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Worldly Distractions: Downton Abbey 5.9/10 - Christmas Short and Special, Series 5





Yes, there's a short and a movie-length special. Aren't we blessed? I hope you forgive me for taking a day to celebrate the most famous holiday in the Western World. Call the Midwife should follow later this week. Thank you, British television, for making our holiday season that much classier.

Also, I'm taking bets on who will die this episode. 2-1 on Tom Branson, anyone?

We begin with the short, in which Mary proposes firing all the valets and maids, and Maggie Smith has gone skiing. Meanwhile, Robert has lost the entire fortune. He wishes that he had never been born. He decides to take the car out, and thus die just like Matthew. An angel shows up to convince him otherwise. Rose and Cora are 1920s sluts with an American servant. Wait, would Cora even be in England? Isobel hasn't changed at all, though she is perhaps freer with men. Robert suggests fixing the servant up with Edith. Rose is thrilled to be "flighty and spontaneous". They anachronistically reference Willy Wonka. Even Carson is in on the sluttery (shudder if you like). The staff are playing strip poker, Molesley is losing badly, and reveals his Baxter tattoo. Mrs Hughes is a hardened gambler. The Downton daughters, and Branson, are apparently still on the scene, though you think you'd need Robert's genetics. But in fact, all three girls appear to have been fathered by George Clooney. Well played, short.

In the sequel, Cora is revealed to be married to "George Oceans Gravity" or Lord Hollywood, who is way sexier than Robert could ever be. He has even managed to charm Lady Violet into loving him, despite his dubious background. Mary pops up to explain why Thomas is a jerk. Tom  bares his heart to the girls, and Mary makes him clean the car. Robert calls out all the flaws in the scene. Mrs Hughes and Lord Hollywood take a selfie with the rest of the household, reminiscent of a certain other famous star-studded selfie. The angel brings Robert back to real life, where it turns out the long-suffering servants have pooled their life savings to bail him out. They explain that they love working there, though Robert wonders why they couldn't have turned the estate into a commune. Everyone has sherry and sings Christmas Carols. This was not only hilarious, but for charity, so support the Text Santa Initiative, guys.

Okay, time for the real special. We still get the dog's bum, despite her very timely death. Mary goes to visit her servant bestie in prison. Bates mopes, Thomas schemes. The family is going to visit the Sinderbys (Rose's in-laws) and putting Thomas in charge for some reason. The ladies of the household are spread quite thin, taking over Anna's duties. Violet makes fun of Anna's plight. Robert is going on a mysterious trip to York, which means his odds of death have risen exponentially. Violet is still looking for the Princess Kuragina, despite her ongoing love for the Prince.

In prison, Anna is shocked that Mary came to see her. She tells her, correctly, that the evidence is flimsy as fuck and definitely shouldn't have been going on for like two seasons by now. Carson is worried about how Mary's visit will affect the family's image. Thomas and Bates polish the family guns, which is not a euphemism here, and enrage Carson by crowding up the table. Carson and Mrs Hughes go for a drink, because besties, and are apparently looking for a house. Wait, did we miss something here? Yeah, apparently Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes want to spend their retirement running a B&B. Where did that come from? What?

The Aldriches have invited the Crawleys before Rose's parents, which is a huge drama. The young people say goodbye to their children while Robert pretends not to know that Marigold belongs to Edith. Maggie Smith comes to say goodbye and pick up her paycheque for the episode. Carson is left in charge,  because let's not kid ourselves, he's the one who really runs the place.

Daisy is still having existential issues about her new education. The Crawleys ride the Hogwarts Express up to Scotland, where they discuss all the family drama that will inevitably happen. Tom expresses terror at having to face new rich people, though the family insists he belongs with them. Edith worries about the children, Mary complains because she's a real mother and she's not worrying (cue Looks all around).

Lord Sinderby is a bit grumpy at the prospect of guests, while Lady S desperately tries to keep the peace. Everyone arrives at a pretty castle. Rose looks all happily married and stuff, and probably will be pregnant by the end of the episode. Atticus remains bland and handsome. Thomas tries to undermine all the Sinderby servants. He is promptly demoted to footman, which is just beautiful. The entire staff snarks about Branson being above his station. To the point of caricature, really. I could do with a dial-back on that.

