Downton Abbey – Recap: Let It Go
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Season 5 Episode 4:
We’ve hit the halfway point of Downton Abbey Season 5, and the storylines are starting to take real shape. However, it comes at the expense of that “ensemble feeling” Downton Abbey creates so well, as each character seems off in his or her own world. Of course, considering some of the storylines these characters are facing, it makes sense that some of these stories don’t intersect, even when they probably should. After all, it’s not like Edith is going to turn to Mary for help or comfort.
Yet, even with the layers of separation between all the characters, I liked this episode quite a bit. There were several charming moments to anchor the narrative, such as Lord Merton proposing to Isobel (Penelope Wilton), making this arguably the biggest storyline she’s had since Season 2. On the one hand, I was somewhat annoyed by Isobel agreeing to Merton’s suggestion to “think about it,” since it feels like a somewhat arbitrary way to extend the storyline. On the other hand, it was actually in keeping Isobel’s fairly reticent character. She wouldn’t be certain about this sort of thing, because it’s been so long since she’s had to entertain this kind of proposal. Never mind that she could still be dealing with the lingering emotional effects of Matthew’s death. On top of all that, she has a friend/confidante relationship with the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) that would essentially be upended by this union, since Isobel would presumably leave to go live with Merton. In short, Isobel would be leaving the comfort of what she knows for something less certain. And that internal conflict is an interesting one, particularly since it has echoes in Violet’s storyline. In short, Violet reveals that she’d had a brief relationship with Prince Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia), nearly running off with him decades earlier before ultimately deciding against it after the late Lord Grantham gave her a framed photo of their children. Both women are being confronted with the notion of something new through the promise of possible romance, and it’s enough to shake both to their core. In a way, that ends up being the theme of the episode, the complications of romance, and the difficulty of moving on.
It’s harder for no one more than Edith (Laura Carmichael), who is faced with the possibility that Gregson has been killed while in Germany after news arrives that a German gang leader has been put to trial. However, Edith refuses to learn conclusively whether Gregson has been killed or not, since hope is really all she has left now that the Drewes won’t let her see Marigold. The difficulty she faces in letting go is reflected in the similar difficulty faced by Mary (Michelle Dockery). Intent on breaking things off with Gillingham (Tom Cullen), she encounters Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), who doesn’t think Gillingham is going to take the breakup very well at all, despite Mary’s optimism to the contrary. As it turns out, Blake is right on the money, as Gillingham downright REFUSES to be dumped, calling her out on having taken him into her bed, entertained his hopes, and even told him she loved him. He demands an explanation, but Mary can’t really give him one, because even she isn’t sure what it is about him that she isn’t feeling. This makes Gillingham even angrier, and it suddenly makes his insistence last season that he and Mary would be together, even over her objections, seem a lot more sinister now. Hell, it even makes this overreaction seem perfectly in character with how he views love. He’s decided he’s going to be with Mary, so he feels she should be similarly open to the pairing, even though the chemistry is no longer there for her. Sure, Mary probably owes him a better explanation, but Gillingham isn’t entitled to Mary’s love. In both Edith and Mary’s cases, they’re unable to let go of the men in their lives, and it has a harmful effect on their respective emotional stability.
