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Worldly Distractions: Downton Abbey 4.5 - Episode 5







Welcome back, and here's some Tomly goodness for you. Five episodes in, and the season is just hitting its stride. What comes next?

Bates wanders around looking sad. The music is sad, too, just to help us out. Anna, up in her new lady's maid room, stares into the mirror like a zombie, then tries to compose herself. They have an awkward conversation at the bottom of the stairs. Bates wants to know WTF happened, Anna won't talk to him. The viewers' hearts just shatter. Holy crap, can't these two ever get a break?

The conversation is interrupted by the new lady's maid, Baxter, who asks about a sewing machine. Bates doesn't know what to make of her, Anna thinks she's okay. However, she already seems to have aligned herself with Thomas. Okay, what is it with Thomas and the lady's maids? Are all of Cora's maids just inherently evil or something?

As the staff eat breakfast, Mrs Patmore checks with Carson to make sure it's okay to let Alfred mess around in the kitchen. His test for the Ritz is coming up. Carson thinks it's A-OK, since the man works hard and should carve his own path. BAM. Sorry, that was me dropping dead from shock. Carson is not so much a butler as a Professional Buzzkill. Mrs Patmore points this out too, saying she was just checking that she wasn't about to start a revolution. Zing!

Baxter endears herself to Cora instantly through the power of orange juice (which is an American Thing in her eyes). By the time Robert comes in, Cora is all smiley and nostalgic. He tells her that Tom and Mary have an announcement for him, and Cora says she just hopes they won't fight. "How could I tell you that when I don't know what it is?" says His Clueless Lordship.

Dr Clarkson and Isobel want to find a job for "a boy". This is the first time I've ever heard of him. Details, Fellowes, details!

A longtime tenant has died, and Robert's very sorry to hear about it. Amidst discussions of funerals and things, Mary cuts in with the news that the rent hasn't been paid in ages. Um, you're a recent widow, you do realize people need, like, a week or two at least, right? Anyway, Mary and Tom think they should evict their rentless asses and take the land back. Robert doesn't like it, but hey, Times Have Changed.

He also gives Mary an article stating that Viscount Gillingham (Handsome Tony in the past few episodes, and employer of the Rapist Valet) will soon be wed. She's gracious but clearly pissed, and changes the subject fast.

All the staff is awed by the power of Baxter's electric sewing machine. Mrs Patmore is scared of the future, as usual, and Daisy's afraid that Baxter will sew her fingers into the cloth (to be fair, it's 2013 and I'm still scared of that). Bates and Anna have another awkward encounter. Mrs Hughes says she's working Anna too hard, ha ha, but Bates is not a fucking imbecile and looks ever grimmer. Mrs Hughes then follows Anna into the hallway and advises her to "lift this veil of shadows" tell the truth, or at least bring Bates back into her life, "especially now that you know there will be no baby" (phew, dodged that one both from an Anna's-life and show-suckiness standpoint). Anna still refuses, saying she can't tell the truth, and he'll see through a lie. Mrs Hughes warns Anna that though it's her story to tell, she's convinced it's a mistake. Anna walks away. Bates looks utterly fucking miserable. Crap, she's going to kill herself, isn't she?

Isobel, Saviour of England, interviews this guy I've never heard of. He keeps calling her "your ladyship" and generally being awkward. She points out she's just Mrs Crawley. Naturally, after he leaves, this turns into a conversation about how she doesn't feel accepted by the family. They're nice and all, but she's not one of them and she knows it, especially now that Matthew's kicked the bucket. It would be more effective if we hadn't heard it from Tom about eight times this season. Anyway, Dr. Clarkson thinks the family loves her to bits, and she sees herself as unloved. She's all "Harsh, man." Oh, you two should just hurry up and get together already.

We cut to the tenant farmer's funeral. Robert oh-so-delicately broaches the subject of eviction to the dead guy's son (classy, that one), to which the son says he'd like to take over the tenancy. Robert says that won't work. The tenant's son basically calls him a big meanie, and asks if they could at least talk - he would have helped his father had he known. Robert reluctantly grants him an appointment the next day.

Hey, Edith still exists, right?

Daisy helps Alfred in the kitchen, giggling like a schoolgirl and flirting adorably. Mrs Patmore comes in and remarks on his progress, then comments to Daisy that it's wonderful that she would help him even if it hastens his departure. And you know what? It is wonderful. Good on you, Daisy.

Ah, there's Edith! She's anxiously awaiting a letter, presumably from Lover Boy Gregson. Cora thinks it's sweet to see Edith all aflutter about a man. She's oblivious to Crazy Wife's existence, of course. Not content with nosing in on one lovelorn daughter, she then bothers Mary, who's writing a congratulations letter to Handsome Tony and pretending not to care. Rose comes in, and the conversation shifts to Robert's upcoming birthday. They decide to plan a party.