Isobel has been invited to the Great Kuragin Reunion. Violet's heart is breaking into tiny little pieces. Robert keeps unsuccessfully trying to get the Sinderbys to invite the Flinchers. Lord Sinderby is as grumpy as ever. Tom takes sugar with his tea. Everyone damn near faints.Back at the ranch, Denker is still crazy, Spratt is still stuffy, and Isobel and Violet watch with amusement.

Carson and Hughes are going house hunting. Bates is heading up to prison. Everyone seems to regard conviction as a foregone conclusion. The families go on a hunting trip, which is bound to be a cavalcade of awkward. There are even replacement dogs for Isis. Lord Sinderby is all "Harrumph divorce is bad no Flinchers harrumph" while the lady is genuinely kind to Tom. The pigeon hunt is so chaotic that I wonder who will get shot by accident. Lord Grantham's odds go up yet again.

In jail, we hear about Anna's poor background through some very clumsy exposition. She turns out to have been sexually abused by her stepdad, because this is a great theme for a Christmas episode. She wound up stabbing the shit out of him, so there's an unfortunate history hanging over her case. Bates keeps insisting she's not guilty, which means she totally is. Sad prison music plays.

Edith keeps wondering about the children, which arouses no suspicions among any of her family members whatsoever. At all. Everyone keeps snubbing Tom, and no one says a word, because they're all jerks. The music tells me that Lord Sinderby's butler is probably evil.

Carson and Mrs Hughes go house-hunting and pretend they're totally still platonic. Prince Kuragin, who is completely sexy for an old guy but has the worst Russian accent ever, waits nervously to be reunited with his long-lost wife. Baxter looks after Mary, who is plotting to get the evil butler into trouble with his employers, because no one fucks with the dead sister's husband. Thomas is hatching similar ideas.

Igor and Elena Kuragin are reunited, though they don't seem very happy to be, though it might be the Russian character coming out. Also another terrible accent. They mope about the Revolution and snark about England. Elena Kuragina totally knows what's going on and everything is ten times more uncomfortable.

At dinner, Atticus talks about his friend Henry Talbot, who is coming this week and will totally bang Mary. Mrs Hughes has prepared a special dinner with the remaining servants. Carson is horrified at the prospect of Daisy and Molesley eating with them. They settle down for a jolly old time.

The butler finally goes too far when he outwardly refuses Tom some wine, and people actually start paying attention. Also, someone has screwed up the Butler's orders to make him appear the fool. Lord Sinderby shames him quite soundly in front of the entire table. He also makes the mistake of insulting Thomas, so his odds of death have gone up to Overwhelming. Rose tactfully changes the subject.

The Kuragin dinner is even worse, with Elena going out of her way to make everyone uncomfortable. Prince Kuragin is still totally into Violet, but with the Princess around, nothing is going to change. Violet is quite distressed, while Lord Merton is as balanced and peacemaking (and boring) as always. Afterward, Violet reminisces about the "immoral proposition" she was given, with a girlish gleam in her eye.

Robert seems to be having some kind of stomach and chest problem, which is probably going to put him in his grave by the end of the episode. He's also worried about Edith, and wants to tell her that he knows. Cora is doubtful. Spratt and Denker continue to hate on each other. Robert goes to see Edith, who has surprisingly springy long hair, and tells her that he's totally cool with her having a bastard child with the Roving Reporter. Now everyone but Mary (and possibly Tom) knows, and no one wants to tell her. They decide they have to do right by Marigold to make up for her dad getting killed by the first round of Nazis. Of course, Edith has to assure her dad that Michael totally would have married her had it not been for the wife locked in the attic. Everyone hugs and makes up, and it's all quite lovely. If a tad rushed.

Thomas has it out with Evil Butler. Evil Butler totally thinks Thomas wrote the note, but of course Thomas is way too clever like that, so it doesn't match up. Inexplicably, Evil Butler immediately gets all buddy-buddy with Thomas, despite him pretty much having a note on his forehead that says DON'T TRUST ME.

