After watching Downton Abbey’s January 12 episode, there’s really only one character we want to talk about: lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt). In the episode, Julian Fellowes once again turned the plot on its head with an unexpected, upsetting twist. Due to the sensitive nature of what happened to Anna, that information won’t appear in this recap but in a separate article. As a warning, that piece includes details that may be disturbing to some readers.
Now let’s all take a deep breath and a sip of tea as we try and recall the happier moments from tonight’s trip to the Abbey. After all, Downton did host a party.
Lady Mary Meets Lord Gillingham — Is He Worthy of Her Love?
Finally, Anthony Foyle, aka Lord Gillingham, (Tom Cullen) arrives on set and he’s even better than we’d imagined! Gracious, giving, and gorgeous, he’s just the kind of gentleman we can sign off on Mary (Michelle Dockery) falling in love with. Of course, he’ll never be Matthew (Dan Stevens) but we’d hate to see the eldest Crawley daughter waste away pining for her dead husband. Talk about depressing television.
Soon after reconnecting over their shared childhood memories, Anthony invites Mary out riding. We can almost see her wrestling with the guilt of enjoying herself until she remembers the choice the Dowager (Maggie Smith) gave her back in the premiere: You must either decide to live or die. Mary chooses life, giving Anthony a reply we feel could have any number of meanings: “I haven’t been in the saddle for ages.”
During their jaunt in the countryside, we learn that Lord Gillingham’s fiancée, Mabel Lane Fox, is “very nice” but that’s about where their attraction ends. Mary offers the helpful reflection that “a match that’s wanted by everyone can end up very happy.” It’s the first of a series of Matthew-laced memories that rule the evening.
The most vivid comes when Mary decides to give dancing a go on Anthony’s arm only to realize it’s Matthew’s gramophone that’s playing the music. “I can’t dance after all,” she says, rushing upstairs. “What a pity,” Lord Gillingham murmurs as he watches her retreating figure. We agree, Tony.
This episode seems to herald a new stage in Mary’s grief: self-reflection. As she tells Anthony, “Matthew changed me. I loved him, but he changed me. If I was as tough as I was before I met him, I bet I’d be happier now.” She shares very much the same realization with Anna after seeing the gramophone: “Sometimes I don’t know who I’m most in mourning for: Matthew or the person I used to be when I was with him.”
Seeing Mary deal with the two halves of herself — the frigid ice queen Matthew helped to melt and the soft inner core of a romantic he unveiled — will be a theme of this season. Thankfully, though, we’re starting to think the romantic might win out over the ice queen. After all, as Mary tells Anthony when he asks her out to dinner in London, she may not take him up on his offer but it is “a lift to hear you’d like to.”
Isobel Crawley’s Own Struggle to Move On
Much like Mary, Isobel (Penelope Wilton) struggles with picking up her life after Matthew’s tragic death. With the passing of her only child, Isobel feels very much alone — a situation she does little to help by shying away from the rest of the Crawley family. As she confesses to the Dowager, Isobel is afraid of forgetting her son if she returns to doing even the smallest of happy activities. Thankfully, Violet just won’t have that kind of talk and gets Isobel to join the family during the party.
Isobel isn’t nearly as nosy as she was in previous seasons but her new depression isn’t much more enjoyable. It’s clear she’s in pain and, unlike with Mary, there don’t seem to be any new prospects on the horizon to bring her out of herself (well, not yet at least). Perhaps a new project would help raise Isobel’s spirits? Don’t they still need nurses at the village hospital, Dr. Clarkson?
What Is Edna Up To Because Whatever It Is We Do Not Approve
Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring) finally spoke with Tom Branson (Allen Leech). You’ll remember, these two almost had a fling at the end of last season, which led to Edna’s been summarily dismissed for Downton. Their interaction in the hall seems to imply Tom still has feelings for the lady’s maid but won’t be acting on them what with his new position in mind. “I’m walking a tightrope here,” he says at one point, adding later, “I’m a fish out of water.” We’re in your corner, Tom! Also, stay away from Edna. She’s bad news.
Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t hear our pleas. Edna spends most of the episode plying Tom with alcohol until we cut to a final scene of her sneaking into what his room asking “Are you still awake?” We’re all going to regret this in the morning.
Lady Edith’s Editor Arrives at the Abbey, Knows How to Gamble
Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) finally found his way to Downton but he and lady love Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) attempts to get Papa Grantham alone continually fail. Michael realizes it’s because Robert hates to face things he doesn’t like (read: upstart newspaper editors winning over his daughter, a.k.a. reality).
Don’t count the street-smart editor out yet, however. In the triumph of the evening, he single-handedly wins back all the IOUs the various lords had acquired at the hand of a dastardly card shark. The move is so inspired it even gets Robert to tell Edith “Gregson has saved my bacon” and to admit to his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), that the editor is “a decent cove.” Looks like full steam ahead on that romance, Edith! Next stop: Berlin.
A Brief Update on Mr. Molesley
We’ve been closely tracking the progress of Downton’s resident underdog: Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle). In tonight’s show, Molesley is in particular good form as he briefly rejoins the staff at Downton to serve as a footman (he’s also now working as a delivery boy for the local grocer, much to his personal disdain). His brief tête-à-tête with the Dowager earns him a stern look from Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and a huge thumbs up from us.
- Dame Nellie Melba’s (Dame Kiri Te Kanawa) appearance was as moving as we’d heard and then some. Although she didn’t have many lines, we did get to hear her perform several songs.
- Quote of the night goes to Cora. Upon hearing her husband wanted to keep the Australian singer apart from the rest of the guests to “keep up appearances,” she trots right up to him and says: “Am I the only member of this family that lives in the 20th century?” A close second to that zinger is her husband’s reply: “What does one say to a singer?” Watch out, Robert. Your Dowager is showing.
- Interestingly, the plot point of Alfred Nugent (Matt Milne) wanting to be a chef is ever so slightly revived when he jumps in to make some sauces for dinner. Could we be looking at Mrs. Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) protégé?
- Finally, who knew Downton had a librarian? Also, the stylized names of the rooms are a terrific touch. Julian, please send us a map so we can begin plotting our future tour of the estate.