Even though Downton Abbey’s fifth season got off to a shaky start, it ended up being so eventful that the estate’s fearless leader suffered a cardiac scare tonight from all of the activity. Among the year’s high and lowlights inside our favorite Yorkshire household: Mary got a haircut, a weirdly inconsequential fire ravaged Edith’s room, Isis died, a creepy art critic preyed upon Cora, the Dowager toyed with the idea of running off with a long-haired Russian refugee, Daisy quit the kitchen George Costanza-style only to revoke her notice, the Bates family was subjected to a tired retread of that whole falsely-accused-of-murder-and-sent-to-prison plot, Lord Grantham took in an orphan only to realize it was Edith’s illegitimate child, and Rose married a Jewish fellow. And during tonight’s two-hour season finale—which aired in the U.K. as the show’s Christmas special—the gang joined the Sinderbys at Hogwarts for grouse hunting before ringing in the holidays at home. (We are serious about Hogwarts—Downton filmed the Brancaster Castle exteriors at Alnwick Castle, which doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Pottermovies.)
Carson Makes It Official by Proposing to Hughes (Believability: 3)
We are not monsters—we all want Carson and Hughes, longtime work husband and wife, to continue their march to full-on coupledom. They are far better suited for each other than any other couple in the house. But if we did not love these characters so much, and already have their housewarming gift ordered (a lovely calendar to remind Carson on a daily basis that it is no longer 1890), we might be dubious about Carson’s decision to commit to Hughes after her red-flag filled confession. In the course of a two-minute scene, Hughes reveals that she has possibly psychotic family members whom she will need to support financially for the rest of her life . . . and no money. And somehow, Carson is still like, “‘Das cool. Here are the keys to the house I bought in both our names.”
While Suze Orman may not approve, Carson goes ahead with his plans and proposes to Hughes on Christmas Eve while she awkwardly holds two drinks in her hand. The moment is perfect though—who would have thought that last season’s hand holding would lead to this?—and our hearts swell when Carson tells Hughes, “I am not marrying anyone else.”
Anna Is Thrown in Jail Because One Man Thinks He Saw Her Throw a Serial Rapist Into Traffic (Believability: 0)
We know this happened last episode but we still can’t wrap our minds around this plot twist, even though we’ve spent five seasons systematically lowering our expectations for Downton Abbey storytelling logic. We’ve been through this whole a-Bates-family-member-is-falsely-imprisoned-for-murder plot before and it doesn’t make much of a difference to us that Anna is now goingOrange Is the New Black instead of Bates this time around. (We will say that Anna’s miserable-in-prison expressions are not much different than her everyday expressions and Bates’s worried-about-Anna faces aren’t any less creepy than normal.)
Mary Still Has Not Realized That Marigold Is Edith’s Daughter (Believability: 3)
It seems insane to us that Mary has not noticed that Edith, her blood sister and chief antagonist, has birthed a daughter who is now living in their household. She certainly notices the bizarre fixation that Edith has with Marigold, is annoyed by it, and puts Edith down on the subject whenever she has the chance. Mary’s most immortal line about parenting arrives tonight, and chills us to our core: “Why don’t you just shut [the children] up in a box in the attic and let them out when they are 21?” For once, Edith sees a way in which Mary’s cruelty can be used in her favor: “[Mary] is completely uninterested in me which should keep [my secret] safe.”
Barrow Manages to Uncover Sinderby’s Darkest Secrets, and Lure Them to Hogwarts Within Some 72 Hours of Being There (Believability: 6)
Barrow only uses his vengeful skill set for good these days, not evil. And in tonight’s episode, we see Barrow take up Lady Mary’s invitation to bring down Sinderby’s butler, and then go one step farther, raiding Sinderby’s own closet for the perfect skeleton that could completely undo him—and manages to find it, or “him” specifically: the illegitimate son he sired with another woman. Barrow lures both to Hogwarts during a party, but Rose thwarts his plan and saves the unsavory Sinderby. Why exactly? I suppose to forge a good relationship with her father-in-law on the foundation of his extramarital sins. But we would have loved to see how the episode would have played out Sliding Doors-style had Sinderby’s illegitimate son been discovered.
