Downton Abbey: “Series Two, Episode Five.”
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Downton Abbey: “Series Two, Episode Five.”

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Downton Abbey

“Series Two, Episode Five.”

Season 2, Episode 5

I’m going to begin this week’s recap with a little conspiracy theory: Do you think the bosses over at PBS intentionally scheduled this episode of Downton Abbey opposite the Super Bowl, hoping that no one would watch it? If so, that may have been a good idea.

When it comes to Downton Abbey, I’m willing to forgive a tremendous amount of foolishness. Supremely melodramatic plot twists? Yes please! Cartoonish villains with vague motives? Hey, whatever it takes for a little conflict. Storylines that drag on for years without resolution? Okay, if you must. But this episode, in which a maimed soldier claiming to be the long-dead Patrick Crawley turns up at Downton Abbey, ready to claim his inheritance—and poor Edith’s heart—is more cheese than I can bear. I can't help suspecting that, with the war at an end, and two more episodes plus a Christmas special to fill, Julian Fellowes desperately reached into his grab-bag of soap-opera plot twists, and this is what he plucked out. Too bad he didn't throw it back.

Patrick’s story is fishier than a dumpster at Long John Silver’s.  He claims he was plucked from the icy waters of the Atlantic after the Titanic sank, but had no memory of his life as Patrick Crawley until he was injured in an explosion—an explosion that also rendered him unrecognizable. And, oh yeah, after six years in Canada, he’s lost all traces of his English accent. It’s an undeniably absurd plot twist, but somehow, the execution makes it sillier than it needs to be: Patrick’s makeup looks like a Freddy Kreuger mask, and his voice has a weird, disembodied quality that makes him seem not quite human. (Trevor White, the actor playing Patrick, should at least be glad his face is covered in make-up.) 

Edith falls for Patrick’s implausible story, but the rest of the family is more skeptical, especially when it’s revealed that Patrick once worked with a Peter Gordon who seems to have vanished without a trace. Grantham is wary, but willing to investigate the matter. Mary is less receptive, seething with disdain for her weak, gullible younger sister. Of course, Mary’s hostility is fueled by her loyalty to Matthew and by fear that he’ll be disinherited if Patrick is, in fact, alive. Whatever the circumstances, it’s at least fun to see Mary back in pre-war mega- bitch mode. (“He isn’t like anything to look at” was particularly harsh, wasn’t it?)

Possibly the most egregious thing about Patrick’s resurrection from the dead is that he disappears before his identity can be resolved. On the very morning the war comes to an end, he slips off, leaving a note for Edith signed “P. Gordon.” Edith is distraught, but she needn’t be, because we all know Patrick/Peter is destined to return at some pivotal moment in the very near future. But Patrick’s departure is so abrupt, it’s almost as if Fellowes himself wasn’t convinced by the storyline and just decided, “Oh, to hell with this.” I can excuse haphazard B-plots like Edith’s affair with the farmer or Thomas’s friendship with the blind soldier, but when it comes to who will inherit Downton Abbey—the very raison d'être for this series, after all—Fellowes really should be far more careful. The goofiest, most objectionable thing about Patrick’s return is how totally superfluous it is. It’s unnecessarily melodramatic—and unnecessarily disruptive—filler.

Nearly as bad as the Patrick nonsense is the latest wrinkle in the Anna-Bates storyline. Here’s another example of the “Just Kidding!” problem I mentioned last week: Just when it looked like this plot had, at long last, reached a conclusion, Fellowes found a way to drag it out for another week.  Legally forbidden from selling her story to the papers, Vera instead tells a judge that Bates paid her off, which for some obscure legal reason means he can withdraw the decree. Vera turns up dead at the end of the episode, but something tells me even death will not stop her from meddling with Bates and Anna. (Something also tells me Bates is going to be implicated in her untimely passing.) The worst part of this interminable storyline is that Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle, who were so winning in season one, have so very little to do this time around.  Froggatt’s Anna is plucky and determined, despite it all, but Coyle seems almost embarrassed to be onscreen, doesn’t he?

