Feb 12 2011 5:00am

Downton Abbey, Episode 3: In Which Downstairs Is Far More Interesting Than Upstairs

Downton Abbey Carson Hughes O’Brien

It’s a good thing Downton Abbey has such a great cast, such a fabulous location, and such gorgeous costumes, because the plot is getting a little worn.

Yes, yes. We know that Matthew Crawley is the heir presumptive to Downton Abbey. We know the entail is preventing Lady Mary from inheriting what should be hers. We know her family is desperately trying to find her a husband. We know that Lady Edith is interested in cousin Matthew and really can’t stand her sister Mary (and that the feeling is pretty much mutual). We know that Lady Sybil is a budding feminist. We know that the dowager countess and Mrs. Crawley would like to tear each other’s hair out—in the most genteel way possible. This week, we get to see more of the same. We have a new marriage candidate for Lady Mary. Lady Edith continues to eye cousin Matthew, and Lady Sybil carries her campaign for the rights of women into her wardrobe.

Downton Abbey Daisy

Downstairs, things are a bit more interesting. Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, takes an afternoon off to meet an old beau at the village fair. Anna, the head housemaid, professes her love to Mr. Bates, who kindly tells her he is not in a position to reciprocate but declines to say why. Lady Sybil hauls Gwen, the housemaid, off for an interview as a secretary. Thomas, the odious footman, is not only stealing wine, he is stealing Daisy, the scullery maid, simply because William, the nice footman, has a crush on her. We discover that Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is going blind, and Daisy has been helping her read. The dreadful O’Brien (Lady Grantham’s maid) and the odious William scheme to get rid of Mr. Bates and also seize upon the notion that Daisy is keeping a secret concerning Lady Mary’s room.

Downton Abbey ThomasBut is any of this really news? I mean, we know Thomas and O’Brien are evil incarnate. We know that Lady Sybil has been encouraging Gwen in her secretarial aspirations. We know William has an unrequited crush on Daisy. And we know that Anna and Bates have been eyeing each other since Bates arrived at Downton. So yeah, Mrs. Hughes has a suitor. Someone is stealing wine. Daisy is in possession of several secrets. Interesting but not out of the common way.

What keeps me watching is the upstairs/downstairs interaction. As much as the Crawleys influence what happens to their servants, changes among the servants cannot help but effect the household. Branson, the new socialist chauffeur, finds a ready ear in Lady Sybil, and begins supplying her with pamphlets. Lady Sybil’s clandestine trip to help Gwen get a job ends with a lame horse and a mud-covered return to Downton. O’Brien convinces Daisy to spill her secret regarding Lady Mary to Lady Edith, who is only too happy to use the information to make trouble for her sister. Poor Mrs. Patmore sprinkles salt on the dessert and her secret is revealed.

And, in the end, what? For all the activity and interaction, has anything really changed? Mrs. Hughes decides to remain at Downton Abbey. Lady Edith remains her vindictive self. Gwen does not get the secretarial job. Mary does not get a husband. Daisy does not have her eyes opened to Thomas’ real character. Mr. Carson has not caught the wine thief. O’Brien and Thomas do not get their comeuppance.

But, wait. There is one fabulous change during this entire episode. The ongoing battle between the dowager Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley has moved from the drawing room and the hospital to the village flower show, where Mrs. Crawley notices that Lady Grantham wins the award for best bloom year after year and confronts Lady Grantham with the possibility that she’s winning, not because of her flowers, but because of her position in the community. We have the expected—and delightful—sniping between the two ladies, but end the episode with the dowager countess overriding the judges to present the trophy to Mr. Molesley, who, obviously to all, deserved it.

So, what have learned in this episode? The more things change, the more they stay the same? Perhaps not. Perhaps all of these little changes are the creeping demise of the old ways. Soon, the grand estate will be a relic of the past, the servants will all be looking for better jobs, and the Crawleys will have a television. If they had one now and were watching this show, O’Brien and Thomas would be out on their ears in a trice. And then we could all have a nice nap.


Myretta Robens, The Republic of Pemberley

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Post a comment