Downton Abbey – Recap: The Dog Days Are Over
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Season 5 Episode 7:
This season, Downton Abbey has been forcing its characters to confront change, and it makes for a far more interesting collection of stories than we might normally get. Whether they resist that change or not, it’s clear that things can’t go back to how they were at Downton Abbey. People are leaving, dying, getting married, and relationships are falling apart. Right now, Downton Abbey just feels momentous.
Case in point, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) finally learns the truth about Edith (Laura Carmichael), a discovery that sets off a bomb at the center of this family unit. Cora is furious less because of Edith’s actions, and more because of the lies Rosamund (Samantha Bond) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) had to tell in order to keep it from her. Cora even goes as far as to tell Violet, outright, that she’ll never trust her again, and it’s a sentiment Violet is more than capable of understanding (“It’s the most honest thing she’s ever said to me,” the Dowager Countess reflects). And yet, Cora’s anger is overshadowed by her desire to get to know her third grandchild, creating this dramatic pull in which Cora has to overlook her shock and anger in service to the greater good of having a relationship with the child. Ultimately, she concocts a scheme so wonderfully straightforward, it makes me wonder why we even had to go through all this drama with the Drewes in the first place. Basically, Cora’s plan is to tell everyone that Marigold is the orphaned daughter of one of the Drewes’ friends, and that the Drewes were no longer capable of providing for her. This will allow the Crawleys to foster the child at Downton Abbey without causing tongues to start wagging in the village. It’s a downright elegant solution, since it helps keep Robert (Hugh Bonneville) out of the loop as well. Because Lord only knows what his reaction would be to this news.
This is a storyline that would probably be ridiculous if it weren’t so blessedly active. Simply put, it’s a rush to get a plot in which Edith is hiding her daughter from Mary (Michelle Dockery) at a train station simply to keep her from learning the truth and lording it over her. And there’s a lot of drama in the question of how Robert is going to take the news that he has another grandchild, even though we don’t get that big moment this week. It’s a plot that offers up a lot of potential for future intrigue, and that’s more than good enough for me. Although, once again, I could REALLY do without Mary (Michelle Dockery) being so keenly insufferable, with regards to Edith. Not only does she wonder why anyone would care that she had gone missing, she also gives Violet attitude when she misreads the reasons why her grandmother is upset. “My dear. A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears,” Violet tells Mary in one of the more satisfying moments of the episode. Seriously, I just can’t stand Mary right now, between her flippant dismissal of Edith’s troubles, to her attempts to rid herself of Gillingham (Tom Cullen) almost being foiled by her ego. If you don’t want him, let him be with someone else! For crying out loud, it’s like she can’t let Tony go unless he admits he’s settling for Mabel. Even Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) is annoyed at how Mary keeps pulling Gillingham back, just as they’re closing in on finally getting him together with Mabel, once and for all. Ultimately, I’m surprised things end as well as they do, with Gillingham accepting that things are done with Mary (after he spies her sharing a staged kiss with Blake outside a movie theater) and wishing her luck in the future. No, really. I was surprised by the clean break. I had every expectation that Mary might have jerked Tony around forever, if Blake hadn’t been around to keep her on track.
But the most poignant storyline this week had nothing to do with secret babies or ruined romances. It all had to do with a dog. The impending death of Isis has a stunning effect on the Crawleys. Cora is downright devastated to learn that Isis has cancer, while Robert struggles to come to grips with the need to let Isis go. At some level, he can recognize that it’s selfish to want to hold on to Isis for as long as he possibly can, even while the dog is in a great deal of pain. On the other hand, Robert is a character who is very much set in his ways. He likes things just so; thus, the concept of not having Isis around is entirely foreign to him, and unfathomable. His grief is every bit as much about the violation of the order of things as it is about the loss of a companion, if only because those are two sides of the same coin, for him. You can’t lose a longtime companion like that without having to accept that your world is changing faster and more irrevocably than you’re willing to accept. Sure, losing Isis won’t be the end of the world for Robert, but it marks a significant change in his life. It’s unlikely that even something as simple as going for a walk will be the same again, in much the same way the opening credits will never really be the same for us.
The other stories this week had some mild intrigue, largely surrounding the pending marriages on the horizon. After Isobel announces her engagement to Lord Merton, his sons arrive for a special dinner, at which they proceed to treat Isobel horribly. The eldest, Larry, disrespects Isobel and the Crawleys at every turn, accusing them of letting just anyone into the family, and predicting that his father’s marriage will end in failure. Robert is understandably furious, but not nearly as mad as Branson (Allen Leech), who sticks up for his family and demands that Larry leave immediately. It’s a powerful moment that reiterates just how much affection Branson has for these people, even though he’s considering moving to Boston with Sybie. Larry’s outburst has another effect, however, as Isobel is now reconsidering her decision to wed Lord Merton, and it has the effect of suddenly making me feel invested in a pairing I wasn’t all that into before. Seriously, I want to see Isobel and Merton happily together, if only to spite Larry. I mean, Merton is a perfectly fine gent, so it wouldn’t be a bad match, even if Merton isn’t exactly Dr. Clarkson (i.e., my ideal pick for Isobel). But if they did wed, this would have the side effect of also plunging Violet into depression, as she tearfully admits she’s had Isobel as a companion for so long that she isn’t sure what she’ll do without her.
The Merton/Isobel relationship drama is fittingly dramatic, and it provides a nice contrast to the engagement of Rose (Lily James) to Atticus. The relationship has been moving at lightning speed, but it mostly works because the two seem so vibrantly passionate about one another, but in a way that’s sort of innocent. Rose has had her share of scandalous couplings, so to see her as such a fresh-faced innocent, looking to finally settle down and remove herself from the recklessness of her earlier youth, is an interesting change. At the very least, it’s far more interesting than any of the downstairs storylines this week. Whether it’s Bates (Brendan Coyle) having a feud with Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) over the comments she made to the police, or Daisy (Sophie McShera) visiting Mr. Mason and learning the value of education, these stories just feel strangely inert, and they end up contributing not a whole lot to the episode. But it’s a minor complaint in what is essentially the best episode of this year so far. A lot of good drama is about the resistance to change, and so it is with a lot of good episodes of Downton Abbey, like this one.