Last time on Upstairs Downstairs, we were introduced to the staff (the downstairs) and the family (the upstairs). This show is very different from Downton Abbey—about an aristocratic family at the beginning of the 20th century and their downstairs help—because this family comes complete with a Cheeky Monkey, who has less to do in this episode compared to last time. Perhaps if he had right-wing political beliefs he could've had more screen time.
As the episode opens, the house is in an uproar because the newspapers are late and cannot be properly ironed. And you thought YOU had problems. Cook is distressed because Lady Agnes's grapefruit breakfast isn't thrilling her Cookly soul:
This…gives me no pleasure, there’s nothing to it, even with a maraschino garnish.
When the grapefruit finally makes it upstairs to Lady Agnes, Cheeky Monkey gets frisky with the maraschino. Agnes has sadface.
Lady Persephone—nicknamed Lady Persie—has to trot off to some sort of Lady Training, where she learns how to curtsey. Apparently, according to the curtsey-trainer, Lady Persie has “remarkable knees.” Yeah, my mind went there. Have you seen the chauffeur she's crushing on?
The ladies at the Lady Training are all wearing this gorgeous frocks—they're not gowns, they're not dresses, they're frocks—and Lady Agnes has to pretend to be the King to receive their curtsies. Then Lady Agnes abruptly gets up to go vomit somewhere. Unpleasant. And foreshadowy, in the worst way. Were the “Lady Agnes Is Pregnant” signs all sold out?
(Later on, there is some discussion about cleaning Lady Agnes's gurp in the car; her mother-in-law Maud declares, “I did tell Agnes to vomit in her handbag, but she refused because it was suede-lined.” Ha! Noblesse oblige, indeed!)
The new maid, Rachel, arrives from Hamburg, to take up service. It's immediately clear—again, were the “Has A Big Secret” signs all sold out?—she is more than just a maid. She is told she has to share a room with Ivy, the Saucy Maid from last week. Saucy Maid's luster has been dimmed, probably because the last time she was all Saucy, the Footman-in-Training went berserk and stuck glass in some guy's neck. Saucy Maid—Ivy, that is—wishes she had a silk nightie like new maid Rachel does, and Rachel looks mournful and wistful and PLEASE, LADY, I KNOW YOU HAVE A SECRET, FFS! It's like when you were in middle school, and someone had something they were dying to share, but they weren't supposed to, so they tormented everyone else with their 'I've got a secret' face, and then refused to tell.
Lady Agnes and Lord Hallam talk about the possibility of her being pregnant; seems she miscarried earlier, and they've been hoping and hoping (and presumably doing other things) that they'd have a child.
Anyway, then we head to Driver, from last episode, who was kinda rude flirty with Lady Persie. And here is where the comparisons to Downton Abbey get downright eerie: Like Downton Abbey, the chauffeur introduces the young lady of the house to suspect politics. Like Downton Abbey, the lady is headstrong and wilfull, and the chauffeur has to do what she says.
Lady Persie wanders into the garage (as you do), in some sort of silky garment, and tells Harry, the chauffeur, that she had left her cigarettes in the car. He points out there were cigarettes in the drawing room, and she replies that they weren't Marlborough, her brand. Um, yeah. To which Harry replies:
Go to bed, Lady Persie.
To which she responds:
There was no-one to undress me!
That's not even a double entendre, it's a single entendre. She ignores him. Harry crosses his arms to look all fierce and demanding, and yes, make his arms look even nicer. There's something about a guy in a white tank.
They continue talking, and Harry discovers that Lady Persie has actually met this new Fascist in town, Sir Oswald, who's been giving speeches and promoting fascism, however one does that. He's intrigued by Persie now. This can not end well.
While dusting some books, the new German maid starts coughing, and then she develops a full-blown asthma attack. Poor woman! I've been there, I'm seriously allergic, and it's not fun. Especially with no Proventil, only a steaming tea kettle.
While recovering from the attack, she tells Mrs. Buck—remember, our stalwart housekeeper?—that she was a University lecturer in Hamburg, until Jews were banished from the profession. She didn't know what housework was until her maid quit, saying she wouldn't work for a Jew.
A maid, a mink coat, a marriage. I had many things, Miss Buck, but I have freedom here.
Agnes, in a lovely peach peignoir, has stopped throwing up enough to receive a visit from the doctor, who tells her yes, she is going to have a baby. There is no mention of signs being sold out. Hearing this news, Agnes is almost humanly happy. Doesn't last long, though; to foreshadow myself, by the end of the episode, I despise her.
When Maud hears the happy news, she suggests they get champagne, to which Agnes replies they have champagne every night. Duh, Lady Agnes. To celebrate the happy news with your sadly-underpaid staff, you snob! They have a toast downstairs, although the butler sniffs, “It's only Moet.”
Lord Hallam gets a smidge more likeable, because who can't sympathize with a boss chewing you out? Seems the Diplomacy Game requires a lot of lying. Go figure! And Hallam has some sort of conscience. He comes home, all upset, as Agnes and Maud are looking at strollers. Maud sees something is up with Hallam, but Agnes is clueless. If there was a contest for Worst Wife Ever? Lady Agnes would be a shoo-in.
