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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Episode 7 of season three is not as weird as the
"maimed-imposter-heir-returns episode" of season two, but there is
strangeness enough. Perhaps because it follows on tragedy and tragedy's
dénouement, or perhaps because it is meant to be the lull before the
grand finale, the episode does not entirely satisfy. Parts of it are
Mr. Bates is finally released from prison, removed from bondage in a chauffeur-driven limousine, which seems over the top even for an employer as indulgent as Lord Grantham. For the remainder of the episode, he and Anna wander around with nothing whatsoever to do (Lord Grantham tells him to read some books). No one thought ahead to the fact that Robert would end up with two valets, Bates and Thomas. Anna uncharacteristically wants Thomas sacked, even though as valet he has been blameless. In an establishment where meticulous organization and planning are givens, the whole thing seems ridiculous. It also seems ridiculous that Anna, who showed sympathy towards Thomas recently, should speak in this selfish way.
Equally ridiculous are developments surrounding the downstairs romance mess, especially Thomas's lust for Jimmy. Misled by O'Brien, he sneaks into Jimmy's room in the night and tries to kiss him. Right on cue, all hell breaks loose, and the ensuing fear and tension downstairs becomes impossible for any of the servants to ignore. It's disappointing that Julian Fellowes resorts to the stereotype of the menacing, predatory gay male who throws himself on unsuspecting heterosexuals. Thomas is not a nice person, but he is enormously complex and there could be so much more happening with his character than this threadbare stereotyping. As for the lower servants' lusts and desires, the whole thing has become like a bunch of boring teenagers in school, and it's time for someone downstairs with some sense (Mrs. Hughes, where are you?) to shout ENOUGH!
Also ridiculous is the appearance of Tom Branson's brother, portrayed as a total caricature of a loutish, working-class boor. Is this meant to remind us that the only working-class folk who can behave with good manners are those loyal to the Downton estate or in service to it? Tom does look grand by comparison, but, my goodness, Fellowes is painting with a broad brush. Tom also shines when he eloquently tells Robert, now balking not just at Catholicism generally but also at the fact that he might have to attend a Catholic ceremony, just how much it would have meant to Sybil for her father to be at the christening of her child. It brings a tear to the eye. Tom's not perfect, but he proves that class has nothing to do with caste.
Not ridiculous, both Matthew and Edith are still fighting their way into the modern world. He is the new broom sweeping clean the nineteenth-century dust of estate mismanagement, and she is the spinster broom sweeping her way into the (for Downton) shocking world of a weekly newspaper column. Her editor is clearly a potential love interest, and it's worth noting that he has a bit of Anthony Strallan in his facial features and expressions! Robert continues to resist all, his worst moments coming at breakfast, where the etiquette of the day places him at the table alone with Edith, Matthew, and Tom and where, each morning, some grating bit of news or point of view invariably reaches his ear.
Very ridiculous, and very disappointing, is the revelation that Violet's solidarity with the Downton women and with housemaid-turned-whore-turned-housekeeper Ethel, really was just a chance to exert momentary power over her son and get more pudding into her mouth. She connives behind the scenes to remove Ethel from Isobel's household. Everyone (well, maybe not Isobel) concludes it's for the best, and the whole thing reeks of the upper class manipulating the lives of those below them because they know what's good for the lower orders better than they know it themselves. Even if the dowager countess is right, her means and her manner do not justify her end. Violet is increasingly portrayed as an aristocratic sage who can see farther than everyone else. This is not who she is, at least not as Fellowes has developed her character thus far: she is the acerbic old grandmother whose bark is worse than her bite and who proves unexpectedly resilient and flexible, while maintaining an outward and extravagant allegiance to tradition. It was refreshing last week to see her step out of her usual conformity, but this week she becomes more of a stock character. Shirley MacLaine, wherever you are, get back to Downton Abbey and fast!
Special Recycling Award for Julian Fellowes: "I prefer the American stars; I think they've got more oomph," says housemaid Elsie in the film Gosford Park. "I like the American actors; they've got more you-know-what," says kitchen maid Ivy from season three of Downton Abbey.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bates is now able to walk out of prison a free man as Ann waits in a
car for him. Finally the two are reunited freely to love as he no
longer must be kept in a cage that is prison. Downton is seen far in
the distance with Bates arriving back in Downton as if nothing has
seemed to happen with Thomas still there. Edith is getting letters from
London to write her columns even though her father does not want him to
go. Bates is back in Downton which finally makes the place happy once
again. Violet comes to talk to Isobel about her bringing scandal on the
family with Ethel working as her cook. Robert does not know if he
should fire Thomas with Bates back so he talks to Cora about it. Robert
does not respect the opinions Thomas is giving to help Downton. Violet
is causing such trouble for everyone even making favors with Edith.
Mary visits the baby and tells Tom she knows of him having the
christening, he then asks her to be the babies godmother. Anna and
Bates go house hunting. Thomas is still trying to get closer with Jimmy
as he gives some bad advice to Alfred which makes him drop everything
on Violet. Thomas sits alone in the dinning room while Jimmy comes in
to talk to him telling him he has no family. Alfred and Ivy come back
from the cinema with him telling her Jimmy is not interested in her.
Thomas in the middle of the night goes into Jimmy's room as Alfred
comes up the stairs. Thomas is kissing him and Alfred walks in as Jimmy
gets really angry. At breakfast the next day everyone downstairs
notices the tension between everyone. Lady Edith in London goes for her
meeting and is also there to visit he aunt for Violet. Thomas sees
nervous while dressing Robert because his position is not safe. At the
dinner everyone wonders what happened the night before. Robert thinks
the whole family is against him because lately he does not want to
except change. Edith meets with a potential job giver. Tom's brother
comes to Downton and seems to get along better with the downstairs help
even though he is a guest of upstairs. Alfred tells O'Brien that he
walked in on Jimmy and Thomas. Dinner with Tom's brother makes him
standout with his manners and also Edith has a job as a journalist.
Also Violet made the plan to put an ad for a job for Ethel away from
here to get her a better life. Alfred tells Carson and he seems shocked
by this news of Thomas. Violet then comes up with the plan to bring Tom
closer to the family putting Robert more back in the past with Tom and
Matthew working closer together. Thomas takes full responsibility for
the act he did to JJimmy. At the christening the family get a photo
which is without Sybill. OK episode but my biggest problems with the
show is that every character except for Violet is uninteresting and
EPISODE GRADE: C+ (MVP: Maggie Smith)
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