"I wonder your halo doesn't grow heavy," says the Dowager Countess drily when Isobel brings her the idea of hiring that kid. They snark back and forth, with the DC winning in sheer barbiness, but she eventually caves. Isobel always gets what she wants. Those two...

Nanny has deserted the children yet again (I swear, there's been like one scene in this series where they actually show a child under the care of a nanny), so Mary and Tom and Sybbie and George have a playdate. It is the cutest freaking thing you have ever seen. Though I'm somewhat doubtful that a two-year-old knows the word "hurricane". Mary asks, kind of tentatively, if Tom thinks the family's doing all right raising the kids. Is Sybbie happy? There's a lot of guardedness on both their parts, but they agree that they're doing their best. The kids are cute as hell.

Alfred gets a letter from London, and the kitchen staff eagerly crowds around to hear the news. He's so scared he can't open it, so Mrs Patmore does the job. The Ritz will see him! Everyone's thrilled, except for Daisy, who's just short of tears. Alfred just about faints, especially when he hears that the test is in two days. He's never even been to London, so it doesn't take much to get him overwhelmed. Even Anna stirs from zombiehood to tell him she's happy. Bates takes the opportunity to try to talk to her, but she wanders off. Mrs Patmore assures him she's probably just busy. He shrugs it off, or pretends.

They go into Crazy Cooking Mode. For a change, Alfred is specifically instructed to tell the family he cooked them. Even Carson is jovial about it! When the family hears about it, they're all excited and wish him good luck and compliment his cooking. Edith casually mentions that she's going to London, too. She's awfully secretive. Michael's already buggered off to the Continent, I think - could she have fallen victim to the Julian Fellowes Pregnancy Plot, as hinted last week?

Thomas meets up with his new BFF, Baxter, and they discuss how to get Cora "eating out of her hand". Dammit, what's with all these manipulative maids? But yeah, there is a plot going on, and I even kind of want to hear about it. Oh, Thomas also takes the opportunity to diss O'Brien into the next century. Speak for yourself, buddy.

Mary asks about Anna's new living arrangement, and with no answer forthcoming, presses a little further. Is Anna having difficulty, perhaps? Anna of course denies all.

Alfred comes into the kitchen to "say goodbye", presumably jinxing his chances the second he utters the words. Everyone's nervous and excited and sad (well, mostly Daisy in the last case). Proud Carson is totally behaving like the Team Dad as he takes Alfred to his train. And still manages to frown when Alfred gets too casual with Edith.

Once he's gone, Mrs Patmore goes into action. Cora is coming downstairs later, and they need to be absolutely perfect. Uh-oh - Mrs Patmore's apron is ripped! It's up to the Scary Futuristic Textile Device to save the day! Did Thomas tear the apron himself, in order to carry off some nefarious scheme? Who knows?

The tenant's son is meeting with Robert, who doesn't want to hear his excuses. The son appeals to Robert's sense of nostalgia about the land, saying that the family has been "in partnership" with the Crawleys. This both bewilders and touches Robert, who grudgingly gives an "I'll see what I can do." He even winds up offering to help. Looks like the tenant lucked out.

Carson goes to Mrs Hughes with the idea of replacing Albert - with Mr Molesley. Actually, that'd be pretty perfect, assuming you can get the guy to "lower himself" as a footman.

At lunch, Robert and Mary argue over the tenant's son. (Does Mary ever wear anything that's not purple? Or is it a "half-mourning" color? She's turning into Marie Schrader.) There's a priceless exchange between the Dowager and Isobel about having a poet in the family. Give these two a Golden Girls-style spinoff, I'd watch the crap out of that. Mary and Robert get Tom to choose sides. Tom picks the farmers, saying he hasn't totally abandoned his socialism. I recall a big argument on FJ about this exact topic last season, so there you go, the writers threw you an incredibly half-baked bone.

In the midst of another awkward moment, Bates firmly tells Anna that he loves her and he wishes he knew why she didn't love him. She stops, is about to say something, then changes to household talk.

Mrs Patmore is bowled over by the Amazing Sewing Machine, and impressed with the mended apron. Thomas comes in, and once Mrs Patmore's gone, he talks to Baxter about how they have another person taken in. Seriously, this plot is boring as fuck and Baxter is extraordinarily dull. Why not have, I don't know, a nice lady's maid for once? One who won't kill the household's unborn children or fuck an unwilling in-law. Moving on. Thomas lays his cards on the table - he wants Baxter to eavesdrop about the goings-on of the household and keep him informed. Just so he can have a Basis of Evil, I guess. God, he is nefarious.

Anyway, Cora has come downstairs to bring more terrifying technology into the house. This time - a fridge. Mrs Patmore practically has a heart attack over putting away the old icebox. Cora asks if she will accept anything new these days. She confides that yes, she wouldn't mind ditching the corset. Man, Mrs Patmore is killing it this episode. I'd even say she's doing better than the DC at this point.

