I’m not entirely comfortable saying that this episode might be the best of the post Matthew era just yet, but I think there’s a good chance it might be. After last week’s mediocrity, I would have laughed if that thought had been presented before. Downton Abbey has always been a show about change and it’s been at its best when it embraces it. Part of the reason why the reception for series four and five has been lukewarm is that the most of the characters were kept in an awkward holding pattern with no clear direction.
The reason for this high praise is simple. We all know the end is coming. With only nine episodes in a series, the show does need to establish where it’s going, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the only thing that matters. I initially rolled my eyes at the Drewe subplot as I thought it was harmful to Edith’s bigger picture storyline at the newspaper, which I highlighted as the strongest aspect of last episode. Once again, the Edith plot was the best part of the show.
It worked so well because it didn’t try to shy away from the fact that the Crawley’s have completely screwed over the Drewe family. I was prepared to slam the whole episode until Lord Grantham addressed the rather large elephant in the room. The Drewe’s did Edith a huge favor last season and they’ve been repaid by having their whole lives completely uprooted. This kind of aristocratic injustice has been quite rare over the course. It took guts not to sugarcoat the terrible situation.
The Daisy storyline also progressed well. It’s clear that Daisy is going to go work with Mr. Mason and the show can’t afford to lose her this early on, so there’s no need to rush. Mrs. Patmore once again served no other purpose than to be involved with other people’s sexual affairs, this time hinting that Barrow should avoid another Jimmy incident.
One thing that really bothered me was Carson’s coldness to Barrow over his interview. He treated him with pure contempt that made no sense whatsoever. We’ve seen little over the course of the show to suggest that Carson likes him, but Barrow has been under butler for five years now. There’s no way he would stay at Downton if his boss treated him like that on a daily basis.
Barrow’s interview was a little clunky as well. He knows the world is changing. Vocally expressing disdain for the workload involved with being an “assistant butler” was foolish. I wasn’t a huge fan of the homophobic butler and didn’t really see the need to make him dislike Thomas for that reason. We know Barrow’s entitled and the butler could simply dislike him for his words rather than his sexuality.
Why isn’t Molesley looking at these jobs? Surely he’d rather be an “assistant butler” than a footman. It’s a point that the show should address even if he doesn’t end up going anywhere because the show needs Kevin Doyle. I shall christen this the “Molesley Dilemma.”
I do wish Molesley could have more of a plotline. His humor won him a regular role on the show, but his sincerity was what won him the viewers’ hearts. There can never be enough Molesley and he should be awarded a spinoff.
Not a big Andy fan. He’s essentially a blander Alfred, which I didn’t think was even possible. I like that he’s at Downton, since the show benefits from having a young person in the house, but I never feel like I need to see more of him. I suspect that he’s gay and will eventually have some fun with Thomas so I’m okay with him doing absolutely nothing until then.
No Spratt or Denker. It took me a series to forgive Spratt for sabotaging Molesley’s shot at a dignified job, but he’s grown on me. He was probably in the kitchen critiquing Denker’s broth.
I criticized the hospital plotline last week because I thought it was too repetitive. It worked in this episode because the show was able to convey Violet and Dr. Clarkson’s passion without making them sound like power hungry elitists (though Clarkson is middle class). People don’t like to give up control and they’re not necessarily at fault for being reluctant here. The ability to control one’s healthcare is still an issue in the year 2015. This isn’t necessarily an instance where Isobel and modernity are completely in the right.
The Carson/Hughes wedding reception debacle was quite strong and showed a different side to Carson’s reverent idolization of the Crawley’s. Mrs. Hughes and Lord Grantham were essentially on the same page in acknowledging that while Carson/Hughes belong at the house, that’s not how they belong.
My only real complaint is that there wasn’t enough time spent justifying Mrs. Hughes position. We can accept that she feels out of place, but the schoolhouse simply wasn’t a good alternative. Like the hospital, it’s a case where the battle lines are a bit murky, but in this case, but Hughes just doesn’t look like she’s trying hard enough to express her feelings to Carson.
The low point of the episode is unsurprising. I hate the Bates so much I don’t even want to write about them. They makes frequent mentions of their suffering and do nothing about it. Why can’t they do anything besides be depressed? I wish Bates would drown in the pond he threw his leg brace into so Molesley could have his job.
Despite some criticisms, this was a very strong episode. The show felt more alive than it has in years. As long as they stay away from the Bates and murder, this should turn out to be quite a good final series.