Everyone discusses Tom's imminent departure, which is going to be awful for everyone, viewers included. Edith and Mary continue to be total bitches to each other. Denker shows up at Downton to amuse the servants left behind. In prison, the family lawyer explains that Anna has zero chance of getting out of this, which means it's time for Bates to hatch and evil plan.

Isobel and Lord Merton discuss rekindling their engagement, though the horrid Merton sons continue to stand in the way. Isobel is inclined to graciously step back. Though there may be other reasons there as well. It turns out Denker has been lifting the new broth Violet likes from Mrs Patmore and Daisy, which is such a boring plot I'm not inclined to spend more time on. Back at the Sinderbys', everyone is trying to set Mary up with Atticus's friend.

Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes discuss putting an offer in on this house, and on their future together. Mrs Hughes seems a little down that Carson's being so dry about the thing. She tells him her Tragic Backstory involving a sister with a cognitive disability, which tends to take up all of her finance. She can't afford to put up her share. The dream is dead. Of course, Carson is just this short of proposing when Bates bursts in wanting to use the phone. Great job, buzzkill.

Mary and whatsisname seem to get along okay, though they should really be unloading him on Edith since she's damaged goods. She keeps bringing up her dead husband to ward him off. More shooting. Nobody dies, except for a couple of pigeons. Whatsisname turns out to be a great shot, so you know she'll have him in bed by the end of the night. Meanwhile, Edith's hot for the estate agent, who is weirdly reminiscent of both Strallan and Gregson. Like, this lady has a serious type, you guys. More pigeon death.

Isobel gets a letter from one of the horrid Merton sons telling her to fuck off. She's decided to stay clear of the whole family. Now she's free to get with Dr. Clarkson. Shippers, start your engines.

The Crawleys go to lunch, where Mary banters with Suitor #867. Spratt has uncovered Denker's soup treachery, so he's poured it all down the sink. They catfight like mad. Go, Denker. I like this lady.

A woman and child suddenly show up at the house. They are implied to be Lord Sinderby's ex-mistress and illegitimate child. Rose is very quick on the uptake and pretends that the mistress, Diana, is actually her friend. Rachel Sinderby doesn't appear to have noticed. The entire Crawley family knows what's going on. In fact, Mary is quite sure that Thomas is behind it. And Lord Sinderby is the odds-on favourite for Death of the Episode right now, considering the shade of purple his face has turned.

Bates gives Molesley a note and tells him he's going away. Molesley gallantly offers to help, but they're too far gone by now. Bates walks out of the Crawley house, probably for the last time. Diana thanks Rose for covering so quickly, and they part as allies. Edith continues to hit on Sir Estate Agent Strallan-Gregson.

Mary and Rose chew out Evil Butler for letting Diana into the party, then tell him to Be Nice to Tom Or Else. Lord Sinderby takes the two of them plus Robert aside to explain his whorin' ways. (Considering Robert's near-bonking of the maid in Season 2, and Mary and Rose's various indiscretions, I don't think this is going to be an issue.) Lord Sinderby even accepts Rose as his daughter-in-law and invites the Flinchers to stay. All is well in the world.

Molesley thinks he has an idea of how to account for Bates's day in York, though he has written a confession for the police, so all seems to be lost. Everyone gets dressed up in flapper outfits and parties like it's 1925. Evil Butler is over-polite to Tom. Mary and Edith continue to party with their interchangeable beaux. Jazz music plays. I'm surprised Robert hasn't dropped dead from the shock. Tom hints to Edith that he knows about Marigold, so now they're square with each other. "Where I grew up, there were quite a few Marigolds," he tells his sister-in-law. Mary is still not allowed to know, though.

Back with Molesley. He hunts through the Bates cottage for clues that might exonerate. Unfortunately, he doesn't find Mary's birth control device.

More pointless flirting between Mary and the guy-whose-name-I-just-found-out-was-Mary. He has a sweet car, thus filling out every young love cliche. Everyone returns to find Bates gone and much drama in the downstairs. Thomas is just hoping to be promoted to valet. Robert thinks Bates has gone to Ireland, and that Anna may be released soon. Baxter offers to help Molesley in his sleuthing, which will apparently be done with a generic picture of Bates. Okay, this is just an excuse for both the Bates actors to leave the show, right?