Lord Grantham Knows Exactly What to Say to Edith in a Tender Moment (Believability: 2)
Who is this new and improved Lord Grantham, who not only detects emotional nuance but is able to appropriately reciprocate it? Last week, we watched as Lord Grantham surprised everyone by going out of his way to do something thoughtful for Mrs. Patmore. And now, when he decides to tell Edith he’s learned of her secret, he does so with sympathy and understanding. “I’m sure I need your forgiveness just as much as you need mine,” he tells Edith after she apologizes. The line is so Oprah-level spot-on, that we half expected Lord Grantham to suddenly rip his face off, Mission Impossible mask-style, revealing that Dr. Phil had been there underneath the whole time. It will be interesting to see how Mary reacts to the news that her sister is Marigold’s mother, and see whether this news will finally soften their relationship as cartoonish enemies.
Branson Says Goodbye to Downton (Believability: 4)
In what was surely the worst moment of the episode, Branson stares off in the children’s nursery and, when Edith asks why, he says because he “is taking pictures in his mind” so that he has memories of the home when he is in Boston. Later, he tops himself for stiff line readings when he tells Lord Grantham that he will not consider leaving Sybbie at Downton but adds this as some weird consolation: “I love the way you love her.” Farewell, Tom.
Lady Mary Essentially Informs a Stranger How Much He Has Unknowingly Inconvenienced Her Extended Family (Believability: 9)
Well what else should she do during the course of the episode? Break Anna out of prison? Mother her child? Forge a relationship with her last living sister? Ha! No, Mary played etiquette police on tonight’s episode, informing Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) that he had rudely (if unknowingly) crashed their hunting party. Of course, Mary can segue any awkward introduction with a handsome man into a flirtation, and manages to do just that, showing us that she has better chemistry with him and his fancy car than she had with either Blake or Gillingham.
Spratt Challenges Denker to a Broth Off (Believability: 4)
May we never forget that this was actually a storyline in tonight’s Downton Abbey. Spratt nurtures his inner Barrow this episode, suggesting that Denka prove herself as a lady’s maid by making broth. Alas, the challenge only unites Denka and the Dowager and wastes valuable screen time that could have been spent on the surprisingly crafty Molesley.
The Dowager Sends Prince Kuragin Away with His Miserable Wife (Believability: 7)
“I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man,” the Dowager tells Isobel after reuniting her suitor with his far flung wife. “Was I so wrong to savor it?” After getting a glimpse of the wholly unpleasant Princess Kuragin (who follows Larry Grey and Susan MacClare in this season’s procession of awful Downton guests), we understand why the prince was so eager to leave her. Later in the episode, the Dowager confides to Isobel that the princess once physically wrestled her out of running off with the prince. Asked if the Dowager’s husband realized, when she got home, that she had been ruffled up, the Dowager offers the best-timed retort of the evening: “Men notice nothing.”
Yes, the same man that dyed his hair shoe-polish black earlier this season finds a way to free Bates from his self-imposed Fugitive sentence. (Where were these two back when Bates was wrongly accused of murder the first time around?) While the rest of the house wrings their hands over the criminal drama-prone character—who foolishly confessed to a murder he did not commit to free Anna, and then ran away Dr. Richard Kimble-style—Molesley finds a photo of Bates and then recruits Baxter to travel to each and every pub in York until he finds a witness who can confirm Bates’s alibi. And it is a good thing too: I don’t know that any of us were as invested in this plot retread to purchase “Free Bates” T-shirts this time around. The episode ends with Bates sneaking into Downton Abbey on Christmas Eve and surprising Anna, which is nice for them. But of all the characters on the series, these two need a plot makeover most. Maybe next Christmas.
I love getting your Blog and I hope I can be on your “tour” list when your house on Concord is finished!! Maybe I can tag along with the tennis group since I used to be in it! Have a good rest of the winter – Carol Meenan
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