Speaking of which, the DC and Isobel are introducing the kid to his new job, as a trainee gardener. Violet is bitchy as usual, Isobel tries to smooth things over, I detect a higher level of lesbian subtext between them, as usual. Give me five seconds.

[audio mp3=http://blog.freejinger.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Spanish-Flea-Herb-Alpert.mp3][/audio]

Okay, Dowager Countess/Isobel is not a ship yet. Give it time. The world of fanfiction can come up with anything if you put the idea into their heads. Fly, my fanfic monkeys, fly!

Anyway, they bitch for a bit, and then walk off arguing, as always. Can they please star in all the movies ever?

Edith gets off at her stop. It's a doctor. Crap, she is knocked up, isn't she? Stay tuned for next week's "Edith gets an illegal abortion" plot.

Ominous music plays as the French sous-chef lectures all the prospective new hires. Alfred squirms. Gah, this atmosphere is killing me. It's so overblown as to be hilarious, which I'm sure was their intention. The candidates begin their test.

Mary's eyes widen (along with those of the audience) when Carson announces a new guest - Mr Evelyn Napier! (Remember, that dude Mary thought was kind of boring, and whose main redeeming feature was bringing Kemal Pamuk to Downton so we could have the "dead-in-the-bed" story? No? Me neither.)

Yeah, we haven't heard anything about him since the second series, when someone mentioned him being wounded in the war. The Downton wiki tells me he was apparently a decent dude, though, so I'll give him a chance. Mary's happy to see him, and they have a chat. He's working on a "government thing", and just happened to be nearby. He also does not have much of a way with words, incidentally, calling her "lovely" about six times. Aww, you sit over there, honey, I'm sure Mary will dismiss you next episode and find a new suitor in the Christmas special.

Jimmy goes to visit Ivy in the kitchen, and trash-talks Alfred for never having been to London. Ivy is not impressed. Especially since she's never been to London herself. She admires ambition, and Jimmy of course immediately segues into hitting on her. Keep it classy!

Napier tells the Crawleys all the ins and outs of his boring government job, inspecting landed estates for economic stability. He can't say much, but does manage to tell them that Downton's not in serious trouble. Mary asks for his opinion, her dad reminds her that it's totally rude to ask a guest to do something professional during a visit. They go on for a bit, and Napier winds up invited to stay the night. Along with his boss. Mary's still obsessed with getting knowledge from them both. Yeah, no way she wouldn't be a CEO in 2013.

The sous-chef (who I must point out has the most insane elf ears I've ever seen on someone not cast in Lord of the Rings) says some nice things about Alfred's food, but overall is decidedly unenthusiastic. You can almost see the poor guy's dreams getting crushed.

Bates gets Mrs Hughes alone in her room and begs her to tell him what's up with Anna. He's correctly deduced that Mrs Hughes knows something. She tries to dodge the question, but when Mr Bates threatens to leave Downton, launching into a passionate monologue, she caves. Just as he opens the door to leave, she stops him. Out of concern for Anna's sanity more than anything, she tells the truth - just so that a departed husband won't add to Anna's burdens.

Violet comes into the parlor to find the new gardener, who is tending to the indoor plants. He's all apologetic for daring to exist, she's awkward because he dared to appear. Also, her letters have been disturbed, and she is quite horrified. Servants, amirite?

Mercifully, we are spared Mrs Hughes telling Bates the story. He's shaken and angry and horrified, like any spouse would be. However, she told him it was someone else, not the real culprit. He still figures it out - he saw what was going on between Anna and the valet the whole weekend. Mrs Hughes insists it wasn't him, it was a stranger. Bates asks her to swear it. She does, but he doesn't quite believe it. However, Mrs Hughes points out that Bates can do whatever he wants, but the lack of evidence will come back to destroy him. He considers this, and is practically in tears. Once in the hallway, Bates does break down. Phyllis Logan and Brendan Coyle absolutely kill it. Total A-game from both of them.

Robert asks Edith how her trip to London was. She doesn't answer "Not too bad, Dad, just found out I'm carrying the publisher's bastard," but the look on her face tells us there was some sort of upheaval. Rose, Cora, Mary and Tom plan Robert's birthday party (well, Tom's just kind of standing there), but quickly stop talking when the man of the hour comes in. They discuss the tenant situation, which descends into Tom bitching about how he doesn't belong anywhere. Edith harps on the same topic, just for added fun, though Mary tries to shut her up. Ah, the old Edith-and-Mary show from the first couple of series. I missed that. All this death and stuff has really put a damper on their sisterly bitchiness.