Then there's some romance in the air, as Mr. Amanjit, Lady Maud's Indian butler, makes nice with New Maid Rachel after she gets him to spend some time downstairs with the rest of the staff and not cut himself off by his very difference. Eventually, she trusts him:
I have a secret, Mr. Amanjit. I have kept it so long, it is like a pain, and there is no dignity at all in that.
Not only does Rachel have a daughter who's here in England, her husband is not dead, as she'd told Mrs. Buck, but is in prison for political crimes.
Let's contrast Rachel's mature acceptance of her life with Lady Persie's; Lady Persie badgers Harry and shows up at some Fascist rally wearing this 'Please fling me down and have your way with me' dress. It's gorgeous. Red, silky, gorgeous.
Poor Harry might be a Fascist at heart, but he's loving the Aristocracy right about now. The two of them bond over fascism at the rally, with him being all protective and her being all swept up in political fervor. Awww!
Finally, Saucy Maid Ivy (who really isn't Saucy this episode, just a bit whiny and pitiful) comes to like Rachel, who sings a German lullaby to her after Ivy says she never had a mother sing to her (she's from the Orphanage, remember?). Rachel sings the Ladybug song in German, apparently to music by Brahms.
Ooh! Montage time! You know, if we show many scenes of Lady Agnes showing her increasing pregnancy, we'll get the idea that time is passing! What a brilliant idea! Straight out of a made-for-TV movie. Which maybe this is, actually. So perhaps I shouldn't judge hackneyed directing?
By now, Persie and Harry have hooked up, and honestly, I'm feeling a little cheated that we didn't get to see that part. They're lying in his bed listening to Sir Oswald on the phonograph. She slides her finger into his mouth and he bites it.
Later, Harry walks out in his Fascist blacks, making Rachel freak out. There's a lively discussion about being able to dress as you like, that he's going to a rally on his evening out, and Rachel has another asthma attack. By now I am feeling that asthmatics are getting a bum rap; I am an asthmatic, and I don't start wheezing everytime things upset me. Get a grip, Rachel!
Persie rings Harry up and tells him he can drive her to the Fascist Rally. Without giving him a chance to speak. So much for the leveling of the classes—he has to do what she says, right?
Mr. Amanjit and Rachel also attend the Rally, but they're protesting the blackshirts. Of course, mayhem and rioting ensue, and Lady Agnes's hand is cut. She should be lucky that's all that happened (also, she looks amazing in all black. As does Harry. How many wrong political movements would have failed because the costuming wasn't cool? Because you have to admit that black and red is cool.)
Meanwhile, Agnes and Hallam are having a domestic afternoon at home. He’s got an ascot. I still think he's a wimpy dud, but I do feel for him, being married to Mrs. Cold Fish Agnes here.
There's some symbolism with marbles, and Mr. Amanjit comments, “God is in the small things.”
In the aftermath of the riot, Persie runs to the car, leaving Harry behind. Poor Harry, he has to remove his black shirt, revealing his white tank-clad chest. Darn, I say! Darn!
Rachel has another asthma attack. Yes, I am rolling my eyes.
Harry reports that Persie has stolen the car she's in so that the police can apprehend her and bring her home. That is some tough love. Lord Hallam is pissed, but Harry says, rightly, “I’m staff, sir. I have to follow orders.”
Okay, what? Rachel dies of an asthma attack. Dies. Dead on the floor. Amanjit is distraught. But what will happen to Lotte, Rachel’s daughter?
Who wants to bet Amanjit takes her?
Oh, like I'm a genius? Come on, it's foreshadowed up the wazoo.
Lord Hallam chews Lady Persie out for being a fascist; he burns her carrying-card (as in 'card-carrying,' back when I guess people had cards for their political affiliations), and she says, “You can burn my card; you can’t burn my beliefs.” It seems to be her belief is getting frisky with the chauffeur, but who am I to judge? He is pretty smoking.
Oh, wait, News Alert: Agnes is SUCH A COLD-HEARTED BITCH. Lord Hallam decides the household will keep Lotte as long as she needs help, but Agnes wants to send her—a Jewish child—back to Germany. In 1936. I really hate her now.
Back in Harry's room, Persie and Harry cuddle up together, her in this ornate dressing gown thing that definitely isn't Fascist-wear. They make out after she says they will just have to keep fighting together.
Lotte gets to staywith Ivy. Awww! Ivy is wearing Rachel’s nightie, the one she envied on the first night. Ivy gets to be a mom after all! Ivy sings the ladybug song to Rachel. I’m almost weeping.
And Lord Hallam rolls the marbles Lotte had handed to him that Amanjit had given to her that meant a whole huge metaphorical thing back at the Rally.
Okay, that episode had some interesting moments, but I wish there was less harmony downstairs, and less Evil Lady Agnes action. It's like some sort of servant propaganda or something, where everything is awesome downstairs, and upstairs, people are mean and selfish and wimpy and inappropriate. It's also so foreshadowy, it's ludicrous. The frocks are beautiful, but there's a very shallow feeling to the unfolding plot, like someone wanted to make a nice melodrama. To which I reply, “There are no nice melodramas.”
Megan Frampton is the Community Manager, Romance, for the HeroesandHeartbreakers site. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son, and never starts a book without also having a bookmark.