But the episode isn’t entirely devoid of fun. Mary and her betrothed Sir Richard, who are collectively feasting on the bones of the dying aristocracy, make plans to buy Haxby Park, a ginormous estate near Downton Abbey whose former tenants lost their son in the war (what happened to their money is unclear). Like the nouveau riche cretin he is, Richard tries to lure Carson away from Downton Abbey with the promise of a big, fat salary increase. (Downton without Carson? Perish the thought!) Even worse are Sir Richard's plans to renovate the house. Grantham calls the plans “ghastly,” as if Richard was installing a swim-up bar and an 18-hole miniature golf course and not basic amenities like central heating and, uh, bathrooms. Cora, being American, doesn’t mind being warm and dry. “I don’t share your hatred of comfort,” she says, making me laugh for possibly the first time ever.

Grantham might think indoor plumbing crass, but apparently even he’s not above flirting with the help. He seems to have taken a shine to perky new housemaid, Jane, and agrees without hesitation to write a recommendation on behalf of her son (the equivalent of foreplay in 1918). Of course, Grantham is not to blame for his wandering eye. He and Cora find themselves at odds when it comes to their eldest daughter: Grantham understands her attachment to Matthew, while Cora is desperate to marry her off to Sir Richard. Without telling Matthew, Cora invites Lavinia up from London, in hopes the couple will reunite.  She defends herself with a question: “It’s quite simple: do you want Mary’s marriage to be a success?” Grantham’s not impressed. “You can be curiously unfeeling,” he says. I’ve never been a big Cora fan, but her behavior is hardly terrible enough to drive him into the arms of a maid. Cora sucks, but she also has a point.

Speaking of things that are unfeeling (hey-o!), poor Matthew slides into an even deeper state of depression this week. Mary’s there to wheel him around and even offers to call off her wedding to Sir Richard, but Matthew will hear none of it.  “I have nothing to give and nothing to share. If you were not engaged to be married, I wouldn’t let you anywhere near me,” he says. And his mood hardly improves when “The Canadian Patient” rolls into town, serving as a painful reminder of Matthew’s redundancy. “He can sire a string of sons to continue the line. All in all, I’d say that’s a great improvement,” Matthew says, wheeling off in despair.

Apparently, he needn’t be so gloomy. As Bates wheels him down the hall, Matthew is suddenly gripped by a mysterious sensation. “My God!” he blurts out. He doesn’t explain the reason for the outburst, but we all know what’s going on: The “downstairs staff” has “returned from vacation.” (For those of you keeping track, the sudden resurrection of Matthew's penis marks at least the third “Just Kidding!” moment of the episode.) Matthew’s renewed virility is good news for Lavinia, maybe, but what does it mean for Mary? The only way she’ll end up with Matthew is if Lavinia and/or Sir Richard are killed.

Readers, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what lies ahead for Downton Abbey. In the final moments of the episode, the family, staff, and remaining patients convene in the great hall of Downton Abbey to commemorate the end of the war. “This is the dawning of a new age,” Grantham declares. For our sake, as well as theirs, I certainly hope this is true.

Stray observations:

  • Another storyline that simply will not end: Daisy’s guilt over “deceiving” Wiliam. Now she refuses to accept his pension. This storyline was already becoming tedious when William was alive; why must it drag on now that he’s dead? 
  • Cora and Violet once again gang up effectively on Isobel and convince her to go work for a refugee organization on the continent, but it’s Isobel who gets the best line of the episode, dismissing their aristocratic lifestyle as “that life of changing clothes and killing things and eating them.”
  • World War I ended in November of 1918, so why is everyone walking around outside with no coats on?
  • Ethel’s baby daddy died in the war, and now she’s going to pretend to be a widow. I say more power to her.
  • Will Carson actually leave Downton Abbey? It would be interesting to see how the place would function with a new butler, but I tend to think it won’t happen—mostly because we all know Mary isn’t going to end up with Sir Richard.