Anyway, a terrible idea comes from this - TOM MIGHT BE LEAVING. Yes, you read that right. He wants to take Sybbie and go to America to start anew. The Crawleys go apeshit, predictably. Mary and Edith are horrified, Robert advises him not to be rash. All I know is that a Downton without Allen Leech would be a very sad Downton indeed. Especially since there's definitely going to be a fifth series.

Molesley says he'll have to think about the job. Carson is appalled. He explains that he would be "falling" as a footman, and that totally sucks and waahhh life is not fair. Carson pretty much tells him to get his shit together. Molesley still has to keep his pride somehow, but Carson is getting pretty irritated. I'd say careful where you step.

Bates interrupts Anna while she's working. After a moment of telling her she doesn't have to take on all the house's burdens, he takes the work from her hands and tells her that he knows.

That's it, it's out there on the table. Anna is predictably outraged, Bates says he gave Mrs Hughes no choice. When he tells her Mrs Hughes claimed it was a stranger, she agrees right away. When he says that if the valet did it, he's a dead man, Anna gets mad at him for "falsely accusing". "We can't know who the man was," she says, most unconvincingly. When asked why she didn't tell him, Anna says she would have been shamed. Bates tells her not to think of shame. He loves her, and there is no shame in what happened. "You've been made... holier to me because of the suffering you've been put through," he says.

Okay. Okay, stop right there. While he is well-intentioned, this is HIGHLY problematic. Survivors of rape are no more or less holy than any other person, and the violence against them does not have the purpose of making them so. If Fellowes were here and I had a stick I'd poke him with it right now for Bad Writing and Bad Handling of Sensitive Issues. Okay, off the soapbox, back to the scene.

Anyway, the Bateses fall weeping into each others' arms and the audience's faith in humanity is restored a little. Despite the soppy music, it's a really beautiful moment, not least because of Coyle and especially Froggatt. Very powerful performances from both of them.

Post arrives, delivered to a sullen-looking Jimmy. It's the moment of truth. Alfred opens the envelope himself this time. The entire staff waits with bated breath - and then are quick to offer their condolences when Alfred gets rejected. He takes it pretty well, though, and Carson and Mrs Hughes give him a good pep talk about how failure doesn't preclude future success. Those two really are awesome.

Just then, Molesley shows up. Amid much blustering about his downward path, he agrees to take the job.Unfortunately, Alfred is sticking around. Had he not stopped to think about it, he might have had something. Carson tells him he missed his chance. Molesley bumbles off. Inspired by his great dressing-down of the snobby former valet, Carson moves on to the morose Alfred, giving him a second pep talk in as many minutes. GO CARSON. Looks like finding out that one lady really loved him after all has given him a whole new outlook.

Violet interrogates Dr Clarkson and Isobel, claiming they sent her a paper knife-stealing weasel instead of a gardener. Isobel's offended. Dr Clarkson plays the diplomat. See, the knife came from the King of Sweden and is really irreplaceable. Isobel snorts at all the pretentiousness. Fortunately, they manage to talk her out of firing him, but the trainee gardener is banned from the house.

Mary talks to the tenant's son, who is very grateful for the second chance. She is chilly as usual, but brightens up upon hearing of the returned debt. Yes, CEO would have definitely been in the cards for her ninety years later. Everyone shakes hands, and it's all settled. Mary is learning, and knows that her dad's advice may not be useless after all.

Anna talks to Mrs Hughes, updating her on the Bates situation. He seems to have accepted the explanation, and Anna's even moving back downstairs. She will just have to try to move on. Mrs Hughes thinks it's unjust that the culprit got away with it. They will live with it, though.

Daisy can't stop smiling, and Mrs Patmore asks why. "Why do you think?" she asks. Oh, Daisy, I hope you can find happiness just once.

Mrs Hughes and Bates talk. "Nothing's over and done with," he says, which is absolutely right, though I would argue that in the world of television it's certainly possible. Oh, no, wait, he means it in the other sense. He is out for vengeance. The cheesiest music ever plays as he swears revenge. He knows damn well who did it, and he will do what he can to finish things between them. Dun dun DUN. This plot is stupid and it's barely begun.

Next time on Downton: Michael Gregson has disappeared, Blake and Napier return, Anna and Bates talk (and are interrupted by Cora), yet more estate drama, more arguing with Isobel and Violet, Edith gets a letter which really upsets her. Looks like next episode is Edith-heavy if nothing else, which should be fun. I like Bohemian Twenties Edith a hell of a lot more than Chilly Widowed Mary.

Okay, so this was a pretty standard Downton show. The Bates reconciliation was really good, but kind of ruined by the dumb revenge talk. The estate stuff was Dullsville once again, and there's only so much Isobel-Violet stuff a poor soul can take. The introduction of the gardener with no explanation was particularly jarring. The show went from too mellow to too dramatic, hit the perfect balance last week, and has now slipped back into boring. Yawn. Let's hope next week brings more of the juicy stories we've loved since Series 1.


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