Speaking of the inability to let things go, Anna (Joanna Froggatt) is frustrated that this unfortunate business with Green won’t simply end already. And I can’t blame her, particularly since Bates (Brendan Coyle) is being kind of suspicious. Of course, Anna doesn’t just come out and ask Bates if he had anything to do with the alleged murder, instead deciding to worry about it to herself. It’s a problematic choice, if nothing else, since it results in her deciding to visit the scene of the alleged crime, where she’s spotted by the sergeant investigating the crime. So now Anna is a likely suspect in the crime, making it virtually impossible that this Green unpleasantness will go away any time soon. Also distressing is the ongoing story between Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), but for different reasons. Here, the implication is that Thomas is undergoing some sort of medical procedure that will “cure” him of his homosexuality, since “No man in this house can help” Thomas, nor can they understand him. He doesn’t want Baxter’s pity, even though the treatments are rotting him from the inside out. The man looks like grim death the entire episode, suggesting that things are far more severe for him than he’s leading on. It’s heartbreaking to see this happen to Thomas, just as it is to see Anna potentially become the subject of yet another injustice, assuming she’s falsely accused of Green’s murder. And that has the potential to be an interesting storyline, far more so than, say, Robert’s decision to refuse a developer’s money in order to build homes on Downton land himself. I’ve never particularly cared for all the estate business the show keeps shoveling into the narrative, and this latest development doesn’t change that opinion on my end. At this point, I just want things to get going to wherever they’re going to end up. I get that this is a show with patient storytelling, but the estate storylines have been downright lethargic to a point that borders on maddening.
Still, it’s not nearly as maddening as the continued presence of Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis), who has now made it clear that she has no interest in being anything other than an insufferable rabble-rouser. She takes Cora’s gracious invitation to dinner and essentially uses the opportunity to badger Robert (Hugh Bonneville) about what she perceives to be his classist views, accusing him of not supporting Daisy’s (Sophie McShera) education, and even going as far as to accuse him of not even knowing the girl’s name. Robert sends for Daisy and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) to ask if Daisy’s studies have been interfering with kitchen work, at which point Daisy launches into a passionate defense of Miss Bunting. She says that even if nothing ever comes of her education, she knows she has options, interests, views and facts now, none of which she ever had before. It’s a lovely little scene for Sophie McShera, but more comes of it than I was expecting: apparently, the rumors of discord in the kitchen only started because Mrs. Patmore, in a moment of frustration over Mr. Carson’s decision to keep her nephew’s name off of the war memorial, stated that Daisy’s studies were causing her to fall behind in her work. Thus, Robert tries to get things sorted out. However, Miss Bunting can’t seem to let well enough alone once she’s proven right about the value of Daisy’s education, insinuating that Robert wants Daisy to fail. In what may be the angriest I’ve seen Robert get since season two, he loudly orders her to leave his house and never return, before storming off to bed in a huff.
Naturally, Miss Bunting was the final straw, since Robert is stressed the entire episode: Shrimpy, Rose’s father, is getting a divorce, and this forces him to take a second look at his own marriage, and at the threat presented by Simon Bricker (Richard E. Grant), who is flirting with Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) as shamelessly as ever. Also on Robert’s mind is Mr Wavell, the developer who wishes to build homes on Downton property. In short, one could see why Robert might be a bit on edge, and why Miss Bunting’s patronizing tone would set him off. And yet, throughout the rest of the episode, Robert is somehow depicted as the bad guy for losing his temper? Even though it was Miss Bunting who came into Robert’s house and immediately began disrespecting him at his own table! Miss Bunting is a reminder of why I didn’t like Branson (Allen Leech) at first: it wasn’t just that he had differing views from the Granthams when he first arrived at Downton, and it wasn’t even that he refused to play by their rules. Rather, what was off-putting about him at the time was that he felt compelled to throw his views in their face at every opportunity. It just read as disrespectful, and make Branson come across as a bit of a jackass, in much the same way Miss Bunting comes across here. That said, at least Branson gets to explain what he sees in her, telling Mary that, since Sybil died, it’s been rare for him to meet someone with whom he can share his genuine beliefs. And that’s kind of an indictment of the Granthams, and how uncomfortable Branson still feels among them.
Yet, with all that said, there was just enough here to make this a worthwhile episode, since the stories are really starting to pickup. After all, the entire business with Mary and Gillingham is the kind of scintillating stuff that got me hooked on this show in the first place. Yes, Downton Abbey is a very patient show, more so than many. But it does romance — and the fallout of when romance doesn’t work out — particularly well. As long as the show can do these sorts of stories consistently, Downton Abbey can be as patient in its storytelling as Julian Fellowes wants it to be, for all I care.