Anna is released on bail to a warm welcome. She keeps insisting neither of them did it, which means this is going to drag on for yet another season. Uh, Mary did it, right?

Also, there's some soup drama over at Granny's. I'm not paying attention either.

Robert announces to the whole family that he has an ulcer, which seems distinctly un-English aristocrat of him, but at least he's not going to die. Tom's departure is imminent, and everyone is sad. Carson hires a new footman, which Thomas is really hoping will be Denker's drinking buddy Andy.

We skip to Christmas 1924 (finally, a Christmas special actually taking place at the time), which involves the whole family decorating the tree, kids included. Carson buys the house, which pleases Mrs Hughes. Carson is horrified that Atticus and his family don't do Christmas, because apparently the word "Jewish" doesn't seem to have registered. Tom is still planning to ditch England. Mary looks more like Posh Spice than ever. Baxter and Molesley have traced Bates's Incredible Journey to a specific pub, which is incredible considering it's been like two years by now. They decide to haul the guy back from Ireland and put their lawyer to work. Cora and Robert discuss the Art Drama of the past season, though obliquely.

Isobel finally gives Merton the gate, which he doesn't take kindly to. Violet bursts in totally by coincidence, nudge nudge. Christmas dinner gets underway. Edith hangs up Marigold's stocking, which catches Tom's attention. They go on about how much they'll miss each other, so why is Tom leaving again? Mary comes in to share the misery, and Tom proposes that they spend the moment remembering Sybil, as "the three who should have grown old with her". Robert interrupts, even asking if he'll consider leaving Sybbie in England, but it's incredibly sweet, and oh my god there are onions in my eye. Seriously, what a well-played moment.

Everyone, Crawleys and staff alike, sings Christmas carols together. Anna looks miserable. Everyone gets wasted on holiday punch. Violet lectures Spratt for being a stuffed shirt. Atticus is overwhelmed by the novelty of his first Christmas. Now I really want to see the Downton Chanukah special. Come on, tell me you'd watch that.

Andy has been hired and is chummy with Thomas. Violet recounts to Isobel of the time she and Kuragin tried to run away together but were snitched on by a maid. Robert, who is utterly trashed, drags them back to the party. Tom tells Mary that he has to teach her how to run the estate. Cora rounds them up to stop Robert from giving a speech. Tom smoothly takes over by starting a round of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". Then Lady Mary sings with Edith on the piano. I think she's pretty much making up the lyrics. Everyone looks confused as crap.

Carson uses the chaos to take Mrs Hughes downstairs, and we all know what's coming you guys get ready this is going to be incredible ermahgerd. He has registered the house in both their names. Mrs Hughes is still not getting it. He finally gets her to stop protesting and proposes like a boss. He's adorable and overly polite about it. "I'm not marrying anyone else," he says as everyone at home weeps. Mrs Hughes accepts! They both tear up. I tear up. We all tear up. BEST MOMENT EVER.

Meanwhile, because we aren't crying enough already, Robert takes Tom aside and tells him how much he'll miss him - and Downton will always be his home. Sybbie overhears the whole thing. Marigold starts calling Robert Donk, just like the other grandchildren. Robert, slightly sobered up by now, gives a speech of his own. He pays tribute to his son-in-law for bringing Downton into the modern world, his voice a little shaky. Everyone applauds enthusiastically, even the Dowager - sorta. Everyone sings Christmas carols, the family stands together, and Bates shows up. Mrs Patmore sneaks him into the room, where he surprises Anna. The feels. The feels, you guys. They go off for their big reunion, the door closes, and that's the end of the episode.

Well, after a few iffy Christmas specials, this was splendid. Carson and Hughes stole the episode, followed closely by the Bateses and the Tom-related mourning. The second episode picked up considerably over the first, I must admit, but I wonder what this will do for the next season, considering that Tom is gone, and possibly the Bateses as well. However, this was a great episode on its own, full of excellent character development and genuine pathos, and a delightful Christmas treat for those of us watching. A merry Christmas to all of you - and see you all for Call the Midwife later this week.

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