After last week’s episode found the Crawleys dealing with their grief over Lady Sybil’s death, this episode (which is the penultimate episode before next week’s finale) finds the family, and the staff below stairs, moving on with life, and a whole tangle of new issues arise.
First and foremost, we must address Thomas. Ah Thomas, one part of the scheming duo we love to hate, who suffers a grievous error in judgement due to the mischievious scheming of his former partner in crime, Ms. O’Brien. As viewers, it is no surprise to us that Thomas is gay, lest we forget his advances toward the Turkish ambassador or his relationship with one of the aristocrats that visited Downton in season one. Of course, in 1920s England homosexuality was certainly not accepted, so Thomas lives a lonely life – until new footman Jimmy appears. Convinced by the goading of O’Brien to follow his heart – she is sickly sweet in her prodding, even using her own nephew to make Thomas think Jimmy has the hots for him. Such a ruse is cruel, even by her standards. I can only think that Thomas was so lonely and so hopeful for a companion that he was blinded by possibility to believe O’Brien. I mean, it’s O’Brien, so haven’t you come to learn that you need to take what she says with a grain of salt? Granted, Jimmy seems like he is the type of person who will flirt with anyone to get his way. But in the end, Thomas makes quite the move, forcing himself on Jimmy while he is sleeping, witnessed by Alfred, who is returning from a late-night movie. O’Brien convinces Alfred to tell Carson, who is outraged by the situation, and O’Brien helps the situation by urging Jimmy to press charges against Thomas. It seems like a helpless situation, and we see Thomas more vulnerable than we ever have before.
Surprisingly, it is Bates who comes to Thomas’ rescue. Unable to see a man’s life destroyed for no good reason, Bates snuffs out O’Brien’s scheme and uses her own secret (that of placing Lady Cora’s soap in a place that made her slip and fall) against her to change the tide of the situation that had gone out of control. While Bates is able to save Thomas from a ruined future, his plan backfires when Lord Robert’s zeal for cricket leads to Thomas staying on as underbutler – ultimately making Thomas Bates’ superior.
On the other side of town, Dowager Countess Violet doesn’t like the fact the Ethel is employed by Isobel and tries to convince Isobel to let her go. Unable to make any headway with Isobel, and after witnessing Ethel break down in tears on the street, Violet decides to take matters into her own hands by placing an ad in a ladies’ magazine advertising Ethel’s services as a housekeeper so Ethel can move away from the scandal that is plaguing her in Downton village. Sneaky Violet, always maneuvering! Ethel’s not the only one Violet endeavors to find employment for – threatened with the loss of baby Sybil to the wilds of Liverpool and a garage (“You cannot let your granddaughter group up in a garage with that guerrilla!”) Violet comes up with the idea to have Tom become the new estate manager after old manager Jarvis departs. This is just the thing to help solve the growing disagreement between Matthew and Robert over the management of the estate, and its progress for the future.
This episode also introduces a new venture for Edith, who is invited by a newspaper to write a column. Her father is still not supportive of her, so she goes to her grandmother and mother for support. She goes to London to meet with the editor, who clearly takes a shine to her. She accepts the job and announces to her family that they have a journalist in the family now – to which Violet replies “well we have a car mechanic and a socialist so it was bound to happen anyway!” Could this new job and a “nice” editor mean Edith may have a new love interest? Not so fast, it seems, as Edith does what would be the equivalent of Googling your date or Facebook stalking today, calling a newspaper for the biographical details of her editor. It turns out he is married, and she confronts him on this fact – which he explains to her – his wife is in an asylum and he can’t divorce her. Edith seems to soften at this, but really, can’t Edith ever get a break when it comes to love?
The unlikely gang of Edith, new character Rose and Matthew venturing to London leads to one of the most entertaining parts of the episode. I thought it interesting how Matthew took charge of the situation with Rose and her married lover – who would have expected Matthew to be so commanding? All in all this part of the episode was quite funny, especially when Violet finds out what happens by tricking her daughter, Lady Rosamunde, into telling her what happened.
I think there’s something to be said about Lady Mary in this episode, who often comes off as a cold fish. Her quiet perserverance in helping Tom is noble – she is the one who insists his brother come and stay with them, and is a staunch supporter of him becoming the new estate agent. Family is so important to Mary, and for all her airs and graces, she is the strong, silent glue that works to keep her family together. While Matthew is doubting whether they will ever have a baby, she is sure that it will happen, and we know just by the look in her eyes, that it will. (Even when we find out she has been visiting the doctor in secret because of an issue that has been prohibiting her from conceiving.)
I love the final scene of this episode, at the cricket match, when Lord Robert puts his arms around his two sons-in-law, happily celebrating a cricket score. It finally seems that he is confident in the future of Downton and it is heartwarming to see him embrace these two men, who were so divergent from him from the beginning, that he has come to trust. Let’s hope it sticks.