawing room trying to persuade the family to give Mason the farm. Sure, they’d make more money if they farmed it themselves but Gwen’s got them all thinking about what Sybil would do if she were alive. They all decide to do the good thing and save Mason’s bacon.
In the hallway, Daisy is stoked up by social injustice but her outburst is interrupted by Robert who tells her the good news. Crisis averted.
In London, another crisis has been narrowly avoided. Anna’s had a simple surgery and her doctor is cautiously optimistic about her pregnancy. She’s must rest so Mary takes the opportunity to meet Henry for a tipple. They tartly discuss Mary’s distaste for cars before she enquires as to whether he’s going to make a pass at her. She says she’ll refuse but she’ll enjoy the process enormously. Henry smirks.
Back at the Abbey, the staff have dressed the servants hall for the Carsons’ return. The family head down to the kitchen too. It’s the first time the Dowager has descended in 20 years and she doesn’t stay long so as not to blur boundaries.
As the gang sip punch, Anna tells a chuffed Bates about their bundle of joy, Edith announces she’ll hire a female editor for her magazine – and Mary and her agree about something for the first time in six seasons – while Carson announces that, for ease, the newlyweds shall continued to be called Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes. Which makes my job easier at least…
Next week: Neville Chamberlain comes for tea, Edith goes on a date and Mary goes car racing.
Downton Abbey continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV