The Crawley family’s appalling decision-making caused several situations to come to a head this week, in one case leading to fisticuffs and some shocking minor furniture damage. But even the less explosive storylines were loaded with portent and lust.
Lady Edith, more beige and downbeat than ever, naused up the Marigold situation irreversibly, with help from dippy Aunt Rosamund. Ros, having clumsily given Mary a hint about the existence of Edith’s secret daughter in London last week, now rocked up to Downtonshire and immediately asked to see the child.
In swept Ros to the farmyard, where Marigold was playing and Tim the kind pig-wrangler’s wife was dourly hammering the filth out of some sackcloth. She didn’t take kindly to Marigold being prodded not just by the sad lady from the mansion up the road, but by her mad auntie, whose outfit was within an ace of a Marie Antoinette fancy dress costume.
Later on, Tim the kind pig-wrangler was transferring some hay from one side of the manure yard to the other when Edith yet again dripped in, alone this time, weakly demanding he stop farming to allow her to bob Marigold forlornly on her knee. Grasping a pitchfork, Tim the kind pig-wrangler explained that the Aunt Rosamund cameo had queered the gaff permanently with Tim the kind pig-wrangler’s wife, and that further visits would not be permitted.
Edith wibbled uncontrollably. Tim the kind pig-wrangler went back to work. He was forking, angry.
Back at home, Edith was taken aside by the Dowager Countess, who had winkled the truth out of Aunt Rosamund simply by staring at her and reminding her of a lifetime of failed attempts to hide things from her spy-queen mother.
The D-C and Ros had come up with a typically humble, down-to-earth solution to the crisis: Marigold must be snatched from the farmers and sent covertly to a boarding school in France, where Edith will still have to lie every time she sees her daughter, only now she’ll have to go to France as well. It’s hard to see more than eleven or twelve ways in which this could go calamitously awry.
Subtler schemes came from Charles Blake, Lady Mary’s surviving suitor. Buoyed by the unlikely news that his rival, Lord Gillingham, had emerged from a week of sex in Liverpool with the elbow rather than an engagement, Blake sought to close the deal. He engineered a dinner date between himself, Mary and Martha Lane-Fox, who bridled at the suggestion that she might return to the man who spurned her, now that Mary has hung him, worn and stained, back on the rail.
To help him get what he wants, Blake had explicitly told a perfectly nice woman that she was two rungs below Mary on the dating ladder. A cruel and unnecessary humiliation – one of Mary’s favourite things. She was visibly excited.
Lord Gillingham might take heart from the plight of Carson, whose relationship with Mrs Hughes has skipped several of the fun early stages and gone straight to the phase where she amuses herself by secretly outwitting him.
Mrs Patmore had inherited a whopping £300 from an expired aunt and had approached Carson for investment advice, admitting to a disgusted Mrs Hughes that she’d chosen Carson “because he’s a man”. Ruffled by Hughesy’s open contempt for his financial acumen, Carson set to work and thought he’d found the answer when Lord Grantham spoke highly of a Thirsk building firm.
Carson told M-Patz to invest in this outfit, a plan slightly hampered by the fact that you can’t just put money into random private businesses. Even Mrs Patmore, who is both a woman and working-class, knew that. Carson was so discombobulated he later fell for Mrs Hughes’s flattering story that M-Patz, who had decided to buy a cottage and rent it out, had done so because Carson had said building was on the up, and a cottage is a building.
Hughesy and M-Patz were content at having run rings around a silly, pompous man so easily. But will they be laughing on the other sides of their faces when Mrs Patmore’s decision to become a buy-to-let landlord exacerbates a lack of local social housing, causing an imbalance in the Downtonshire property market and entrenching a new form of economic feudalism that is just as iniquitous as the old masters-and-servants paradigm? Find out next week.
Concern grows for Barrow, whose machinations were all but paused this week due to illness. The backstreet medicine he’s injecting has just one side effect: it’s lethally poisonous. At dinner, the Dowager Countess noticed that Barrow had turned the colour of Mrs Patmore’s horsemeat custard; in the slaves’ quarters, Baxter enquired as to why he was gushing sweat all over the back stairs.
Barrow waved them both away, but the only evil he could manage was an unconvincing promise to say something unhelpful to the police inspector who arrived at Downton to ask Anna if she’s a murderer. She wisely said no, which has done the trick for now.
Upstairs, all last week’s romantic tensions were resolved, sometimes violently. Lord Grantham made peace with Branson, complimenting him on his political sophistication. He’d resisted the urge to blow up Downton Abbey and had instead married its hottest daughter, put on a waxed jacket and become the manager of a thousand-acre estate that basically owns the local village and everyone in it. Result! But that didn’t mean he’d betrayed his principles. He should be proud of his nuanced, grown-up approach. He should also have another crystal tumbler full of this superb brandy the King of Spain sent over.
Miss Bunting the socialist schoolteacher, of course, didn’t agree and informed Branson that she was moving to Preston. Daisy – the previously illiterate and innumerate kitchen dogsbody who, after a fortnight of tuition from Miss Bunting, is now homing in on the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem – begged Branson not to allow Bunting to go. But he did, letting her down gently while also refusing to budge on the whole issue of not despising his dead wife’s family and plotting to destroy everything they stand for.
Lord Grantham had won that one, but closer to home things were trickier. Simon Bricker, the randy dandy, was once again at Downton, failing to hide his joy at the news that Lord G would be staying away from the house that night on important aristocratic business.
At lights out, Bricker crawled sideways into Cora’s bedroom to propose a tryst, and was just being rejected when Lord G returned unexpectedly. His Lordship was considering taking the high road and letting Bricker out of the room unscathed but, provoked by some harsh truths about his inattentive husbandry, he slammed Bricker with a sly topspin backhander, reminiscent of Billie Jean King in her heyday, and then dived onto his stunned opponent, rolling with him on the bed.
They progressed to the floor, knocking over an occasional table and making a right mess of Bricker’s hair. Lord G now lay furiously on top of his rival, setting up a fascinating contest: would he be able to smother the sneaky stick insect with his vastly larger bulk, or would the stress of the situation cause a fatal coronary before Bricker ran out of air?
A bash at the door from a concerned Lady Edith sadly put an end to the fight. Bricker left in shame the next day. But Lord G and Cora’s marriage hangs by a thread. Will she be galvanised by her husband defending her honour, or is the news that he fights like a camp walrus a bit of a turn-off?
Such dilemmas are years away for Lady Rose, who found fresh love in the least likely place: the crypt full of Russian refugees. In a romantic rainstorm outside, she ran into Atticus Aldridge, a seven-foot tower of white teeth and charm. On learning that he was of Russian descent, she insisted that he come down and meet the displaced aristocrats, only to find that Atticus’s antecedents were Jewish Russian, not Royal Russian, and the Romanov-loving toffs are festeringly anti-Semitic.
Rose didn’t understand their disgust and is now happily in love with Atticus. When the Crawleys find out, her dating a Jew surely won’t be as bad as the time she tried to marry a black singer, but is it nevertheless still unacceptable? So many questions. Find out next week.